Siyabonga Kwanele Zuma – Tired of living a double life

Siyabonga Kwanele Zuma shares how he got tired of living a double life and now that he has shared that he has Type 1 diabetes, he is at peace and his glucose management has improved.


Siyabonga Kwanele Zuma (27) lives in Howick, KwaZulu-Natal with his family, including his fiancée and their six-year-old son.

Diagnosis

At age 11, I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in April 2008. It was a random school day where I fell sick. My teacher took me to the school office and asked for my parents to be called to fetch me. My eldest sister fetched me and took me to the doctor. 

According to her, they could not pinpoint what was wrong with me. I was disoriented, so I don’t remember much of the doctor’s visit. My sister said as I was about to be diagnosed with the common flu, another doctor walked in. He asked what my symptoms were and once he knew, he suggested that they check my blood glucose levels. The results confirmed the second doctor’s suspicions.

The doctor then wrote a letter for me to be admitted at the hospital. I wasn’t on medical aid, so my parents took me to a public hospital. I was later transferred to another public hospitals where I stayed for three weeks.

Interestingly, my older sister also has Type 1 diabetes. She was diagnosed seven months before my diagnosis, in September 2007 aged 16. I call her my chronic twin.

Treatment

If my memory serves me correctly, I was put on Actraphane, which I believe is insulin given for free at government hospitals. I was on Actraphane for over a year, and I would get sick often.

One day in 2009, I was at my uncle’s house for the holidays. My glucose levels were uncontrollable; I think the change of climate also influenced that. One day I would experience hyperglycaemia and the next hypoglycaemia. I ended up being admitted to another public hospital in Durban.

My uncle was traumatised by the whole experience, as the hospital service was very poor. When I got discharged, he decided to put me on his medical aid, so I could get adequate help in managing my diabetes.

After that I consulted with diabetes specialists, who decided to put me on insulin aspart (NovoRapid), which is taken three times a day before meals, and insulin detemir (Levemir) which is taken at bedtime.

Since I’m not on my uncle’s medical aid anymore, I’m now on Isophane insulin (Protaphane) as it’s more affordable than Levemir but still take insulin aspart (NovoRapid).

Keeping my diabetes a secret

When I was diagnosed, those I went to primary school with knew that I had diabetes. However, when I went to high school, I decided to not share it with anyone. So, I would say I kept it a secret for 12 years.

The reason was I felt ashamed. I felt like it was my fault that I had it, and it made me different from my peers and all I ever wanted was to fit in. I didn’t feel cool which is what teenagers like being and I didn’t want to be judged when I did things my peers did, like drinking alcohol and smoking weed. Like I said, I wanted to fit in, and I did just that. Pushed by fear of missing out (FOMO) and peer pressure.

Tired of living a double life

Before my son was born, I felt like I had nothing to live for. Back in 2010, my doctor told me that if I don’t live a healthy life, I won’t reach the age of 21 with functioning kidneys, or even worse, alive. Hearing those words made me vulnerable to peer pressure and pushed me to live my life like there was no tomorrow, subconsciously. FOMO and peer pressure pushed me to rebel.

When my son was born, my perspective started to change gradually. I no longer felt like I had nothing to live for. I wanted to be a father that he would be proud to point out and say, “That’s my dad.’’

What also helped was my favourite artist, Kendrick Lamar, dropping his Pulitzer Prize winning album, DAMN. which made me develop a love for writing poetry. As time went by, I started writing poems about my life experiences and my ups and downs.

My writings made me grow tired of living a double life. As someone who loved and was inspired by Kendrick Lamar’s music, which is honest and authentic, I was doing the exact opposite. I was writing about my life hoping to inspire someone out there, but I wasn’t honest at all. I was omitting the most important factor that affected my life which is living with Type 1 diabetes. How can I claim to be a writer when my work lacks authenticity?

I wrestled with these emotions for over a year. Keeping my diabetes a secret proved to be detrimental in my life, and I couldn’t handle the pressure anymore. So, in April 2020, I courageously posted on social media that I have diabetes.

At peace with myself

I feel at peace with myself as I’m no longer in denial. Plus, I no longer have to worry about how I will take my insulin without somebody catching me do it. I feel so empowered because of that. My management has improved a lot. Before, I wouldn’t be able to say no to something I knew that I shouldn’t be doing because I would have to lie about the reason. But now with everyone aware of my situation, I can say no and give a valid reason.

Battling with flu every winter

Season changes are a nightmare for me. I struggle to control my glucose levels, as they are always up and down during these times. Getting flu doesn’t make it any better because it also affects my glucose levels.

Watching what I eat

I would be lying if I said I follow a particular diet. Even though I’ve had diabetes for 15 years, it’s only been three years since I’ve accepted it so I’m now gradually changing my lifestyle as I’ve found it quite challenging in many aspects.

Added to that, at the moment I can’t afford to be on a specific diet because my household consists of 10+ people, and those who can, contribute to buying groceries. A diet is personal, and I can’t expect everyone to follow my diet because I can’t afford it. What I do for now is to watch what I eat.

Love for poetry

My poetry book is titled Millennial Thoughts and it will be published sometime this year. I wrote most of the poems when I still had not accepted diabetes (2017 – 2020), therefore it doesn’t really focus on me living with diabetes. It’s more of a social commentary book, from a millennial’s perspective.

However, I do have a few poems where I mention my diabetes that I wrote post-acceptance. I’m also working on a memoir, where I’ll be speaking about my struggle with the negative peer pressure in my adolescence while also living with diabetes. It will tell how I managed to break-free from it and gravitate towards positive peer pressure, which led to self-acceptance helping me to regain the self-control I had long forgone for the fast life.

YouTube channel

Recently, I started my own YouTube channel which forms part of my journey to self-acceptance. As I’m a writer, that’s where the Living With Diabetes series on my YouTube Channel comes in.

I want to share my story in every way possible as not everybody enjoys reading. Some may not read my work but may watch my work. I want to grow my audience as much as possible, so I can share my knowledge about diabetes, and also learn new things about diabetes in the process.

A poem Siyabonga dedicated to his sister who also has diabetes.

CHRONIC TWINS

Our diagnosis threatened to make us the weak ones

But instead, it made us the sweet ones.

On some days, we’d feel bleak together

At the end of the week, we’d prevail together.

In a world full of unreliable souls

To me, you’re one of the few dependable

You are far from being expendable

You made an undesirable journey more bearable.

I don’t think I would’ve made it this far

If you and I grew up apart.

I want to impart that you are my star

My chronic twin, I love you with all my heart.


Connect with Siyabonga

YouTube | Facebook | Instagram | TikTok | Twitter

My sister and I; we both have Type 1 diabetes. This was in 2010 when I was admitted at hospital for a hyper.
My sister and I; we both have Type 1 diabetes. This was in 2010 when I was admitted at hospital for a hyper.
My sister and I were wearing blue in honour of World Diabetes Day 2022.
My sister and I were wearing blue in honour of World Diabetes Day 2022.
Laurelle Williams is the Editor at Word for Word Media. She graduated from AFDA with a Bachelor of Arts Honours degree in Live Performance. She has a love for storytelling and sharing emotions through the power of words. Her aim is to educate, encourage and most of all show there is always hope. Feel free to email Laurelle on editor@diabetesfocus.co.za

MEET THE EDITOR


Laurelle Williams is the Editor at Word for Word Media. She graduated from AFDA with a Bachelor of Arts Honours degree in Live Performance. She has a love for storytelling and sharing emotions through the power of words. Her aim is to educate, encourage and most of all show there is always hope. Feel free to email Laurelle on [email protected]


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