How Keeping Constantly Busy Helps (and Hurts) My Diabetes

I don’t fare well when I have too much idle time.

I’m the type of person who needs to stay as busy as possible: I like being productive and having the satisfaction of saying that I’ve accomplished something each day. That doesn’t always mean that I’m successful, but I do my damnedest to make sure that I check off at least one item from my to-do list on a daily basis.

And I don’t like saying “no” to others, so whenever someone asks for my help, I’m on it. It doesn’t matter if it’s a family member, close friend, or an acquaintance – I do what I can when I’m called on for help, and as you might be able to imagine, this is both good and bad for me.

How Keeping Constantly Busy Helps (and Hurts) My Diabetes
Who DOESN’T love the satisfying feeling of checking items off from a to-do list?!

In terms of diabetes management, it’s great because when I am particularly busy, this means that I’m probably not sitting around a whole lot – the constant go-go-go makes my blood sugars pretty happy. Plus, having a packed schedule keeps my mind occupied when I need to think about something – anything, really – other than my diabetes. If I’m having a tough diabetes day, I don’t have to dwell on it; instead, I have tasks X, Y, and Z to do. If I’m waiting for a stubborn high blood sugar to come back down, then I can start working on a project rather than stare at my CGM for the next hour. 

So in this way, keeping myself busy is a fabulous way to take my attention away from diabetes when I desperately need the mental break from it…but it’s also harmful at times, because let’s face it, there are many times in life where I really do need to concentrate on my diabetes care and management.

Whether it’s a big or small task that I’m working on, I put 110% of myself into it, which means that I really don’t have extra thinking room for my diabetes. Some examples of times that I’ve been far too lost in what I was doing to give diabetes a second thought are when I’ve been in the middle of a knitting project and my Dexcom is went off but I actively ignored it in order to keep my focus on whatever row I was working on (and my blood sugar stayed higher for longer than it should have), or when I should’ve taken a break from writing social media posts for my friend to eat something because my blood sugar needed it, but I just wanted to finish the job first.

Now that I’ve figured out how my diabetes is helped and hurt by my jam-packed days, will I continue to stay constantly busy? The answer is definitely. But I will also try to remember the importance of balance in order to keep my diabetes at the forefront of my mind in a healthy manner.

The CGM Experiment: Comparing the Dexcom G5 to the G6

I have the extremely good fortune of being one of the first people in the world to receive the Dexcom G6, the latest in continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) technology. After spending almost two years eagerly anticipating its FDA approval, I could scarcely believe that I finally had it in my hands when it first arrived a few weeks ago.

I am partway through my second-ever G6 sensor, so I’ve had enough time to come up with some initial opinions on the system as a whole compared to the G5.

Let’s start with what I knew going into the first insertion of the G6. I knew that the transmitter would have a sleeker profile than the G5. I also was aware that the insertion process would be much more streamlined – all I would need to do is push a button and it would be on my body.  Plus, the G6 required 0 finger sticks or calibrations, could be worn for 10 consecutive days, and would no longer block acetaminophen (Tylenol) like its predecessors did. So far, me and the G6 were off to a solid start.

Then, it came time for me to actually put it on. Rather then end my current session with my G5, I decided to leave it on so I could see how accurate it was compared to the G6.

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I was amazed by how easy it was to insert the G6. All I had to do was input a 4-digit code located on the sensor into my receiver. Once the code was accepted, I peeled the adhesive off the sensor, placed the system on my abdomen, folded the orange safety clip until it snapped off, and pushed the big orange button. I cringed when I did it for the first time; truthfully, I was prepared for it to hurt. It made a ka-shunk sound as the sensor inserted itself into my skin, and I…didn’t feel a thing. I marveled at how ridiculously comfortable it felt as I snapped the sleeker transmitter into place. I pressed one more button on my receiver to get the sensor warmed up, and that was it. Once two hours elapsed, my G6 system would be fully operational and could determine my blood sugar without requiring manual calibrations.

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While it felt great to know that I didn’t need to worry about calibrating my new device, I was more interested in seeing how well it matched up with my G5.

And I was a little let down…at least, I was in the beginning.

Initially, I was not impressed at all by the G6’s reports. They matched pretty damn closely with my G5. I was beginning to wonder whether the technology really was that excellent, and then my G6 proved to me that it was, indeed, kind of a big deal.

That moment came when it caught a low blood sugar sooner than my G5. I was feeling the early signs of a low, so it wasn’t much of a surprise when it alarmed. But what was particularly neat to me was that it was able to tell me that a serious low blood sugar (below 55 mg/dL) was oncoming in the next 20 minuets or less. In other words, it knew that I needed to treat my blood sugar right away to prevent a more urgent hypoglycemic event. That predictive feature was definitely a pleasant surprise.

As I wore my first G6 sensor for a few more days, it seemed to adjust better and better to my body. As evidenced in the above picture, it proved to be spot on when I compared it to the blood sugar readings I got from my meter. There’s absolutely still a bit of the classic CGM lag, as it takes about 15 minutes or so to catch up to what’s actually going on in the body, but that was to be expected.

I’m already on second sensor and I think it’s safe to say that I’m sold on the G6. But I don’t think that any product comparison/review is complete without a list of pros and cons, so here’s what I’ve come up with:

Pros of the G6 (compared to the G5)

  • Slimmer transmitter profile
  • 0 fingerstick calibrations (which I really loved when I didn’t have to wake up in the middle of the night to calibrate a sensor I inserted before bed)
  • Predictive low feature
  • Modern touchscreen receiver
  • Absolutely painless and foolproof application – honestly, it was THAT good that it might win me over from the G5 if that was the sole difference between the two

Cons of the G6 (compared to the G5)

  • Clunky applicator – as many other members of the DOC have noted, the system is comprised of a lot of plastic. Probably not very environmentally friendly. I wish it was possible to recycle it somehow
  • Automatic expiration after 10 days – with the G5, you could restart a sensor after a week had elapsed, and in theoryyou could use the same single sensor more than once for a few weeks in a row. The G6 automatically shuts down after 10 days, so you’re forced to put on a new sensor. This medical device is already pretty expensive, and you could at least get your money’s worth with the G5
  • No super noticeable improvement in blood sugar reporting capabilities

The bottom line is that the G6 is unquestionably an upgrade in diabetes technology. It requires fewer blood sugar checks and allows for greater discretion with its smaller size. The G6 is far from perfect, but it’s still a valued component of my diabetes toolkit. I’m excited to continue on this journey with it and discover just how much it helps me take the best possible care of myself.

Hypoglycemia Strikes Again

I rolled over onto my stomach and groggily opened my eyes. I checked the time – 1:30 A.M. I felt beads of sweat form on my forehead and back. I kicked my blankets off my body just as I heard my CGM vibrate: five urgent, successive buzzes, a grating sound. I knew what it meant without looking at the screen. My blood sugar was low, and I had to do something about it.

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Low blood sugar is never fun, but especially when it happens in the middle of the night.

Blindly, I groped around in the dark, my arm hanging off my bed as I searched the floor for my purse. Once I located it, I rummaged through the inside, looking for a miniature box of raisins that I knew would boost my blood glucose up. I found them and ate them quickly, sitting upright in bed. As I chewed, I registered the sensation that occurs once in a blue moon with these middle-of-the-night lows…

…Raging hunger.

It’s that feeling that you have when your blood sugar gets below a certain point.

That feeling of utter starvation.

That feeling that deprives you of good common sense.

That feeling that forces you to get out of bed, even though the rational part of your mind just wants you to go back to sleep.

Damn it. I’ve succumbed to it, again.

It’s not like this happens every time I have a low at ungodly hours of the morning. In fact, it probably only happens to me four or five times throughout the year. Maybe because I fight against it so hard, since I know that it’ll lead to nothing but high blood sugar and regret.

These thoughts cross my mind, but it’s fleeting. I make my way down the stairs, pausing to grab my bathrobe to keep me warm (the sweating will stop soon and it will be replaced by nonstop chills). Hey, at least I have enough logic at this moment in time to remember the BATHROBE of all things!!!

I turn the light on in the kitchen, blinking rapidly to clear the sleep from my eyes. And then I raid the cabinets.

Fistfuls of Smart Food popcorn are devoured one minute, and in the next, I’m swallowing spoonfuls of crunchy peanut butter (my dear, delicious vice). I take a pinch of Parmesan from the fridge and a tiny tower of Toasteds crackers to complete my smorgasbord. I wash it all down with sparkling water and remove myself from the kitchen before I can do any more damage.

I don’t know what’s more sad – the fact that I gave in to these carnal hunger pangs even though I knew my blood sugar would be fine after having the raisins, or that my snacking was absurdly out of control for 1:30 in the morning. Truly, the knowledge that I must’ve consumed close to 400 calories – roughly how much I eat at lunchtime each day – was disgusting to me.

I could blame it on my lack of self-control. I could blame it on the early morning hours and my sleepy state. I could blame it on the peanut butter for being so addicting.

But instead of beating myself up for a snack attack in the witching hours, I’ll just accept it happened and blame it on the hypoglycemia for striking me when I was vulnerable. It happened, it’s over, it’s time to move on and try harder next time.

 

Welcome to my Blog!

I couldn’t be more excited to start this new – and mildly daunting – venture in blogging. While I’m no stranger to sharing my diabetes story with others online, it’s a bit more intimidating to craft my own blog and show a more personal side of myself.

In fact, if you had told me 10 years ago that I would be a diabetes blogger who’s connected with T1Ds all across the country, I would have looked at you like you were absolutely insane. I was already accustomed to a life with diabetes in my teenage years, but that didn’t mean I was willing to talk about it. I shunned the notion of attending diabetes camp or meeting other peers with T1D. I figured that the only other T1Ds I needed in my life were my mom and my aunt – their support was enough for me.

This point of view changed, though, just before I started my freshman year at college. Suddenly, I was all too aware of the fact that I’d be forced to take full responsibility of my diabetes care and management for the first time in my life. College meant a true taste of independence, and with that came accountability for my health. This realization made me accept that perhaps I should welcome some additional support into my life.

That’s when the College Diabetes Network entered the picture. A quick search online brought me to this incredible nonprofit. After learning that a chapter existed at my school, I made it my goal to give it a try and go to a meeting. Little did I know that over the course of the next three years, I would become the president of this chapter and register it as a student organization on campus.

Hi. That’s me, attending my first CDN Retreat and basking in the endless amounts of diet coke available there.

My involvement with the CDN has provided me with many opportunities. I’ve attended conferences and gained internship experiences due to my connection to the CDN. I’ve met dozens of people like me all across the country – individuals looking for peer support as we navigate the tricky world of diabetes, college, the real world, and young adulthood. Hearing stories both similar to and different from my own never fails to make an impact on me, and the inspiration I draw from others gives me the courage to make my voice heard within and outside the diabetes community.

In fact, my openness over sharing my diabetes resulted in my blog’s title: Hugging the Cactus. Anyone who knows me knows that I wear an OmniPod insulin pump and a Dexcom CGM. As I rotate sites around my body, this means that I sometimes wear them in plain sight. On a particular evening, I was wearing one on the back of each arm. I had made a trip to the restroom at a restaurant and was walking back to my table when a not-so-shy waiter asked me, politely, “What are those things on your arms?”

“Oh, it’s my insulin pump and my glucose monitor. I have type one diabetes and these help me manage it,” I explained, in a patient tone.

“Oh, I’m sorry – that’s terrible,” the waiter replied. Remorse appeared in his expression.

“Please don’t apologize,” I said to him, reassuringly. “I’ve had diabetes most of my life. I accept it and I’m grateful for these devices. They make it much easier to take care of myself.”

“That’s pretty cool, you know,” he said, his face changing. He smiled at me. “It’s like your hugging the cactus. Accepting the bad for what it is and embracing it.”

I remember flashing him a giant smile and laughing as I said, “I like that. That’s exactly what it is.” He wished me a good evening, which I reciprocated, before parting ways. I cemented the phrase “hugging the cactus” into my memory that night, because it sums up my perspective on life with diabetes perfectly.

And this is why I’m here: to share my stories with others, as well as to hear your stories. It’s my humble hope to positively impact the life of someone who deals with diabetes, directly or indirectly. Whether we share the same feelings or completely different ones regarding diabetes, I think it’s wonderful to be part of the diabetes community and share in the strength, knowledge, and sense of belonging found within it.