Memory Monday: Carb Counting and the Calorie King

One Monday per month, I’ll take a trip down memory lane and reflect on how much my diabetes thoughts, feelings, and experiences have unfolded over the years. Today, I remember…

…discussing carb counting and the role of The Calorie King with a nutritionist.

I’ve met with a nutritionist as part of my diabetes care a few times in my life. During my last visit, maybe six or seven years ago, the nutritionist gifted me with a book entitled The Calorie King. “It’s really going to help you with your carb counting,” she told me.

I remember staring at the book dubiously. It was a compact little thing adorned with bright, bold colors. A bearded man wearing a crown was the cover image, and I couldn’t help but think that it looked totally dorky. I was skeptical: How was a book about calorie counting supposed to help me with my carb counting?

Fresh and Organic
Have you ever heard of The Calorie King or used it yourself for dietary or nutritional purposes?

As it turned out, it could help me a lot.

The Calorie King wasn’t just a list of the calorie content of different foods – it was a comprehensive guide that told me everything about the nutritional content of food. It was like having a manual of nutritional labels, except it was in an easier-to-digest format. And it gave me something that I’d never had access to before: Carbohydrate counts of food that you can get at fast food places, sit-down restaurants, and the like. It gave me a better sense of just how ridiculous some restaurants’ portions can be, as well as how serving size is one of the most critical factors in determining a food’s carb count. My mind marveled at that silly little book’s treasure trove of information, which would be key in helping me determine how much insulin I should take for food in just about any situation.

These days, I use apps on my phone whenever I’m unsure about a given meal or food item. They’re far more convenient than lugging around a copy of The Calorie King. But it turns out my nutritionist kinda knew what she was talking about when she told me that it would open my eyes up to the world of more precise carb counting. And for that, I’m grateful.

 

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Memory Monday: The First Time I Tried Alcohol & How it Affected My Diabetes

One Monday per month, I’ll take a trip down memory lane and reflect on how much my diabetes thoughts, feelings, and experiences have unfolded over the years. Today, I remember…

…the first time I drank alcohol and how it affected my diabetes – more specifically, my blood sugars. And that’s right folks, I CAN recall it…fortunately, this experience does not coincide with my first time actually getting drunk.

Don’t worry, Mom and Dad, you won’t recoil in horror while reading this post!!!

My first time drinking alcohol occurred during my first week of college, freshman year. So…college of me.

My freshman year dormitory held fewer than 100 students. Due to the relatively small nature of the building, everyone started bonding and forming friend groups pretty quickly. By the time our first weekend on-campus rolled around, we were all itching to get together, continue to get to know one another, and naturally, drink like delinquents.

I Volunteer To Drink!

That Friday night, I was sitting on the floor of my friends’ dorm room – Emma and Kira had the largest, swaggiest digs in our whole friend group, if not the entire dormitory – when our friend Chris entered, holding a full bottle of grape-flavored Svedka vodka in his hands. I remember him making the rounds, pouring us shots of vodka that we would drink as a group. As he filled shot glasses, I started feeling extremely nervous. I had zero prior experience with alcohol, let alone vodka. So many questions flitted through my mind: Would I feel drunk right away? What was it going to taste like? Does the grape flavor mean that it contains more sugar, and would it make my blood sugar go up?

I barely had time to contemplate answers, though, when people started lifting their shot glasses into the air and toasting the beginning of our college careers. Even though I was sweating bullets, I smiled and cheered along with everyone else as we tossed back our shots…

…which tasted absolutely foul. I’m pretty sure I almost retched, but did what I could to contain myself because I didn’t want to seem like a loser. I’ll never forget thinking to myself, this shit tastes just like how nail polish remover smells. How can people possibly drink and enjoy this?

I sat there, internalizing all my thoughts and feelings about drinking my first shot of alcohol, and just tried to blend in with the group. But it was kind of difficult for me to do, because at some point in the night, my anxious thoughts consumed me and I abstained myself from drinking anything else. I was too caught up in the unknown, and I cared too much about how this one little innocent shot of vodka might impact my diabetes.

As I would come to find out later that night, one shot of vodka had zero-to-no affect on my blood sugars. And of course, in time, my fears about alcohol and my blood sugars faded because I educated myself on how to do it safely. I learned that every type of alcohol has a different carbohydrate content. I discovered what did and didn’t work for me, often in a controlled environment. But I wouldn’t change my first encounter with it at all because the shared experience of drinking shitty grape vodka with this group of strangers, on the first Friday night of college, is one of the many shared experiences that turned them into some of my dearest friends. That, I can raise a glass to…as long as it’s not filled with Svedka anything.

Memory Monday: The First Time I Self-Injected Insulin!

One Monday per month, I’ll take a trip down memory lane and reflect on how much my diabetes thoughts, feelings, and experiences have unfolded over the years. Today, I remember…

…the first time I self-injected insulin and how absolutely terrified the mere thought of doing so made me.

Since I’ve never really minded needles that much, you’d think that self-injecting would be a cinch for me. That couldn’t be further from the truth, at least for the first few times that I had to do it.

It goes back to one endocrinologist appointment when I was nine, maybe ten years old. My doctor and my parents were talking about how I was reaching an age where I should start to take on a little bit more responsibility in terms of my diabetes care. I don’t remember whether my endo or my parents suggested it, but one of the two parties said that a good starting place would be to start giving myself my own insulin.

Initially, I protested. I hated the idea. But I warmed up to it when my parents reassured me that they would check the syringe for me before I stuck it into my skin. At this point in time, I’d practiced drawing up my own insulin dosages. I’d pass the syringe along to my mother or father for the actual injection. So I had the first step in the process down pat, and it only made sense for me to put two and two together and do it all independently.

Since I was hemming and hawing over the prospect, though, my endo had the brilliant idea to practice on my father with a saline injection right then and there, given that he was willing for me to do it. As he rolled up his sleeve, I grinned wickedly (I was annoyed with him for some trivial reason that day) and waited while my doctor prepared the saline injection. As she brought it over, I panicked a little, and I must’ve asked two or three times whether it was actually safe for me to do this. Because even if I was irritated with him, for whatever stupid thing it was, I didn’t actually want to hurt him.

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Once I was adequately assured that the injection would be harmless, I took the syringe into my hand, took a deep breath, and stuck it into my dad’s arm. I remember pushing down on the plunger slowly, and my dad sitting in the chair, totally composed and un-bothered by the sensation. When I took the needle out of his arm, I exhaled loudly, not realizing that I had been holding my breath the whole time. What can I say, it was a nerve-wracking feeling. It’s not every day that you learn how to inject yourself, or someone else for that matter, with a syringe.

Over the course of the next week or two, I practiced my new skill on oranges supplied to me courtesy of my parents. With each practice injection, my confidence grew and I realized that it wasn’t that scary. I would press the orange against my leg or my arm, pinch at its peel, and give it an injection of salt water – super quick, super easy.

In no time at all, I felt brave enough to give myself my first self-injection. Just like I did with my dad in the doctor’s office, I breathed deeply before plunging it into my leg, exhaling only when I was done. And I felt the satisfaction of having done it on my own, which was sweeter than I thought it would be.

Working up the courage to self-inject is just one example of many experiences I’ve had with diabetes and being afraid to try something new. Whether it was trying a CGM for the first time or transitioning to a pump, each new thing I introduced to my diabetes care and management routine scared the hell out of me at first. But just like I proved to myself that self-injecting was nothing to be afraid of, I’ve shown myself time and time again that new things for diabetes aren’t always so bad.

Memory Monday: My Lowest Low Blood Sugar

One Monday per month, I’ll take a trip down memory lane and reflect on how much my diabetes thoughts, feelings, and experiences have unfolded over the years. Today, I remember…

…the lowest low blood sugar that I ever experienced. So low, in fact, that I never actually found out how low it reached. Scary stuff.

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Admittedly, my memory’s a little fuzzy when it comes to recollecting what exactly happened, but here’s what I remember: It was my sophomore or junior year of high school. I woke up in the morning and checked my blood sugar – or so I thought. In reality, I think I imagined checking my blood sugar, or perhaps I went through the motions of doing it without actually getting a reading.

Regardless, I made my way down the stairs and into the kitchen, where I encountered my mother. I told her that I wanted “special cake”.

I remember her looking at me with worried eyes and asking me what I was saying. All I can recall is that I asked for special cake two or three more times before getting totally frustrated with her. How could she not understand my request for Special K cereal?

That’s right, in my stupor, I thought I was saying that I wanted Special K cereal for breakfast. But I didn’t realize that my low blood sugar was causing me to slur so badly that my words weren’t coming out clearly.

I vaguely remember my mom’s panicked reaction as she figured out that I must be experiencing a low. I think she asked me what my blood sugar was, and when I couldn’t tell her because I didn’t remember, she knew it was time to force some orange juice down my throat. I was conscious for that, but it’s like it was erased from my memory – I have no recollection of drinking the juice or what the moments after that were like.

I wound up going to school late that morning, only to have to go home less than halfway through the day. My low “hangover” was so bad that I felt nauseous in my classes and couldn’t concentrate on the lessons.

Obviously, I fully recovered from the incident. Even though my memory is shoddy at best when it comes to remembering the whole experience, the mere fragments that I can recall are enough to make me scared to ever go through something like that again. It’s a reminder that diabetes can be terrifying, but living with it is a reality that I have no choice but to accept – fears and all.

Memory Monday: The Shattered Insulin Vial

One Monday per month, I’ll take a trip down memory lane and reflect on how much my diabetes thoughts, feelings, and experiences have unfolded over the years. Today, I remember…

…the insulin vial that my mother and I accidentally broke in the bathroom of a restaurant, many years ago. R.I.P., tiny vial of Humalog.

This goes back to the days of having to scurry off to the restroom soon after ordering our meals to check blood sugars and inject insulin. And it was a pain. We wanted to be considerate of other diners around us in the restaurant, so doing our diabetes things at the table wasn’t an option. That left us with the most logical choice, the bathroom.

On the night of the broken vial, we were having dinner at a local restaurant. Once our dinner orders were placed, we headed off to complete our routine. And it went just as expected: We knew our blood sugar levels and did the mental math necessary for figuring out our insulin intakes. If memory serves correctly, I was still at an age where I wasn’t totally comfortable with injecting myself yet and would ask my parents to help me whenever we were in a public place (I felt better about self-injecting at home, my literal comfort zone). So my mom ushered me into a stall and went about filling her syringe, then mine. Soon after she stuck me with the needle, it happened…the vial fell. I don’t know if it was my hand or her elbow that knocked it off from its perch, but something caused it to tumble down to meet its end.

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It was a dramatic moment. If a slo-mo camera had captured the ordeal, I’m sure it would’ve shown my mother and I donning identical, horrified expressions as the vial smashed into smithereens on the tiled bathroom floor.

 

 

 

 

It wasn’t the end of the world; after all, we’d just taken our shots before the incident, and the vial wasn’t completely full. But it was just full enough that we were upset about all the wasted insulin that formed a small puddle on the floor.

I remember my mom gingerly picking up the pieces of the fractured vial and disposing of them, sighing as she went about the task. That whole experience resulted in a few things. 1) We made sure to get a vial protector soon after it happened to help cushion future insulin vials that were accidentally dropped and 2) We got insulin pens a bit further down the road, which proved to be much more durable and portable than vials. In fact, they made it so we could do injections at the dinner table, in the car, and just about anywhere with ease and discretion.

But this incident remains etched in my memory because it instilled always being careful with my diabetes supplies from that moment on. All of my diabetes stuff is expensive and extremely precious because of what it does for me, my mom, and millions of other people on a daily basis – it’s got to be treated carefully, always.

Memory Monday: That Time a Classmate Said That Having Diabetes Means You’re Screwed

One Monday per month, I’ll take a trip down memory lane and reflect on how much my diabetes thoughts, feelings, and experiences have unfolded over the years. Today, I remember…

…that one time in college when some random kid sitting near me in class said that having diabetes means “you’re screwed”. In other words, you can’t live with it, it’s a death sentence.

Before I talk about how I responded to that, I’ll provide some context. It was my freshman or sophomore year of college. I was in a discussion group for my Nutrition 101 seminar. It was early enough in my college career that I still felt painfully shy around most of my classmates, unless they happened to live in my dorm or I had known them in high school (even though I went to a college with an undergraduate population of more than 20,000, I’d still occasionally encounter a high school classmate – it’s a small world after all).

But when it comes to diabetes…well, I have a reputation for not being able to shut up about it. So when it inevitably came up over the course of the Nutrition class, and the teacher’s assistant asked us to define it, I felt a natural impulse to say everything I knew about it. I had to suppress it, though, because my fear of raising my hand in class was stronger than my desire to spew out an overly in-depth definition of diabetes.

So I let someone else answer the question, noting what was right and wrong about the response. As the T.A. launched into her notes on diabetes and nutrition, I overheard a muttered, ignorant comment from the kid next to me:

If you have diabetes, that means you’re screwed!

Your art is yours
As you might imagine, I didn’t take too kindly to his words.

While the dude sitting next to him laughed, I felt instant rage surge throughout my body. Without even thinking, I blurted out loud, just audibly enough for him to hear, “No, having diabetes does not mean you’re screwed. Whether you have type 1 or type 2, you can live a perfectly normal life with it. I would know, I have type 1.” I felt my face flush as I turned my attention back to the oblivious T.A. in the front of the room. In the corner of my eye, I saw that the kid was sitting there, mouth slightly agape, probably surprised that the quiet girl in discussion group spoke up to shut down his idiotic way of thinking.

It’s been several years since I was in this particular class, and I don’t remember much of the materials that were taught in it. But I do remember this exchange. It stands out to me because it’s a reminder of how far we’ve got to go as a society to defeat diabetes stigma and prove that you can do more than survive with diabetes – you can thrive with it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Memory Monday: Attending my First CDN Meeting

One Monday per month, I’ll take a trip down memory lane and reflect on how much my diabetes thoughts, feelings, and experiences have unfolded over the years. Today, I remember…

…attending my very first CDN meeting as a college freshman who had no idea what to expect.

I remember wandering into one of the dilapidated buildings on campus, my stomach twisting in knots out of anticipation. I had no clue what to expect. I’d decided to go to the meeting partly to find out what it was like to interact with other T1Ds who were my age, and partly to placate my mother, who encouraged me to give it a shot (pun definitely intended).

When I walked into the room, I was greeted by the then-president of the UMass Amherst chapter, a couple of members, and the chapter’s adviser. I remember smiling nervously at them, introducing myself, and sitting down to join in on the animated conversation.

That would be the first and only CDN meeting in which I didn’t have much to say, only because I was too fixated on the novelty of the whole thing. Growing up, my mom and my aunt were the only two T1Ds I had in my life, and I was very okay with that. They were (and still are) excellent resources for my diabetes-related questions, so much so that my young/naive mind couldn’t see what I’d possibly have to gain by befriending other people my own age with diabetes.

If I’d known then what I know now…!

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CDN became such a big part of my life that I even wound up on the cover of their Advocacy and Awareness Guide!                    Who woulda thunk?

To make a long story short, that meeting marked the start of something wonderful for me. A journey, of sorts, to feeling empowered with diabetes. The beginning of many treasured friendships. An introduction to leadership in the diabetes community. A foray into feeling less afraid to rely on others for emotional support when I struggle with my diabetes.

That first meeting showed me what it was like to be around peers who I don’t have to constantly explain things to because they already know the ins and outs of diabetes just as well as I do. And that is invaluable.

I like reflecting on my involvement with CDN because so many positive things are associated with it, and it’s especially fitting on this Memory Monday in question, because Diabetes Awareness Month is right around the corner! My upcoming posts will reflect that, and they’ll also address prompts provided by the CDN to celebrate College Diabetes Week. Even though I’m not in college anymore, I’m looking forward to writing posts that respond to those prompts, because they’ll serve as a great way to reflect and reminisce some more. Be on the lookout for those posts in the next two weeks!