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.

How Diabetes Told Me It’s Too Early for Christmas Decorations

We all know that 2020 has been a sucky year, so it’s not exactly surprising that immediately following Halloween, the world seemed to throw itself into the holiday spirit.

Between the commercials on TV, Black Friday sales, sparkly decorations, baking galore, and Hallmark movies, the Christmas season kicked off early and with major vivacity. Normally, I’m the kind of person who prefers to enjoy one holiday at a time, and I was somewhat repulsed to see all the Christmas merchandise in stores before Halloween was over.

So even though Thanksgiving hasn’t even come and gone yet, I’ve abandoned any remaining willpower I’ve had to hold off on decorating for Christmas. Like the rest of society, I simply couldn’t hold back my desire for some cheer!

One afternoon last week, I decided to haul up my Christmas tree and its accompaniments from the basement and start the process of decking the halls…

…but my diabetes had other ideas.

Maybe my diabetes would’ve liked it better if I decked the halls with glucose tablets and test strips…

I’d just finished assembling my modest tree when I heard my Dexcom alarm sounding off, alerting me to a low blood sugar.

And I hate to admit it, but it didn’t surprise me – I’d felt the oncoming low for about 10 minutes prior.

I just wanted to decorate so badly that I was willing to ignore my blood sugar in order to embrace the Christmas spirit!

Alas, not too long after I heard that alarm, I knew I had to change my priorities as I started to get sweaty and a little woozy…so I left my tree naked and sought out a low treatment, slumping at my table in defeat while I ate it.

My diabetes told me it was too early to decorate for Christmas at that moment in time…

But you know that I told my diabetes otherwise later that night when I spent hours trimming the tree!

‘Tis the season and ain’t no way that my diabetes will prevent me from basking in it.

PDM System Error: What It Is and What to Do When It Happens

I crack open the slot on the back of my PDM where two AAA batteries are nestled. I smack them out from their slots, insert two fresh ones, and replace the cover. I wait for the system to power back on and am greeted with a high-pitched beeping sound soon after it’s reactivated…

…and become simultaneously annoyed, confused, and a bit panicked when I see a “system error” message displaying on the screen.

I follow the steps that flash on its display, instructing me to reset the date and time. Once I take care of that, my pod immediately deactivates, aggravating me further. I assemble all the supplies I need to activate a new pod, and once I have it on, I receive a message that I won’t be able to use the bolus calculation function on my PDM for 3-4 hours.

The whole incident was majorly inconvenient, but such is life with diabetes…

Anyways, if you’re like me, you’re probably wondering what exactly happened, and why it triggered my pod to fail.

Error messages on diabetes technology are never something I’ll be glad to see, but they do happen.

Fortunately, I can explain it!

I’ve experienced this phenomenon before – it happens when the internal battery within the PDM (not the AAA batteries) has a problem and stops working the way it should. It causes the system to get confused when new AAA batteries are inserted (because the system shuts off and turns back on) and it doesn’t remember the date or time. Because of that, it can’t identify when the current pod was activated, so it immediately triggers it to stop working so new one can be applied.

It’s obnoxious as heck because it’s a total unpredictable phenomenon, but it is what it is. It can be dealt with in a matter of a few hours, and the best part is that Insulet can be contacted so they can be made aware of the issue and overnight a new PDM – which is what they did for me. The day after this PDM problem occurred, I gave them a call, and within 10 minutes I was promised a new PDM that I would receive in about 24 hours.

So when a PDM system error happens again – not that I actually anticipate it to for a long time – I know the right course of action is to keep calm, follow the system’s instructions, and give Insulet a phone call. In other words? Rolls with the punches, because diabetes is good at directing them my way.

“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.

The Impact of Diabetes on My Relationship with Food

There’s no cutesy lead-in to this post…I’m going with a very straightforward statement here:

Diabetes has caused me to have a very weird and strained relationship with food.

How? Oh, let me count the ways…

Diabetes has positively impacted my relationship with food because it has helped me understand the importance of nutrition. I’ve had to learn how carbohydrates, proteins, and fats affect my levels, as well as the role that the glycemic index of foods play into the picture. I’m also grateful that diabetes has caused me to realize there are limits – I can’t mindlessly eat huge quantities of food (though on occasion I do, more on that in a minute). I must measure everything out, and I believe that this forced sense of portion control has helped me maintain a (mostly) healthy weight.

But diabetes has also, absolutely, negatively impacted my relationship with food.

Here’s pretend cartoon me, being absolutely adorable as she calmly whips up a feast in the kitchen (LOL there’s so much wrong about that sentence)!!!

For starters, I can get so fed-up with having to account for every single morsel I consume in a given day – I resent having to take insulin for foods I’d otherwise find enjoyable. Plus, there’s a lot of guilt associated with my regular food consumption. “Should you eat that?” is question I hear not just from others, but from myself as I have to think about whether certain foods are worth not just the calories, but also the amount of insulin that I have to dose for it. And don’t even get me started on how literally unsavory it is to have to eat food when I’m already full but dealing with a low blood sugar…

In a word, my relationship with food is complicated…and I don’t hesitate to blame my diabetes for that. Don’t get me wrong: At the end of the day, I loooooooove food. Really, there’s very few things that I don’t (or won’t) eat or at least try. I enjoy consuming a large variety of foods and I like to eat veggies almost as much as I like eating chocolate (that may be a bit of a stretch, but I think you get my point).

It’s just unfortunate that my diabetes forces me to overthink every food choice that I make. So I’m that much more hopeful for the day which I can eat food without having to think twice about it, without having to feel guilt, shame, doubt, anger, sadness…nothing but pure enjoyment.

Hugging the Cactus Turns Three!

On October 2, 2017, I publicly shared this blog for the very first time.

Oh, how much has changed in three years…

…heck, a lot’s changed in the last year alone!

Forget everything that’s been going on with the world since 2020 began – that would be a very depressing laundry list – I’ve personally experienced so much change in the last 10 months that it makes me dizzy when I stop to really process it all…but here’s a quick glimpse at the life transitions I’ve dealt with throughout the year (some of which I’m keeping deliberately vague because they’re painful to write about):

  • Made a major move
  • Mourned the hardest loss of my life
  • Said goodbye to a physical office location for my job
  • Dealt with depression and anxiety
  • Made the biggest purchase of my life so far

Yeah, it’s been quite a year so far. Not just for me, though: It’s been a doozy for all of us. I guess we can take mild comfort in the fact that we’ve all struggled together.

But on a more positive note, in this year of enormous, earth-shaking change, I’ve had a constant in this blog and the diabetes community.

Seems like I was anxiously anticipating the launch of my blog just yesterday…hard to believe it’s been 1,095 days.

I’ve taken solace in blogging and sharing stories three times each week. I’ve enjoyed seeing comments from regular and new readers alike. I’ve relied on the consistency of the diabetes community: its strength, knowledge, resilience, and of course, support.

So as Hugging the Cactus celebrates its third birthday, I remain grateful for its existence as my platform to connect with others, make new discoveries about my diabetes, and learn from it all in order to live the healthiest and happiest life possible.

Happy 3rd birthday, Hugging the Cactus!

4 Reasons Why I Started a Diabetes Blog

At the end of June, I was notified that someone nominated me for the 9th Annual WEGO Health Awards!

This is my second time being nominated for the “best in blog” category. And words can’t describe how much it means to me – in the two and a half years since I started Hugging the Cactus, I’ve questioned countless times (truly, at least once a week) whether it’s worth all the effort it takes me to run this blog. Knowing that there’s at least one person out there who sees value in what I have to say is simultaneously humbling and motivating and makes me want to continue writing this blog for years to come.

Of course, I certainly didn’t start this blog to receive nominations or awards! While the recognition is incredibly lovely, there are actually a few different reasons why I started a diabetes blog…

Pink and Orange Abstract Quote Instagram Post
I wish I had a cute little blogger’s corner like this, but in reality, my current desk is actually a dining room table. Maybe one day…

  1. To express my diabetes story in a creative format that works for me. Some people are gifted photographers and can curate amazing Instagram feeds through which they share their diabetes stories. Others might be video wizards and choose YouTube as their diabetes-storytelling platform. But me? I choose writing a blog because, well, I’m a writer. I’ve always loved words – reading, writing, and speaking them, so this is what makes sense for me.
  2. As a form of therapy. Diabetes evokes a lot of intense thoughts and feelings. It can be hard to voice every single one of them to a family member or a friend. So that’s what I use this blog for: an outlet through which I can sort through my more complicated diabetes emotions by writing about the experiences that create them. And let’s be real, it can feel amazing to just vent and let it all out in a blog post.
  3. To connect with other members of the diabetes online community (DOC). This is probably the best-known reason why I started this blog – social media is great, but sometimes it can be highly impersonal. On some platforms, we’re showing the filtered versions of our lives and perhaps choosing to only hit the highlights instead of including the lows along with them. I feel like on this blog, I can write about the good, bad, and the ugly, and all of it has the potential to resonate with different audience segments. To me, that’s really powerful and it’s resulted in some of my stronger DOC friendships.
  4. To be an advocate. I’ve always wanted to be a diabetes advocate, but I was never really sure how I could be an effective one. I know that advocacy comes in many forms, and I knew that the best type for me would be one that involved my writing. So sharing my diabetes experiences on my blog is one way that I’m an advocate, but I’ve amped up my efforts recently by becoming a digital advocate for T1International. Blending my blog with their resources has only enhanced my ability to advocate for diabetes and educate others in addition to myself (because even after 22 years of diabetes, I still learn new things about it all the time), so I’m really grateful for my partnership with their organization.

When I’m dealing with blogger burnout, I think it’ll help me to look back on this little list to remind myself of my “why”. These are the reasons why I started and continue upkeep of Hugging the Cactus. And you’re a reason why. For that, I thank you.