PETALING JAYA: Life at 25 is usually carefree and filled with hope. But for ‘Ainin Wan Salleh, that was the year she discovered she had Type 2 diabetes.
‘Ainin, now 30, is no stranger to the condition as her parents also have diabetes, a condition that could be hereditary. But this didn’t stop her from being shocked when she was diagnosed.
“I didn’t know anyone my age with diabetes,” she tells FMT. “It was really scary.
The law graduate says she didn’t sense anything amiss about her health. Even though “I was drinking a lot of water and using the bathroom more, I didn’t think much of it”, she recalls.
“It was my mother who alerted me that these were symptoms and urged me to get checked, so I went for a comprehensive health checkup.”
She was initially in denial after receiving the results. “But the thing about diabetes is, you can’t ignore it,” says ‘Ainin, who had to start taking medication twice a day and keeping track of her blood sugar levels.
It also affected other parts of her life – from what she ate and her sleeping habits, to the amount of exercise she did.
She decided to approach her diet in a pragmatic way. “Instead of eliminating a certain food, I focus on adding healthier options such as brown rice and oats. I also eat a lot of vegetables and fruits.
“I made these changes gradually, and that helped me to adjust.”
Family and friends were supportive from the start. “My family committed to switching from white rice to brown rice,” she says, adding that her mother constantly reminds her to check her blood sugar levels.
“My parents’ diabetes has shown me genetics is a strong risk factor – my grandfather also had the disease. But with the right attitude and behaviours, it can be managed.
“My grandfather managed to put his diabetes into remission, which is quite an achievement and an inspiration,” she says.
‘Ainin also remembers one particularly heartwarming reaction from a close friend. “When I told her about having diabetes, she immediately said, ‘How can we fix this?’
“When we are out for a meal and she senses I would like something sweet, she offers to share a dessert with me.”
Despite these positive changes, the journey wasn’t always smooth-sailing. She applied for a job in 2018 and, after three stages of the interview process, was told the company does not hire anyone with pre-existing medical conditions.
“It just didn’t make sense to me as nobody wants to get sick. It took me a while to navigate the job application process, but after that incident, my diabetes felt like a shameful secret,” she admits.
Being the change
It took an episode of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” to shift her perspective. “My favourite character, Tyrion Lannister, said these impactful words: ‘Never forget who you are. The rest of the world will not. Wear it like armour, and it can never be used to hurt you’.
“I realised if I did that, no one would be able to use my diabetes against me. And even if they did, it says a lot about them.”
She started to look for more local resources about diabetes and discovered that, although there are plenty of medical resources, there was not much about living with the condition itself. So she decided to get the ball rolling.
In May last year, ‘Ainin started an Instagram profile where she shares her account of living with the disease. She has since had many people reaching out to her with their own experiences.
“I share what works for me but I am not a medical practitioner, so I encourage people to talk to their doctors,” she says.
She also started a business, NinTheBaker, selling baked goods such as cupcakes and cookies with less sugar, making it a suitable option for those looking to indulge their cravings without excess sweetness.
‘Ainin believes that being honest and transparent is important to remove the stigma related to diabetes and to create a sense of community for others.
“Give yourself grace, because it is difficult,” she says. “Learn, make some mistakes along the way, and then learn some more.”