If you have a partner/spouse, relative, or friend with type one diabetes, it can be difficult to know how to best support that person when they’re experiencing struggles related to diabetes. You might try to offer a shoulder for your loved one to lean on, but that might not always work. Your loved one might push you away or continue to internalize their issues. It can create turbulence in your relationship with one another, and it’s frustrating all around.
So what can you do?
As someone who both has T1D and loves others with T1D (my mom, my aunt, many good friends), I believe that the best way to react is to just listen. Whenever I’ve faced serious struggles or emotional turmoil due to diabetes, nothing has helped me quite like a person who spares time for me to listen to me. Whether I just need to spew out an angry diatribe (LOL at the pun), cry about my problems, talk through issues, or seek advice, it’s worked wonders on me to know that I have individuals in my life who are willing to listen to me. Let me emphasize the listen part once again – listen, not tell me that I’m right or wrong, or offer advice (unless I specifically ask for it).
I get it; sometimes, it’s easier said than done to just listen. A few people I know are so determined to help me fix the problem that they can’t help but react emotionally along with me when I’m dealing with diabetes drama. But trust me, that usually heightens (rather than alleviates) the tension.
It’s all about teamwork. Give and take is involved. Often, enormous amounts of patience are required. Sometimes, it takes awhile for the struggles to subside. But one thing that is certain is that your loved one with diabetes will always thank you and be grateful for your support in their time of need. It’ll strengthen your relationship as well as function as proof that diabetes can’t break your bond, no matter how hard it might try.
One Monday per month, I’ll take a trip down memory lane and reflect on how much my diabetes thoughts, feelings, and experiences have unfolded over the years. Today, I remember…
…the first time I drank alcohol and how it affected my diabetes – more specifically, my blood sugars. And that’s right folks, I CAN recall it…fortunately, this experience does not coincide with my first time actually getting drunk.
Don’t worry, Mom and Dad, you won’t recoil in horror while reading this post!!!
My first time drinking alcohol occurred during my first week of college, freshman year. So…college of me.
My freshman year dormitory held fewer than 100 students. Due to the relatively small nature of the building, everyone started bonding and forming friend groups pretty quickly. By the time our first weekend on-campus rolled around, we were all itching to get together, continue to get to know one another, and naturally, drink like delinquents.
That Friday night, I was sitting on the floor of my friends’ dorm room – Emma and Kira had the largest, swaggiest digs in our whole friend group, if not the entire dormitory – when our friend Chris entered, holding a full bottle of grape-flavored Svedka vodka in his hands. I remember him making the rounds, pouring us shots of vodka that we would drink as a group. As he filled shot glasses, I started feeling extremely nervous. I had zero prior experience with alcohol, let alone vodka. So many questions flitted through my mind: Would I feel drunk right away? What was it going to taste like? Does the grape flavor mean that it contains more sugar, and would it make my blood sugar go up?
I barely had time to contemplate answers, though, when people started lifting their shot glasses into the air and toasting the beginning of our college careers. Even though I was sweating bullets, I smiled and cheered along with everyone else as we tossed back our shots…
…which tasted absolutely foul. I’m pretty sure I almost retched, but did what I could to contain myself because I didn’t want to seem like a loser. I’ll never forget thinking to myself, this shit tastes just like how nail polish remover smells. How can people possibly drink and enjoy this?
I sat there, internalizing all my thoughts and feelings about drinking my first shot of alcohol, and just tried to blend in with the group. But it was kind of difficult for me to do, because at some point in the night, my anxious thoughts consumed me and I abstained myself from drinking anything else. I was too caught up in the unknown, and I cared too much about how this one little innocent shot of vodka might impact my diabetes.
As I would come to find out later that night, one shot of vodka had zero-to-no affect on my blood sugars. And of course, in time, my fears about alcohol and my blood sugars faded because I educated myself on how to do it safely. I learned that every type of alcohol has a different carbohydrate content. I discovered what did and didn’t work for me, often in a controlled environment. But I wouldn’t change my first encounter with it at all because the shared experience of drinking shitty grape vodka with this group of strangers, on the first Friday night of college, is one of the many shared experiences that turned them into some of my dearest friends. That, I can raise a glass to…as long as it’s not filled with Svedka anything.
Low blood sugars in the middle of the night are far from pleasant. But they’re especially grating when you’re just trying to have a sleepover with your best friends and your CGM alarms loudly and urgently, rousing more than just me from a peaceful slumber.
Dammit, diabetes…you’ve done it again.
I don’t know how or why the low happened. I went to bed around 1 A.M. – we had stayed up late talking, drinking wine, and eating snacks – and at that time, my blood sugar was 156. You can’t get much better than that, and it felt even sweeter because we’d eaten pizza for dinner earlier in the evening.
I thought I’d be fine overnight. I might come down a smidgen due to the unit and a half I took to cover a slice of fabulous flour-less chocolate cake (utterly heavenly), but I made the assumption that I wouldn’t come crashing down.
I should know by now…never assume with diabetes.
So it happened at about a quarter of four in the morning – a witching hour, in my mind. I woke to the frantic buzz buzz buzzing of my CGM and quickly acknowledged it, then reached for my tube of glucose tablets. I did it as silently as I could, seeing as I was sharing the room space with my three gal pals. From what I could tell, my super slow glucose tablet chewing didn’t even cause my friends to stir. It seemed that I’d successfully managed to avoid waking anyone up, thank goodness.
I was just starting to fall back into a doze when the frantic low CGM alarm blared – BEEP beep BEEP beep BEEEEEEEEEEEP. Ugh! Upon hearing the first beep I snatched up my receiver, silenced the alarm, and scooped up my test kit and my phone. I tiptoed out of the bedroom from which we were all nesting to the living room, where I searched through my backpack for the Skittles I’d purchased earlier in the day…because that’s right, this 3:45 low blood sugar hadn’t been my first in the last twelve-hour window of time.
I plopped myself on the couch and started furiously chewing Skittles. I remember looking out to the sliding glass doors and to the balcony and to the parking lot and then finally up to the sky to see the moon shining brightly at me. It was positively dazzling, yet infuriating with its cheerful gleam. I wanted to yell at it to stop looking so happy. I muttered to myself, “this sucks,” and reclined a bit on the couch while I waited to come up from the low.
Everything was fine within 15 minutes. I was on my way up and could safely go back to bed. And again, I congratulated myself for not waking anyone up.
Or so I thought.
“Did anyone hear my CGM go off in the middle of the night?” I asked my girlfriends, approximately six hours after the incident when we were all awake and about to head out to breakfast.
“Yes! I was wondering what that loud, aggressive noise was,” said one. I cringed, an apology lingering on the tip of my tongue, when she continued with an “are you okay? Don’t worry about the noise, I fell back asleep soon after.”
I was grateful for her reassurance, but also for her concern. It felt good to know that ultimately, she didn’t give (apologies for language) two shits about the actual sound that my low blood sugar caused, she was just worried that I recovered from it okay and could get back to sleep soon after.
I smiled to myself. Hours before, I’d been cursing the moon for merely existing and dealing with an annoying, random low blood sugar. But now, I was cruising at a great morning BG and I was on my way to get a delicious breakfast with my gal pals. Diabetes has its moments, but I sure as heck appreciate it when it cooperates during the ones that matter most. So in hindsight, the 3:45 A.M. low was nothing more than a temporary annoyance, and I was just glad that the worst thing it did was interrupt my sleep (and mine alone) for 10 minutes rather than ruin actual precious time spent with my friends.
It’s said that ignorance is bliss…but as I recently (re)learned, ignorance can cause fear and misunderstanding in times that it’s better to be honest.
The lesson was hammered into my brain after fibbing to my significant other about my blood sugar a couple of weeks ago. It was a Saturday night, we had spent the day moseying around the city, and we were looking forward to a chill evening doing a whole lot of nothing. We decided to get into a collaborative card game while we watched the Red Sox play against kick the Astros’ butts.
As we set up the game, I knew my blood sugar was high. But I ignored it, figuring that my insulin would kick in soon and bring my levels back down to normal. I should’ve known that it wouldn’t be so simple (is ANYTHING ever simple when it comes to diabetes?) because after an hour and a half, no progress was made on the BG front and my mood was worsening as a result of it. My partner, ever-attentive, asked me more than once why I seemed so cross. He even directly asked if it was related to my blood sugar, and I…didn’t exactly tell the truth.
Okay, I lied! But it was only because I didn’t want him to worry. I was already worried enough for the two of us. And I thought I was doing the right thing here. I really, truly thought my blood sugar would come down in no time at all, and I hate,hate,HATE using anything related to my diabetes as an excuse for my behavior…so rather than admit what I was going through, I brushed it off, which only exacerbated everything. Not my proudest moment.
As the night went on, we got deeper into the game and my blood sugar climbed higher. I was beyond agitated at this point, and my heart certainly wasn’t into the game. Besides neglecting to open up about my blood sugar problems, I’m also ashamed of my lack of interest in the card game. In hindsight, the healthy thing to do in this situation would’ve been to have faith in my treatment decisions and try to enjoy myself in the meantime. But I was too caught up in the negative mindset that the high blood sugar put me into, and unfortunately, it marred an otherwise perfectly nice night.
The next day, when my blood sugar situation was back to normal, I came clean to my boyfriend. I think he was a bit irked with me for hiding the truth from him, but I also think that he understood a little more after I explained why.
In this case, diabetes won…at least it did in that brief moment in time. Between ruining my mood and causing a mild rift between me and a loved one, I felt pretty damn defeated by it. In the long run, though, I think this experience will be more of a boon than a bane, because it reinforced the notion of honesty being the best policy – even when it comes to diabetes.
Father’s Day was yesterday, but as I did the day after Mother’s Day, I want to use today’s blog as an opportunity to express my appreciation for dads: Namely, my own father.
Besides being the family patriarch, my dad is a firefighter/EMT. He makes his family feel safe with his emergency preparedness knowledge and skills. He also deals with his diabetic wife and daughter on an almost-daily basis, which warrants, at the very least, a ginormous golden trophy with his name engraved on it in fancy script.
That’s because he sees the ugly side of diabetes from time to time. The side that causes blood to spurt out of mom’s abdomen when she removes a pod that struck a vein. The side that causes me to lash out, because my blood sugar won’t seem to come down from a sticky high, no matter what I do. The side that causes mom and I to lose sleep, because we’re treating another middle-of-the-night low blood sugar. The side that forces mom and I to be prepared for any and every possible diabetes scenario that could occur while traveling. The side that causes us to cry, because we just can’t deal with diabetes today.
And he’s there through it all.
He’s there to apply pressure and gauze to the bloody site. He’s there, feeling just as upset as I am, because he just wants my blood sugar levels to come back down, too. He’s there to make sure mom and I have enough glucose tablets or juice to bring our levels back up. He’s there, keeping us calm as we pack for our next trip and taking care of all the travel arrangements. He’s there to comfort us when we need him to, and he hates that we live with diabetes – probably even more than we do.
He’s the kind of guy who says he’d trade his pancreas with us in a heartbeat if it meant we wouldn’t have to live with diabetes anymore.
He’s the kind of guy I’m proud to call my dad.
Thanks, Dad, for helping me handle my diabetes over the years, and supporting every venture (diabetes and otherwise) that I pursue.
Here’s a little disclaimer: This post is highly personal. I’m going to dive deep here and talk about a few things that bother me when it comes to how others perceive T1D. My opinions are strong, but I’m entitled to them – just like you are.
“I can’t believe his blood sugar got that low. He really needs to have better control over his diabetes.”
“Why wasn’t she carrying a snack with her? That’s so irresponsible, she should know better!”
“They’re unhealthy. The way they manage their diabetes isn’t okay and it’s no wonder they go to the doctor so much.”
These are words that others have spoken about people with diabetes in my presence. While these thoughts and feelings aren’t necessarily about me, it doesn’t mean that I don’t take them personally.
Why do they bother me? Because they’re dripping with judgment.
It’s easy for someone who simply doesn’t understand diabetes to make assumptions based on a couple of observations they make about someone with diabetes. But just because it’s easy to assume things, it doesn’t make it okay.
Just because you see someone have a tough diabetes day, it doesn’t mean that’s what it’s like all the time.
Just because someone forgot to carry a low blood sugar remedy on them, it doesn’t mean that they always forget one.
Just because you know of someone who frequently visits the doctor, it doesn’t mean their diabetes is “out of control.”
Just because you blame someone for not taking “proper care” of themselves, it doesn’t mean that they don’t try their damnedest.
That’s what’s so wrong about making assumptions about how someone manages his/her/their diabetes: It’s impossible for anyone to know the full story about that individual’s diabetes, because they are the one solely in charge of it. They know how it behaves 24/7/365. They know it better than their doctor, spouse, family, friends, and coworkers. And the funny (and by funny, I mean really shitty) thing about diabetes is that sometimes, you can’t predict what it’s going to do next. So you have to be prepared to roll with the punches at a moment’s notice. And you’ve got to be that prepared all the damn time: when you’re awake, asleep, traveling, exercising, working, and just plain living.
Sounds exhausting, doesn’t it?
So that’s why I think the blame game is especially cruel when it’s played to cast judgment on people with diabetes. We have the incredibly difficult task of taking care of something that most other people never have to worry about, and blaming someone for not “doing what they should be doing” is heartless and does nothing to help them.
I challenge anyone reading this to think twice before they jump to conclusions about how a person with diabetes takes care of themselves. Remember that just because you may have witnessed them going through a difficult diabetes experience, it doesn’t mean that it’s like that for them all the time, or that they aren’t doing everything they can to take the best possible care of themselves. The world is occupied by enough critics – do your part to be supportive, not shameful.
This adorable cactus-in-a-cup was handmade for me by one of my dear college friends, Emma. She made it for me for my birthday and I nearly cried tears of gratitude when she gave it to me. I felt the same way when another college friend, Kira, sent me a box for my birthday that contained a thoughtfully-chosen book and a cute little cactus pin that now adorns my meter case.
Emma and Kira, as well as our other friends from college, probably don’t realize how nervous I was to explain my diabetes to them when we first met. All my friends from back home had known about my diabetes growing up; as a result, it’d been a very long time since I had to open up about it to brand new people. I worried that they wouldn’t accept it or would treat me differently after learning about it.
I’m happy to say that I couldn’t have been more wrong. Within the first few days of my freshman year of college, I found the group of people that I wanted and needed to have in my life. They were not only accepting of my diabetes, but genuinely curious about it. They peppered me with questions that I was pleased to answer and marveled at my ease with injecting myself in the middle of the dining commons. To this day, they still express interest and desire to learn about diabetes, which means more to me than words can express.
The cacti I’ve amassed over the last few months, courtesy of my friends, serve as daily reminders that I 1) have some really incredible and supportive friends and 2) should always remember to embrace diabetes for what it is, needles and all.