Living on the Hamster wheel
'Health is Wealth' Proverb means that the state of well being, free from disease or diseases, both physical and mental is indeed wealth. The Adage is an ancient one, as can be observed from a great Classical Rome Poet, Virgil's (Publius Vergilius Maro) Saying - 'The Greatest Wealth is Health'.
At some point in my life, I struggled to pay enough attention to my health and wealth which evidently then became a big problem in the future for me. I classed myself as a hard working individual with grand aspirations to live a fulfilled and happy life, however, health and wealth were background subjects for me which I didn’t consciously pay direct attention to as I kept working long hours, sleep walking through life like an automaton doing the same thing every day:
- Get Up
- Eat some more
- Eat again!
- Crash out and sleep a few hours
- Rinse and repeat… ad infinituum
Honestly, I didn’t know why and what I was doing, I guess it was my best and only way to cope with stress of living in a foreign country, with a foreign language, new rules, lots of new adjustments to be made in a very short space of time and some major events happening in society at the time. I didn’t stop to even think twice about what was I doing, my wife used to tell me all the time that I was stressed and my usual response was: “Not really, just busy my love, but thank you!”. I wasn’t aware at the time, but I was stressed and I was letting it out in the only way I knew: EATING copious amounts of good, comfort food. My behaviour was fiercely supported by my Italian origins where we value good quality food and in large quantities, shared with everybody with love. This is how I expressed love to myself, my wife and everybody that stopped by our house to visit. We are generous people and with that generosity came lots of calories not only for us but also our friends whom from time to time enjoyed our generous lifestyle.
Work-life balance thrown out of the window
In my head, I was stuck in my teens and early twenties mindset when I was fit as a fiddle, where I used to eat loads of food and all those calories somehow disappeared and didn’t have an effect physically on my body. Of course in my teens and twenties I was very active, and built strong habits to run, cycle and play football, basketball, volleyball, squash, Basque ball (look it up, it is a sport!), and 5 a side football at any opportunity with my friends. I carried on eating in the same way, but right after university my life became very sedentary, nobody prepared me mentally for this. I started to work professionally and earn money, started to go to restaurants, friends, girlfriends, I was having a good time. I was too busy to do any exercise or physical activity all together, it was like and it felt like as if my train had arrived at the station and broke down in disrepair for a long long time. But because I had money and living with my parents, I was now flying in an airplane at miles an hour learning how to cope with working life but also spending money in restaurants, junk food and a pretty hedonistic lifestyle. All was good in hood, my body and mind were coping well with the onslaught, as I had a good and strong metabolic reserve because I was young. I thought to myself, this is good man, carry on! You eat and don’t put on visible weight!. Yeah, it is so nice being young, free and careless. I also felt that time was on my side.
So my lifestyle became very sedentary from my mid twenties onwards. And of course, surprise surprise! I gained weight, lots of additional weight. In my head I thought: “Oh man, you are so hard working, you deserve all the food and comforts in the world. Plus that big belly it is a massive investment, don’t lose it”. I carried on. My big fatty belly was subject of many of my own jokes and lighthearted comments, I looked after it by giving it more and more food, no limits, no pennies were spared. It had to be the best quality food. But also plenty of junk food. Fizzy drinks with every single meal. You get the picture. This was for me the perfect Health and Wealth balance, I was sort of “happy” as I was making it in life. Well, how wrong was I, as you will see in a minute.
New adventures, new life, more and bigger stress
In my late twenties, I decided that it was time to venture to pastures new and moved to a new country, looking for new heights, opportunities and start a family with my girlfriend (now wife) at the time. We were looking at USA and Europe mainly. I finally founds a job very quickly in year 2000 and left to London, UK. Life was stressful but good, I gained independence from my parents, which was heartbreaking as I loved living with them at home in Venezuela. We bought our first house in 2001, lots of struggles financially, had to work very hard to pay the mortgage now, there is no scape. Dig in Nelson, work harder mate! Moving to our new house was a whole experience that perhaps I will write about another time, it was funny, sad but a huge learning for both of us. Well it mainly taught me that I was useless at running a house, I kind of learned by osmosis as we were trying things out, learning as we go.
Anyway, fast forward, I’m now in my thirties, a bit wiser but still following the same lifestyle as before. I reached new heights with my weight and fat levels, new clothes almost yearly, I was starting to feel and look very big, lacked energy, slept very little as I was working 18 hours a day to keep all things afloat financially. Forget the health! Carry on mate! We were also going to the doctor frequently for various reasons, aches, specially muscle related injuries. Physiotherapy became a regular thing. So much so that we used to call Hospital our second home. It wasn’t a joke.
An unexpected, sudden, and life changing event for me
Then, in 2008, a completely unexpected event happened in my life which was a profound experience for me. It shook me to the core, and it still is a hard moment of my life of which I still have flashbacks and tense, heartbreaking memories. My brother calls me at 5 am in the morning Caracas time, it was 9 am in London on a Friday morning, I notice his number on my phone and my heart sank immediately, we know 5 am calls are never good news. I pick up the phone as I’m in the middle of responding to a work email. “Nelson, Papa se murió chamo…”; my dad had passed away few minutes before, unexpectedly for us all.
Tears running down my eyes (at the time and as I write this, it’s not easy still). I screamed: “NOOOOOOOOOOOO!”. So many questions. My brother was rushed, they were at the hospital at the time, he was at home and mum called him from hospital, he was getting ready to go to hospital and support mum. No time for chit chatting. Quickly asked me to relay the news to my eldest brother here in London. I did.
The death of my father was one of the hardest things I had to cope with in my life at that moment. I had spoken to him the Sunday before his passing, he was in hospital for health checks as he suffered two heart attacks before in his working life (without noticing, hardworking guy, sounds familiar?). When I spoke to him he was happy, laughing, looking forward to going back home once all the tests were finalised. He now was retired, enjoying life with my mum. They were so happy, all the kids had left home, had 7 grandchildren to enjoy, and for them life was actually starting.
A bit about my wonderful parents
My parents are World War 2 survivors and at the time, living in post war, poor stricken Italy was hard. They decided to try something new and move to Venezuela, build a new life, try their luck and eventually go back to Italy after they made a bit of money. As soon as they arrived in Venezuela, a country that welcome them with open arms, they started to work hard, making a new life, it was hard as they didn’t know how to speak Spanish, had literally no money, everything was completely new, no friends, a few relatives with them but that was it. After a few years of hardships, they were successful at building a new life, had three kids in the sixties and started to get some space and live. My mum still says that arriving in Venezuela it was like arriving to paradise. In the seventies they had a fourth son, me. I was supposed to be living with them until the end, that was my destiny but it wasn’t to be. My dad had worked since age 9, humble man, principled. Valued his ancestry, loved his parents very much. A simple, quiet, introverted man who gave everything up to make us happy, to feed us and educate us in the best possible way. Him and my mum made sure that we all went to college and had a degree. They wanted us to be better than them, to be successful in life, to make it. They had all their best intentions and resources to make this happen. I’ve never lacked any of the basics when I was a child, it was a good start in life. My brothers were also teaching me stuff which was great. It accelerated my development for sure. His death was hard for me to comprehend, to accept and to justify. How come a man that has worked so hard in his life, and now when he had time and a bit of money saved he could enjoy life a bit with my mum it was all gone, dreams dashed, vanished. It’s been hard for me to accept, life has been so unfair to my dad I thought.
My father’s passing would set in motion a series of reflections for me. I started to wake up and question my own life. I remember asking:
“Is this what life is supposed to be for me???!!!”
“Am I going to follow in my father’s footsteps???”
That event, taught me to question everything. At first I was feeling that it wasn’t worth giving up my life for work. I guess my self-awareness wasn’t developed enough to realise I was dissatisfied in so many ways with my life at the time. My life, how I approached work, how I approached my wife, my friends, my health, my money. One key thing that living in England has taught me was to be polite, non judgemental of people, but I was putting a lot of judgement on myself at that time, I was punishing myself.
I started to look at life slightly differently, but I was numb, also I wasn’t sure how to change my life. I didn’t have a recipe you see. Up to that point I had been very analytical, an engineering like thinker, I needed an algorithm for everything, including a step by step process for achieving happiness. I was very focused on attaining, on possessing, on owning things to compensate for my unhappiness. And of course, continued to eat lots and no physical activity in sight. No amount of self help books would help. It’s interesting because I had always had an innate curiosity for personal development books (or self help books) that focused on psychology as well as at the sometime heavy technical subjects and books. It was a contradiction but you can only connect the dots looking backwards. More on that later.
But, to this day, I say my dad is looking after us from wherever/whenever he is. Thank you Pa! Love you very much. One day we will be together again. Thank you for looking after us.
I sort started to try and straighten my life, I started yo-yo dieting, fad diets, introduced a bit of sporadic exercise by joining a gym. These things made a bit of a difference but not substantial. Whatever weight we lost, we put it back on again after 3 months. Clearly not working and not sustainable.
Trial and error. Failure continues
Fast forward two years, it is 2010, I’m at the pinnacle of my technical career, highly successful technical architect, giving talks and working at conferences, doing very strategic work for customers, life was good. I then decided that I wanted to change career, I was seriously considering furthering my studies by doing an MBA and becoming business focused and leave my technical career behind, it was hard but my intuition was strong and I was pursuing this. The opportunity came, I took it and moved to a business development role that allowed me to transition gradually from being a technical architect to a BDM. I liked it. I was thriving in this new world. Had tremendous support from my manager and the company at the time. I was relishing the new challenge. I was mountain biking on the weekends with a friend and was enjoying that, was actually making some progress towards weight loss a bit. Or at least I was not gaining weight as fast. I was enjoying life, had a good circle of friends. We would get together regularly for barbecues, dinners, and cinema. The feasts continued, big parties, lots of food and drinks. Life was good. What could possibly go wrong? In November 2010 I went to a regular private health assessment paid by my employer, I was given a stark warning by the doctor. She said that I should look to lose weight and be more active as my blood markers were all over the place and if I continued to my current lifestyle I was at high risk of heart disease and diabetes. I was a bit numb at the time, I took notice for a couple of months, my wife did take much more notice than me and started to cook more vegetables and a much more balanced diet in general. Increased my fit regime for a couple of months, then work took over again and I prioritised work against health once again.
I ignored the signs and advice at my own peril
In 2011, had a busy year with work and therefore didn’t dedicate time to exercise, immersed myself with work. Went to the doctor a few times with various ailments, pains, sinusitis related issues, etc. Did a proactive blood test to check where I was, the situation wasn’t improving much. I was completely ignorant on what to do to improve my fate. Towards the end of 2011 I had a couple of appointments with my doctor, did further blood tests and upon reviewing the results we found that I continued to have an indicator for fatty liver or non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Years prior, I went to a specialist given the liver blood indicator, he said that the only way to confirm my diagnosis was to take a biopsy of my liver and analyse it in the lab! That was scary! I will spare you the details as to how they do that. That same year my manager moved to do a sales manager role. This would become relevant a few months later.
2012, the year we were promised the world was going to end according to the Maya calendar
Fast forward two years, it is 2012, I was working hard as usual, being a full time BDM, very successful closing big sales deals, travelling almost weekly. I was travelling 2-3 times a month to European destinations minimum, once or twice a year to the USA for work and pleasure. Really enjoying the work, learning fast, developing my skills as a consultative seller. I was relishing on the busy-ness and my relative importance growing in my job. I could notice the changes, I was taking more responsibility, bigger deals, much more business oriented meetings and conversations. Continued to enjoy weekends with my wife, with friends, celebrations continued, the feasts continued. Nice holidays, sometimes travelling long haul. I was learning golf on the weekends. Going to music concerts, theatre. However, continued to go to physiotherapy sessions for back, shoulder, neck problems. The stress was creating havoc on my body. I was learning to be more productive, learning new techniques and models for productivity so I could focus my time better and maximise my results, leveraging more advanced tools. Learning how to say ‘No’ in a positive way. On balance, life was good but I was a bit apprehensive about my health predicament as I didn’t seem to move forwards. I was walking and mountain biking when I had time. However, my determined self used to tell me that I could fix this somehow by trying and trying.
In the same year, around June 2012, a colleague announces that he is moving on and he is leaving his sales role in one of the accounts I was working on as a BDM. He thought I could step into his shoes and my manager thought the same. By mid July I was already in a highly paid job as a salesman, earnings went up massively in comparison to my previous BMD role. I was happy, elated, I was finally making it in the business world. My wife was happy for me, a new chapter was starting for us.
On the 28th August 2012, it was a Tuesday after the English Summer Bank Holiday weekend, nothing extraordinary going on. The usual was to make a pasta dish on a Sunday and that’s what we did, we also made home made scones with cream and jam, again nothing unusual for us. On the Monday we had a barbecue meal and the usual trimmings, nothing unusual. On the Tuesday, I woke up and I was feeling dizzy, my vision was blurry, was cold sweating and drinking lots and lots of water, non stop. I woke up early, went to the toilet a few times and kept drinking water. Went back to bed, said good morning to my wife and proceeded to tell her how I felt physically and I suspected I had become a diabetic. I sort of knew it from the little knowledge I had. Called the doctor, made an appointment and sure enough my blood glucose levels were close to three times what they should be in a normal healthy person, I was diagnosed diabetic on the spot as my bloods didn’t come down fast enough.
I felt angry with myself, frustrated, scared, not knowing what to do, I let myself down, I let my family and wife down. I didn’t look after myself, and all the negative/judgemental/harsh self-talk you can imagine.
No way Jose!
At my second appointment with my Doctor, she prescribed a course of Metformin twice a day with every meal, after a week my bloods went back to normal and my innocent self commented:
Me: “Ah great, thank you Doctor for confirming that my bloods are now at a normal level, can I stop taking these tablets now?”
Doctor: “No my dear, you are still at risk”
Me: “Ok, and in that case for how long do I need to take these tablets?”
Doctor: “For life, we don’t stop this treatment now. Otherwise you are at risk of getting high blood glucose”
Me: “No way! No way I’ll be taking these tablets for life!”
I stormed off, left the Doctor’s office dismayed at my predicament. In that moment, I felt this rush of energy and I became so certain that one day I will find a way to stop taking the tablets all together. In that moment, I embarked in the most scary, wonderful, curiosity led discovery and research project of my life: How to deal with my Diabetes in a natural way and not depend on medication!
This was going to be our project as a couple. After dealing with the initial shock (which lasted just 3 days for me) and acceptance of my diagnosis, my wife and I started to research what diabetes was, we wanted to know what caused it, what the body goes through when one is diabetic, and the impact that food had on me.
After a lot of initial research, there we glimpses of hope for me to reserve diabetes, spoke with my doctor and he said that there are cases of people improving and reversing diabetes all together, the chances are slim but it is possible. Let’s remember that we are in 2012 and there was not much research like there is today about diabetes and how to improve things naturally.
The first thing I did right away was to stop all manner of fruit juices, fizzy sugary drinks with or without meals. I used to drink orange juice for breakfast almost every day and I used to drink two to three glasses of cola with every meal.
So, at the beginning of 2013, I set a goal to reverse diabetes by 5 years in the future at my diagnoses anniversary, this means 28th August 2017. I gave myself ample time to work things out and not to fall for a quick fix. And so we started, we joined our local gym, committed to going multiple times a week and started to evaluate what was the best diet to follow.
One thing was certain, I was determined not to follow the quick fix approach. We needed a complete overhaul of everything we were doing, a complete lifestyle change and embrace new healthier habits.
If you hadn’t noticed, the date of this post is 28th August 2021. 9 years have passed since I got diagnosed with diabetes and when my life changed forever in that deciding moment.
In part 2 of this post will talk about the process of becoming healthier and in that process other things got better as well. I’m sorry if this post was long for you, I didn’t mean it to be this long but words kept flowing, it has helped me emotionally to write about it. So thank you for reading and hope you come by to read part 2. If you subscribe, I'll notify you when the part 2 post comes out.