What to Do When a Loved One with Diabetes is Struggling

This blog post was originally published on Hugging the Cactus on March 20, 2019. I’m sharing it again today because as tough as diabetes can be for me, it can be even harder on my loved ones who can’t do anything about it – especially when diabetes struggles turn into emotional struggles. Read on for my opinion on how you can help your loved one with diabetes overcome difficulties.

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?

Emotional support is incredibly important when it comes to helping a loved one with diabetes get through a difficult time.

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.

How I Realized I’m Experiencing a Bout of Diabetes Burnout

Diabetes burnout is the generic term used to describe a state in which a person with diabetes becomes tired of managing it and may become neglectful of one or more aspect of diabetes care.

I say “generic term” because diabetes burnout doesn’t look the same for every person, though, so it can be tough to recognize it when it’s happening. I know this from personal experience: I’m going through a bout of diabetes burnout right now.

Diabetes burnout is just a part of having T1D.

It took me weeks to realize it, but I finally came to the conclusion that I was burnt out because several things dawned on me at once:

  • It was taking me longer to respond to CGM alarms. I would hear them going off, but I didn’t necessarily care to even look at them, let alone correct them. As a result, I let a lot of high blood sugars linger much longer than I should have, which made me feel frustrated and bad about myself for causing harm to my body.
  • I wasn’t eating healthy foods. The Easter holiday brought an abundance of chocolates and sweets into my kitchen, so instead of choosing fruits or veggies to snack on, I was going for high-carb items with zero nutritional value…and I didn’t bother bolusing for them, which of course, wreaked havoc on my blood sugar.
  • I did the bare minimum to keep my blood sugars in check. I was still bolusing for all my meals, but the snacks in between? The little desserts I’d have? The alcoholic beverages I’d enjoy? Nope, certainly wasn’t taking those into account when I took mealtime boluses.
  • I got lazy with carb counting. I kept gravitating toward bottomless bags of snacks when I did my weekly grocery store trips, even though I knew that I have no restraint when it comes to highly addictive, faux-healthy foods like Annie’s cheddar snack mix or cute little teddy graham cookies. Whenever I’d crack open a fresh box or bag, I’d dig in and wouldn’t stop digging in, going way over the recommended serving sizes and not bothering to slow down and count out my carbs.
  • I was allowing my emotions to influence my diabetes care (or lack thereof). I’m a self-professed emotional eater. That, coupled with excess stress/anxiety levels, shifted my attention away from my diabetes.

So, yeah, there’s no question that I’m in a period of diabetes burnout. Joy.

As tired as I am of taking care of my diabetes, though, it doesn’t compare to how exhausted it makes me to beat myself up over my burnout day after day.

I’ve been through burnout before. I know I’ll make it through, just like I have in the past, and I am also aware that I’m likely to experience it again in the future. And rather than come up with a super-specific action plan to conquer it, or give myself a timeline to overcome it, I’m just going to ride it out knowing that I’m trying my best each and every day, and that’s what matters most.

4 Ways Diabetes Motivates Me

Life with diabetes can be inconvenient, unpredictable, and downright frustrating. But it’s not all bad. In fact, after living with it for more than 23 years now, I’ve actually identified a few different ways in which it helps motivate me.

And what, exactly, are those ways? Well…

#1: It’s constantly challenging me to strive for the better: Better “control” over my blood sugar levels, better management of my diet and exercise regimen, and better care of my entire body, in general. While it involves a lot of work, it’s extremely motivating because I know that anything I do for the better of my diabetes and my body now will pay dividends in the future.

#2: Diabetes encourages me to ask questions. I think that my diabetes is the reason why I’ve learned to be curious. It pushes me to want to know the who, what, when, where, why, and how of various scenarios, both relating to and not relating to diabetes. It’s natural for human beings to be inquisitive, but they don’t always do something to pursue answers to questions. My diabetes pushes me to do that, with varying degrees of success, and that’s something I’m grateful for.

After having diabetes for more than 23 years, I’ve realized that it can be highly motivating.

#3: It pushes me to prove people wrong. There’s so much stigma surrounding diabetes…”You can’t eat that! You can’t do this! You can’t do that!” are exclamations that I’ve heard my entire life from different people. Rather than nodding and smiling politely at these poor, misinformed individuals, I strive to show them exactly why they’re wrong. Whether it’s explaining the facts or going out and doing the very thing they said I wouldn’t be able to do because of diabetes, it’s empowering for me to smash down diabetes misconceptions.

#4: Diabetes inspires me to seek more out of life. This goes hand-in-hand with point number 3, but it counts as a separate notion because this is all about how I view my life with diabetes. I didn’t fully accept my diabetes until I was a teenager. That acceptance represented a turning point for me during which I realized that just because I was dealt this card in life, it doesn’t mean that it should stop me from accomplishing my hopes and dreams. Over the years, my diabetes has made me want more: opportunities, experiences, relationships…you name it and I’m hungry for it.

Sure, diabetes can be my biggest headache…but it can also be my greatest motivator, and I think it’s important for me to embrace the beauty of that.

The Days that Diabetes Bothers Me

The vast majority of the time, I’m relatively unbothered by my diabetes.

I accepted long ago that it’s not going away any time soon. While that acceptance has made it easier to live a full life in spite of diabetes, I definitely still experience the occasional day that diabetes bothers me more compared to other days.

The days that I’m unbothered by diabetes are enriched by the ones when it bothers me.

It’s the days that I’m trying to enjoy time spent with loved ones.

It’s the days that I want to eat whatever I want without any consequences.

Heck, it’s the days that I want to eat, period – I’ve had days in which diabetes has restricted me from eating much of anything at all.

It’s the days that I need a really solid night of sleep the night before, but don’t get it because diabetes interfered.

It’s the days that I’m feeling so burnt out from it all that I just want to be normal.

Obviously, I’ve learned how to power through these days that I’m truly bothered by diabetes. But the ones that I simply can’t find the strength to do so are the hardest, and that’s when diabetes really gets to me.

I think that after 23 years with it, I’m allowed to be bothered by my diabetes every now and then. I don’t have to radiate sunshine and positivity about life with diabetes 24/7.

However, I think it makes the times that I’m unbothered by my diabetes that much richer because that’s when I get to stick it to diabetes.

Take that.

How Raising a Puppy is Similar to Dealing with Diabetes, Part 2

Just about three years ago, I was helping my parents raise their puppy, Clarence. And naturally, with me being who I am, I found that raising him was a lot like dealing with diabetes – and wrote about it in this blog post.

Now that I’m a puppy parent, I revisited that post and found that there are even more similarities between the two.

For starters, one of the biggest parts of diabetes management is the constant monitoring involved in it. As it turns out, the same can be said about raising a puppy! Much like my blood sugar, I am watching her like a hawk during all waking hours. I’m prepared to pounce on her if she’s chewing up a puppy pad or squatting down to her business indoors, just like I’m prepared to act when my blood sugar is going higher or lower than I’d like.

Raising a puppy is only this cute and sweet about 2% of the time. (Okay, total exaggeration here, but I’m writing this after Violet decided to do her business in her playpen just after I had her outside.)

Also, as it turns out – shocker – having a puppy around is exhausting. My sleep has been interrupted several times over the last few weeks by Violet’s whimpers. Before, I used to only have to worry about a Dexcom alarm waking me in the middle of the night, but now I have to respond to her cries, too. Fortunately, having a puppy isn’t totally like having diabetes in this regard, because at least I can nap when she’s napping! (We all know that diabetes never sleeps…)

Another similarity, one that I don’t mind so much, is the frequent exercise that Violet needs. Just like my diabetes tends to be “better controlled” when I exercise each day, Violet also responds really well to playtime. The best part is that after a nice, long session of fetch or tug-of-war, she tends to zonk out afterwards, which I see as the puppy equivalent of having the coveted 100 mg/dL blood sugar.

However, there are tons of obvious differences between raising a puppy and managing diabetes. But the best, perhaps biggest one of all? Violet improves (well, when she doesn’t have an accident indoors) my overall mood and mental health. I know that her ability to do this will only increase over time as she matures. And I know that having her around will help me through the tough diabetes days that I’m bound to face in the future, and for that and so much more, I’m thankful for my little pup.

A Check In on Diabetes and Mental Health

Today is Day 18 of the #TrueDiabeticChallenge that I’ve been posting about on Instagram all month long! I’m using the prompt to inspire the topic of today’s blog post: mental health. Read on to learn how I’ve been juggling my diabetes and mental health lately…

When I think of “diabetes and mental health”, a lot of things cross my mind: Burnout, self-care, and a whole slew of emotions, to name a few of them.

So as I pondered what I’d write about when it comes to this topic – and be totally transparent as to how my mental health is lately as it pertains to my diabetes – I knew that one emotion in particular would be the focus.

Loneliness.

I’m actually a bit envious of this cartoon girl because at least she has a furry friend to keep her company.

For the first time in my life, I’m living alone (mostly by choice). While this new chapter is certainly exciting, it’s also downright petrifying at times, especially when I’m contending with literal highs and lows of my blood sugar.

I struggle the most with being alone and managing my diabetes when I go low. This probably isn’t uncommon among other people with T1D who also live alone and I knew to expect to feel this way to a certain extent before making this transition. But I didn’t realize exactly how much comfort I take in the presence of others when my blood sugar is low.

I don’t know what it is, exactly…it’s not like I suddenly forget how to treat low blood sugars. It’s not that I ever relied on someone else to bring low blood sugar treatments to me (though I’ve always appreciated that on the occasions it’s happened). And I benefit from having a Dexcom CGM to monitor my blood sugars 24/7 and alert me to sudden changes. So…what gives?

As I search for that answer, I’m going to try to remember to be patient with myself as I navigate my new circumstances. It takes time to acclimate to a new environment and diabetes can make that more challenging. I mentioned self-care at the start of this post…maybe it’s time I start practicing it more deliberately to help make this transition smoother!

I Said Something Very Messed Up About My Diabetes…

You’re looking at the title of this blog post and thinking…”ugh, clickbait!”

I assure you that I’m not trying to present this as clickbait; in reality, I did recently say something extremely messed up about my diabetes.

I didn’t 100% mean what I said…

In a dramatic outburst spurred by three days of frustratingly high blood sugars, I said to my parents, “I’m going to die of diabetes.

Look…we all say things that we don’t mean sometimes. But when I said this, there was a teensy-weensy piece of me that really believed there was an ounce of truth in that statement. That’s how fed-up I was with my diabetes.

It’s because I was going through insulin like crazy in the first half of that week. I couldn’t figure out why my numbers were running so high and tried what seemed like everything to cope with it: eating low carb, running temp basal increases, doubling my mealtime insulin, staying as hydrated as possible, checking ketones…and I was still contending with high numbers. The longer I stayed above my high threshold on my CGM, the more I convinced myself I was doing damage to my body, and that was an incredibly awful feeling. So I made that horrid exclamation out of sheer exasperation and fear.

I was letting my diabetes win that day.

I was letting my diabetes control the narrative.

I was letting my diabetes make me think that I was doing everything wrong, when in reality I was trying like hell to do everything right.

And…I was letting myself down. That defeatist attitude is not how I approach life with diabetes.

But I said what I said, and I can’t take it back…but I absolutely can change my thinking so that when something like this happens again, and I’m just feeling incredibly burnt out from it all, I have a new thing to say that is far from messed up:

I’m going to LIVE WITH diabetes.

Not just live…I’m going to live well with diabetes.

The Dog Days of Summer…with Diabetes

August is just ’round the corner (!!!) and that…feeling is creeping up on me.

That uncomfortable feeling that’s intensified by hot and humid weather.

That annoying feeling that happens when my CGM sensors and insulin pods seem to fall off my body and wither in the summer heat – the adhesives are no match for the sun’s merciless rays.

That restless feeling that creeps up when it’s too damn muggy out for my daily afternoon walks…the walks I rely on to help regulate my blood sugars and my mental health.

That fed-up feeling that’s the result of me going outside for 15 minutes, hoping to get some fresh air, only for my blood sugar to drop rapidly thanks to the high temps.

That creeping feeling of needing some kind of relief: Relief from the hottest days of summer and from every facet of diabetes management becoming just a bit more complicated because of it.

The Dog Days of Summer...with Diabetes
Is this the picture associated with this post just because I wanted to show off my dog being cute on a boat? No! Never! Absolutely not…okay fine yes.

And now that I’m acknowledging how much I’m craving relief, it honestly just sounds like I’m going through some genuine diabetes burnout.

It’s not surprising: This year’s been a wild one for me (and let’s face it, the world) in multiple ways. Overall, my stress and anxiety levels are up and my motivation to do everything that I “should” do to manage my blood sugar levels is way down. I’m very aware of what’s good about my diabetes management lately (such as my daily exercise routines) and what’s maybe not so good (my constant desire to snack on carbs and not measure them out and/or bolus for them).

I’m hopeful, though: Maybe as I continue to cope with my seesawing emotions and blood sugars, they’ll find a way to balance out on their own and be a little less intense…just as the weather will become once Autumn rolls around.

Why Does Everything Have to Be so Complicated? (Musings on Diabetes and Emotions)

I hope that the moment you read the title of this blog post, Avril Lavigne’s smash hit from 2002 got stuck in your head (sorry, not sorry).

On a related note, it felt like it was the right phrase to use as a title for this post.

In the past, I’ve written how diabetes has turned me into a bit of a control freak (meaning that I don’t do well with the curve balls it sometimes launches into my path). I prefer a schedule – nothing too regimented, just enough to know what to expect in terms of diabetes issues in a day. And that’s not always possible; hence, I have some control-freak tendencies.

Lately, I’m also wondering if diabetes has made me more emotional.

The thought occurred to me when I was deep in self-reflection mode, a place I’ve found myself going to again and again throughout my quarantine. I started thinking about instances in which I let my blood sugar influence my mood, and I realized that it happens more often than I care to admit.

White and Blue Emojis Animated Social Media Graphic
Life with diabetes sometimes means reacting like all of these emojis within a matter of moments.

I wonder if the tie between my emotions and my diabetes exists because my diabetes requires me to be so attentive to my body at all times that it’s also caused me to have a heightened awareness of my emotions and what may be causing them. I definitely allow blood sugars, both high and low, to affect how I feel when they happen. I let the successes and failures of diabetes technology influence my mood. And when I start to get down in the dumps about non-diabetes things, it often turns into full-blown diabetes burnout.

Diabetes is complicated on its own.

But to think that it interferes with my emotions, too?

Isn’t it enough for diabetes to impact me just physically and leave my mental state out of it?

 

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.