Dungeons, Dragons, and Diabetes

Dungeons, dragons, and diabetes…one of these things is NOT like the other! And add “drams” into that mix, and you’re likely very confused and wondering what kind of bizarre, alliterated laundry list this is supposed to be – and why on earth I’m talking about it here on Hugging the Cactus.

Well, let me start by saying that one of the hobbies that I started to explore in the early pandemic days is Dungeons and Dragons! Yup, the fantasy role-playing game that’s been a staple of pop culture nerd-dom since the mid-70s. One day in Fall 2020, my boyfriend (who is extremely well-versed in DnD) invited me to play with a small group of his friends. I agreed to give it a try, though I admit that I went into it knowing nothing about it other than what I’d seen on the television show Stranger Things – which, quite frankly, is a highly stereotypical depiction of how a DnD campaign is run that resulted in me thinking that DnD was super limited in terms of gameplay.

Very quickly, every assumption that I had about DnD, who plays it, and how it works was shattered.

Click the image above to find out about the character I’ll be playing!

Over the course of the last year and a half or so, I’ve been involved in a handful of different DnD campaigns. All of these campaigns have varied drastically in terms of storyline, characters, and players, and to me, that’s the most exciting part about the game. Besides its ever-changing nature, I also enjoy that DnD allows me to explore my imagination – I get to come up with the entire backstory for original characters, and the creative writer within me is thrilled to be stretching those storytelling muscles that I’d long thought were atrophied.

But the best part of DnD, for me anyways, is how it’s brought me closer to friends and strangers alike. DnD has been a great way to meet new friends for the first time, as it’s something we can automatically talk about and refer to whether or not we’re actively playing a game. It has also strengthened my friendships with some of my coworkers from my last job who, like me, were newbies to DnD but willing to learn how to play during the pandemic because all of us generally like games and fantasy realms, and we were happy to have something to do virtually that wasn’t just another boring Zoom session.

And I can’t neglect to mention that DnD has been a wonderful escape from the reality of our world in the last couple of years. In DnD, the horrors going on in the real world don’t exist (unless you want them to, but nobody’s dared to do that in any of the games I’ve played). This means DnD is a nice mental break from not just the soul-sucking 24/7 news cycle, but it’s also a temporary vacation from diabetes. Any character that I’ve played in a campaign doesn’t have to worry about checking blood sugar or taking insulin injections before slaying bugbears, displacer beasts, or flameskulls. It might seem like an unconventional way to find reprieve from diabetes, but it’s a challenge to find something that can get me to stop thinking about my diabetes for even a short window of time. This is one thing that works for me and that makes me grateful for it.

So, coming full circle here and getting to the point of this blog post: I am participating in a new DnD campaign called Dungeons and Drams! The game runner (called the Dungeon Master) is actually an aforementioned former coworker and good friend of mine who delved deep into the DnD universe over the course of the pandemic. He’s combining his knowledge of the game with his extensive YouTube experience as a whiskey reviewer (hence the “drams” element to our game) to create the ultimate campaign that I’m honored to be part of. I’m joined by a few of his fellow whiskey YouTubers and I’ve got to say (shoving my obvious bias to the side here), the characters we’ve created are a thrilling combination of hilarious, badass, adventurous, and entertaining…so whether you’re a fan of DnD and/or drams of whiskeys, and the diabetes-related content that I feature here on Hugging the Cactus, you’re going to want to check this game and our channel out.

The adventure begins tonight, March 14, 2022 at 9:30 P.M. ET…looking forward to seeing you there.

T1D and “What If?”

For me, my type 1 diabetes, anxiety, and the phrase “what if” go hand-in-hand. Or maybe in this case, it should be sweaty-nervous-palm in sweaty-nervous-palm.

In the past, I’ve written about how I believe there is a direct connection between the way my anxiety manifests itself and my diabetes. There’s no denying that the two are related. But another thing that ties the two together in a neat, worried package are these two simple words…”what” and “if”.

Of course, those two words are often followed by a series of other words that turns everything into a full question that is born from my anxiety. The questions all follow the same formula: What if X, Y, or Z happens? Questioning whether something will or will not happen will inevitably trigger me to convince myself that a less-than-desirable scenario will occur, leading me to slowly spiral as I ponder how I can possibly handle said less-than-desirable scenario.

Not following me here? I’ll give you an example. Take my incident last week when I mistakenly gave myself 10x more insulin than I intended to take (10 units versus 1 unit). When I was processing the gravity of that mistake, I asked myself, “What if I’d given myself 100 units? What if I’d been alone when all this happened?”, causing me to think about how much more dire that situation would’ve been and sending chills down my spine. It’s not fun to go down a path like that, yet for much of my life I’ve forced myself to face many “what if” scenarios that have never even happened because my anxiety lead me to that line of thinking.

After 24 years of T1D, though, and living all of my years with anxiety paralyzing me every now and then, I’m trying harder to challenge the “what ifs” and stop allowing them to rule my life, not just my perception of my diabetes.

“What if…”

I guess this is my public declaration, or vow, or affirmation, or whatever you’d like to call it that I want to be better about knocking those “what ifs” out of my way when I feel as though T1D or my anxiety are limiting me. I’m hoping to stop thinking about diabetes as a condition in which I’m held back by “what if” scenarios or one that aggravates my anxiety; instead, I want to have it be more autonomous and separate it from the negative thinking that all too often interferes with my everyday life. I’m just tired of thinking about diabetes with a “worst-case” mindset, so what if…what if I take back control of the “what if” and say “what if I have a really great diabetes day today? or “what if I know more about managing diabetes than I previously thought I did?”

Changing the overall tone of those what ifs sounds like hard work, but it also sounds like worthwhile work. So I’m challenging myself to do it, stick to it, and think…what if I could change how I feel about my diabetes and anxiety, and grow to love them for how they’ve made me stronger, more independent, and brave?

What if, indeed.

The Diabetes Rule I Always Disobey

If there was a rulebook devoted to the do’s and don’ts of life with diabetes…it would be quite the tome. I imagine it to be as long as the fifth Harry Potter book, which had 766 pages and weighed just shy of 3 pounds, though it would certainly not be as engaging of a read.

As I started to visualize a diabetes rulebook, I started thinking about the actual rules it would list out. It would cover the basics, for sure, of life with diabetes, like “count carbs at every meal” and “remember to take your insulin”. But it would also get into the minutia – the things that aren’t so obvious, even to those who are fairly well-versed in diabetes. Things that I didn’t know until adulthood, like how glycemic index, alcohol, caffeine, dawn phenomenon, and so much more can affect blood sugar levels.

Yeah, it would definitely be a boring-ass read.

The diabetes rulebook would probably resemble this and look completely, utter unremarkable (otherwise known as BORING).

But as I was coming up with a seemingly endless mental list of diabetes rules, it stuck out to me that there’s one that I don’t follow. In fact, I’m not sure that I ever followed it. And that rule pertains to insulin.

The rule is about how if you open a vial of insulin, it’s best to use it within a 30-day (or maybe it’s 28-day) window. I think it’s because manufacturers claim it loses its potency after that timeframe passes, but to me, it’s a bunch of BS.

Maybe I do go through whole vials of insulin in a one-month period, or maybe I don’t. I have no clue, I don’t keep track of my supplies to that extent. But what I do know is that “expiration dates” and “best by” labels aren’t always based on exact science. I’ve totally eaten my fair share of “expired” foods (things like granola bars or cans of soup, definitely not wilted spinach leaves or moldy yogurt) because I use my common sense when making judgment calls about consuming those items. For me, it works kind of the same way with insulin. As long as an insulin vial has been properly stored since opening it (in a refrigerator’s butter compartment, because of course), then I feel safe using it beyond a 30-day period – again, within reason, using logic (I doubt that I’d use insulin dated YEARS ago).

I’ve even heard of folks using insulin that’s past it’s expiry date, and while I haven’t done that myself, I can’t say I blame anyone for trying to use up every last drop of the stuff when it’s in possession and it’s necessary to take. It’s too expensive to waste.

So if by breaking this “rule” makes me or other people rebels, I’ll don the title with pride…and smirk to myself as I think about other diabetes rules (ahem, pertaining to prolonging CGM sensor life, or using sites other than the abdomen for my Dexcom, or hardly ever remembering to change my lancets…) that I’ve broken over the years.

My 24th Diaversary

My 24th diaversary shall be known as…the one I almost forgot.

My diaversary, which falls on Christmas Eve, has never been something that I actually actively celebrate because I’m always too busy celebrating the holiday season with my family. And that’s exactly what happened this year: I was living in the gift of Christmas present (there’s a pun in there, I know) rather than reflecting on that fateful one 24 years ago.

My 24th year of living with diabetes…my, how time flies when you’ve got a broken pancreas and robot parts on the outside of your body.

It feels fitting, really, that I didn’t remember my diaversary until a couple weeks after it came and went, because this Christmas Eve was extra special in a different way. It was the first significant holiday since the pandemic hit that my entire family could be together. And I mean my entire family – I saw both my mothers’ side and my fathers’ side, and even my big brother was able to come home from Nashville for the week. So I was spending the holidays really rejoicing in the fact that we were all able to safely see one another for the first time since Christmas 2019, rather than dwelling on my diabetes diagnosis.

After all, it’s the people who surround me that make something like diabetes manageable. My supporters – family, friends, partner, dogs – are the ones who motivate me when I’m experiencing diabetes burnout. They’re the ones who let me cry on their shoulders when diabetes is too much. They’re the ones who high-five every diabetes triumph that I experience. They’re the ones who remind me that my life is not defined by diabetes (despite how much I talk about it). So with that in mind, I can get behind doing what I did this diaversary: celebrating them instead of my diabetes for every Christmas Eve to come.

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.

3 Things I Wish I Knew About Diabetes in College

My blog post earlier this week probably made it very clear to you that I work for a nonprofit called the College Diabetes Network – but in case you didn’t know, now you know.

In my position with the organization, I semi-regularly interact with current college students living with type 1 diabetes. This causes me to reflect every now and then on my college experience and what I would change, knowing what I know now, about how I managed my diabetes when I was in college. I came up with 3 things that I wish I’d known then that would’ve likely made life on campus a lot easier for me – and it seems very appropriate to share these things this week, which is College Diabetes Week. Here’s what I wish I knew…

Me, almost 7 years ago, on the day that I officially became a UMass alum!
  1. I wish I knew then that an insulin pump would greatly benefit me. Hands down, this is the biggest diabetes regret that I have when I think about my time at college. I can’t tell you how many times it was inconvenient for me to whip out my insulin pen in the middle of the dining hall and inject before every meal. My rationale at the time was that there were already too many changes happening in my life (because as we all know, the transition from high school to college is huge), and that I didn’t want to toss learning a new piece of diabetes technology into the mix. Plus, I was stubborn – I figured that my then-current MDI regimen was doing a good enough job for me and my diabetes. If I’d only known that a pump would’ve allowed me so much more freedom…
  2. I wish I knew then that I should’ve asked my parents sooner to let me take over ordering diabetes supplies. All throughout college – and admittedly, for a few years post-graduation – my mom took care of reordering my diabetes supplies for me. She’d keep track of how much insulin I had left in the fridge, and my main responsibility was to let her know when I was running low on test strips or CGM sensors. I really wish I’d asked her (before I turned 26) to let me order supplies on my own, or at least walk me through the process so I had a better familiarity with it by the time I aged off my parents’ insurance plan. I had to learn a lot, and very quickly, when age 26 came around, and I could’ve avoided the steep learning curve if I’d been more proactive about it at a younger age.
  3. I wish I knew then that I could’ve avoided many diabetes mistakes by doing more research and getting more involved with the diabetes online community. Namely, I wish I’d known more about how to “party safely” with T1D. I went into college not having a single clue about how alcohol would affect my diabetes – and that is something that is incredibly dangerous. I learned a couple lessons the hard way in college, and I’m lucky that I didn’t have to pay any serious consequences. Knowing what I know now, I should’ve turned to the diabetes online community for guidance, tips, and tricks from people who could’ve helped me avoid some scary highs and lows I had after a weekend of partying. Imagine what I could’ve learned from Reddit threads, had I known they were available!

While I can’t change anything about the way I took care of my diabetes in my college years, I can say that I’m proud of myself for eventually gaining these insights about it. I may have done better had I known about these things sooner, but what matters is that I did find out about them in due course, which has led to positive changes in my diabetes care in the long run.

T1D and Haunted Happenings

Halloween is just a few days away, and even though I don’t have any specific plans, I’m really looking forward to it.

Now that I’m in my late 20s, Halloween is less about the candy – though I still very much enjoy that part – and more about having fun dressing up, even if it’s just for my own entertainment. But this is also my first Halloween at my condo, so I hope that I get to see a decent number of trick-or-treaters and cool costumes.

Diabetes can’t steal my joy on a day like Halloween.

Thinking about Halloween as an adult got me thinking of Halloween and haunted happenings from my childhood, and I’ve got to say, T1D never once got in the way of my enjoyment of the spooktacular holiday. Sure, there were plenty of other things to do besides trick-or-treat – I watched the Charlie Brown Halloween special (and still do) every year and I almost always make a point of carving a pumpkin or two each October – but collecting (and feasting) on candy was still a key component of Halloween for me that diabetes couldn’t take away. In fact, I think that it helped me feel a little more “normal”, like I had something in common with my peers without diabetes.

I’ve seen posts over the years about treats that T1D kids can be given in lieu of candy – things like pencils, sugar-free sweets, fruits or vegetables, and stickers – and that’s perfectly okay. But I think it’s also totally okay for T1D kids to have a break from worrying about diabetes and how it makes them different from everyone else every now and then, especially on a night like Halloween. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m really grateful that I always had super positive experiences around Halloween throughout my childhood that were never tainted by memories of anyone telling me I can’t eat a piece of candy or that I shouldn’t partake in the holiday because of my chronic condition.

So that’s why I’m excited to celebrate it just as I always have this Halloween weekend…though maybe with the added trip to the store the day after to see how much of a discounted low blood sugar/emergency candy stash I can accumulate.

Happy haunted happenings, Cactus Huggers!

My A1c Results are in and…

Before I left for my vacation, I had my (long overdue) annual physical with my primary care doctor. Like he does every year, he ordered bloodwork for me which meant that I had a whole host of health data to review on my online patient portal, including my current A1c.

When I saw that value up more than half a point from my last reading, my heart sank.

Now, I’m not going to say specifically what the reading was, because I’m a strong believer in keeping that sort of information to myself (and if you’re the type of person who shares their A1c, that’s okay, too – it’s just not for me). But I will say that it definitely isn’t the worst A1c reading that I’ve ever had, though it upset me because I think it’s the highest I’ve been since my college years.

Once it fully sunk in that this was my current A1c reading, like it or not, I started thinking about the why. Why have I gone up? I could think of a few factors…

  • I haven’t been eating super healthy; rather, I probably eat too many sweets that cause my blood sugar to fluctuate more than it ideally should.
  • The pandemic has changed a few things about my daily lifestyle – I don’t get out of the house as much I used to because I work from home, which means I’m in very close proximity to my kitchen and that gives me too many opportunities throughout the day to snack.
  • I get lazy and don’t bolus for “small” snacks (i.e., snacks with 10 carbs or less).
  • On the subject of laziness, I’ve been really bad about “eyeballing” my plates and portions lately when it would obviously behoove me to measure out my food and study my nutrition labels.

So those are the things I could think of that are the likely culprits behind my dissatisfactory A1c. As I sat and stewed over them and chided myself for my carelessness, though, I also tried to gently remind myself that A1c is only one measure of blood sugar “control”: I told myself that I need to bear in mind that my overall time in range is something that I should study and try to learn from, rather than dwell on this narrow snapshot of my 90-day blood sugar averages.

This is as close as I’ll get to sharing my personal A1c/time in range metrics… 😉

Using my Dexcom Clarity app, I learned that my time in range was suffering. I prefer to spend 80% of my time in range, and lately, I’ve fallen short of that goal. So after studying the amount of time that I spend “high” or “very high” (high blood sugars are always more troublesome for me than lows), I started to get a clearer picture of what was going wrong for me and what I might need to do to fix it.

This whole exercise, as bummed as I was to have to go through it, is going to serve as a great reminder to me that whenever I get disappointing news about my diabetes management, the best way to cope with it is to study the facts that I quite literally have available to me at the tips of my fingers. I know why my A1c is where it is, and I also know now the areas in which I need to improve. And that’s something to be grateful about and use as a motivator so that I can improve both my A1c and my time in range.

I know I can do it – I’ve done it before and can’t wait to feel that triumph over my diabetes.

Temp Blog Post Decrease

Hey, it’s me, Molly, the blogger behind Hugging the Cactus. 

As you may or may not be aware, I’ve had a lot going on lately.

The newest, most exciting thing in my life is, of course, my new job (I’m aware that I keep gabbing about it…I can’t help it and there’s definitely more to come about that in the future).

I’ve been busy getting acclimated to my role at CDN. When I’m not working, I’m taking care of my dog, Violet, maintaining/cleaning/attempting to update my relatively new-to-me condo, and trying to keep some semblance of a social life – which, now that summer is here, is getting downright crazy with plans. And I love it! I truly love staying busy in some form or fashion.

This blog is great at keeping me busy when everything else in my life is slow or when I need a distraction. But lately, life’s been so hectic that I’m getting distracted from the blog, so I’ve decided to temporarily decrease the frequency at which I post…from 3 to 2 blogs per week, posted on Mondays and Wednesdays (instead of Monday/Wednesday/Friday).

I’ve decided it’s time for a temp basal – I mean blog – decrease.

It’s not a dramatic change and I’m certain it’s only temporary…just like a temp basal decrease on my pump can improve my blood sugar levels, cutting down on the number of blogs I post per week will help me improve my overall blogger abilities and prevent me from feeling too pressured to keep churning out posts at the pace I’ve been doing so that last few years.

So I won’t have new content posted here on Fridays for the time being, but never fear: I’ll pick it up again before long. And maybe now this will mean that I can interact a little more with the diabetes community within other platforms, like Twitter and Instagram, which will be a nice change.

As always, lovely readers…stay tuned for more.

My New Role as Community Engagement Manager at the College Diabetes Network

This blog post was written by me and it was originally published on the CDN website on June 8, 2021. I just wrapped up my first week as their new Community Engagement Manager, so I figured it’d be fitting to share the post I wrote for their website here so my readers can get a better understanding of what this role means to me! Read on for more…

Growing up, I wanted nothing to do with diabetes. My parents and doctors encouraged me to attend diabetes camp so I could meet and make friends with T1D peers, but I stubbornly resisted the notion…until it was time for me to go off to college at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

I was nervous about making this transition, but this changed when I had a chance encounter with someone named Christina Roth. She told me all about a group she started when she attended UMass herself: And that happened to be the College Diabetes Network.

In September 2011, I attended my very first CDN chapter meeting and I couldn’t believe I had waited so long to hang out with people my age who knew exactly what it’s like to live with diabetes. I was hooked and wanted to make as many connections as possible! In my three-and-a-half years at UMass, I served as the Chapter President and started writing for an online diabetes magazine in my spare time.

CDN…the best thing since insulin.

When I graduated, I put diabetes work on the backburner and started my career as an Editor in the financial technology industry. But I still kept in touch with my contacts at CDN and volunteered at the annual student retreats and provided my editorial skills to some of their resource guides. Eventually, I missed actively forging connections within the diabetes community, so I decided to blend this with my love for writing/creating content by launching my own diabetes blog, Hugging the Cactus, in October 2017. My blog has cultivated and deepened my relationships within the diabetes community, and by choosing to leave the corporate world behind and officially joining the CDN team, I will continue to do so on a new, exciting level as the Community Engagement Manager.

I’m thrilled to be part of an organization that has given me confidence, skills, connections, and so much more over the years. I can’t wait to jump into all things CDN and help provide young adults with what they need in order to live their best lives, despite diabetes!