How Working From Home Affects my Diabetes

Diabetes is a creature of habit. It rarely appreciates disruptions in its expected routine…so when they happen, it likes to make its displeasure known.

This probably explains why I’ve dealt with a number of diabetes curve balls since I started working from home (as opposed to an office) full-time.

I’ve been working remotely, 40 hours per week, for just about a month now. This was a choice I made as I prepared to move from Massachusetts to Virginia. I like most things about my job, from the people I work with to the skills it has helped me develop. But I don’t particularly love that my job forces me to be a self-described “cubicle rat”. When I work in the office, I’m parked at my cubicle for a solid portion of the day. As a semi-fidgety person, this was a tough reality for me to swallow nearly five years ago when I started my job. However, I was able to adapt to the old ball-and-chain that is my desk, and learned to break free from it every once in awhile. Before long, I discovered that getting up every 60-90 minutes to either wander into the kitchen for a drink, walk up the stairs to another floor in the building, or in nice weather, stroll around the building in laps, were all excellent ways to cope with my desire to move as well as keep my blood sugars at bay.

So that’s close to five years of having a very specific routine that my diabetes and I were used to…no wonder it was pissed off when I changed things up.

You are a rare gem.

Working from home affects my diabetes in ways that I expected and others that caught me off guard. First, the things that didn’t surprise me: I knew that I would likely be even more sedentary at home than in an office. I’m not walking across a parking lot, up a set of stairs, and down a long hallway just to set up my desk each day. All I’m doing is walking five feet into the living room in order to power on my laptop. So there’s a lot less daily movement, and I’ve had to work hard to incorporate as much of it as possible because my diabetes responds incredibly well to exercise.

I also knew that my relationship with food would change a bit. Since I was living with my parents before the move, I was lucky enough to have 99% of my food preparations done for me by them (thank you for feeding me, Mom and Dad). Not only would I need to take care of cooking my own food in this new situation, but I would also need to become responsible for making smart choices and stocking the pantries with healthful things…because when you work from home, ALL the food is available to you. And since there aren’t any coworkers nearby me to chat with and take my mind off snack time, it’s much easier for me to just traipse through the kitchen whenever the heck I want and eat a gratuitous number of chips, crackers, cheese, and any other sort of goodies I can find. I don’t like admitting it, but I don’t always bolus for said snacks…making it that much more of a struggle for my blood sugars.

But what I didn’t know about working from home and how it might impact my diabetes is that there’s an emotional side to it that almost certainly comes into play. The first few weeks of my move were absolutely draining. I was homesick and trying to adjust to this strange, new place at the same time, and honestly, I think it was all a little too much for my diabetes to deal with at once. There were three straight days in which I had to fight hard to get my blood sugars to come down from stubborn highs, and there was another string of days in which I felt like I had to eat everything in the kitchen just to keep my numbers up. Between the numbers that my blood sugars represented and my emotions, each day felt like a seesaw and I wasn’t sure what to expect next.

What took me by surprise the most, though, about my new work arrangement was how quickly I acclimated to it. By the end of week two of working remotely, I had a routine – with a few fluctuations here and there – that I’ve since tried to stick with: waking up around 6:30, exercising, showering, getting dressed, eating breakfast, logging onto work, working for 4 hours, eating lunch, taking a break to do household chores/errands, working for another 4 hours, then logging off for the day. So far, I’ve found that following this pattern helps me move around as much as I did when I worked in the office, and it establishes a flow that my blood sugars and diabetes can follow. I’ve also, for the most part, remained mindful of the foods I eat during the working hours, after making mistakes with a bag of pretzels and banana chips in the first couple of weeks.

Even though my diabetes wasn’t happy with remote work in the beginning, I think I’ve arrived at a place in which it’s coming to terms with it…and, I daresay, warming up to the concept.

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Hypo and Tongue-Tied: My Woes at Work

“Okay,” I thought to myself as I sat down for my 90 minute meeting, “My blood sugar’s sitting pretty around 100 or so. I should be able to make it the whole meeting without experiencing a drop, since the last time I gave myself insulin was about three hours ago…”

The fact that I had the audacity to think that my body/blood sugar wouldn’t play any tricks on me is laughable.

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This was my recent struggle at work. Usually, diabetes doesn’t interfere with my work whatsoever. I’m sitting, somewhat stationary, at a desk for eight hours every Monday through Friday. There was an adjustment period to the sedentary life when I first started working at my job, but it’s been more than four years now, so my body and my blood sugars are used to it. Plus, throughout the workday, I go out of my way to fit in extra steps, whether it’s using a restroom on a different floor or parking my car far away from my building’s entrance. Combined with my higher activity levels before/after work and regular workweek eating habits, I’d say that I’ve struck a balance in terms of physicality and diet that makes for an optimal environment for my diabetes to function normally/predictably.

So when I DO experience a high or low when I’m at work, it throws me off…but only for a relatively short amount of time. I’m talking like 15 minutes or so here. That’s right about the amount of time I need to come up from a low. If it’s a high blood sugar, I need even less time to rebound. I simply bolus, drink plenty of water, and move on to my next task. (Only in cases of 300+ blood sugars do I get really nervous – it’s only happened a couple of times, but I’ve had to leave work when that happens either due to feeling sick or needing to go home to deal with it.)

But things were different the other day when I was in the middle of a meeting with a colleague and I could feel the slow and steady drop of my blood sugar. Despite having monitored it closely prior to the start of the meeting, it started to coast down. Here’s the real kicker, though – I’m pretty in-tune with my body and could feel that this was not an urgent low. I figured my blood sugar was somewhere between 65 and 75. I didn’t have my CGM or meter to confirm, and I felt like I could keep the meeting going…so I didn’t do anything about it.

And in hindsight – even if it is 20/20 – I wish I had done something.

Why? Mainly because I felt that I was virtually useless in my meeting. As I reviewed each page of the 80+ slide PowerPoint, I could feel my thinking start to deteriorate. Words were tumbling out too quickly and nonsensically. I wasn’t sure if I was making a whole lot of sense to my colleague. And that’s a feeling that I can’t stand. I don’t like thinking that I may have wasted her time due to my determination to “power through” a low. It’s a perfect example of low blood sugar causing a symptom other than shakiness, sweating, or sluggishness: In this case, it also caused stubbornness.

When I finally made it back to my cubicle, I slumped down into my chair and grabbed a juice box from my low supply stash while my CGM buzzed over and over, letting me know that I was indeed low. Within approximately 8 seconds, the juice box was crushed, and I couldn’t help but think how next time I had a meeting, I’d bring one with me…just in case.

Favorite Things Friday: My Secret Snack Stash at Work

One Friday per month, I’ll write about my favorite things that make life with diabetes a little easier for me.

So, I’m going to cross my fingers and hope that none of my coworkers read my blog…because then my secret snack stash at work will become not-so-secret, and that could mean trouble for me when dealing with future low blood sugars. That being said, if you’re reading this and you work with me…stay away from the stash!!!

As I was saying…

I love having a snack stash stored away in one of the drawers at my cubicle. I like to stock it with snacks that have varying carbohydrate counts: more carbs for lower lows, and fewer carbs for the not-urgent lows. The items may vary from time to time, but usually, I keep the drawer filled with the following snacks:

  • Mini Lara bars (10 carbs)
  • Mini boxes of raisins (11 carbs)
  • Fruit snacks (all kinds, ranging from 10 carbs to 21 carbs)
  • Peanut butter crackers (15 carbs)

Sometimes, I’ll even add a jar of glucose tablets (which contains 50-60 tabs) to the lot. Glucose tablets are far less tempting to munch on then, say, a cracker pack, so when I’m dealing with a raging-hunger kind of low, it helps to have the tabs within reach because they prevent me from over-treating.

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In order to throw off coworkers (who are most definitely, probably not reading this post), I’ll share an image of my old snack CORNER. I’ve upgraded to a drawer now.

And when all else fails and my snack stash is depleted, at least I’ve got access to a fully-stocked Coca-Cola machine in my office suite, as well as a vending machine filled with all sorts of confections in the building’s basement.

But let’s be real here…who can possibly exercise enough self-control to stop eating a package of Skittles when low blood sugar comes ’round?

Disclosing Diabetes in the Workplace

Almost two years ago, my friends from the College Diabetes Network asked me to discuss diabetes in the workplace at their annual student retreat. The prospect of bringing diabetes into a new career and encountering new sets of challenges can seem daunting, so I was happy to talk about my positive experiences thus far as a young adult who has already made the transition from college to “the real world”.

Diabetes in the workplace – how do I navigate it? Here’s a little snippet in which I explain how I’ve decided to disclose my diabetes with my coworkers: