Reflecting on National Diabetes Awareness Month 2021

Well, we’ve arrived at the end of another November, which means National Diabetes Awareness Month is drawing to a close.

What a time it’s been.

Another NDAM has come and gone.

I don’t know about you or anyone else, but it seems like all of my social media feeds were saturated with diabetes content all month long. This is due in part to my job, for sure, but outside of that it felt like diabetes was everywhere online. And overall, that’s a really great thing! To me, it shows that our community has a great sense of pride in our ability to be advocates and to dispel myths about a largely invisible and mostly misunderstood chronic illness.

The teensy-weensy downside to all that, though, is that I felt like a bit of a failure compared to everyone else.

Like I said earlier this month, I simply didn’t have the time or bandwidth to commit to anything specific for NDAM. The desire was there, but I didn’t think it would be right to participate in any daily postings or activities if the intention behind them was lacking authenticity. In other words, I didn’t want to be going through the motions this month of being a “good” advocate, I wanted anything that I did to serve the dual purpose of coming from the heart while also making a positive impact in the diabetes awareness space.

I’d like to think that I accomplished that, but as I inevitably saw the countless other posts from all the other incredible diabetes advocates in our online community, I still couldn’t help feeling like I could’ve tried harder. I could’ve devised a plan ahead of time to do something more significant…but I didn’t.

I guess it’s beginning to dawn on me that diabetes blogs are fewer and far between than they were a mere 5 years ago. I know there are other devoted diabetes bloggers out there, but it feels a lot lonelier than it did when I first started as people turn more and more to the more visually stimulating environments of Instagram and TikTok. Because of this, I think I’m my own worst critic – because I choose to blog about diabetes instead of posting about it in any other format, I fear that I’m not having the impact that I yearned to have on our community, thereby rendering anything I have to say on here semi-pointless.

However, just because I’m experiencing these feelings, it doesn’t mean I’m ready to cease blogging or believe that my form of diabetes advocacy is unacceptable. In fact, I think that in writing this post, I’m also realizing that diabetes advocacy is just like diabetes itself – there’s no one-size-fits-all formula. It will look different on all individuals.

So maybe that’s the attitude and energy I carry away from this NDAM and into the coming year…one that allows me to embrace the kind of diabetes advocacy that I enjoy, that I (hope) am good at, and that continues to connect me with others all around our community.

My Top 10 Tips for Managing T1D at Family Gatherings

A version of this blog post originally appeared on Hugging the Cactus on November 23, 2017. I’ve decided to share it again today (with some slight updates) because I felt like I needed a reminder as to what a successful game plan looks like heading into a food-centric holiday! Read on for more…

Holidays that are centered around gratitude and eating…what’s not to love? As much as I enjoy the holidays, though, I can’t quite say that my diabetes feels the same about them. Fortunately, I’ve developed a bit of a game plan as to how to handle diabetes when family feasts come rolling around – here are my top 10 tips for making the most of eating-centric holidays with diabetes!

The only thing missing from this picture is the massive pre-bolus that I’ll likely be taking before sitting down at a major meal.

10) Don’t skip breakfast in the morning. This helps me avoid over-eating when dinner is served later in the day. Breakfast doesn’t have to be a huge thing, maybe just a bowl of oatmeal or a piece of fresh fruit – anything that will sate me for a few hours.

9) Volunteer to prepare a couple of dishes. If I’m going somewhere for the feast, I like to know what my host needs me to bring. If I have creative control over the dish, I prefer to make it something that I know won’t be too hard on my blood sugars, such as a side of veggies or a sugar-free dessert.

8) Familiarize yourself with what’s being served prior to sitting down for the meal. Before my family sits down to eat, I like to know what exactly we’re being served so I can plan accordingly. I can usually get away with strolling around the kitchen to get an idea, but sometimes the chef (my aunts or my mom) kick me out while they finish cooking dinner!

7) Don’t feel pressured to try everything. It all looks and smells so good, but I have to remind myself to use some restraint when piling my plate with food. I’ll add staples like turkey and green beans (both of which are low-carb!) and take smaller portions of the heavy things, such as stuffing and potatoes.

6) If it’s necessary, extend my bolus. This all depends on what my blood sugar is before the meal, but sometimes, I’ll extend it in order to prevent lows or highs post-feast.

5) Check my blood sugar often. I’d rather have an idea of where my blood sugar is headed than leave it to chance and guess incorrectly.

4) Go for a walk or organize another outdoor activity. The weather doesn’t always cooperate with this idea, but I’ve found that dragging my cousins on a 20-minute walk after eating helps my blood sugar and provides us all a chance to hang out while our uncles take control of the TV and our aunts chitchat over cups of coffee.

3) Wait a bit before having seconds or starting on desserts. I try to indulge a bit on the sweets, but I know that it never works out for me if I help myself to desserts too soon after consuming the main course. So I avoid the temptation by staying busy after eating dinner – my mom and aunts always appreciate an extra set of hands to assist with clean up!

2) Look up carb counts if I’m struggling to come up with them on my own. Sometimes, I can’t quite determine how many carbs are in a serving of pumpkin pie – I’ll guess too low and end up high, as a result! But I know that there are tons of carb counting resources at the tip of my fingers, thanks to my smartphone.

1) Remember what the holiday’s all about: being thankful! Enjoy the day and time with loved ones! Whether you’re part of a large family like mine, a small one, or choose to spend the day with friends or a partner, just relish it for what you want it to be.

My Take on Diabetes and Support

I wrote a version of this post on November 20, 2019. I wanted to revise it and share it today because, as we approach a week in which we recognize gratitude for our loved ones, I want to express how grateful I am for the people in my life right now who support me throughout the highs, lows, and everything in between that comes with life with diabetes.

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.

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.

And now, two years after I wrote this original post and two years of life experience later, I’ve finally fostered my perfect support network from the different people and relationships in my life. I’ve got the lifelong support of my family members, the years of support that my friend groups have provided to me, support from coworkers who work with me in the diabetes space (bringing a whole new meaning to people who really and truly “get it”), and the support in my romantic relationship that I’ve been missing my entire adult life. It feels incredible to have a partner who always asks questions and demonstrates a willingness to learn about my diabetes, adds new perspective and helps me identify solutions when I’m being challenged by my diabetes, and shows up for me when I really need him to. That, and the support I get from the other groups I’ve mentioned, is truly powerful…and when it’s combined with learning how to rely on others and best support myself, support becomes magical and absolutely enhances the quality of my life with diabetes.

What I Wish People Knew About Life with Diabetes

As National Diabetes Awareness Month speeds by in a lightning-fast pace, I keep finding myself going back to this question: What do I wish people knew about life with diabetes?

My answer to this question changes depending on the kind of day and experiences I’m having with my diabetes. For example, on the occasions that I have a pod failure or my Dexcom loses signal for hours, I wish that people knew life with diabetes is marked by a dependence on technology. When I have several bad low blood sugars in the middle of the night, I wish that people knew life with diabetes means you lose out on a lot of sleep. And the times that it seems like I live at the doctor’s office or spend all my spare time on the phone with insurance companies, I wish that people knew life with diabetes can be a giant (and expensive) time suck.

While there’s obviously a lot that I wish people knew about life with diabetes, I think that I can identify the number one, most important thing that I wish people knew…and that is: life with diabetes is unpredictable. No matter how many years I’ve lived with it, no matter how often I think that I’m doing the right thing in my care for it, it can still prove me wrong all the time. It’s challenging, frustrating, stressful, and draining, and I really wish that people realized how much work it requires to have diabetes. It’s not as simple as counting carbs, injecting insulin, and eating right – it demands mental and physical energy in order to care for it properly, and people living with diabetes don’t ever get a break from that.

I do my best to smile, even when diabetes is at peak unpredictability.

Despite that, I try to smile through it all…because diabetes and its curveballs are a lot easier to handle with a positive mindset. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t wish that people knew how difficult it can be, too.

Happy National Diabetes Awareness Month!

It’s that time of year again – National Diabetes Awareness Month!

Did you know that the blue circle is the universal symbol for diabetes? It represents the unity of the global diabetes community in response to the rising number of people affected by diabetes.

I’m not sure if it’s because I work for a diabetes organization now, but sheesh, this month seems to have arrived more suddenly than it ever has. I’d say it’s caught me off guard, but after literally months of preparing for it as part of my job, it’s really just got me marveling over how fast time flies.

It’s also got me reflecting on how I’ve participated in NDAM in the past. Previously, I’ve done daily postings on my Hugging the Cactus Instagram account and replied to various prompts throughout the four weeks here on the blog.

This year, I’m not so sure I have the bandwidth to dive so deeply into the spirit of the month – but that doesn’t mean I’m mentally checking out of it altogether.

Rather, I’m plan on being more intentional in my approach. Instead of replying to daily prompts (that, over the course of the month, start feeling like homework – in other words, an unenjoyable task), I’d like to post when I feel like I actually have something to say. I don’t want to post filler content, I want to post things that are meaningful and capture my feelings about diabetes, NDAM, and the broader diabetes community.

That’s not a knock on the everyday post inspiration that many members of the DOC take part in – I think it’s wonderful that they have fun with it and use it as a very effective way to raise diabetes awareness throughout the month. It’s just that for me, as someone who’s been part of digital NDAM activities for the better part of a decade (!!!) now, it’s time that I mix up my routine a bit and also step back so I don’t spend all of my mental diabetes energy on NDAM in lieu of my actual diabetes care.

Here’s to deliberate diabetes awareness and care this month!

National Diabetes Awareness Month 2020: A Recap

And just like that, we’ve somehow, bewilderingly, arrived at the final day of National Diabetes Awareness Month 2020.

Not sure how that’s possible considering it should still technically be March 2020 (you know, when shit hit the fan), but here we are!

The blue circle…a symbol of diabetes awareness and advocacy efforts.

At the beginning of November, I really wasn’t sure that I was ready to don my diabetes advocacy hat and amp up my awareness efforts for the entire month. I’ve had enough going on in my personal life (spoiler alert: I bought a condo and moved into it at the start of the month) and as a result, I’ve spent much less time on social media and a whole lot more doing my very best attempt at adulting.

And despite that, I still found myself immersed in advocacy efforts – and blown away by what everyone else in the diabetes online community was doing.

Daily posts, live IG videos, fundraising efforts, and so much more happened all month long. They were inspiring, educational, and highly motivational to someone like me who was tepid at best about diving into advocacy activities this year. They were definitely enough to encourage me to keep posting for one of the many diabetes-themed Instagram challenges for the month. As minor as it was to write captions each day based on the prompts, it’s still what worked best for me in this weird year.

My big takeaway from this, though, isn’t that I should have done more or that I should feel guilty for doing the bare minimum…no, it’s a reminder that advocacy doesn’t take place during a single month or on one day.

Advocacy is a year-round thing.

I’m proud to talk about diabetes practically every damn day in some shape or form because I think that it helps people in my life realize that diabetes itself is a 24/7, 365-kind-of gig.

And I’ll keep talking and writing and expressing and advocating ’til the day there’s a cure for it.

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!

“Doesn’t Your Pump Do All the Work for You?”

The answer to the above question is a big, fat, resounding…

NO.

I’ve written blog posts in the past about questions I’m frequently asked about life with diabetes, but shockingly, I neglected to include this one…which is so surprising because it’s probably among the more frustrating questions.

Don’t get me wrong: Diabetes technology has come a loooooong way, particularly in the last couple of decades. There are options when it comes to insulin pumps and pens alike (that is, if the choices are covered by insurance…that’s another story for a different post). There are tubed, tubeless, touchscreen, CGM-integrated, and waterproof pumps out there. There’s even a couple with intelligent software that can kick in and predict low or high blood sugars. And there are smarter insulin pens available that far surpass the ones I used just 7ish years ago…some can track insulin intake and are bluetooth-enabled.

It sounds like our pumps should be equipped to do all the work for us…but the simple truth is that they can’t.

Our diabetes devices are far from perfect.

_Doesn't Your Pump Do All the Work for You__
No…these two pieces of plastic simply CANNOT do all the work for me. They actually rely on me quite heavily.

Failures happen.

Batteries drain.

Error messages pop up.

When it comes to dealing with diabetes, technology certainly helps us, but sometimes things can go so awry with it that it almost makes life even more frustrating.

Certainly, the reward outweighs the risk; after all, I don’t believe that many people would continue to use pumps, CGMs, etc. if they didn’t work for them the vast majority of the time. I know that I wouldn’t.

But there’s too many variables happening independently of these devices doing their jobs that it essentially guarantees imperfection.

Stress, miscalculated carbs, medication dose/timing/interactions, too much/too little sleep, expired insulin, temperature, exercise, menstruation, alcohol consumption, family and social pressures…these are JUST A FEW of the things that are known to impact blood sugar levels. Just a few!!! I can barely keep track of those factors, let alone how they each affect me…and to expect a machine to know how to do that is placing a little too much faith into something comprised of wires and chips.

My point is that I really wish that people living without diabetes didn’t make assumptions that our lives are easy because of these devices. They are easier, most of the time. But there’s that other portion of time in which a lot of spare mental energy is used on maintaining that technology and making sure it functions the way it should, which is far from easy.

The short answer to the question-as-a-title of this blog post is no, I (we) do all the work for my (our) insulin pump(s)…they’re smart and capable, but only with the input of the people handling them.

World Diabetes Day 2020: Celebrating Nurses Making a Difference in the Lives of People with Diabetes

One thing that hasn’t changed in 2020 is the significance of tomorrow’s date: November 14th is internationally recognized as World Diabetes Day, a day specially reserved for diabetes awareness and advocacy.

Several weeks ago, when I realized this date was rapidly approaching, I was unenthused about it, to put it mildly. My life has been super-duper busy lately…I’ve dealt with high stress and anxiety levels, an overloaded schedule, and not enough time for self-care. So when it hit me that diabetes awareness month was just around the corner, and with that it would bring World Diabetes Day, I just felt “meh” about it. This year has been so sucky that celebrating didn’t feel right or something that I could muster up the energy to do.

However, that was before I realized that there’s a theme for this particular World Diabetes Day…promoting the role of nurses in the prevention and management of diabetes.

World Diabetes Day is tomorrow…what will you do to celebrate?

Nurses are heroes under normal circumstances. But in the context of 2020? They’re more important than ever. I read more about the reasoning behind the World Diabetes Day theme on the International Diabetes Federation website and immediately understood why nurses deserve recognition on 11/14:

Nurses currently account for over half of the global health workforce. They do outstanding work to support people living with a wide range of health concerns. People who either live with diabetes or are at risk of developing the condition need their support too.

People living with diabetes face a number of challenges, and education is vital to equip nurses with the skills to support them.

As the number of people with diabetes continues to rise across the world, the role of nurses and other health professional support staff becomes increasingly important in managing the impact of the condition.

Healthcare providers and governments must recognise the importance of investing in education and training. With the right expertise, nurses can make the difference for people affected by diabetes.

The International Diabetes Federation, 2020

So tomorrow, on World Diabetes Day 2020, I’m going to express my gratitude for all nurses, especially the ones who work specifically with people with diabetes. They deserve all the recognition and support in the world, and in a year in which the world is faced with a pandemic, the work that they do (along with other healthcare workers and essential employees) for people with and without diabetes is invaluable.

Thank you to all nurses and healthcare workers…and Happy World Diabetes Day to my fellow people living with diabetes. Wishing a wonderful day for you all filled with good blood sugars, education, and positive advocacy experiences!

A Song to Describe Diabetes Today…

On Instagram, I’m participating in the #TrueDiabeticChallenge all throughout November. Today’s post was inspired by the prompt for Day 9 of the challenge – name a song that describes diabetes today. Here’s a song that I think describes my relationship with diabetes today, even though it’s a throwback tune…

I’m a child of the 90s, so you can bet that I listened to a whooooole lot of boy bands and girl groups growing up – N*SYNC, Backstreet Boys, Spice Girls, and Destiny’s Child were just a few of them.

But of course, I loved my solo artists…especially Britney Spears.

Speaking of 90s throwbacks, doesn’t this color scheme remind you of Lisa Frank’s colorfully designed notebooks, folders, and pencils?!

Her first album, “…Baby One More Time”, was everythiiiiiiiing…oh, the NUMBER of times it was played in my house! Like most kids my age at that time, I couldn’t get enough of her bubblegum-sweet voice and catchy-as-heck lyrics/tunes. No matter what your opinion of her has been throughout her contentious career and life in the spotlight, you can’t deny her talent as a singer, dancer, and entertainer.

Brit’s been on my mind lately (I know I’m not the whole one – #FreeBritney!), so a few times throughout the workweek, I tend to listen to her music from all sorts of albums she’s put out over the years. I’m happy to report they’re still absolute BOPS today, but what’s more is that I found one that perfectly fit this prompt for me:

(You Drive Me) Crazy!

Okay, besides being an all-around excellent song with an entertaining music video (yes, that’s Melissa Joan Hart AND Adrian Grenier making cameos in it), it also tooooooooootally describes how my diabetes makes me feel these days. It drives me CRAZY!!! Let’s look at some of the lyrics…

Baby, you spin me around, oh

The earth is moving, but I can’t feel the ground

-Me when my blood sugar is low

You drive me crazy, I just can’t sleep

-Me every dang time my blood sugar interrupts my sleep

Oh, oh, oh crazy, but it feels alright

Baby, thinking of you keeps me up all night

-Definitely NOT alright because I hate when diabetes keeps me up at night and it sure as hell isn’t my “baby”

So maaaaaaybe it’s a bit of a stretch to say this song is perfect for me and my diabetes, because the way Brit sings it and how the lyrics are written, she’s enjoying being driven crazy. But not me! This is one of those songs where I could easily rewrite it and make it an eff-you diabetes anthem.

Really, though, the hook of the song captures it all: YOU DRIVE ME CRAZY.

The “you” here is YOU, DIABETES!