Diabetes Self-Care: Massaging Away my T1D Stress

Sometimes, you just gotta treat yo’self. (Parks and Recreation, anyone?)

One of my favorite ways to do that is through massage. I can’t think of a more relaxing way to unwind from various sources of stress than massage. Especially when your shoulders and neck are so tense that it feels as though they’re permanently knotted up.

So I went for a one-hour massage a couple of weeks ago to see if I could successfully take a mental break from everything while addressing my muscle tension. And I’m so glad I did that for myself. Plus, it didn’t hurt that my massage therapist was super attentive when it came to my diabetes.

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What makes for a good spa experience? Himalayan rock lamps, calming music, and silent diabetes devices.

I explained to her that I was wearing a tubeless pump on my lower back, and that she should feel free to massage around it. I also mentioned that if she happened to hear anything buzz or beep during our session, she should just disregard it – if my pump or CGM alarmed, I’d take care of whichever device that was going off at the end of the session.

The massage therapist couldn’t have been more reassuring. She let me know that she previously worked as a physical therapist and had experience in the field for more than 10 years. As a result, she’d seen just about everything over the course of her career – an insulin pump and a glucose monitor were nothing.

That short conversation before the start of the session really helped it start off on the right foot. I felt much better knowing that she wouldn’t be freaked out by my devices. My openness to talk about my diabetes also inclined her to ask me if it affected certain parts of my body more than others, and if she should be sensitive to that throughout the session. I appreciated her attentiveness, and she asked follow-up questions throughout the massage to ensure I was getting the best experience possible.

Not only did I leave feeling like a million bucks, but I also left feeling glad that my CGM and pump stayed silent throughout the one-hour massage: allowing me to truly free my mind from diabetes, even if it was just for a short time.

That Time I Asked Someone to Prove Their Diabetes to Me

It was not my finest moment.

Yes, I doubted someone when they claimed to have diabetes. But there was no ill intent! Let me explain.

I worked at a local movie theater for five and a half years. During that time, I was trained to work the concession stand, sell tickets at the box office, and clean theaters with the ushers. More often than not, I was happiest working in the box office – it was nice and quiet when there weren’t any lines of customers to contend with, but when there were, time flew by as I worked at a frantic pace to get through the line as fast as I could.

One of my responsibilities as a ticket seller was to check to see what people were taking into the theaters with them. Mainly, I was supposed to make sure that outside foods or beverages weren’t making their way into our theaters, for a few reasons: 1) to encourage customers to buy snacks/drinks at our concession stand, 2) to reduce the possibility of customers leaving behind terrible messes for the ushers to clean up, and 3) to help ensure the comfort of other customers – after all, no one particularly enjoys the sharp stench of raw onions or malodorous tuna fish sandwiches.

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You have diabetes? Well, prove it! (At least I didn’t ask the kid to take a shot or show me his pump. That would’ve been over the top.)

So I was merely following protocol on this particular day when I asked a teenage boy to throw away his mysterious styrofoam food container once he entered the lobby. He looked at me, unsmiling, and said, “I have diabetes, I can’t throw it away.”

It’d been a long afternoon dealing with irate customers and pesky teenagers, so I figured he was just being bratty and didn’t want to toss the food he’d clearly just purchased from the mall. This is when I retorted back with, “Oh, really? I have type one diabetes, myself. Do you actually have it, too?”

He nodded. His face was expressionless, which made me even more suspicious. If I’d been in his shoes, I probably would’ve been a bit more emotional/passionate about my need to keep my food with me. His poker face prodded me into asking this next question, which nearly seven or so years later still makes me feel ashamed when I remember it:

“Well, then, show me your medical ID or your meter, or some other diabetes supplies!”

Ugh, I can practically hear my defiant tone. I was so certain I was about to catch a fibber! Alas, the boy lifted his arm to show off the gleaming medical ID hanging from his wrist. Again, he was completely wordless and his face betrayed no emotion – and for a beat, I couldn’t say anything, either…though I felt the blood rushing rapidly into my cheeks as I found my voice again.

“Oh, I’m sorry for the inconvenience. You’re all set to take the food in with you,” I said in a tone much higher for me than normal. I’m pretty sure I smacked my hand to my forehead out of pure embarrassment as he walked away.

To this day, I still can’t help but cringe when I reflect on this interaction that couldn’t have lasted more than two or three minutes. I felt horrible about it, but I guess that the one good thing that came from it is that it taught me to be a little more compassionate when I witness situations like this. Rather than assuming the worst, I should try to see the other side of the coin and view things a bit more rationally.

So to that teenage boy, who I never saw again: Please accept my extremely-belated but utterly sincere apology for that exchange of words.

Dad Appreciation Post

Father’s Day was yesterday, but as I did the day after Mother’s Day, I want to use today’s blog as an opportunity to express my appreciation for dads: Namely, my own father.

Besides being the family patriarch, my dad is a firefighter/EMT. He makes his family feel safe with his emergency preparedness knowledge and skills. He also deals with his diabetic wife and daughter on an almost-daily basis, which warrants, at the very least, a ginormous golden trophy with his name engraved on it in fancy script.

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A dad and his daughter.

That’s because he sees the ugly side of diabetes from time to time. The side that causes blood to spurt out of mom’s abdomen when she removes a pod that struck a vein. The side that causes me to lash out, because my blood sugar won’t seem to come down from a sticky high, no matter what I do. The side that causes mom and I to lose sleep, because we’re treating another middle-of-the-night low blood sugar. The side that forces mom and I to be prepared for any and every possible diabetes scenario that could occur while traveling. The side that causes us to cry, because we just can’t deal with diabetes today.

And he’s there through it all.

He’s there to apply pressure and gauze to the bloody site. He’s there, feeling just as upset as I am, because he just wants my blood sugar levels to come back down, too. He’s there to make sure mom and I have enough glucose tablets or juice to bring our levels back up. He’s there, keeping us calm as we pack for our next trip and taking care of all the travel arrangements. He’s there to comfort us when we need him to, and he hates that we live with diabetes – probably even more than we do.

He’s the kind of guy who says he’d trade his pancreas with us in a heartbeat if it meant we wouldn’t have to live with diabetes anymore.

He’s the kind of guy I’m proud to call my dad.

Thanks, Dad, for helping me handle my diabetes over the years, and supporting every venture (diabetes and otherwise) that I pursue.

Favorite Things Friday: Diabetes Apps

One Friday per month, I’ll write about my favorite diabetes products. These items make the cut because they’re functional, fashionable, or fun – but usually, all three at once!

Diabetes is a chronic condition that involves several different pieces of technology. Unsurprisingly, quite a few of these technological components are available via mobile apps, and some of them have become instrumental in helping me understand the patterns that my own diabetes follows. Let’s walk through the four that are mainstays on my iPhone home screen.

For starters, there’s the Dexcom CGM apps (there’s one for the G5, another for the G6). When I first downloaded the app for my G5, I marveled at how stinkin’ cool it was to be able to check my blood sugar on my phone. I spend far too much time each day playing with various apps on my phone, anyway, so it was very convenient for me to have this particular app installed.

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A screenshot from the G6 app

Dexcom also makes an app called Clarity, which happens to be something I’ve come to rely on in between appointments with my endocrinologist. That’s because Clarity links directly to my CGM and gathers data from it that creates reports for my analysis. With just a few taps, I can view information such as my time spent in range, average glucose, patterns, and risk for hypoglycemia. Even better, I can generate results for periods of time ranging from 48 hours to 90 days. The app also produces results in clean, easy-to-read charts and graphs, making it extremely easy for me to figure out how I can improve my A1c.

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A view of the Clarity app

A few years ago, I found an app called Glucagon that’s made by Eli Lilly. As you could probably tell by the name of the app, it’s all about Glucagon: namely, how to inject it. It’s an interactive experience that I like to walk myself through every now and then so I’m familiar with how to use Glucagon – because you never know if and when it could come in handy.

A more recent discovery is DiaBits. Besides having a cute name, this app provides another breakdown of blood sugar data. It has a neat feature that estimates your current A1c, as well as other predictors that indicate how rapidly your blood sugar is rising or falling. It doesn’t replace any of my tools that more accurately check my blood sugar levels; it merely is a complementary app that gives me more insight on trends and averages.

One quick visit to the Apple App Store shows me that there are tons more diabetes-related apps out there. Quite frankly, I don’t know which ones to try next! Do you have any favorites or recommendations? Leave them in the comments!

Diabetes and the Blame Game: Why it’s Harmful to Judge People with T1D

Here’s a little disclaimer: This post is highly personal. I’m going to dive deep here and talk about a few things that bother me when it comes to how others perceive T1D. My opinions are strong, but I’m entitled to them – just like you are.

“I can’t believe his blood sugar got that low. He really needs to have better control over his diabetes.”

“Why wasn’t she carrying a snack with her? That’s so irresponsible, she should know better!”

“They’re unhealthy. The way they manage their diabetes isn’t okay and it’s no wonder they go to the doctor so much.”

These are words that others have spoken about people with diabetes in my presence. While these thoughts and feelings aren’t necessarily about me, it doesn’t mean that I don’t take them personally.

Why do they bother me? Because they’re dripping with judgment.

It’s easy for someone who simply doesn’t understand diabetes to make assumptions based on a couple of observations they make about someone with diabetes. But just because it’s easy to assume things, it doesn’t make it okay.

Just because you see someone have a tough diabetes day, it doesn’t mean that’s what it’s like all the time.

Just because someone forgot to carry a low blood sugar remedy on them, it doesn’t mean that they always forget one.

Just because you know of someone who frequently visits the doctor, it doesn’t mean their diabetes is “out of control.”

Just because you blame someone for not taking “proper care” of themselves, it doesn’t mean that they don’t try their damnedest.

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I can do all the right things for my diabetes over the course of a day, and still have it go wrong. Blaming and shaming me for being a bad diabetic only makes matters worse.

That’s what’s so wrong about making assumptions about how someone manages his/her/their diabetes: It’s impossible for anyone to know the full story about that individual’s diabetes, because they are the one solely in charge of it. They know how it behaves 24/7/365. They know it better than their doctor, spouse, family, friends, and coworkers. And the funny (and by funny, I mean really shitty) thing about diabetes is that sometimes, you can’t predict what it’s going to do next. So you have to be prepared to roll with the punches at a moment’s notice. And you’ve got to be that prepared all the damn time: when you’re awake, asleep, traveling, exercising, working, and just plain living.

Sounds exhausting, doesn’t it?

So that’s why I think the blame game is especially cruel when it’s played to cast judgment on people with diabetes. We have the incredibly difficult task of taking care of something that most other people never have to worry about, and blaming someone for not “doing what they should be doing” is heartless and does nothing to help them.

I challenge anyone reading this to think twice before they jump to conclusions about how a person with diabetes takes care of themselves. Remember that just because you may have witnessed them going through a difficult diabetes experience, it doesn’t mean that it’s like that for them all the time, or that they aren’t doing everything they can to take the best possible care of themselves. The world is occupied by enough critics – do your part to be supportive, not shameful.

Three Things I Learned about Myself after Running a 5K

I recently ran in my first-ever 5K race. In the weeks leading up to the race, I experienced a variety of emotions – particularly self-doubt – that made me question whether I could really do it. Would my diabetes cooperate the morning of the race? Should I eat a big breakfast before running, or go into the race fasting? How would I handle correcting a low blood sugar while running? What about a high blood sugar? Was I even competent enough to run?

All of my diabetes anxieties aside, I’ve always hated running. HATED it. I played field hockey every fall when I was in high school, and we were required to run a timed mile before the start of each season. I dreaded this mile because I usually wound up finishing the mile last, or close to last – my asthmatic lungs and negative attitude helped ensure that I would give up running halfway through and resort to walking a sluggish, defeated pace.

So like I explained in a recent blog post, making the decision to go through with this 5K wasn’t easy. But I wanted to take on the challenge and prove something to myself.

AND I DID IT!!! I’m pleased to say that I completed the race on a gorgeously sunny Saturday morning along with hundreds of other runners. I was totally proud of myself for accomplishing this goal, especially since I had less than a month to train for it. Plus, I learned a few things about myself after participating in the race:

  1. I should have more faith in my ability to manage my diabetes. I spent so much time dwelling on the “what ifs” (a bad habit of mine) regarding what my diabetes might do during the race that my stomach was doing somersaults as I approached the start line. But as soon as I turned my music up and started running with everyone else, my doubts vanished. And better yet, I was absolutely fine throughout the race. I didn’t eat anything beforehand and went into it with a blood sugar of 142, and I stayed pretty steady for most of the 3.1 miles (I did start to spike soon after crossing the finish line, but I’m certain that was because of the adrenaline). I simply did what I’d been doing during my past month of training, and my experimentation with fasting vs. non-fasting paid off.
  1. I’m a lot more determined than I realized. I’ll admit that there were a few points throughout the race when I wanted to give up. I was breathing hard and my legs were starting to ache, but not once did I stop running and slow down to a walk. I pushed myself to keep going, even though I didn’t want to, and my determination helped me achieve my personal best running time.
  2. I’m ready to train for future races. This experience awakened something in me that wants more challenges. I’m still not in love with running, but I think I am a fan of trying things out of my comfort zone. I want to continue to get faster and stronger so I can try tougher races and physical tests. It’s almost like it’s an outlet for me to tell my T1D that it can’t stop me – that I’m stronger than it no matter how hard it tries to knock me down.

I Get by with a Little Help from my Friends (Diabetes Edition)

Let me introduce you to Nelly Needle:

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A cactus filled with needles that don’t prick is my kind of cactus.

This adorable cactus-in-a-cup was handmade for me by one of my dear college friends, Emma. She made it for me for my birthday and I nearly cried tears of gratitude when she gave it to me. I felt the same way when another college friend, Kira, sent me a box for my birthday that contained a thoughtfully-chosen book and a cute little cactus pin that now adorns my meter case.

Emma and Kira, as well as our other friends from college, probably don’t realize how nervous I was to explain my diabetes to them when we first met. All my friends from back home had known about my diabetes growing up; as a result, it’d been a very long time since I had to open up about it to brand new people. I worried that they wouldn’t accept it or would treat me differently after learning about it.

I’m happy to say that I couldn’t have been more wrong. Within the first few days of my freshman year of college, I found the group of people that I wanted and needed to have in my life. They were not only accepting of my diabetes, but genuinely curious about it. They peppered me with questions that I was pleased to answer and marveled at my ease with injecting myself in the middle of the dining commons. To this day, they still express interest and desire to learn about diabetes, which means more to me than words can express.

The cacti I’ve amassed over the last few months, courtesy of my friends, serve as daily reminders that I 1) have some really incredible and supportive friends and 2) should always remember to embrace diabetes for what it is, needles and all.