5 Tips for Navigating T1D and Friendships

Diabetes can interfere with so many aspects of daily life…including friendships and relationships with others.

I’m an extremely fortunate person: I’ve never had my diabetes be a “deal-breaker” for a friendship or a relationship. I’ve never had much difficulty in explaining it to others or receiving support from friends when I’ve needed it. Of course, the level of support that I get from people in my life with T1D is much different compared to the support I get from people in my life without it, but both types of support are invaluable.

Recently, I had an Instagram follower ask me for my advice on how to help friends understand T1D: what it’s like and what’s appropriate to do/say to a person with diabetes. She expressed her frustration with a friend who doesn’t seem to understand that just because she has diabetes it doesn’t mean that she can’t enjoy sugary treats from time to time. So in response to her anecdote, I decided to round up my five best tips on how to navigate T1D and friendships/relationships in which there’s a lack of understanding and a little too much judgment.

Some of my favorite conversations about diabetes with my friends have taken place on a comfy couch with a good glass of wine, making this a great photo for this post.

#1: Be open, honest, and willing to answer questions. In almost two-and-a-half decades of life with diabetes, I’ve learned that this is the most important thing I can do when meeting new people and forging friendships/relationships. It’s not like my diabetes is the very first thing I say to people (“Hi, I’m Molly and I have diabetes” sounds like a South Park gag)…but it is something that I make sure to casually cover early on in the relationship. Opening the door to communication about diabetes from the get-go seems to have helped me avoid tricky situations in which I have to spend too much time correcting misunderstandings about life with diabetes and not enough time on fostering my connection with an individual.

#2: Show all aspects of life with T1D. My philosophy is to never hide any part of my diabetes from friends. I let them watch me when I do fingerstick checks, site changes, and more. I involve them when I need help correcting a low blood sugar or need to take a moment to do a bolus calculation. I’ve found that this really helps my friends feel included and they tend to show more interest and genuine curiosity when I do my “diabetes stuff” around them. It creates natural learning experiences for my friends and they get to see firsthand just how much work it can be to take care of my diabetes.

#3: Tag along to endocrinologist appointments. I understand that this might not be possible right now in this “new normal”, but in the past, I’ve had my significant other come with me to endocrinology appointments. The most memorable experience was seeing a diabetes educator with my significant other so I could be retrained on how to use an emergency glucagon kit, and so he could learn for the first time. It was really eye-opening for my partner, and ever since then, I’ve encouraged others to invite their loved ones or the person/people they live with to attend appointments every now and then. And hey, since so many doctors’ visits are virtual these days, maybe it’ll be even easier for more people to tag along to these appointments than before.

#4: Make an introduction to the DOC. Some of my friends are more social media savvy than others, so for those who have shown interest, I’ve introduced them to the diabetes online community on Instagram. There are sooooo many profiles there ALONE – forget Facebook/Twitter/other diabetes blogs – that do an incredible job of shedding light on the significant and mundane (and everything in between) parts about daily life with diabetes. These accounts have helped them truly get diabetes in a way they hadn’t previously and I think it’s made my friendships stronger, healthier, and judgment-free.

#5: Correct misconceptions – gently. Even my closest friends, or the ones with the best of intentions, have slipped up now and then and said something to my face that is simply not true about diabetes. And that’s okay, they’re not perfect (and they certainly know that I am not). When this happens, I use it as a teaching opportunity and let them know why what they said is wrong or factually incorrect. I find that the gentle, patient approach helps to reinforce whatever it is that I’m telling them, so at the end of the day, it’s a win-win for all parties.

Yes, I Can Eat Those Christmas Cookies

This post was originally published on Hugging the Cactus on December 12, 2018. I’m sharing it again now because the holidays are quickly approaching, and just because they look different this year, it doesn’t mean that cookies and other baked goods won’t be in abundance (baking is a great hunker-down activity, after all)! If you’re doubting whether a person with diabetes could or should eat cookies…then please continue reading this post. And excuse the absence of photos of the cookies described in the first paragraph, I didn’t want to trigger any drooling (‘cuz I totally would).

Check out that spread. You’re looking at an assortment of nine different kinds of Christmas cookies, all baked fresh by my mom, aunts, and cousins for our annual cookie swap this past weekend. And I can attest to the fact that each of them were effing delicious.

Now, if you’re thinking that people with diabetes can’t or shouldn’t eat cookies, sweets, or carbs in general…I’m here to (gently) tell you that you’re wrong. It’s a myth, a grain of utmost untruth, that people with diabetes cannot have carbohydrates of the sugary or starchy varieties. It’s fake news, y’all!!!

The FACT of the matter is that people with diabetes don’t have limits on what foods they’re able to eat. But there are matters of condition and preference to take into consideration here. First and foremost, carbs MUST be counted before they’re consumed. This is crucial because it determines how much insulin a T1D must inject. And then things like personal taste, diet, and comfort levels come into play that account for the variations in eating habits among people with diabetes. And that is the reason why you’ll meet some who are low carb, high fat followers, some who do not consume gluten, and others who do not exclude any particular food group from their diet.

I tried to choose a photo of Christmas cookies that weren’t absolutely delicious looking in order to avoid cravings…a much harder task than it sounds!

I’ve written a bit about this before, so why am I repeating it again? Because it’s worth knowing and accepting that everyone is different. Bodies respond differently to different stimuli, including the foods and insulin we put into them. And whatever works best for someone should be unconditionally tolerated, not judged, by others.

So if I want to eat a bunch of Christmas cookies as part of my Christmastime celebrations, then here’s my friendly reminder that I can – and you bet your bottom dollar that I did, and was very grateful for insulin after doing so.

Diabetes and Gratitude: A Thanksgiving Post

Most years since I’ve been a diabetes blogger, I’ve tried to write some sort of blog post in which I reflect on the things that I’m grateful for.

My Thanksgiving gratitude list hasn’t really changed year after year…I’ll always be thankful for my family and friends, the roof over my head, and the food on my plate.

But what’s changed this year is that there are some new additions to the list:

Diabetes and gratitude aren’t two words that many people would probably put together in a sentence, but I do…keep reading to learn why.

My job. Given the record unemployment numbers this year, I feel especially grateful that I have a job that keeps me safe at home.

Access to insulin. I’ve always taken my insulin accessibility for granted. I don’t struggle to afford my 90-day supply (though it would certainly make my life easier if it was cheaper) and I am fortunate enough to have a solid supply on hand at all times. I know that other people with diabetes can’t say the same: an awful reality, but one that opens my eyes to something I should never take for granted.

Video chat programs. I used Skype in college to keep in touch with my high school friends and hadn’t really given it a second thought since then…until this year, of course. Between Zoom, FaceTime, and Skype, I’m so glad that this technology exists and helps me stay connected to my friends and family members.

Essential employees. There are a number of people who I consider heroes, and those who are essential employees are among them. It’s not just nurses, doctors, or first responders – it’s also the individuals who must risk exposure on a daily basis in order to support themselves and their families. I hope they know that their sacrifices don’t go unnoticed, and that they’re beyond appreciated for what they do to help the general public in so many ways.

Diabetes itself. Yes, I am thankful for diabetes. Here’s why: I could spend all my time resenting it for (occasionally) making my life miserable. A long time ago, though, I chose to embrace diabetes for what it is. In turn, I’ve learned to be grateful for diabetes because of all it has brought and taught me…friendship, independence, discipline, and so much more. After nearly 23 years with it, how could I not find gratitude in life with diabetes? And in a year of what’s felt like perpetual change (both for me personally and for the world), I’m thankful that diabetes remains a constant that actually helps keep me grounded by being a part of my routine. I’m always going to want and fight for a cure, but for now, I actively accept my diabetes and find the positives in my life with it.

It’s true that my Thanksgiving celebrations tomorrow will be a little different than what I’m used to, but I know that one thing that will stay the same is my gratitude for it, my diabetes, and all that life has to offer.

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.

“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.

Happy 10th Birthday, College Diabetes Network!!!

Tomorrow, one of my favorite diabetes non-profits – the College Diabetes Network (CDN) – celebrates its 10th birthday!

All I can say is…wow. A whole decade of CDN doing beyond amazing, impactful things for the diabetes community.

Happy 10th Birthday, College Diabetes Network!!!
Congratulations on 10 absolutely fantastic years to my friends at CDN.

I’m not an active member of an existing CDN chapter today, but I used to be. In fact, I was the President of the UMass Amherst chapter of the CDN for close to three years when I was an undergrad there. And it just so happens that my time as President coincides with the time that CDN was really just beginning, meaning that it’s been my honor and privilege to witness it thrive from its origin.

I will never, ever forget being coerced – I mean, attending – a talk at a local college with my mom in which college students and parents sat together on a panel and spoke to high school students (like me, at the time) about the college experience…mainly, how to handle the transition from having my parents help me manage my diabetes to gaining more independence and accountability for it as a young adult away from home.

At this talk, I met Tina Roth, the founder and CEO of CDN. Actually, I didn’t just meet her – we chatted for a bit about how I was going to her alma mater, UMass Amherst, and that there was this little group on campus there called the College Diabetes Network. She told me I should check it out in the fall and think about joining in case I had the desire for peer support when it came to juggling diabetes and college life.

I didn’t know it then, but that conversation and my subsequent action to attend a CDN meeting changed my life.

Through my involvement with CDN, I was introduced and understood for the first time in my life the value of peer support when living with type 1 diabetes. As someone who rejected it her entire childhood, it was brand-new to me as an adult and an incredibly powerful tool that I believe helped me navigate college as a PWD in an informed, healthy, positive, and self-assured way. 

My involvement with CDN gave me confidence: as both a student leader and as a person living with diabetes.

My involvement with CDN gave me exposure: to other students just like me across the country, to new technologies, to resources that improved my quality of life.

My involvement with CDN gave me a career path, for goodness’s sake: It reinforced that I’m a writer. I became a T1D blogger through an opportunity that became available to me because of CDN. I was able to put both my CDN leadership experience as well as my blogging skills on my resume that lead me to the full-time job that I have today. 

My involvement with CDN gave me so much more, too…lifelong friendships being among the most important. I met the most inspiring, motivated, intelligent, and kind people through CDN. I love keeping up with them via social media and pre-2020, I was even able to catch up with some of them in person. And I can’t wait for the day that we can do that again.

There is no doubt in my mind that CDN changed my life. And I’m just one person. To think that they’ve continued to grow and expand, with more and more chapters being created at colleges across the country, and more and more people learning about their mission to provide young adults with T1D the peer connections they value, and expert resources they need, to successfully manage the challenging transition to independence at college and beyond.

Happy birthday, CDN. Thank you for everything you’ve done for me, and thank you for all that you continue to do for countless young adults. I can’t wait to see what the next 10 years look like for you!

As a 10th birthday gift, please consider donating to the CDN using this link – I can promise you that the cause is more than worthy and that the CDN will continue to do wonderful work for our community with your support.

 

I Said Something Very Messed Up About My Diabetes…

You’re looking at the title of this blog post and thinking…”ugh, clickbait!”

I assure you that I’m not trying to present this as clickbait; in reality, I did recently say something extremely messed up about my diabetes.

I didn’t 100% mean what I said…

In a dramatic outburst spurred by three days of frustratingly high blood sugars, I said to my parents, “I’m going to die of diabetes.

Look…we all say things that we don’t mean sometimes. But when I said this, there was a teensy-weensy piece of me that really believed there was an ounce of truth in that statement. That’s how fed-up I was with my diabetes.

It’s because I was going through insulin like crazy in the first half of that week. I couldn’t figure out why my numbers were running so high and tried what seemed like everything to cope with it: eating low carb, running temp basal increases, doubling my mealtime insulin, staying as hydrated as possible, checking ketones…and I was still contending with high numbers. The longer I stayed above my high threshold on my CGM, the more I convinced myself I was doing damage to my body, and that was an incredibly awful feeling. So I made that horrid exclamation out of sheer exasperation and fear.

I was letting my diabetes win that day.

I was letting my diabetes control the narrative.

I was letting my diabetes make me think that I was doing everything wrong, when in reality I was trying like hell to do everything right.

And…I was letting myself down. That defeatist attitude is not how I approach life with diabetes.

But I said what I said, and I can’t take it back…but I absolutely can change my thinking so that when something like this happens again, and I’m just feeling incredibly burnt out from it all, I have a new thing to say that is far from messed up:

I’m going to LIVE WITH diabetes.

Not just live…I’m going to live well with diabetes.

National Diabetes Awareness Month is Right Around the Corner

November is National Diabetes Awareness Month!

…And I am NOT! READY! FOR! IT! AT ALLLLLLLLLL!

I can’t be the only one in the diabetes online community who is feeling apathetic (at best) for a month that I’m normally thrilled to celebrate. After all, I love being a diabetes advocate!

But this year…the mere prospect of it just feels like it’s a little much.

National Diabetes Awareness Month 2020 is happening soon…how can this be? Aren’t we still in March 2020?!?!

It’s a little much in a year in which the world is facing a pandemic.

It’s a little much when potentially the most important U.S. presidential election in history is also happening this month.

It’s a little much when I’m dealing with a HELLUVA lot of other things in my personal life – mostly good things, but ones that happen to be highly stressful.

It’s just…when I think of it…how can I approach this National Diabetes Awareness Month with all the enthusiasm that I’ve showed it in past Novembers?

I don’t know how to answer that question right now, but I do suspect that I’ll muster up some of my advocacy spirit once I start seeing posts and prompts from the diabetes online community.

Which makes sense…after all, we turn to one another when we deal with the literal and figurative lows of life with diabetes. So it’s perfectly logical to have faith in knowing that this will be a great November with the trusty DOC supporting me.

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.

The Best Time to Do a Pod Change

Whether you’re new to using an insulin pump or a seasoned pro, you might be wondering if there’s a time of day that’s most ideal to do a pod/site change.

And I’m here to tell you…there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer. (Sorry!)

Like many aspects of life with diabetes, the best time to do a pod change will be different for everyone.

However, I do feel pretty strongly about what works best for me, and I can explain why it does. Maybe that will help you or a T1D in your life decide what makes the most sense for your individual situation!

The best time to do a pod or an insulin pump site change will probably vary for most people with diabetes, just like so many other things.

In my opinion, the best time to change my pod is within the 3-hour window after I’ve eaten dinner. Since I typically eat at about 5:30/6 o’clock, this means that I like to change my pod no later than 9 o’clock at night (but preferably sometime around 8).

Here are the reasons why:

  • I can take my dinnertime bolus using a pod that I know for certain is acting the way it should.
  • That timeframe is early enough for me to verify that my new pod is acting the way it should before I go to bed.
  • Usually, I don’t eat much in the evenings after dinner, so even if my new pod isn’t working right, it’s not too big of a deal because it’s not like I’ll be bolusing for mealtime carbohydrates.
  • When I change my pod at other times of the day, it interrupts other aspects of my daily flow (e.g., my wake-up time or my work schedule).
  • There’s something to be said for ending my day with a fresh pod and incorporating the pod change into my bedtime wind-down routine.

Of course, I’ve had to change my pod at less-than-ideal times (I recently did a 6 A.M. pod change because I was deliberately wearing my pod for the maximum 80 hours and it was not my favorite way to start my day). Pods fail or get knocked off and I’ve learned to roll with the punches by having back-ups at all times.

But since I know my best time for a pod change, it’s really nice when I can stick with it…because any reliable aspect of life with diabetes is one that makes it ever-so-slightly more tolerable.