Diabetes evokes curiosity for those who are not familiar with it. I’ve been asked many questions over the years – can you eat sweets, does it hurt when you give yourself shots, do you have to protect your pump from water, just to name a few – all relatively easy-to-answer, yes-or-no questions. But every now and then, someone will ask harder questions. And one that I’ve struggled to answer in a succinct manner is: What does it feel like to have low blood sugar?
There isn’t really a simple answer. I guess my textbook response is to rattle off a list of common hypoglycemic symptoms: shakiness, dizziness, sweating, slurred speech, weakness. But I know that other PWD experience slightly different symptoms, such as feeling cold instead of sweaty, or drastic changes in personality. And there are even some PWD who don’t experience any symptoms due to hypoglycemia unawareness.
So how exactly do I response to a question like that, one that’s more loaded than it appears?
I could tell the asker to imagine feeling simultaneously ravenous and disoriented. I could tell them to picture walking into the kitchen and feeling like inhaling the entire contents of the pantry – that’s how intensely your body craves sugar.
I could tell them to think about what it’s like to wake up in the middle of the night drenched in sweat. It might seem like a reaction to a nightmare, but it’s the body trying to convey a message that is, by some miracle, supposed to be grasped by someone who was just trying to get a solid night’s sleep.
I could tell them to envision feeling like energy is sapped out of every pore in the body abruptly, with little warning.
I could tell them that sometimes, it results in pure panic, particularly when no fast-acting carbohydrates are on hand or when no one is around to help you.
I could tell them that low blood sugar is one of the biggest sources of anxiety for many PWD, that it causes a deeply rooted fear. That it can sometimes lead to a PWD making unhealthy choices just to avoid a low from happening in the first place.
I could say all of this to anyone who asked me this question – and I still don’t think it would completely convey what it’s like to have low blood sugar.
How would you describe it to someone asking you about it? Would you use the terse medical explanation, or would you try to talk about how it really feels?
Leave your responses in the comments – I’d like to know how you handle this. And if you thought this was an interesting post, let me know. I’m thinking of doing a series about how I answer the more complicated diabetes-related questions I’m asked.