This November, I participated in the #HappyDiabeticChallenge on Instagram. This challenge centered around daily prompts to respond to via an Instagram post or story. I’ve decided to spread the challenge to my blog for the last couple days of National Diabetes Awareness Month. As a result, today’s post topic is beyond diabetes.
I can’t believe that today is the final day of November, A.K.A. National Diabetes Awareness Month. In a way, I’m relieved. After all, diabetes advocacy can be exhausting. I’ve kept up daily Instagram posts, in one way or another, in response to the #HappyDiabeticChallenge. I’ve tried to keep all of my blog posts this month on theme. I even participated in a fundraising live stream on YouTube, which was an anxiety-provoking yet exhilarating event all on its own.
Needless to say, I’m looking forward to dialing it back down, temporarily, for the month of December. I won’t stop advocating, but I will take a small step back from it so I can recover and process everything from the month in my own time.
It’ll be a good way of reminding myself that I’m more. More than just this stupid chronic disease. There’s so much more to me than diabetes: I’m a daughter, a sister, a girlfriend, a best friend. I’m a dog lover (despite being allergic to most of them). I’m a young professional. I’m a millennial (who proudly owns the moniker). I’m a Disney fanatic and Harry Potter obsessive. I’m a creative and passionate person who cares about a lot of different people, things, and projects.
I’m beyond my diabetes. I prove that to myself each day by living my life unencumbered by it. When it knocks me down, I always get back up to remind it that I’m the boss.
Beyond National Diabetes Awareness Month is a broader realization that I’m a bit burnt out by this hardcore advocacy. And that’s okay. I’ll take a breather and remember to enjoy life more, because I know that I’m beyond diabetes.
This blog post is a response to a prompt provided by my friends at the College Diabetes Network, who are celebrating College Diabetes Week from November 12-16. Even though I’m no longer in college, I like to participate in CDW activities as much as possible to show my support for the CDN!
Most people who know me understand that I have a bit of the Peter Pan syndrome going on – I don’t want to grow up. I’d rather embrace my inner child and shun the responsibilities associated with adulthood. That’s what I’d like to do, anyways.
But the harsh reality is that I’m a woman in her mid-20s who does, indeed, have quite a few responsibilities in life. In addition to the gamut of obligations that most other adults have on their shoulders, I have an extra-special one – yup, you guessed it: diabetes.
I didn’t realize just how much my parents managed my diabetes until I got to college. Suddenly, it was on me to make sure I had enough supplies at all times, to make doctor’s appointments for myself when I wasn’t feeling well, and to do basic things like feed myself regular meals. It doesn’t sound like much, but when you’re adjusting to college life, meeting new people constantly, and making your own choices as to how you spend your spare time…then it becomes a big deal that can feel overwhelming at times.
The shift in responsibility was tough at times, but I made the adjustment and learned to hold myself and myself alone accountable for all aspects of my diabetes care and management. And I’m starting to prepare myself for yet another big change coming in about six months. On my 26th birthday, I’m going off my parents’ healthcare coverage and will need to enroll in my company’s plan. There’s going to be a learning curve there as I discover what will and what won’t be covered under my new plan, and I’m teaching myself to accept it. After all, it’s unavoidable, so like everything related to diabetes, I’m just going to choose to embrace the challenge with a smile on my face.
It’s said that ignorance is bliss…but as I recently (re)learned, ignorance can cause fear and misunderstanding in times that it’s better to be honest.
The lesson was hammered into my brain after fibbing to my significant other about my blood sugar a couple of weeks ago. It was a Saturday night, we had spent the day moseying around the city, and we were looking forward to a chill evening doing a whole lot of nothing. We decided to get into a collaborative card game while we watched the Red Sox play against kick the Astros’ butts.
As we set up the game, I knew my blood sugar was high. But I ignored it, figuring that my insulin would kick in soon and bring my levels back down to normal. I should’ve known that it wouldn’t be so simple (is ANYTHING ever simple when it comes to diabetes?) because after an hour and a half, no progress was made on the BG front and my mood was worsening as a result of it. My partner, ever-attentive, asked me more than once why I seemed so cross. He even directly asked if it was related to my blood sugar, and I…didn’t exactly tell the truth.
Okay, I lied! But it was only because I didn’t want him to worry. I was already worried enough for the two of us. And I thought I was doing the right thing here. I really, truly thought my blood sugar would come down in no time at all, and I hate,hate,HATE using anything related to my diabetes as an excuse for my behavior…so rather than admit what I was going through, I brushed it off, which only exacerbated everything. Not my proudest moment.
As the night went on, we got deeper into the game and my blood sugar climbed higher. I was beyond agitated at this point, and my heart certainly wasn’t into the game. Besides neglecting to open up about my blood sugar problems, I’m also ashamed of my lack of interest in the card game. In hindsight, the healthy thing to do in this situation would’ve been to have faith in my treatment decisions and try to enjoy myself in the meantime. But I was too caught up in the negative mindset that the high blood sugar put me into, and unfortunately, it marred an otherwise perfectly nice night.
The next day, when my blood sugar situation was back to normal, I came clean to my boyfriend. I think he was a bit irked with me for hiding the truth from him, but I also think that he understood a little more after I explained why.
In this case, diabetes won…at least it did in that brief moment in time. Between ruining my mood and causing a mild rift between me and a loved one, I felt pretty damn defeated by it. In the long run, though, I think this experience will be more of a boon than a bane, because it reinforced the notion of honesty being the best policy – even when it comes to diabetes.
Can you imagine having diabetes in the 14th – 17th centuries??? The answer to that is no, you probably cannot…because without modern medicine, it wouldn’t have been possible for a T1D to survive in the Renaissance. And ‘cuz, well y’know, the Black Plague was a thing back then and lots of people didn’t survive.
But fortunately, we’re living in the 21st century, which means we have access to all sorts of things that help us manage diabetes. Still waiting on that cure, though.
Where am I going with all this?
I wanted to recount my recent trip to a Renaissance festival, in which I spent a day taking care of my diabetes while jousting tournaments, Shakespearean performances, and drunken debaucheries took place all around. And you know what? It was easier than I thought it’d be.
Sure, I didn’t check my blood sugar with my meter as much as I should have. My inner germaphobe was reluctant to rely on my meter for accurate results, seeing as there weren’t really any hand-washing stations on the fairgrounds. (Remember, this is the Renaissance…things were a little grimier in those days.) I used hand sanitizer whenever it was available to me to keep my hands clean, but it was a bit of a challenge, especially when my mitts got caked in mud post-ax throwing.
Thankfully, I had my Dexcom G6 to help keep me on track as I ate my way through the fictional 16th century village. I was jazzed that several low-carb options were available to me; throughout the day, I snacked on a giant turkey leg, a Scotch egg, and spiced nuts. Maybe a “diabetes-friendly” diet would’ve been easy to follow in the Renaissance? Though I will admit that I gave in to temptation and ate (devoured) a slice of cheesecake. On a stick. And dipped in chocolate. Not low carb, but super YUM.
So even though my diet was far from nutritious at the ye olde faire, I think that all the walking around and sharp-objects-throwing kept my blood sugar in check, much to my relief. My experience at the fest is just another example of how diabetes won’t prevent me from living life to the fullest, whether it’s in the reality of 2018 or the fantasy of the 16th century.
This post initially appeared on Beyond Type 1 on May 19, 2016. I wanted to republish it here because I will be exploring this topic further in November, which is National Diabetes Awareness Month. Stay tuned!
In September 2011, I started college at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. I’ll never forget the range of emotions I felt when my parents dropped me off: anxious, excited, anxious, scared, anxious, curious … and did I mention anxious?
A reason why I was so nervous was that going off to college represented my first true taste of independence. I would be a full 90 minutes away from my parents, who have acted as key teammates in my diabetes care and management over the years. It wasn’t like I was starting this academic and social pursuit freshly diagnosed; after all, I’ve had diabetes since I was 4 years old. Growing up with it made me accept it as my reality early in life, and I never really minded it. It started to become a worry, though, when I was hit with the realization that I had to immerse myself in an unfamiliar environment, away from my parents and healthcare team who knew me and my diabetes best. I wondered, “Can I do this?”
Fortunately, my schedule was so full, so quickly, that I barely had time to dwell on my concerns. I attended my classes, bonded with my roommate, established a diverse friend group, experienced the culinary offerings of the dining halls, stressed over homework assignments, and tried new group fitness classes at the gym, among other things. Best of all, my newfound friends didn’t seem to mind my diabetes at all — they asked me endless questions and thought nothing of it when I whipped my insulin pen out in the dining halls to bolus for meals. Establishing a routine helped with my diabetes management and before long, I started to feel more comfortable with this whole college thing … except for one aspect of it.
Alcohol: It’s a taboo concept in the diabetes world, but certainly not on college campuses. Before I left for college, my parents and I did talk about drinking and social pressures, but we didn’t have an in-depth discussion about diabetes and drinking. The main takeaway was a tacit understanding that safety should always be my number one priority.
I’ll admit that among the various other activities I participated in freshman year, an occasional party at which alcohol was present was part of the gamut. One particular party stands out in my memory because it taught me, more than words from my parents or my endocrinologist could, just how important safety is when it comes to drinking and diabetes.
I ventured to an off-campus party with a group of friends one Saturday night. It was a stereotypical college party: loud music, lots of people, long lines to use the one bathroom in the house. For the first couple of hours that we were there, we were having a great time meeting new people and drinking a bit. As I was sipping on my beverage, I helped myself to some of the tortilla chips, the communal appetizer laid out for party-goers (clearly, no expenses were spared for this shindig!).
I was stupid and didn’t monitor how many chips I was eating or how much I was drinking. Instinct told me to test my blood sugar and I discovered that I was high—much higher than I anticipated. I started rifling through my purse for my Humalog pen when it hit me that I never packed it.
This story could have ended much differently, but I’m happy to say that I was just fine by the end of the night. I told my friends what was happening. Instead of expressing disappointment over leaving the party, they were super understanding and insisted on escorting me home to make sure I could get my medication. Before long, I was back in my dorm and administering insulin. Once I started to come down, I went to bed and woke up at a normal blood sugar the next morning.
What exactly did I learn about drinking and diabetes that night? A few important things:
Always have all of my supplies with me when I go out and indulge in a drink or two. This means I would triple-check, from that point onward, to make sure I had my meter, insulin, test strips, glucose tablets and everything else I might possibly need.
Check my blood sugar before, during and after drinking to maintain healthy levels.
Set an alarm or two before bed so I can wake up and check my blood sugar.
Go out with a supportive group of friends — even though I was panicking that night over my hyperglycemic blood sugar, I felt comforted by my friends’ presence and support.
Refuse drinks if I don’t want them. I’ve never felt pressured to drink, even when everyone else around me is. As long as I’m having fun, my choice to not drink doesn’t matter.
Research carbohydrate content of alcohol so I know how to account for different drinks. I also have done my homework, so I know that different alcohols affect my blood sugar at different rates, if at all.
Avoid sugary drinks. They’re often not worth it, and it’s easy for me to replace certain mixers with diet or sugar-free drinks.
I learned a major lesson that night. Since then, drinking has become an occasional social activity for me that I no longer fear due to my preparedness and openness on the subject. I understand that drinking and diabetes sounds scary and forbidden, but this is why it’s important to talk about. Discussing it with family, friends, and your healthcare team can help you feel reassured over how to handle it. Now, I can confidently raise a glass of dark beer or red wine (my personal favorites), knowing I can enjoy a drink safely despite my diabetes.
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.
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.
This post originally appeared on my blog at ASweetLife.org on August, 3, 2015. But it’s one of my favorites that I’ve ever written, and I needed the reminder that diabetes isn’t all doom and gloom – in fact, it can bring bright spots and moments of triumph!
10. Finding a new, yummy snack that doesn’t skew blood sugar
I love cheese, veggies, and deli meats, but sometimes I get sick of turning to them when I’m looking for a low-carb snack that won’t make me skyrocket. That’s why I love discovering new, lower-glycemic index foods that taste great without triggering any CGM alarms.
9. CGM and meter matches
Twins! It may be trivial, but I find it reassuring when the blood sugar that my meter reports happens to be exactly the same as the one on my CGM. It’s all about that accuracy!
8. Treating well for…well, treats
Speaking of accuracy, it can be ~hella~ tough to bolus after devouring a giant plate of nachos or a generous slice of cake with ice cream. The mental carb calculator might go a little haywire in the process of figuring out just how many grams of carbohydrate are in a given amount of “bad” food, but when you get it right, it feels so damn good.
7. Joining the Century Club
When I was a little kid and my blood sugar was 100 mg/dL, I would draw little fireworks next to the result in my logbook as a sign of my success. While I may no longer do that, I still feel happy when I reach the 100 mg/dL reading that I find pretty perfect. Definitely worthy of a meter advertisement!
6. Painless site changes
Oh my gosh, CGM changes and pod insertions can HURT. In fact, almost every time I change my pod I let out a little squeal of agony, whether it really was painful or not. So whenever I hit a sweet spot with a site change, it’s pure relief and makes the process less stressful.
5. Correcting accurately for a hyper
It’s not fun to have a hyperglycemic blood sugar. For me, it affects my mood by taking me from glad to grouchy within seconds. And don’t get me started on all the water/diet coke I down, resulting in endless bathroom trips! When I reverse a high by delivering a correction bolus that takes me back down to a better reading like 108 mg/dL, I feel that much better mentally and physically.
4. Conversely, correcting accurately for a hypo
Along the same lines, low blood sugars are so disorienting. I can’t stand feeling shaky, dizzy, and sweaty all at once. And it can be irksome to be forced to eat when you don’t necessarily want to. That’s why I take great pleasure in fixing a low with the bare minimum of carbs, which usually results in a near-perfect blood sugar reading later.
3. Seeing a doctor who just gets it
Over the last 17 years, I’ve seen my fair share of doctors – some I’ve loved, some I’ve loathed. Currently, I’m fortunate to have an endo who truly understands me and my needs. She listens, she cares, she doesn’t blame me diabetes mistakes. While I still don’t love having to see a doctor every three months, she makes it much more bearable.
2. Meeting other T1Ds
Talk about people who “just get it”! The only T1Ds I knew growing up were two immediate family members. When I went off to college, this completely changed and I connected with many other T1Ds. Suddenly, it was normal to whip out my meter or a syringe whenever needed, and conversations about carbohydrates were common.
1. Improved A1c results
This. One of the ultimate victories! I’ll never forget how good I felt when my A1c dropped a whole point, marking major personal progress. An improved A1c is a true sign of your effort being worth it when it comes to your diabetes management. #FTW!