My Take on Diabetes and Support

It’s November 20th which means that it’s Day 20 of the Happy Diabetic Challenge! Today’s prompt is “biggest supporter”. Since it’s impossible for me to identify a single person as the biggest source of support with my diabetes, I decided to write about how my thoughts on diabetes and support have changed over the years.

Emotional support is a lovely thing. It feels good to have people in your life who you feel have your back. And it’s twice as nice to have when you’re dealing with a chronic illness like diabetes.

I talk extensively about diabetes and support in the most recent episode of the podcast, Ask Me About My Type 1. (Here’s the link in case you haven’t listened to it yet.) Rather than rehash everything I said in that episode, I’m going to use this post as an opportunity to reflect how my wants and needs in terms of support for my diabetes have changed over the years.

It’s interesting (at least, it is to me) to think about how and why my desire for support has changed as I’ve grown older. My childhood was very normal despite diabetes. It was always there and it was always a thing I had to deal with, but I definitely didn’t feel compelled to talk about it as much as I do now, let alone lean on others in difficult times. Why is that?

I think it has a lot to do with getting to know myself better as I’ve aged.

HUGGING THE CACTUS - A T1D BLOG
In this post, I get all self-reflective-y on diabetes and support.

After all, they say that with age comes wisdom. And though I don’t exactly consider myself a wise old sage or anything of the sort, I do think that I’ve acquired some enlightenment about myself and the way that I process things in my adulthood.

Specifically, I realized in the last few years that diabetes has instilled in me a strong desire to feel in control of every aspect of my life…not just diabetes. When something doesn’t go according to whatever carefully thought-out plan I’ve cooked up, I get upset. And I tend to either bottle up my dismay, which is never a good thing to do, or I totally take it out on the whichever poor soul happens to be within my vicinity, which isn’t fair. Neither of those reactions is a healthy method of dealing with things, but at least I’m aware of that and I’m actively trying to improve how I cope.

I think that this example shows how important diabetes support has become to me because I’m able to lean on others in those times that all of my diabetes plans don’t work out the way I envisioned them. I’ve figured out, over time, that it’s just about the only thing that really works for me. Talking to other people with diabetes (and without diabetes) about struggles that I’ve faced makes me feel less alone. It used to be scary for me to be so vulnerable with others, but I’ve found that it’s worth it because it helps me heal, move on, and forgive/accept myself for feeling whatever I’m feeling.

Support from others is truly powerful…but above that, learning to rely on others – learning how to best support myself, really – is more than that. It’s magical and absolutely enhances the quality of my life with diabetes.

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Where I’m From and What my Diabetes Community is Like There

It’s November 18th which means that it’s Day 18 of the Happy Diabetic Challenge! The prompt for today was fairly simple – state where you’re from – so I decided to delve a little deeper and explain what my diabetes community is like at home…

Home is where the heart is, and it just so happens that I’ve got quite a diabetes community there, too.

I spend most of my time in Virginia these days, but I’m originally from Massachusetts. Growing up in that state shaped me as the human being that I am today, and it’s also where I had a total change in perspective when it comes to diabetes, community, and support.

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A map of Massachusetts, with a few diabetes accessories sprinkled in there.

I’ve said it many times here, but throughout my youth, I had my mom and my aunt as my type 1 influences in my life – that was it, and that was all that I needed and wanted.

Or so I thought.

When my feelings on diabetes support changed in college, I quickly discovered the value in fostering a sense of community wherever I go. So I made it a mission upon graduating to make sure that I maintained diabetes connections at home. It felt especially important as I was about to undergo another major life transition: joining the workforce full-time.

And I’m glad I fulfilled that goal. Through the power of social media, I attended a handful of diabetes meetups in the last few years that provided that sense of belonging that I yearned for and introduced me to many local T1Ds.

So as you may be able to imagine, it’s been tough for me to still receive invites to events and gatherings that I can no longer readily attend since I’m in a different state most of the time.

This is why I finally decided to do something about it. Feeling inspired by the spirit of National Diabetes Awareness Month, I found a group that meets up semi-regularly in my new location. I was nervous about it, but I made an introductory post on their page. I explained that I work from home; as such, it’s hard meet new people. And not only would I like to connect with other T1Ds, but I’m also interested in volunteering in the area.

My “bold” move paid off. Within hours, several people had commented on my post and made it known that I could reach out to them whenever to arrange a lunch or explore the city. I haven’t taken anyone up on it yet (with the Thanksgiving holiday being so close and all), but it’s really nice to know that the offers are there when I’m ready to take them up on it.

Even though the concept of “home” has been a little shaky in the last year, I know this much: Wherever I wind up, I’ll find and nurture a diabetes community there because people who just get it make even the strangest of places feel a whole lot more welcoming…and like home.

The Meaning Behind Blue Fridays

It’s November 15th which means that it’s Day 15 of the Happy Diabetic Challenge! Today’s prompt is about blue Friday. Umm, I admit I had to do some research on this topic, ‘cuz I never really understood why people with diabetes are encouraged to wear blue on Fridays…

…I’ve never even really known the reason why the color blue was chosen to represent the diabetes community as a whole.

So naturally, I decided to do a little research and find out answers to my questions.

First up: Why is blue the official “diabetes color”?

The answer is simple, but satisfying. Until 2006, there was no color or symbol that represented diabetes. The United Nations played a role in selecting a blue circle to change that. Blue was picked because of its unifying reputation: It represents both the sky and the flag of the United Nations. Since diabetes is an issue that affects individuals around the globe, it made sense to choose a circle as a symbol; thus, the blue circle was born.

What about the second question: Why “blue Fridays”?

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Sporting my blue, the hashtag, and the universal symbol for diabetes awareness!

The answer to that was also straightforward. The “blue Fridays” concept started a few years ago as a social media initiative intended to bring awareness to diabetes. It’s really easy to participate. All you need to do is snap a photo of yourself wearing blue on Fridays throughout the month of November. Add the hashtag #BlueFriday and maybe a caption about what diabetes awareness means to you or something else relevant to the meaning of diabetes awareness month and post it on all of your social media channels. That’s it! I love scrolling through feeds on Fridays in November and seeing the waves of blue all throughout. It’s a visual reminder of just how many people are affected by diabetes, and how our community finds strength through numbers.

Before you go, I’ve got an exciting announcement: I’m appearing on the podcast, “Ask Me About My Type 1” this Monday, November 18th!!! The wonderful host, Walt Drennan, asked me to be a guest and I immediately said yes. One of my dearest friends, Emma, is also on the show as my “Type None” guest and the three of us had an amazing conversation about diabetes and support. The episode will be available Google Podcasts, Spotify, and the Apple podcast app. Why not spend some time this weekend, though, checking out the complete Season 1 of the podcast as well as what Walt has recorded so far for Season 2? You’re in for a real treat as he’s had fantastic guests on for both seasons. I’ll post the link to my episode across social media when it debuts on Monday and you can visit the podcast website here to learn more about Walt and the series.

 

Why Every Person with Diabetes Needs a Medical ID

It’s November 13th, which means that it’s Day 13 of the Happy Diabetic Challenge! Today’s prompt is about medical IDs. Naturally, I started thinking about my history with medical ID and why I think they’re so important for people with diabetes…

My mother and grandmother instilled a love of jewelry in me at a very young age. Rings, bracelets, necklaces, earrings…baubles of all kinds make me happy. So you’d probably assume that wearing a medical ID would be no big deal for me, since I’m almost always sporting something sparkly on my body.

Well, think again.

When I was a kiddo, I HATED wearing my medical ID. It was a long, silver necklace with a hexagon-shaped charm dangling from it. One side showed the caduceus (that medical snake symbol) and on the reverse was my “in case of emergency” information. I wore this necklace for about a decade before I lost it, and it stayed hidden under my clothing most of the time. It was ugly, and to my young and naive brain, it was also an unnecessary reminder of the chronic illness I dealt with each day.

The necklace seemingly vanished from thin air one day (I swear I didn’t lose it on purpose, because I knew that just tossing it would piss off my parents) and I went a few months without a medical ID. It was so freeing! But by the time I turned 16 again, my parents had a replacement ready for me. This time, though, they were more careful when choosing the ID and went with something a little more fashion-forward: They had a circular silver charm engraved with my contact information, and it was a part of a pretty silver bracelet with many other charms attached to it (a book, a dog figurine, and a heart were among them), much like the charm bracelet my mother had received from her own parents on her sixteenth birthday.

I loved how discreet this charm was – it blended in well with the rest of the charms on my wrist. A little too well, though. The bracelet served a dual purpose as a medical ID and a fashion statement, and to be honest, it was almost impossible to discern the medical ID from the other charms encircling it.

So I took it upon myself to get something separate from the charm bracelet, something that was a standalone medical ID but wasn’t a total eyesore.

Enter my Lauren’s Hope medical ID bracelet, which I’ve been wearing for about three years now.

I love this bracelet. It is very obviously a medical ID, but it’s delicate and dainty. I wear it on my right wrist, separate from all my other bracelets, and I love that you can see all of my essential information engraved on the back of it with just a quick flip of the charm.

Now, I’m going to guess that you’re saying, okay, Molly, we get it…stop summarizing your medical ID history and tell me why it’s so important for a person with diabetes to wear one.

You got it!

It’s important for people with diabetes to wear medical IDs – at all times – not just because it’s helpful to first responders and bystanders in case of emergency, but also because it should provide a source of comfort and reassurance to a T1D.

I mean, I know that I feel safer whenever I go out in public wearing my medical ID. I’m a paranoid person to begin with (streams of “what if…” constantly swim through my mind), but I can’t help but wonder what might happen if I didn’t wear my medical ID and an emergency struck. Would people assume that I was drunk and not help me? Would they not realize the severity of the situation? Would I be able to get myself out of whatever situation it may be? I don’t want to risk a negative answer or outcome to those questions, so of course I wear my medical ID everywhere I go. I know it gave me great peace of mind when I traveled to Las Vegas with my girlfriends last year; if I’d faced a situation in which they couldn’t help me in time, at least someone near me could see my medical ID and learn that I have T1D (and figure out how to help me from there).

So with that said, I’ve come to see the medical ID as a security blanket and just as much of a crucial piece of equipment as my blood sugar meter or Dexcom. If you don’t have one because you were stubborn like me and didn’t want the reminder of your diabetes, please…do me a favor and check out your options online. I promise there are so many more styles than there were a couple decades ago, and there’s something to suit everyone: You don’t have to like shiny or sparkly things in order to wear a medical ID.

Oh, and before I go: Tomorrow is WORLD DIABETES DAY! I’ll be celebrating by doing a “diabetes in real time” segment on my Instagram. Tune into my profile throughout the day to catch it! Use the Instagram link at the top right hand corner of the website to get there, or navigate to Instagram on your own and find my page by searching my handle: @huggingthecactus.

The Best Meal for My Diabetes

It’s November 11th which means that it’s Day 11 of the Happy Diabetic Challenge! Today’s prompt is about go-to meals. What’s the best meal for my diabetes? The answer might surprise you…

I don’t have a go-to meal for my diabetes. Does that surprise you?

I know plenty of people from the DOC who eat virtually the same things each day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. That seems to work well for those people, so more power to ’em!

On the other hand, I do my diabetes best when I eat a wide variety of foods. My ideal day of food will consist of a medium amount of carbohydrates, a good mix of fruits, veggies, and proteins, and probably a little something “naughty” – a square of dark chocolate or a cookie for dessert. I eat around 20-40 carbs at breakfast and lunch, and anywhere between 30-60 carbs for dinner. It really just depends on what I have on hand in the kitchen and how well-behaved my blood sugars are on a given day.

I suppose that, if I had to describe my go-to diabetes meals, it would look a little something like this:

  • Breakfast – Either a smoothie with protein powder, almond milk, and frozen fruit; eggs with toast/an English muffin and veggies; or plain oatmeal made with water, cinnamon, and sugar-free syrup
  • Lunch – Either a salad with tofu/deli meat and a piece of fruit (sometimes with peanut butter spread on it) or a sandwich with cut-up veggies and hummus with a piece of fruit
  • Dinner – This one varies the most, but my usual is a protein like chicken or turkey with a large serving of veggies and maybe a scoop of brown rice, quinoa, or a bread on the side, with a little something sweet to end the meal
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Want to know what dish is pictured? See below for details, including the recipe!

I’ll share my current dinner obsession with you: roasted vegetables with sweet Italian sausage. I cut up a carnival squash (the yummiest variety out there – you can find it at local produce stands), bell peppers, a yellow onion, and a few baby potatoes, toss it all in olive oil, salt, pepper, and thyme, and spread it on a sheet pan. I add whole sweet Italian sausages on top and roast it all for 30 minutes at 425. Then I tear up some kale, toss it with olive oil and just a dash of salt, and throw that on top of the veggies and sausage and cook everything for an additional 15 minutes, turning over the sausages before sliding the pan back into the oven. And that’s it. It’s so tasty and easy to make, and very gentle on my blood sugars – which usually allows me to indulge a bit more on a sweet at the end of the meal.

What’s the go-to meal that works best for you and your diabetes?

3 Tips for Handling Diabetes in the Workplace

It’s November 8th which means that it’s Day 8 of the Happy Diabetic Challenge! Today’s prompt is about diabetes and the workplace. Here are my top three tips on how to handle diabetes in a professional environment…

Diabetes can be the most annoying coworker in the world. It can interrupt the flow of my workday, breaking my concentration with a low or a high blood sugar that needs correcting. It can trigger alerts and alarms of all sorts that catch the attention of my other coworkers, prompting questions and confusion. And it can be a very tricky subject to bring up to management/bosses. I want them to know that for the most part, I peacefully coexist with my diabetes, but they should expect some (infrequent) occasions in which it will take my attention away from work temporarily so that I can address whatever situation I might be experiencing.

It can be really hard to walk that fine line between letting coworkers and bosses know that diabetes isn’t something they should worry about most of the time, but that it is kind of a big deal because it’s not going away any time soon.

Since joining the workforce ten years ago, I’ve had to navigate just about every situation you could possibly imagine when it comes to dealing with diabetes at work. I’ve made mistakes and learned lessons that helped me come up with the following three tips on how to navigate diabetes and work:

1) Tell at least one other person at work about diabetes as soon as possible. Through conversation with other T1Ds, I realize that the whole “I-have-diabetes-and-it’s-not-a-super-big-deal-but-I-do-have-some-special-needs-that-I-can-almost-totally-promise-won’t-interfere-with-my-work-performance” talk can be daunting, especially when it feels like your career is on the line. But I can’t emphasize enough how much it’s helped me by approaching the topic immediately before or after starting a new job.

Granted, I’ve only had two jobs – the one I worked when I was in high school at the local movie theater, and my current job as an editor – but I made sure that my diabetes was known from the outset. I got the job at the movie theater thanks to a cousin who also worked there (yay Caitlin), and while I struggle to remember details, she may have mentioned it to the general manager before my interview. It didn’t affect the hiring process whatsoever, seeing as I think my work ethic mattered more to the GM than anything else. Regardless, I can still remember talking to the assistant GM (who I’d be dealing with almost every shift I worked there) and letting her know the basics. I reassured her that I would be able to keep up with everyone else, and I figured I’d just have to prove it over time. And I sure did – I quickly garnered a reputation as an “A.P.P.” (all-purpose person) who could sell concessions, rip tickets, sweep up theaters, and swap out movie posters and times with just as much speed, if not more, than anyone else who worked there.

And with my current job, my diabetes actually came up during the interview. That’s because my resume highlighted my experience writing for an online diabetes magazine. I was asked how that came about and I remember launching into an explanation. Neither of my interviewers seemed fazed; on the contrary, they were fascinated by my obvious knowledge on it and pleased that I’d had some level of professional writing experience. Clearly, I made an impression on them…because what started out as a summer internship evolved into a full-time job at the company and I’m still there today!

So I guess I’d sum up the whole diabetes conversation by saying that it’s as big of a deal as you make it. If you approach it nonchalantly, then others will probably treat it similarly. By contrast, if you’re sweating bullets and can’t really describe what your diabetes means to your prospective employer, then they might start to doubt you when you say that it won’t hinder your work performance. Keep calm and keep all lines of communication open on the diabetes front and I bet that the odds are in your favor.

3 Tips for Handling Diabetes in the Workplace
IMHO, diabetes only really interferes with my job when I allow it to – so you can bet that I don’t let it!

2) Keep a diabetes supply stash somewhere – anywhere – and make sure that at least one other person knows how to find it. cannot emphasize enough how first-hand experience with this taught me that it’s crucial that others know how they can help you when hypoglycemia comes a calling. Without getting into too much detail to maintain a semblance of anonymity, a coworker from one of my gigs also has T1D. This fellow T1D experienced a severe low blood sugar one day, and the people around the T1D didn’t know how to react. Luckily, someone thought to reach out to me, and after my colleague described the T1D’s symptoms, it dawned on me that we were dealing with something pretty serious. I was able to get to them in time, but when I searched around for the other T1D’s glucometer, I realized I didn’t know how to use this particular model – and what was worse was that I couldn’t find the fingerstick device. I remember running back to grab my supplies, using a fresh lancet to check the other T1D’s blood sugar, and gasping when a 26 appeared on the screen. Things happened very quickly after that: Someone called 911, a few people came over to help me try to pour regular soda down the incoherent T1D’s throat, and I tried not to panic.

I’m happy to say that all ended well; the T1D recovered in full and thanked me profusely for my help the next day. And then it became a policy to have an emergency stash and make others aware of its location and how to use the various things in it. It went quietly unsaid that if we had known where the T1D’s supplies were kept in the first place, then perhaps we never would’ve needed the ambulance to show up, but the bottom line is preparation is key. Just get some supplies together and keep them wherever they’ll be safe. Label them with things like “do not touch – emergency T1D supplies” so nobody is tempted to lay a grubby paw on any sugary sweets that might be in there.

3) Turn innocuous comments into teachable moments. Oooh, I can’t even begin to comprehend how many straight-up stupid comments people have made over the years in regards to my diabetes…here’s a sampling of ones I can think of off the top of my head, followed by the somewhat less-than-calm responses that I gave:

Molly’s diabetes is the reason why she’s so cold around the office all the time.

Um, no, it has to do with the fact that my desk is directly under a vent that blows ice-cold air on me all day long.

Molly, you can’t eat that popcorn or drink from the soda fountain – there’s sugar in there!

ACTUALLY, I can and I will eat that popcorn. It has carbs, but I can take insulin for them. And when I’m drinking regular soda from the fountain, that probably means that my blood sugar is low, in which case I desperately need fast-acting carbs.

Molly, you have diabetes and you’re always baking sweets! You can’t eat those!

OMG *palm, meet face* I really enjoy baking just as you might enjoy watching a particular TV show or gardening. It’s a hobby of mine. And guess what? Just because I have diabetes doesn’t mean I can’t indulge on the treats I make! I just have to rely on portion control and taking the right amount of insulin.

Molly, you’re beeping again – does that mean you’re going to explode?! LOLOLOLOL.

NO DAMMIT I’M NOT GOING TO EXPLODE AND I’M SICK OF THAT JOKE. *Ahem* Very funny, but those beeps and alarms are nothing to worry about. It’s just a reminder that my insulin pump will need to be changed in a few hours, or that my blood sugar is creeping above/below my target thresholds.

Okay, I think that’s enough of a sampling – you get the idea. Basically, my advice is to treat any ignorant comments with a smile and the truth. I think that one of the best ways to fight against diabetes stigma is to take the time to explain things to people who just don’t get it or who aren’t familiar with it. More often than not, what starts out as a ridiculous comment turns into a genuine conversation in which I can help someone learn about diabetes, and then it turns into a win-win.

Diabetes in the workplace is one of those subjects that I could go on and on about (clearly). I guess the most important thing is to be honest and open to conversation about it. When people doubt your ability to do your job well with diabetes, prove ’em wrong by showing that it doesn’t prevent you from doing anything – it just means you’ve got an extra thing to consider when making everyday decisions. NBD, right?

My Diabetes Hero

It’s November 6th which means that it’s Day 6 of the Happy Diabetic Challenge! Today’s prompt asks us to name our diabetes hero/heroine. Well, I have more than one…

My diabetes hero is not just one person. It’s a small group of people that I call my family. (Awwwww, how sweet.)

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Me with my heroic diabetes family.

My mom, dad, and brother are all-too familiar with diabetes. My mom is T1D, like me, and my dad and my brother were the lucky ducks who got to live under the same roof as us for many years. All three of them are diabetes heroes to me, but in some very different ways.

Let’s start with my brother. He is three years older than me and I’d say we were fairly close to one another in our shared childhood. Though he doesn’t share a diabetes diagnosis with me, he grew up with diabetes just as much as I did. And do you know what’s amazing about that? I’ve never once heard him complain about it. If he has ever felt any fear or worry for my mom and I, he definitely has done a good job of internalizing it. He treats us like we have normal, functioning pancreases, and I think the reason for that is he knows that we are more than capable of taking care of our diabetes ourselves. Although his thoughts and feelings about our diabetes have yet to be verbalized, I appreciate his unique brand of support for us and I continue to be wowed that he never seemed to be bothered by the extra attention I got as a child due to my diabetes. No unhealthy sibling rivalry there!

Next up is the other Type None in our family: my dad. I’ve written about my dad in a couple of previous blog posts. He is truly the Mr. Fix It in our family. If there is a problem, he wants to solve it – especially if it is something that is causing his loved ones emotional distress. He has had more than his fair share of situations in which my mom or I were seriously struggling with our diabetes. I can only imagine how he feels when all he can do is just stand by and let us work through our issues: It’s probably a combination of helpless, angry, and worried. He’s said numerous times over the years that he’d give my mom and I his healthy pancreas if he could, and I’ve never questioned the sincerity behind that sentiment. I know he means it, and to me, that’s the kind of heroism that nobody else in my life can even begin to compete with.

And then we’ve got my diabetes partner-in-crime, my mom. How on earth she managed to deal with her OWN diabetes, in addition to mine, all throughout my childhood is completely beyond me. Besides being there for me as a source of unwavering emotional support as someone who really “gets it”, my mom’s attended practically every single endocrinology appointment with me, encouraged me to start using an insulin pump, ordered alllllll of my supplies for many years (and kept track of the stacks of associated paperwork), and helped keep me as calm as humanly possible throughout my terrifying insurance transition that took place late this past spring. Let me just restate that she did all of this and still does all of this while still dealing with her own diabetes!!!!! It’s sort of mind-blowing to me that she can stay so much calmer about her diabetes than I ever could when it comes to either of ours, but she does it, and that makes her a heck of a diabetes hero to me.

What’s really neat about my diabetes heroes, as a collective unit, is that diabetes has never and will never define our family. It’s something that lingers there in the background, for sure, but it almost never steals our attention away from our time spent together. I can’t recall a single instance in the last 22 years that diabetes really, truly disrupted our family rhythm (maybe my parents would disagree with that and count in my diabetes diagnosis, but I barely remember that).

It just goes to show that even as something as life-altering and disruptive as diabetes only made my family stronger when it hit us with a double dose.