Hugging the Cactus Turns Three!

On October 2, 2017, I publicly shared this blog for the very first time.

Oh, how much has changed in three years…

…heck, a lot’s changed in the last year alone!

Forget everything that’s been going on with the world since 2020 began – that would be a very depressing laundry list – I’ve personally experienced so much change in the last 10 months that it makes me dizzy when I stop to really process it all…but here’s a quick glimpse at the life transitions I’ve dealt with throughout the year (some of which I’m keeping deliberately vague because they’re painful to write about):

  • Made a major move
  • Mourned the hardest loss of my life
  • Said goodbye to a physical office location for my job
  • Dealt with depression and anxiety
  • Made the biggest purchase of my life so far

Yeah, it’s been quite a year so far. Not just for me, though: It’s been a doozy for all of us. I guess we can take mild comfort in the fact that we’ve all struggled together.

But on a more positive note, in this year of enormous, earth-shaking change, I’ve had a constant in this blog and the diabetes community.

Seems like I was anxiously anticipating the launch of my blog just yesterday…hard to believe it’s been 1,095 days.

I’ve taken solace in blogging and sharing stories three times each week. I’ve enjoyed seeing comments from regular and new readers alike. I’ve relied on the consistency of the diabetes community: its strength, knowledge, resilience, and of course, support.

So as Hugging the Cactus celebrates its third birthday, I remain grateful for its existence as my platform to connect with others, make new discoveries about my diabetes, and learn from it all in order to live the healthiest and happiest life possible.

Happy 3rd birthday, Hugging the Cactus!

3 Things I Learned From the Virtual Friends for Life Orlando 2020 Conference

This past week, I attended my very first virtual diabetes conference: the 2020 Friends for Life Orlando conference, hosted by the Children with Diabetes (CWD) organization.

Before I recap my experience, I’ve got to give a heartfelt round of applause to every single individual involved in the process of turning this in-person event into a virtual one. Between figuring out the technology and adapting the program to make sense in an online format, I’m sure it wasn’t easy, but the CWD staff and many volunteers made it appear seamless. While every conference attendee (myself included) would have loved to see each other in real life in Orlando for this event, it was the right (safest) call to make this conference a digital one. And the majorly bright side of doing the conference online was that more people were able to attend *for free* – literally thousands of people! Each state in America was represented, as well as dozens of countries. The massive turnout makes me happy as I think about how much more accessible this particular conference was to people with diabetes and their families around the world.

Moving along to…the actual conference!

Attending the Virtual Friends for Life Orlando 2020 Conference
All decked out in my conference gear – t-shirt, name tag, green band, and OmniPod, to boot.

It ran from Wednesday, July 14th through Sunday, July 19th. Given that I was away with my family for the duration of the conference, I knew going into it that there was no way I would be able to attend every session or social event. (I was by the beach for a week, so when given the choice between staying indoors or logging onto my laptop…need I say more?). However, I also learned pretty quickly that many of the sessions were going to be recorded and made available at a later date (along with a report summarizing the conference, which will be ready on the CWD site in early August)…so there’s a good chance I’ll refer to some of those recordings for the sessions I missed.

But in terms of the handful of sessions that I did make it to, there were some major takeaways I got from them. Here’s what I learned:

#1: There are some important steps that I (and the rest of the diabetes online community) can take in order to address underrepresentation within our community. In the last few months, issues of underrepresentation of people of color within our diabetes online community has gained overdue attention. Individuals and organizations are working hard to address this and make everyone’s voices equally heard. However, I’m sure that I’m not the only person who felt helpless when trying to figure out how I, as just one person, can make a tangible difference. During one of the conference sessions that I attended, I learned that there are actual a few simple steps that I can take that will make a big impact over time: Follow social media accounts run by people of color. Amplify their voices by sharing and highlighting their content. Support and listen to their experiences as non-white individuals with (and without) diabetes. The bottom line is that everyone deserves to have their voice heard, no matter what, and our community must come together in order to help make this happen. It’s an uncomfortable truth that these representation issues exist, but it’s one worth acknowledging and doing everything within our power to fix it.

#2: Diabetes care and management comes in many different formats, and what works best for one person should always be respected. Of course, I’ve always known and believed in this, but this notion was reinforced for me during one of the sessions that I attended. I can’t remember the exact context, but it was brought up that sometimes people who choose to manage diabetes with multiple daily injections (MDI) take a little heat from people who use insulin pumps. In other words, those who prefer MDI might get pestered and questioned by this choice, which is unfair because it’s a very personal one. It reminded me of how I refused to even contemplate an insulin pump for nearly two decades of life with diabetes – I was so ardently against them for no real reason other than I just preferred my MDI regimen. But then when I did switch to a pump, I was instantly converted and I can’t really imagine going back to MDI. So when I saw a lot of MDI-ers reminding the rest of us that pumps aren’t for everyone, I remembered that diabetes care and management tools aren’t always high-tech (and that doesn’t make them any less effective) and that devices shouldn’t be pushed onto those who get by just fine the old-school way. At the end of the day, we’re all doing our best to take care of our diabetes in the way that’s right for us, and we should always remember that we’re in the fight together.

#3: Our community is strong, resilient, and adaptable – the virtual format didn’t put a damper on anyone’s enthusiasm. It was truly incredible to see how much energy every speaker, staff member, and attendee had for the event. You could practically feel it radiating through the computer screen in some of the sessions! Diabetes forces us to make decisions that are tough sometimes. It throws curve balls in our paths and we must find a way to deal with them, and we always do. This collective tenacity totally translated to this conference as we embraced the virtual format. It was heartwarming to see photos all across social media throughout the five days from attendees and speakers alike showing snippets of their at-home conference experiences, and I loved how everyone had so much spirit for the event. I admit that I even got up and danced  (to several songs) when we had our virtual banquet on Thursday night. I gladly draped the tablecloth and fairy lights I got in my BoFFL (Box of Friends for Life, a package I got in the mail last month containing swag from conference sponsors that was available to the first 500 conference registrants) to really set the mood as I ate dinner “with” diabetes community members across the country and ’round the world…and smiled widely because my T1D mom was able to experience it with me for the first time.

So yes, while it’s a bummer that I didn’t get to hug so many of my friends from the diabetes online community or meet new ones for the first time in-person, I’d say that the virtual conference exceeded my expectations in terms of what it delivered using the available technological resources and passion from the community. Hats off to the sponsors for doing what they could to really engage attendees, and another extra-special kudos to the staff, volunteers, and speakers who pulled off yet another amazing conference.

It just makes my anticipation for the next in-person one that much greater, knowing how wonderful it will be to see everyone in-person again.

A Week Off

Starting tomorrow, I’m on vacation for a week – not from my blog, of course, but from my real-world job.

I’m headed to the beach for the week. It just so happens it’s also the week of the first virtual CWD FFL conference, which I plan on jumping in and out of throughout vacation.

Sun, Sand, Surf
I HOPE my week off involves all of the things in this photo – I’m looking at you, fancy coconut drink.

Like many other 2020 CWD FFL conference registrants, I have many mixed feelings about the conference turning virtual. I’m sad and disappointed that after a seven-year hiatus from conferences, I’m not able to make my IRL return to it this year. But I’m also exceptionally grateful that the CWD FFL staff made the call months ago to turn virtual because they recognized it would be safest for our at-risk population. I’ve been in awe over how quickly they made the transition from an enormous in-person event to an enormous-er virtual event – they’ve proven how effective they are at organizing this sort of thing, and I applaud everyone involved for their efforts.

My original plan was to attend the conference in-person this year while my family was at the beach for the week. But obviously, when the conference became virtual, I decided to tag along to the beach with my laptop in tow because I wanted the best of both worlds: family time and diabetes online community time.

Normally, I wouldn’t dream of packing a laptop along with my swimsuits and sunscreen, but even a trip to the beach looks a little different this year. I have no idea if my family and I will be able to even go to the same strip of sand and ocean without having to worry about things like too many people and not enough masks. We probably won’t be able to eat at many restaurants like we typically do on vacation; instead, we’ll likely cook a significantly higher percentage of our food at home. And we definitely won’t be able to peruse the shops like we have done every year since going to this particular beach town – we’ll have to be a little more creative when it comes to staying entertained.

It’s a weird adjustment to have to make, but I think we’re all in agreement that we’re just happy to have a safe place to get away to for a period of time. And I’m very glad to have the option to soak up the sun while also soaking up support, information, and friendship from the diabetes community.

 

TTFN, Twitter

The title of this post really should be “Sorry Twitter but I haven’t been an active user in about two and half months for some specific reasons I’m about to highlight here, but hopefully I’ll come back to you later when things settle down,” but that’s just not very catchy, is it?

Anyways…

The reason why I’m saying ta-ta for now, Twitter, is that it’s become a really tough space to dwell in – or even pop in for a quick visit – throughout this pandemic.

It’s nothing that any account that I follow did or tweeted specifically…it’s just an amalgamation of everything that appears on the site these days. Between the news alerts and downright depressing tweets showing up left and right on my feed, it’s taken a huge hit on my mental health.

TTFN
I’ll return to Twitter full-time…eventually.

It’s a shame because for a long while, Twitter was kind of my go-to in terms of connecting with the diabetes community. I participated in weekly diabetes social media advocacy chats that were a lot of fun and a great way to communicate with fellow T1Ds near and far. But as Twitter grew more and more negative for me, I found myself gravitating more towards Instagram, where things are admittedly a little too shiny/happy/beautiful/perfect all the time. Instagram doesn’t quite fill the void that Twitter did for me in terms of linking up with my T1D community, but it’s something steady I can rely on for now, and with the added benefit of introducing me to other T1Ds who might not be on Twitter.

I’ll end this post by saying that I doubt I’m the only one who feels this way about one or more types of social media during the pandemic. Actually, I know FOR SURE that I’m not the only one who has felt emotionally drained by logging into different platforms and seeing just the one post that is enough to sap you of all positive, happy feelings. And you know what my advice would be to anyone who has felt the same way as me? Recognize it by avoiding those platforms for as long as you need to. I deactivated my Facebook profile for a couple of different weeks so far this year and my mental health absolutely benefited from me doing so. I don’t tap on the Twitter app on my phone lately and I know I’m saving myself from a ton of anxiety and emotional turmoil.

Just like the world has adapted to this “new normal”, it’s all about being pliable enough to see what does and doesn’t work for your mental heath right now, and then identifying alternative ways you can support it.

I’m Still Here

Hey friends. You probably noticed I didn’t have a new post up this week. (Unless you are one of the few people who saw my incomplete post go up on Monday…I took it down as fast as I could, and the finished version should be up soon. My bad!)

The reason for that is simple: I didn’t really know what to say. We’re living in an interesting time, to say the least, and I didn’t know how to address that on my blog. It seems silly to not address it at all (especially considering I just talked about it a few posts ago). But it also feels inauthentic to continue adding to the already-immense volume of information out there. I don’t feel that I have any commentary to add that would be of any value.

So I’m not talking about our current health situation right now. But that leaves the question…do I still talk about my health situation, meaning my diabetes? Is it stupid to blog about given everything else going on in the world?

Maybe, but maybe not.

I'm still here
I’m still here, making dorky faces.

My diabetes – and everyone else’s diabetes – won’t be going away just because there’s a pandemic right now. So why stop blogging about it? It might be nice for others to have a continuous reminder that they’re not alone with diabetes, not before, not now, and not ever. If sharing my story here helps other people in the diabetes community feel more connected in this time of social distancing, then I’m more than happy to keep telling it.

Plus…I think it’ll be good for my mental health (and hopefully for that of other people) to have something to write/read that won’t be anxiety-provoking.

Anyways, I just wanted to give you all a friendly little wave with this blog post – *waves energetically* – and let you know that I’m here if you need someone to talk to. Let’s all remember to stay human amid the chaos: Be kind, help others when you can, and we’ll weather the storm together.

Catch Me On “This is Type 1”, Episode 28!

Yesterday, episode 28 of This is Type 1 went live – and surprise, it’s the episode in which I was interviewed!

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My podcast promo shot and bio!

Click this link to give the episode a listen. And be sure to let me know your thoughts!

Here’s a little sneak peek of what Colleen and I discuss:

  • How “Hugging the Cactus”, the T1D blog, came to exist
  • My diabetes story – when I was diagnosed, etc.
  • How I define diabetes burnout (and how I deal with it)
  • My process for writing blog posts
  • My favorite posts so far
  • …and so much more!

So, now that I’ve piqued your interest…listen to the episode! I hope you enjoy it. A special shout-out to Colleen and her co-host, Jessie (who unfortunately wasn’t available when we recorded the episode) – thank you BOTH for your time. I appreciate your contributions to diabetes advocacy and the diabetes online community, and I know many, many others appreciate it, too!

“This is Type 1”: A Podcast to Know

Back in November, I had the pleasure of making a guest appearance on the Ask Me About My Type 1 podcast (which I wrote a blog post about that you can check out here).

The whole experience, from being interviewed by Walt and my Type None Emma to hearing positive feedback from listeners, was so enjoyable that I jumped at the opportunity to do another podcast called This is Type 1.

What makes This is Type 1 special? For starters, it’s hosted by two life-long T1Ds. Colleen Mitchell is a writer, analyst, and entrepreneur who has had type 1 diabetes for 24 years. On her website, Inspired Forward, she explains that she’s an advocate for educating others about diabetes. Her co-host is Jessie Tuggey, who Colleen describes as her “pseudo-daughter” that she’s known since her days attending diabetes camp.

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The podcast logo, featuring the two co-hosts.

Colleen and Jessie have explored a variety of topics in their podcast since it launched in August 2019. Examples of subjects they’ve discussed are insulin, insurance, weight loss as a T1D,  how to handle stress as a T1D, and diabetes in pop culture (which was a theme of one of my blog posts last year that happens to get quoted in the episode). They’ve also interviewed a handful of guests, from family members to get parent/sibling perspectives to fellow diabetes podcast hosts.

After listening to one of their recent episodes, I was thrilled when Colleen and Jessie invited me to come onto the show so they could ask me about my life with diabetes and my blog. That episode is coming out next week and I plan on linking to it in a blog post, but for now, I highly recommend that you check out some of their other episodes. They range from 20-60 minutes, so it’s easy to listen to a few in one sitting.

You can listen to This is Type 1 on Stitcher, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, and generally, any other place you can find and listen to podcasts.

The Emotions of a Low Blood Sugar

This post was originally published on Hugging the Cactus on October 8, 2018. I decided to re-up it today because I think we could all use a little reminder that diabetes is different for everyone. Remember…your diabetes may (almost always will) vary.

Previously, I’ve written about what it feels like to have low blood sugar. While many people with T1D feel the same symptoms as me when they experience a low, there are even more who experience a wider variety of emotions and sensations.

Renza, a T1D Twitter friend of mine, did a little investigating into how others would describe what it’s like to have a low blood sugar. She sent a tweet that read:

friends. I’m crowdsourcing (again). If you had to use ONE WORD to describe how hypos/lows feel to you, what would it be. Go!! #Hypoglycaemia

She received nearly 100 responses, which I’ve compiled into the below graphic.

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Looking at this word collage is a bit startling because it represents the vast array of feelings associated with low blood sugar. Most of them are negative. A handful of them start with the prefix “dis”, which describes something with an opposing force. A couple of them relate to feelings associated with eating. And just about all of them can be summed up as sensations that I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

To me, this graphic serves as a stark reminder that diabetes is more than just a chronic illness that affects the body: It affects the mind, too.

Have You Heard About “Ask Me About My Type 1”?

You should definitely know all about “Ask Me About My Type 1”, the podcast, by now.

And no, it’s not just because I appeared in a recent episode (although I totally did, and if you haven’t listened to it yet, keep reading for a direct link to it).

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The podcast’s logo!

Let me tell you the reasons why I think you should know about “Ask Me About My Type 1”:

  • Readers of this blog know that I like to spread the word when I try or experience something great within the DOC. I want others to see how awesome that person or thing is, too, so that’s why I’m talking about the podcast in this post.
  • There’s like, a lot of T1D podcasts out there. Way more than I ever realized or expected. How the heck are you supposed to find out about them? Why, word of mouth works wonders! I know there are a couple of podcasts that might be considered well-known, and these podcasts deserve it…but so do the podcasts that are lesser known. Especially “Ask Me About My Type 1”.
  • This podcast really resonates with me because the focus of every episode is different: If you have a special interest within the DOC, such as marathon training, then you can bet that there’s an episode on the topic. You can also be sure to find episodes on subjects that you never really knew about before, such as politicking with T1D, taking dietary supplements as a T1D, and sex/love/dating with T1D (ooh la la). The show’s host, Walt, goes out of his way to find people within the fabulous diabetes community who offer different perspectives and insights on just about every aspect of life with diabetes, which makes the entire podcast truly important and meaningful.
  • Speaking of Walt – he’s the host of the podcast and he’s a great guy with a story of his own to share. You might recognize him from Team Bike Beyond, but besides being a mega-skilled bike rider, he’s also an incredibly talented podcast host. He asks thoughtful questions, blends his own narrative into every episode, and puts an obvious amount of time and energy into making all of his episodes. When he interviewed me and my friend, Emma, for the show, we honestly forgot that our conversation was being recorded because he did such a seamless job moderating the discussion. That’s a quality that not every podcast host has, and Walt (modestly) rocks it.

Those are just some of the reasons why I’m a firm believer in this podcast (and again, let me emphasize that I am not saying all this because I was a guest – at the end of the day, I truly just want others to know about DOC gems that I’m aware of because I have gained something positive from them).

So now I bet you’re just wondering how you can start listening – and I’m here to help! Simply search for “Ask Me About My Type 1” on Apple podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, or just about any other place you can listen to podcasts. Check out an episode on whichever topic intrigues you the most and I can guarantee you’ll be back for more. Keep up with Walt and new episodes of the show by following @askmeaboutmytype1 on Instagram and visiting his website here, too!

Oh…and here is the link to my episode, in case you were holding out for that (wink, wink).