My Thoughts on Returning to Work (and this “New Normal”)

We all know that 2020 hasn’t exactly gone to plan so far, largely thanks to COVID-19.

In a word, the last 8-10 weeks or so have been…weird. Collectively, the world experienced a lot of things: shock, rapid-fire adjustments, loss, and more than anything else, change.

It goes without saying that I’ve been very fortunate given the circumstances. I’ve had my job throughout this whole ordeal, and I’ve had experience working from home before which arguably made my transition to full-time remote work a little easier. While each week has come with its own unique set of challenges and emotions, there’s no denying that I’ve had it pretty good, overall, these last couple of months.

But now, along with everyone else, I’m about to enter a “new normal” (gosh I hate that term) as states begin to re-open. And with this “new normal” comes the possibility of returning to a physical office building each workweek.

I’ll admit that the sheer thought of it simultaneously excites and terrifies me.

My Thoughts on Returning to Work (and this _New Normal_)
My thoughts on re-entering the workplace are…complicated.

On the one hand, I’m yearning to go back to work in an office space. I miss my little cubicle, office camaraderie, and meetings that are held in-person, in conference rooms, as opposed to virtually.

On the other hand, I’ve never felt more anxious about returning to a space that is shared by people other than my family members.

There are a LOT of people that enter and exit my company’s building throughout the typical workday. There are at least a dozen other companies besides mine that occupy the other floors in the building. Tons of deliveries are made to these office suites each day. While there are custodial staff who do their best to keep the building clean, it can be…a challenge, as anyone who has seen our bathrooms can attest to.

Basically, I suppose that I’m feeling incredibly nervous about the exposure to germs that is bound to happen upon my return to the office.

Even if I didn’t have diabetes and wasn’t considered at a higher risk for COVID, I’m sure I’d still feel worried because it’s not just about me: It’s also about the people I live with. I’d never want to bring anything harmful into my family’s home, period, bottom line, end of story. And while the odds are pretty damn high that PPE (personal protective equipment) will become standard when re-entering the workplace, it does little to placate me because I’ve seen firsthand how sloppy people can be when it comes to wearing it or disposing of it properly.

And so, with much still unknown about COVID, it just seems like a giant gamble to resume working in an office environment when I can’t be sure that I won’t be exposed to anything.

As it stands right now, I don’t have a concrete “return to work” date. And I don’t know what exactly it will take in order for me to feel totally comfortable about returning to the office. But I do know that I’m cautiously optimistic for a smooth transition to a “new normal” that is safe for all.

COVID-19, Chronic Conditions, and…Telecommuting?

First, let me apologize for adding to what seems like a never-ending cycle of news and media about COVID-19, a.k.a. the coronavirus. But I wanted to write this post because a friend of mine works for a company that sent out a communication about it that I found…interesting, to say the least.

The email in question was about the company’s current coronavirus protocol. The following is an excerpt from the email, provided by my friend:

If you have or live with someone who has a medical condition that the WHO has highlighted as being at higher risk for complications from the virus (elderly, immunocompromised state, chronic conditions such as diabetes, chronic lung disease, and cardiovascular disease), you are strongly urged to work from home if possible with your job function. If you cannot work from home, please consult with your manager.

So…the wording of this email struck me as a little odd for a few reasons. If I worked for this company, I’d wonder: 1) Just because I have one of the named chronic conditions, does this mean I must seriously reconsider my present working environment even though nobody in my office travels internationally? 2) What exactly does “strongly urged” mean, anyways? and 3) What is a manager expected to do if someone cannot work from home, for whatever reason? Make up their own set of rules? Force someone to come in or not come in? And if the latter is the case…would a paycheck have to be forfeited?

hugging the cactus - a t1d blog
I’m absolutely amazed that I managed to find a stock image that wasn’t terrifying for this particular blog post and topic…

As I pondered the answers to these questions, I also started to think that there was a chance I was overreacting to the wording of the email. So I asked other friends how they felt about it and they reacted the same way I did. Everyone was generally confused by the message that this was saying (or not saying) about people living with chronic conditions and how they should handle a situation like this.

Plus, I can’t shake the feeling that emails like this just add to all the hype/panic that we’re already being inundated with, and if I were to receive something like this, it certainly wouldn’t do anything to ease my normally-anxious mind. It’s getting more and more challenging to tune it all out…

…but on the bright side, at least I know how to properly wash my hands and sneeze/cough into my elbow. So I’ll continue those common-sense practices every day, and when I’m doing my own work, I’ll be glad it’s from the comfort of my own cubicle.

The Pros and Cons of Working from Home When You Have Diabetes

You might not have realized that I have a unique working arrangement when it comes to my “real” job at a financial services company: I work from my apartment in Virginia about 75% of the time. The other 25% of my time is spent working from my company’s office in Massachusetts.

It took me a long time to adjust to this part-time commuter, part-time teleworker situation. To be honest, I still need a day or two to get reacquainted with the office (or my work-from-home setup) when I come and go between the two states. It can be weird to go from being surrounded by my coworkers one day to being by myself in my home office.

However, I’m really appreciative of the opportunity to use this workplace benefit. I know it won’t last forever; in any case, I’ve made a number of observations that have highlighted the advantages and disadvantages of working from home as it pertains to my diabetes:

the pros and cons of working from home with diabetes
Yes…my fridge is THAT close to my desk…literally within arm’s reach. Dangerous.

Pro: Access to ALL of my diabetes supplies at all times. This is hugely helpful whenever I’m having an “off” diabetes day. If I’m not sure my pod is working properly, I have all the tools at my disposal to monitor and correct the situation. It’s much easier than bringing everything I could possibly need with me into the office when I’m there.

Con: Being alone. thrive when I’m surrounded by my coworkers. I’m able to bounce ideas off them more easily and stay connected to in-office activities. But there’s also a level of safety that I feel when I’m around my coworkers. They all know about my diabetes and are more than capable of helping me should I need it, and well, when I’m working from the apartment…the only person I can depend on is myself for 40+ hours a week. And that reality can be a little anxiety-provoking.

Pro: Ability to treat low and high blood sugars without worrying how it might impact my coworkers. The following scenario has happened to me a number of times: Blood sugar is low, I start shoving food into my face just as a coworker decides to “pop by” with a question (and vice versa when my blood sugar is high and I’m trying to correct it). When I’m dealing with these diabetes situations in the office, I worry far too much about how it impacts my coworkers when I really should just focus on myself and treating whatever it may be. It’s slightly warped thinking on my part, but that’s just one of the trickier aspects of handling diabetes in the workplace.

Con: Being much, much, MUCH more sedentary. My diabetes hates when I take “rest days” from working out. But it loves when I move as much as possible throughout the day. This is pretty easy to do when I’m working in the office: I can park my car semi-far away, I can take the stairs to navigate around the building, and I can stretch my legs during the day with a couple laps around the office. But when I’m in the apartment? I move much less because I don’t really have any place to go. I definitely stay glued to my chair more than I’d like.

Pro: Easier to call for supplies, make doctor’s appointments, etc. (all the administrative tasks associated of life with diabetes). I never want to be “that person” in the office who takes just one too many personal phone calls during the workday. I also like to maintain privacy when discussing issues sensitive to my diabetes because it’s my business. So I feel a lot better when I can handle the “administrative tasks” of diabetes from the privacy of my home, with the knowledge that I’m not disrupting my coworkers with my phone calls.

Con: My gadgets tend to be much more disruptive via webcam versus in-person. My coworkers are used to my pump and CGM making sounds in-person, but when I dial into meetings and they start beeping and hollering in the background, it’s WAY more obnoxious because I can’t always tend to them right away, and the sounds are just more alarming. Since I use a webcam for most of my meetings, I can’t just get up and silence my devices…so it’s a little tougher to navigate than when I’m in-person.

Pro: Being able to make my lunch from scratch each day. So I won’t pretend that I’m cooking gourmet lunches on a daily basis, but I am able to prepare fresher meals than I do when I go to the office. Plus, the temptation to buy food from fast-food joints is pretty much eliminated when I work from home – why bother venturing out to spend money on lunch when I already have food at the apartment?

Con: The kitchen is mere steps away and it’s stocked with all my favorites. This goes hand-in-hand with the above pro…it’s all too easy to reach into a cabinet and grab a handful of this or a spoonful of that, and I admit that I don’t always bolus for these mini snacks I grab. This, combined with my more sedentary nature, means that my blood sugars tend to be higher when I work from home.

Pro and con: No refrigerator stocked with my favorite diet sodas. All of this kitchen talk makes me think of something that could be considered a pro and con of working remotely…I can’t grab a can of diet root beer or diet ginger ale whenever I feel like it! My work fridge generously stocks a nice variety of diet sodas, so I drink a lot more of them when I’m in the office. But I don’t buy diet soda to keep in my apartment refrigerator, because I’m trying to kick the habit…though I do miss snagging sodas in the afternoons as a pick-me-up when I’m working from the apartment!

 

3 Tips for Handling Diabetes in the Workplace

It’s November 8th which means that it’s Day 8 of the Happy Diabetic Challenge! Today’s prompt is about diabetes and the workplace. Here are my top three tips on how to handle diabetes in a professional environment…

Diabetes can be the most annoying coworker in the world. It can interrupt the flow of my workday, breaking my concentration with a low or a high blood sugar that needs correcting. It can trigger alerts and alarms of all sorts that catch the attention of my other coworkers, prompting questions and confusion. And it can be a very tricky subject to bring up to management/bosses. I want them to know that for the most part, I peacefully coexist with my diabetes, but they should expect some (infrequent) occasions in which it will take my attention away from work temporarily so that I can address whatever situation I might be experiencing.

It can be really hard to walk that fine line between letting coworkers and bosses know that diabetes isn’t something they should worry about most of the time, but that it is kind of a big deal because it’s not going away any time soon.

Since joining the workforce ten years ago, I’ve had to navigate just about every situation you could possibly imagine when it comes to dealing with diabetes at work. I’ve made mistakes and learned lessons that helped me come up with the following three tips on how to navigate diabetes and work:

1) Tell at least one other person at work about diabetes as soon as possible. Through conversation with other T1Ds, I realize that the whole “I-have-diabetes-and-it’s-not-a-super-big-deal-but-I-do-have-some-special-needs-that-I-can-almost-totally-promise-won’t-interfere-with-my-work-performance” talk can be daunting, especially when it feels like your career is on the line. But I can’t emphasize enough how much it’s helped me by approaching the topic immediately before or after starting a new job.

Granted, I’ve only had two jobs – the one I worked when I was in high school at the local movie theater, and my current job as an editor – but I made sure that my diabetes was known from the outset. I got the job at the movie theater thanks to a cousin who also worked there (yay Caitlin), and while I struggle to remember details, she may have mentioned it to the general manager before my interview. It didn’t affect the hiring process whatsoever, seeing as I think my work ethic mattered more to the GM than anything else. Regardless, I can still remember talking to the assistant GM (who I’d be dealing with almost every shift I worked there) and letting her know the basics. I reassured her that I would be able to keep up with everyone else, and I figured I’d just have to prove it over time. And I sure did – I quickly garnered a reputation as an “A.P.P.” (all-purpose person) who could sell concessions, rip tickets, sweep up theaters, and swap out movie posters and times with just as much speed, if not more, than anyone else who worked there.

And with my current job, my diabetes actually came up during the interview. That’s because my resume highlighted my experience writing for an online diabetes magazine. I was asked how that came about and I remember launching into an explanation. Neither of my interviewers seemed fazed; on the contrary, they were fascinated by my obvious knowledge on it and pleased that I’d had some level of professional writing experience. Clearly, I made an impression on them…because what started out as a summer internship evolved into a full-time job at the company and I’m still there today!

So I guess I’d sum up the whole diabetes conversation by saying that it’s as big of a deal as you make it. If you approach it nonchalantly, then others will probably treat it similarly. By contrast, if you’re sweating bullets and can’t really describe what your diabetes means to your prospective employer, then they might start to doubt you when you say that it won’t hinder your work performance. Keep calm and keep all lines of communication open on the diabetes front and I bet that the odds are in your favor.

3 Tips for Handling Diabetes in the Workplace
IMHO, diabetes only really interferes with my job when I allow it to – so you can bet that I don’t let it!

2) Keep a diabetes supply stash somewhere – anywhere – and make sure that at least one other person knows how to find it. cannot emphasize enough how first-hand experience with this taught me that it’s crucial that others know how they can help you when hypoglycemia comes a calling. Without getting into too much detail to maintain a semblance of anonymity, a coworker from one of my gigs also has T1D. This fellow T1D experienced a severe low blood sugar one day, and the people around the T1D didn’t know how to react. Luckily, someone thought to reach out to me, and after my colleague described the T1D’s symptoms, it dawned on me that we were dealing with something pretty serious. I was able to get to them in time, but when I searched around for the other T1D’s glucometer, I realized I didn’t know how to use this particular model – and what was worse was that I couldn’t find the fingerstick device. I remember running back to grab my supplies, using a fresh lancet to check the other T1D’s blood sugar, and gasping when a 26 appeared on the screen. Things happened very quickly after that: Someone called 911, a few people came over to help me try to pour regular soda down the incoherent T1D’s throat, and I tried not to panic.

I’m happy to say that all ended well; the T1D recovered in full and thanked me profusely for my help the next day. And then it became a policy to have an emergency stash and make others aware of its location and how to use the various things in it. It went quietly unsaid that if we had known where the T1D’s supplies were kept in the first place, then perhaps we never would’ve needed the ambulance to show up, but the bottom line is preparation is key. Just get some supplies together and keep them wherever they’ll be safe. Label them with things like “do not touch – emergency T1D supplies” so nobody is tempted to lay a grubby paw on any sugary sweets that might be in there.

3) Turn innocuous comments into teachable moments. Oooh, I can’t even begin to comprehend how many straight-up stupid comments people have made over the years in regards to my diabetes…here’s a sampling of ones I can think of off the top of my head, followed by the somewhat less-than-calm responses that I gave:

Molly’s diabetes is the reason why she’s so cold around the office all the time.

Um, no, it has to do with the fact that my desk is directly under a vent that blows ice-cold air on me all day long.

Molly, you can’t eat that popcorn or drink from the soda fountain – there’s sugar in there!

ACTUALLY, I can and I will eat that popcorn. It has carbs, but I can take insulin for them. And when I’m drinking regular soda from the fountain, that probably means that my blood sugar is low, in which case I desperately need fast-acting carbs.

Molly, you have diabetes and you’re always baking sweets! You can’t eat those!

OMG *palm, meet face* I really enjoy baking just as you might enjoy watching a particular TV show or gardening. It’s a hobby of mine. And guess what? Just because I have diabetes doesn’t mean I can’t indulge on the treats I make! I just have to rely on portion control and taking the right amount of insulin.

Molly, you’re beeping again – does that mean you’re going to explode?! LOLOLOLOL.

NO DAMMIT I’M NOT GOING TO EXPLODE AND I’M SICK OF THAT JOKE. *Ahem* Very funny, but those beeps and alarms are nothing to worry about. It’s just a reminder that my insulin pump will need to be changed in a few hours, or that my blood sugar is creeping above/below my target thresholds.

Okay, I think that’s enough of a sampling – you get the idea. Basically, my advice is to treat any ignorant comments with a smile and the truth. I think that one of the best ways to fight against diabetes stigma is to take the time to explain things to people who just don’t get it or who aren’t familiar with it. More often than not, what starts out as a ridiculous comment turns into a genuine conversation in which I can help someone learn about diabetes, and then it turns into a win-win.

Diabetes in the workplace is one of those subjects that I could go on and on about (clearly). I guess the most important thing is to be honest and open to conversation about it. When people doubt your ability to do your job well with diabetes, prove ’em wrong by showing that it doesn’t prevent you from doing anything – it just means you’ve got an extra thing to consider when making everyday decisions. NBD, right?

How Working From Home Affects my Diabetes

Diabetes is a creature of habit. It rarely appreciates disruptions in its expected routine…so when they happen, it likes to make its displeasure known.

This probably explains why I’ve dealt with a number of diabetes curve balls since I started working from home (as opposed to an office) full-time.

I’ve been working remotely, 40 hours per week, for just about a month now. This was a choice I made as I prepared to move from Massachusetts to Virginia. I like most things about my job, from the people I work with to the skills it has helped me develop. But I don’t particularly love that my job forces me to be a self-described “cubicle rat”. When I work in the office, I’m parked at my cubicle for a solid portion of the day. As a semi-fidgety person, this was a tough reality for me to swallow nearly five years ago when I started my job. However, I was able to adapt to the old ball-and-chain that is my desk, and learned to break free from it every once in awhile. Before long, I discovered that getting up every 60-90 minutes to either wander into the kitchen for a drink, walk up the stairs to another floor in the building, or in nice weather, stroll around the building in laps, were all excellent ways to cope with my desire to move as well as keep my blood sugars at bay.

So that’s close to five years of having a very specific routine that my diabetes and I were used to…no wonder it was pissed off when I changed things up.

You are a rare gem.

Working from home affects my diabetes in ways that I expected and others that caught me off guard. First, the things that didn’t surprise me: I knew that I would likely be even more sedentary at home than in an office. I’m not walking across a parking lot, up a set of stairs, and down a long hallway just to set up my desk each day. All I’m doing is walking five feet into the living room in order to power on my laptop. So there’s a lot less daily movement, and I’ve had to work hard to incorporate as much of it as possible because my diabetes responds incredibly well to exercise.

I also knew that my relationship with food would change a bit. Since I was living with my parents before the move, I was lucky enough to have 99% of my food preparations done for me by them (thank you for feeding me, Mom and Dad). Not only would I need to take care of cooking my own food in this new situation, but I would also need to become responsible for making smart choices and stocking the pantries with healthful things…because when you work from home, ALL the food is available to you. And since there aren’t any coworkers nearby me to chat with and take my mind off snack time, it’s much easier for me to just traipse through the kitchen whenever the heck I want and eat a gratuitous number of chips, crackers, cheese, and any other sort of goodies I can find. I don’t like admitting it, but I don’t always bolus for said snacks…making it that much more of a struggle for my blood sugars.

But what I didn’t know about working from home and how it might impact my diabetes is that there’s an emotional side to it that almost certainly comes into play. The first few weeks of my move were absolutely draining. I was homesick and trying to adjust to this strange, new place at the same time, and honestly, I think it was all a little too much for my diabetes to deal with at once. There were three straight days in which I had to fight hard to get my blood sugars to come down from stubborn highs, and there was another string of days in which I felt like I had to eat everything in the kitchen just to keep my numbers up. Between the numbers that my blood sugars represented and my emotions, each day felt like a seesaw and I wasn’t sure what to expect next.

What took me by surprise the most, though, about my new work arrangement was how quickly I acclimated to it. By the end of week two of working remotely, I had a routine – with a few fluctuations here and there – that I’ve since tried to stick with: waking up around 6:30, exercising, showering, getting dressed, eating breakfast, logging onto work, working for 4 hours, eating lunch, taking a break to do household chores/errands, working for another 4 hours, then logging off for the day. So far, I’ve found that following this pattern helps me move around as much as I did when I worked in the office, and it establishes a flow that my blood sugars and diabetes can follow. I’ve also, for the most part, remained mindful of the foods I eat during the working hours, after making mistakes with a bag of pretzels and banana chips in the first couple of weeks.

Even though my diabetes wasn’t happy with remote work in the beginning, I think I’ve arrived at a place in which it’s coming to terms with it…and, I daresay, warming up to the concept.

Hypo and Tongue-Tied: My Woes at Work

“Okay,” I thought to myself as I sat down for my 90 minute meeting, “My blood sugar’s sitting pretty around 100 or so. I should be able to make it the whole meeting without experiencing a drop, since the last time I gave myself insulin was about three hours ago…”

The fact that I had the audacity to think that my body/blood sugar wouldn’t play any tricks on me is laughable.

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This was my recent struggle at work. Usually, diabetes doesn’t interfere with my work whatsoever. I’m sitting, somewhat stationary, at a desk for eight hours every Monday through Friday. There was an adjustment period to the sedentary life when I first started working at my job, but it’s been more than four years now, so my body and my blood sugars are used to it. Plus, throughout the workday, I go out of my way to fit in extra steps, whether it’s using a restroom on a different floor or parking my car far away from my building’s entrance. Combined with my higher activity levels before/after work and regular workweek eating habits, I’d say that I’ve struck a balance in terms of physicality and diet that makes for an optimal environment for my diabetes to function normally/predictably.

So when I DO experience a high or low when I’m at work, it throws me off…but only for a relatively short amount of time. I’m talking like 15 minutes or so here. That’s right about the amount of time I need to come up from a low. If it’s a high blood sugar, I need even less time to rebound. I simply bolus, drink plenty of water, and move on to my next task. (Only in cases of 300+ blood sugars do I get really nervous – it’s only happened a couple of times, but I’ve had to leave work when that happens either due to feeling sick or needing to go home to deal with it.)

But things were different the other day when I was in the middle of a meeting with a colleague and I could feel the slow and steady drop of my blood sugar. Despite having monitored it closely prior to the start of the meeting, it started to coast down. Here’s the real kicker, though – I’m pretty in-tune with my body and could feel that this was not an urgent low. I figured my blood sugar was somewhere between 65 and 75. I didn’t have my CGM or meter to confirm, and I felt like I could keep the meeting going…so I didn’t do anything about it.

And in hindsight – even if it is 20/20 – I wish I had done something.

Why? Mainly because I felt that I was virtually useless in my meeting. As I reviewed each page of the 80+ slide PowerPoint, I could feel my thinking start to deteriorate. Words were tumbling out too quickly and nonsensically. I wasn’t sure if I was making a whole lot of sense to my colleague. And that’s a feeling that I can’t stand. I don’t like thinking that I may have wasted her time due to my determination to “power through” a low. It’s a perfect example of low blood sugar causing a symptom other than shakiness, sweating, or sluggishness: In this case, it also caused stubbornness.

When I finally made it back to my cubicle, I slumped down into my chair and grabbed a juice box from my low supply stash while my CGM buzzed over and over, letting me know that I was indeed low. Within approximately 8 seconds, the juice box was crushed, and I couldn’t help but think how next time I had a meeting, I’d bring one with me…just in case.

T1D and the Workplace: Feeling Envious of Coworkers with Professional Pancreases

I’m envious of people with functioning pancreases.

It goes without saying, but they don’t have to worry about all the things that PWD have to worry about. They can live life with a little more spontaneity. They don’t have to do as much math. They don’t have to lug around test kits and glucose tablets and strips and needles and whatnot at all times. They don’t have to hide their emergency snack stashes from their coworkers – well, okay, maybe they do, depending on some office environments.

They don’t have to worry about minute things, like “is my pod going to start beeping” or “is my blood sugar going to go low or high” during a very important meeting with a very very high-up executive.

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Conference room or anxiety-inducing room?

I’m envious of my coworkers, who were able to just sit there and listen to the executive speak when he made a special visit to the office last week. I was as attentive as I could be throughout the nearly 90-minute meeting, but I was definitely a bit anxious in there without any of my devices. I’d left them all at my desk to avoid awkward questions from the executive. I’m sure he wouldn’t have minded their presence, had he known they were medical devices, but still…I just didn’t want to deal with it.

I’m envious that a meeting is just a meeting to some people, but for a person with diabetes like me, it can trigger fear and concern and a gamut of other emotions regarding blood sugar/diabetes issues in the workplace alone – forget other social situations.

It goes to show that diabetes is never far from my mind, even in situations when I really want or need it to be. I wish my diabetes knew how to act more professionally.

But I guess from practically the beginning, my diabetes – or shall I say, my pancreas – was unprofessional. After all, my pancreas quit on me only four years into the job.

What a lazy jerk.