Overcoming Fears and Feeling All the Feels at FFL Falls Church 2019

I wasn’t sure what I was doing here.

“Here” meaning the CWD Friends for Life conference that took place in Falls Church, Virginia, this past weekend. CWD/FFL are acronyms synonymous with some of the largest, best-known conferences for people with diabetes and their families. I went to my first in Orlando back in 2013, and it resulted in me craving more chances to spend time with large groups of T1Ds.

However, timing and money prevented me from going to as many conferences as I’d like in the last few years. I did go to one back in 2017, but it wasn’t what I’d hoped it would be…so going into FFL Falls Church 2019, I was simultaneously excited and nervous.

My fears and anxieties hit their peak within minutes of me arriving to the hotel that was hosting the conference.

All around me, I was witnessing mini reunions taking place. It seemed like everyone in attendance knew each other, and the introvert within me was totally freaking out – how could I possibly join these preformed friendships?

I left that first night feeling a little deflated. I’d only managed to speak to a couple of people who weren’t exhibiting vendors, and I’d spent entirely too much time looking busy on my cell phone when in reality I was just hoping someone might come up and talk to me. It was a little pathetic, but I knew I’d go back the next day having learned from my mistakes.

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Wearing the signature neon green bracelet (which denotes that I have T1D to other conference attendees – the other bracelet color is orange and that means you do not have T1D).

Day 2 rolled around and as I moved from session to session, I slowly started coming out my shell. I met and spoke with parents of T1D children of all ages. I heard a wide variety of diagnosis stories and experiences. I forced myself out of my comfort zone even more by attending a session that focused on diabetes and complications, which I normally can’t stand thinking about, but I actually found it to be one of the best sessions of the entire conference. It’s amazing how much people can open up to a room of what started out as strangers but quickly turned into friends and confidants.

By the third and final day of the conference, my diabetes soul was feeling rejuvenated. It’s pretty difficult to put into words, but being surrounded by so many people with T1D (and those who care for them) for a full weekend is unlike anything else. You’re around people who understand everything about diabetes. They know what a low blood sugar feels like. They know that 4 beeps emitting from an OmniPod is no big deal because it’s just a 4-hour expiration alert. They know how to carb count better than most doctors. They know what burnout is.

It’s just really magical.

In the end, I’m incredibly glad I went to the conference. I met people I might not have ever had the chance to meet. I learned quite a bit about some new diabetes technologies and medicines (more to come on those later). I had open and honest conversations about nearly every aspect of diabetes, which made me feel less alone. I left feeling happy, better informed, more connected, and most of all, proud of myself for overcoming my fears and attending the conference on my own.

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My happy face at the end of the conference.

 

Dealing with Diabetes When You’re the Maid of Honor

No, no, no. Not today diabetes. Dammit.

The morning of my cousin’s wedding, I woke up to a blood sugar of 237 after a night of fighting elevated levels. There was no rhyme or reason for the high blood sugar – I hadn’t eaten a single thing for 16 hours at that point, but I had changed my pod an hour or two before going to bed.

Why You Should Get a Flu Shot (If You Haven't Gotten One Already) (2)
When you’re the MOH and you also happen to have diabetes, you worry about a lot more than just your speech or your makeup.

WTF was wrong? Was the pod’s cannula bent? Was I high due to wedding day jitters? Would the highs persist all day?

These were the thoughts racing through my mind almost as soon as I woke up the morning of my cousin’s wedding.

I didn’t have time to worry about my MOH speech, or whether my hair would turn out the way I wanted to, or even to drink a celebratory mimosa while I got ready with the rest of the bridal party – I was too preoccupied by my elevated blood sugar.

All I could bother to think about was a potential solution before we all walked down the aisle.

Somewhere between applying my eyeshadow and having the 111th bobby pin secured in my hair (yes, it truly took 111 bobby pins to make my intricate braided up-do possible), I remembered “The Incident” from last year. I’d slept through a high blood sugar that, the following morning, refused to come down. As my frustration grew, so did the pain in my belly that lead me to the bathroom, where I came very close to passing out. One ambulance trip and ER visit later, I discovered that my pod’s cannula was bent, leaving me with no doubt that a pod malfunction was responsible for the whole ordeal.

With that memory vividly replaying in my mind, I made the executive decision to change my pod a couple hours before we were due at the wedding venue. And I can’t even begin to explain how happy I am that I listened to my intuition to do so. Upon removing it, I noticed blood at the site – not as bad of a sign as a bent cannula is, but a possible indicator of a problem. By the time we were in the venue’s bridal suite, my blood sugar was sitting pretty at 90 and I was finally able to focus on the beautiful, meaningful afternoon.

Sure, it was a stressful morning and far from an ideal situation, but I am extremely proud of myself for how I handled it. I didn’t panic the way I normally do. I didn’t shed any anxiety tears. I kept the issue pretty well-concealed from the bride, who shouldn’t have to worry about her MOH’s health on her special day. My calm approach paid off, and though it sucked to waste almost two days’ worth of insulin when I disposed the wonky pod, I knew I should pay closer attention to the fact that I did what needed to be done.

And even better was that my diabetes mostly cooperated with me the rest of the day. It didn’t stop me from delivering a fantastic speech with the matron of honor. It didn’t prevent me from enjoying some tasty wedding food, cake and all. It certainly didn’t keep me from tearing up the dance floor with my enthusiastic family. And it didn’t end my night early as I went out with my boyfriend, the newlyweds, and the matron of honor and her husband to a bar to shoot some pool and continue our celebrations.

Turns out that dealing with diabetes when you’re the maid of honor has a lot to do with keeping a cool head and living in the moment, two things that are so important to do in a variety of situations.

A Farewell to my Endocrinologist

Well…the day I’ve been subconsciously dreading has finally arrived.

It’s time for me to part ways with my endocrinologist…the diabetes doctor that I’ve seen for the last decade…more than one-third of my life.

She’s moving onto new things, and I’m sad to see her go. She’s helped me tremendously over the years.

She’s seen me at my “diabetes worst”, when I was a college student who cared more about having a normal college experience than managing my diabetes.

She was the one who finally convinced me to quit MDI in favor of an insulin pump.

She’s one of the few medical professionals I’ve ever interacted with who treated me like an equal – she never made me feel “less than” or inferior to her.

In other words, I was pretty dang lucky to be her patient.

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The “thank you” card that I plan on giving my endocrinologist, pictured with two devices I started using thanks to her.

I’m trying to take this forced change in stride. Maybe it will be good to meet with another endocrinologist. Maybe it will help me continue to improve. But I am allowing myself to feel a little upset and sorry over the situation; after all, it’s never fun to part ways with someone, especially when you had no say in the matter.

Guess what else I’m allowing myself to feel?

Gratitude.

I feel thankful for my endocrinologist, so I plan on giving her a card with the following message during our appointment tomorrow…because it’s important to me for her to know all the positive change she’s brought to my life:

Dear [Name Redacted],

I wanted to thank you for all that you have done to help me (and my mom and aunt) in the last several years. You have always motivated me to take better care of myself after every appointment I’ve had with you. I appreciate you for being patient with me, listening to my concerns, and inspiring me to try new technologies and treatments to improve my quality of life with diabetes. I don’t like having a chronic illness, but having a doctor like you around to help me deal with it means the world to a patient like me.

Wishing you all the best in your future endeavors!

Sincerely,

Molly

I’m Jealous of Your Working Pancreas

Sometimes, I look at my friends and family members and think, I’m jealous of your working pancreas(es). 

It’s not their faults for having perfectly functioning organs – and believe me, I’m glad that they do work the way they should. I’d never wish diabetes on anyone, especially the ones that I care about and love.

But I can’t help but think to myself, it must be nice to not have to worry about any of the crap that I’m constantly thinking about. 

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How lovely it must be to order whatever the heck you want at any restaurant you walk into, without having to worry about how many carbs it contains or how much to bolus for it.

How freeing it must be to live spontaneously, to go out and about wherever you desire without having to lug around a bunch of supplies and snacks, because you never know what you might need to have on hand.

The last time I had these thoughts was when my best friend visited me a few weeks ago in Washington, D.C. We had an absolutely wonderful weekend together that was filled with excellent culinary experiences and lots of walking (we logged 30,000 steps in a single day). Even though we had a blast, I was having a difficult time with my diabetes all weekend long, probably due to all the unfamiliar foods we were eating and the amount of movement we incorporated into each day.

I remember being in the Museum of Natural History when I checked my blood sugar and it was sky high, no thanks to the falafel wrap and soft-serve ice cream I’d consumed for lunch. I felt so defeated – not only was my blood sugar high, but my feet were aching and I felt icky after walking around in 95-degree heat for most of the morning and afternoon. But as an eager-to-please host to my guest, I felt like I still had to paste a smile on my face and show her and her boyfriend a good time.

That’s when the thought came – I’m jealous of your working pancreas – and went….because I knew that I shouldn’t waste any more time or energy begrudging my bestie of her healthy, insulin-producing pancreas. I’m so grateful that hers works – along with many other beloved family and friends – and that she doesn’t have to worry about all the crap that I’m constantly thinking about.

Isn’t it funny – funny interesting, not funny ha-ha – how perspective can change from one moment to the next? How jealousy can turn into gratitude? It’s kind of awesome.

Dad Appreciation Post

This post originally appeared on Hugging the Cactus on June 18, 2018. I wanted to republish it today because my dad (and all fathers of T1D children) should be recognized for everything they do for us. I also wanted to give my dad a little extra shout-out, as this is the first Father’s Day that I’m not there to celebrate him in-person.

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.

Hey, Handsome
I’m so grateful for my amazing dad!

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.

Mom Appreciation Post

This post originally appeared on Hugging the Cactus on May 14, 2018. I wanted to republish it today because my mom (and all mothers of T1D children) should be recognized for everything they do for us. I also wanted to give my mother a little extra shout-out, as this is the first Mother’s Day that I’m not there to celebrate her in-person.

I know Mother’s Day was yesterday, but mothers deserve more than a Hallmark-card holiday in order to be adequately recognized. (They also deserve more than just this blog post; however, I can only express my admiration for moms using my words.) Let me explain my appreciation for moms.

All of the mothers I know, especially my own mom, work tirelessly to support their families in multiple ways. This is especially true of mothers of children with diabetes. They spend so much time counting carbs, losing hours of sleep, injecting insulin, attending doctors’ appointments, and dealing with difficult diabetes emotions all on top of normal mom duties. And many of the diabetes moms I know work(ed) full-time jobs, to boot!

HUGGING THE CACTUS -A T1D BLOG
Mom, thank you for all that you do.

I think my mom is particularly amazing because she did all of the above, all while managing her own diabetes, too. Now that I’m an adult, I can’t help but marvel over how she did it all with such capability, humor, and unconditional love. I’m blessed to have an incredible mom who taught me what it means to be a dia-badass.

I love you, Mom!!!

The Cactus Corner

It seems like everywhere I go these days, there’s a cactus. (Or more often than not, cacti.) They appear in practically every form: I’ve spotted t-shirts, erasers, mugs, earrings, pool floats, and even stringed lights bearing the barbed plant’s likeness. The popularity spike of the cactus collided, by total coincidence, with the debut of my blog.

I’ve rapidly amassed a small collection of cactus items in the past year and a half, with no signs of slowing down. It’s certainly made it easier to represent my brand at all times, without even really trying. And it’s caused my family and friends to associate cacti with me – it always makes me smile when someone spots a cactus in their travels and lets me know that it made them think of me.

But even better, the cactus has spurned creativity in some of my friends who have been especially supportive of my blog and its mission since its incarnation.

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I have some incredibly talented friends.

Hence, The Cactus Corner – a little stretch of shelf space devoted to some of the cacti creations that my friends have made for me in honor of my life with diabetes as documented through this blog. There’s a cheerful, polka-dot-potted cactus that my friend hand-stitched in one section, and a painting of a blooming cactus set against a lovely pink background. Also pictured is a painfully cute pin that I’ve attached to my meter case – a portable cactus that I carry everywhere with me, along with all my diabetes supplies, as a reminder of my blog and of the diabetes obstacles I’ve overcome over the years.

The Cactus Corner is small and humble, but it represents so much to me. It is tangible evidence of the friendships I’ve been blessed with in life. It’s also symbolic of how I’ve chosen to embrace diabetes – pricks and all – for what it is.

So as my Cactus Corner continues to grow and thrive, I will, too.

How to React When a Loved One With Diabetes is Struggling

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?

We Have 10,000 Followers!

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.

 

Memory Monday: The First Time I Tried Alcohol & How it Affected My Diabetes

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.

I Volunteer To Drink!

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.

That Time Low BG Made Me Mad at the Moon

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.

Digital Imaging Specialist
Low blood sugar in the middle of the night can make you feel weird things…such as anger towards the moon.

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.