If you have a partner/spouse, relative, or friend with type one diabetes, it can be difficult to know how to best support that person when they’re experiencing struggles related to diabetes. You might try to offer a shoulder for your loved one to lean on, but that might not always work. Your loved one might push you away or continue to internalize their issues. It can create turbulence in your relationship with one another, and it’s frustrating all around.
So what can you do?
As someone who both has T1D and loves others with T1D (my mom, my aunt, many good friends), I believe that the best way to react is to just listen. Whenever I’ve faced serious struggles or emotional turmoil due to diabetes, nothing has helped me quite like a person who spares time for me to listen to me. Whether I just need to spew out an angry diatribe (LOL at the pun), cry about my problems, talk through issues, or seek advice, it’s worked wonders on me to know that I have individuals in my life who are willing to listen to me. Let me emphasize the listen part once again – listen, not tell me that I’m right or wrong, or offer advice (unless I specifically ask for it).
I get it; sometimes, it’s easier said than done to just listen. A few people I know are so determined to help me fix the problem that they can’t help but react emotionally along with me when I’m dealing with diabetes drama. But trust me, that usually heightens (rather than alleviates) the tension.
It’s all about teamwork. Give and take is involved. Often, enormous amounts of patience are required. Sometimes, it takes awhile for the struggles to subside. But one thing that is certain is that your loved one with diabetes will always thank you and be grateful for your support in their time of need. It’ll strengthen your relationship as well as function as proof that diabetes can’t break your bond, no matter how hard it might try.
Clarence the Shetland Sheepdog joined our family almost one year ago, and he’s brought us nothing but joy and unconditional love ever since then. Well, he’s also brought us a few headaches (when he has been disobedient) and some panic attacks (when he chews things he shouldn’t), but that’s besides the point – this little puppy is adored beyond his own comprehension and he fits in perfectly with us.
But something else that Clarence doesn’t quite understand is…yep, you guessed it, diabetes. Realistically speaking, he’s probably totally unaware of it – the bliss of being a dog. I wish he had some sort of grasp of it, though, because there are times when it gets in the way of my interactions with him. How? I’ll get really specific here with my list of things that I wish my little peanut knew about diabetes:
I wish that he knew my pods/CGM sensors aren’t chew toys! He doesn’t often grab at them, but every now and then, he’ll notice them on my body and nudge them curiously. And since he’s a mouthy guy (being a puppy and all), he has tried nipping at them a couple of times, which always leads to me yelling at him and shoving him away. So it’d be nice if he could recognize that these things help me stay alive and shouldn’t be played with.
I wish that he knew how to fetch glucose tablets or raisins for me/my mother when we’re dealing with low blood sugars. Man, that’d be awesome! But knowing Clarence, if I tried to train him how to do that now, he’d be way more interested in drinking or eating anything intended to remedy a low blood sugar, rather than bringing it over to me or my mom.
I wish that he knew how to react, period, to any sort of blood sugar “event”. For example, if we’re out walking and I need to take a break in order to check my levels, it’d be swell if he could wait patiently rather than tug on the leash to keep the walk going. I can’t blame him, he’s just trying to continue his exercise. But if he knew WHY we had to stop – if he could understand in any sort of way – that would be hugely helpful.
I wish that he knew that, on the occasions that I can’t play with him, it’s not because I don’t want to. It’s because I HAVE to do something medically necessary, whether it’s change my pod or bolus for dinner, that takes my attention away from him.
And I wish that he knew that sometimes, diabetes can take a mental toll on me and my mom, and that there’s not much he can do about it besides continuing to be his sweet self. It’d certainly be convenient for him to realize that his impish side just exacerbates things when one of us is dealing with a stubborn high or shaky low.
That’s my list of wishes, but there’s one thing that I never had to wish for or teach Clarence when it comes to diabetes…and that’s his innate ability to bring us comfort in just about every situation with his mere presence.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Attaboy, Clarence.
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:
#Diabetes 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.
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.
Without going into a ton of detail, I’ve had higher-than-normal blood sugars in the past week or two. Nothing super alarming, but enough for me to notice and feel discouraged about this new pattern. And enough for me to feel that I needed to tell someone about it.
But why post this on Twitter, and not tell my family or my friends? I chose Twitter as my outlet because my network there is composed primarily of people with diabetes. They’re the ones who completely understand where I’m coming from. That’s not to discount my family and friends – they know me and my diabetes well, and I know that I could reach out to any one of them whenever I need to – but truthfully, sometimes it’s easier to talk to people who know exactly what I’m experiencing. I don’t have to explain myself as much, and it’s understood immediately that my feelings are valid and warranted. And just the acknowledgment, the “hey, I’ve been there, too” or the “I know what that’s like”, is all I really need.
I was blown away by the responses I received on Twitter. Many people took the time to reply to me, and I continued to receive tweets for hours throughout the day. Each message encouraged me and motivated me, and some even applauded me for admitting my troubles to my Twitter network. I also received a couple of really great GIFs; in particular, the beaming cactus put a big old grin on my face.
So thank you, DOC, for being there for me when I needed to be lifted up. I’ll keep you all updated as I try to figure out what’s going on, but for now, thank you for reinvigorating me and for caring. No words can truly express my gratitude, but damn, this community is incredible.
I’m reminding myself, and you, that I’ve got this – and you do, too.
And the silence was refreshing. I didn’t like being without my CGM for a week, but there’s no doubt about the one positive effect that its absence had on me: It gave me a much-needed mental break from an audible aspect of diabetes.
It was a blissful reprieve from my diabetes literally screaming at me like a needy baby. A week-long vacation from my CGM hollering at the top of its lungs “HEY YOUR BLOOD SUGAR IS HIGH DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT” or “WAKE UP YOUR BLOOD SUGAR IS LOW YOU BETTER TREAT IT RIGHT NOW.”
It’s rare that I can describe diabetes as peaceful; in this case, it was, and the experience will make me consider putting diabetes on mute a little more often.
I’m feeling anxious about my appointment with my endocrinologist tomorrow.
I don’t know why. I like my doctor very much: She’s always encouraging, pleasant, and helpful. The only thing I’d change about our appointments is to slow them down a bit; sometimes, she whips through them so quickly that I forget to ask her the questions floating around in the back of my mind.
Could it be that I’m worried about my A1c test? Possibly. I don’t know whether my A1c has gone up or down in the last three months. I have stretches of time in which my blood sugar behaves the way I want it to, but I also experience clusters of days here and there of complete diabetes chaos. In the last month, for instance, there were a few too many circumstances in which my blood sugar was above 300 mg/dL. Each time, I’d correct the high, only to either experience 1) a sudden drop resulting in a low or 2) several hours of prolonged high blood sugar because it was taking the insulin a long time to take effect.
Now that I’m thinking about it, maybe those scattered, wicked-high blood sugars are the reason why I’m anxious about this appointment. I know that my doctor will probably ask me about them, and I’m going to have to admit to her that a combination of emotional eating, lack of carb counting, and general carelessness resulted in those highs. I know that she won’t judge me, but…I can’t help but judge myself for causing the blood sugar swings. The rational part of me is aware that it’s unhealthy to blame myself for occasional slip-ups, but the goodie-two-shoes, Miss “Perfect Diabetes” part of me is shaking her head in shame and disappointment.
If nothing else, this is a prime example of how diabetes can be an absolute (warning: foul language following) mind fuck.
Sometimes, you just gotta treat yo’self. (Parks and Recreation, anyone?)
One of my favorite ways to do that is through massage. I can’t think of a more relaxing way to unwind from various sources of stress than massage. Especially when your shoulders and neck are so tense that it feels as though they’re permanently knotted up.
So I went for a one-hour massage a couple of weeks ago to see if I could successfully take a mental break from everything while addressing my muscle tension. And I’m so glad I did that for myself. Plus, it didn’t hurt that my massage therapist was super attentive when it came to my diabetes.
I explained to her that I was wearing a tubeless pump on my lower back, and that she should feel free to massage around it. I also mentioned that if she happened to hear anything buzz or beep during our session, she should just disregard it – if my pump or CGM alarmed, I’d take care of whichever device that was going off at the end of the session.
The massage therapist couldn’t have been more reassuring. She let me know that she previously worked as a physical therapist and had experience in the field for more than 10 years. As a result, she’d seen just about everything over the course of her career – an insulin pump and a glucose monitor were nothing.
That short conversation before the start of the session really helped it start off on the right foot. I felt much better knowing that she wouldn’t be freaked out by my devices. My openness to talk about my diabetes also inclined her to ask me if it affected certain parts of my body more than others, and if she should be sensitive to that throughout the session. I appreciated her attentiveness, and she asked follow-up questions throughout the massage to ensure I was getting the best experience possible.
Not only did I leave feeling like a million bucks, but I also left feeling glad that my CGM and pump stayed silent throughout the one-hour massage: allowing me to truly free my mind from diabetes, even if it was just for a short time.