Dealing with Loneliness and Diabetes During a Global Pandemic

If I was an old-timey sailor keeping a log on my voyage across the ocean right now, I imagine that my entry for today would look a little something like this:

Quarantine, Day #55: It’s been almost two full months since I’ve set foot outside of the confines of my home. I’m so appreciative of the little things, like good weather days and food to sustain me, but I never realized how much I would miss face-to-face interaction with human beings. I miss everyone: my extended family, my friends, my coworkers. I miss people who are physically close by and far away from me. I miss strangers. No wonder all the rum is gone, me hearties!

Okay, so that last line is a bit of a stretch, but you get the gist of it.

The times and the circumstances are making me (and many others) feel a unique sense of loneliness.

Yes, I’m lucky enough to be quarantined with people and a dog who love me. I don’t take that granted for a second, nor do I want to forget how fortunate I am to have so many things that others do not (ample food, clothing, Internet access, entertainment options, etc.).

Still, I’ve felt deep, dark pangs of loneliness and sadness a handful of times since my quarantine began.

Dealing with Loneliness and Diabetes During a Global Pandemic
This whole situation has made me rather introspective.

I’ve felt profound sadness for others: My heart aches for anyone who has lost a loved one due to this wretched thing. I constantly worry about the physical and mental health of those on the front lines of it all and wish there was more I could do.

I’ve felt isolated from my loved ones: Sure, I have video chat and texting and those are excellent ways of keeping in touch with people. But it doesn’t compare to the in-person connection that I have with my extended family, friends, coworkers, and others in general.

In my most melancholy moments, I’ve cried ugly tears that I couldn’t control because I can’t find the words and I can’t even fully understand my own feelings in those fleeting periods.

Is it disgust at myself for crying in the first place when I don’t really have anything to cry over because I am a gainfully employed individual who has access to her medication and other living essentials?

Is it frustration at myself for allowing myself to be dragged down by my conflicting emotions?

Is it anger over taking the little things for granted or for this whole situation, in general?

Is it grief over the many life changes I’ve faced in the last year? A longing for the way things were before?

I don’t know the answers to those questions, but I do know that the waves of loneliness I’ve ridden in the last six weeks (and are bound to continue to ride occasionally) have directly impacted my diabetes.

I’m going to be real with myself (and you) for a hot second here: I haven’t taken particularly excellent care of myself in all this. My eating habits have changed. I’ve spent more time knocking down my body and its appearance than appreciating it for what it is. And I’ve berated myself over and over again, asking myself why I can’t just get my shit together and produce better blood sugars, dammit.

So…how exactly am I going to change this? How can I make my thoughts and feelings about myself and my diabetes healthier when I’m already struggling with loneliness during a global pandemic?

I think the answer, for now, is simple but effective: I’m going to work harder at keeping a routine that incorporates setting and achieving small but meaningful goals each week. I’m going to follow the tried-and-true SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based) goal-setting formula and more importantly, I’ll take the time to actually write them down. I may share them here sometimes, but I think I should also be consistent and capture them in some sort of journal that is only for my eyes. Writing in a journal may seem silly to some, but after seeing some posts on Instagram about the benefits of doing so and talking with a few friends who actively maintain journals…I think it’s just what I need right now, in tandem with leaning a little harder into my various support networks during those particularly blue moments.

Plus, gentle reminders to myself that even though I may feel on my own when it comes to my diabetes and other roller coaster emotions during this global pandemic, I’m never truly alone. And neither are you.

 

Two Different Lists Lead to the Same Conclusion

I like lists. I like them so much because I like to pretend to be an organized person who always has tasks to complete (the former is definitely false, while the latter is pretty much absolutely true). I also like lists because making one feels like an accomplishment in itself, and who doesn’t like feeling accomplished?

Freedom is the atmosphere in which humanity thrives. Breathe it in.
What can I say, I’m a list girl. (But not a hand model; that’s definitely not my perfectly manicured hand in the above photo.)

So I must admit that I felt pretty damn good about myself after making these two diabetes-related lists, because not only do they pull weight as blog post material, but they also help me understand something about me and my diabetes. So here they are:

List of things I should do on a daily basis for my diabetes:

  • Check my blood sugar using my meter 6-8 times per day (upon waking up, before I go to sleep, before I eat a meal, and in-between meals to make sure I’m on track)
  • Change my lancet (LOL)
  • Look up carb counts for every meal using apps and/or nutritional facts
  • Monitor my Dexcom carefully and do fingerstick checks when I disagree with it
  • Take a correction bolus for every blood sugar that’s over 150 mg/dL
  • Eat plenty of fruits and veggies AND drink plenty of water

List of things that I actually do on a daily basis for my diabetes:

  • Check my blood sugar whenever the heck I feel like it; after all, my Dexcom is usually accurate
  • Change my lancet only when I remember, which is like…once or twice a month
  • Eyeball my plates of food and make “educated guesses” on carb counts
  • Monitor my Dexcom OBSESSIVELY – sometimes even every 5 minutes, depending on the situation – and freak out when it doesn’t match my fingerstick checks
  • Take a correction bolus for blood sugars that are 200+ only
  • Eat what I’d like (which, in addition to fruits and veggies, is a wide variety of things) and drink probably not quite enough fluids

When I compare these two lists, I come to the same conclusion: I am lazily in control of my diabetes. I know exactly what my current routines are and just because they aren’t the “right” ones, it doesn’t necessarily mean I’m doing anything “wrong” in terms of my diabetes care and management. Sure, I’m not doing anything the textbook way, and I admit that I’ve gotten a little lazy with things like carb counting and correction bolusing, but so what? The important thing here is that I can recognize the areas where I need and want to improve.

For starters, I’d like to stop depending so much on my Dexcom. I want to learn to check it less – maybe take it out half as often as I do now – so I can strengthen my ability to recognize low and high symptoms. I’m also hoping to use measuring cups and nutritional information more often to make better informed decisions when it comes to how much insulin I give myself at mealtimes. It’ll add a few extra steps to my day, but these are habits that I followed for a long time and that are worth reintroducing to my routine.

As far as everything else goes, I’m not going to sweat them too much…of course, it will be nice if I remember to change my lancet more frequently and be more proactive about correcting high blood sugars, but really, these are matters of minor concern. I think I make my best diabetes progress when I take things one step at a time, so that’s just what I’m going to do.

The Surprise A1c

I started out 2020 with an A1c that surprised me. It was a good surprise: Anything under 7 is a win in my book.

I won’t specifically say what the number was, because I don’t really believe in doing that and I fear that it will invite unwelcome judgment and/or comparisons. But I will celebrate that achieving this A1c was far from easy. It’s required a lot of work from me in the last few months, which have generally been a very turbulent period of time for me.

It seemed like the “diabetes gods” were really testing me in the latter half of 2019. From a month of unexplained highs to random incidents of technology failing me, I felt like I was being put through the wringer. I felt like a failure on just about all diabetes fronts, and it seemed like my efforts to maintain my desired blood sugar levels were fruitless.

Hey, Handsome
More than one surprise came with an unexpected A1c result.

So that’s why I could hardly believe my current A1c reading. Maybe it seems even more impossible to me because I didn’t even get to discuss it with an endocrinologist. In fact, I never got to talk to my new endo (the one I may or may not continue to see) about any of my A1c goals. Doesn’t that seem kind of effed up? Shouldn’t my doctor want to know what I hope to accomplish, in terms of my diabetes, in the next 3-6 months?

In that regard, this A1c has surprised me in more than one way…it’s not just that I’ve managed to get here (really, I’ve managed to stay here, my A1c in the last 2-3 years has been right around this number), it’s also about how it’s more than just a measurement of my average blood sugars in a 90-day period…it’s a marker of how I feel, emotions-wise, about my diabetes. I never thought about it much before, but as I’ve grown older, it’s really become a sign for me as to whether or not I have my shit together with my diabetes. It can signify how I’ve felt about my diabetes in a given period of time, from the lowest of the low burnouts to the highest of the high determined and motivated.

Kind of crazy and yes, surprising, how a single reading can mean this much.

Setting and Sharing Diabetes Goals

It’s November 29th which means it’s day 29 of the Happy Diabetic Challenge! Today’s prompt is about diabetes goals. I decided to use this as an opportunity to share and set my diabetes goals as National Diabetes Awareness Month draws to a close…

Goal-setting sounds like an ambitious activity. It implies that goals will be met, and we all know that sometimes that just doesn’t happen.

Why? Occasionally, we set goals that are simply unattainable. As an example, let’s pretend that you have a goal to lose weight. Well, if you tell yourself that you can shed 20 pounds by next week, then you’re setting yourself up for failure – ‘cuz it’s unhealthy to lose that weight so quickly, not to mention practically impossible.

But setting a goal to lose those 20 pounds over the course of, let’s say, two months…that’s FAR more realistic. You give yourself a workable time frame in which you can accomplish the goal and you can take small steps each day to work towards it, rather than doing anything extreme or overly difficult in order to meet the goal.

Setting and sharing diabetes goals
It’s always very satisfying when you can say that you’ve met a goal you’ve set.

That’s why they say it’s important to set SMART goals. The acronym stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. Goals that are set with this criteria in mind are far more likely to become a reality, so with that in mind…I’m going to share and set a few diabetes goals for myself, right now, that I hope to accomplish in the coming months (think of it as an early diabetes-themed list of New Years’ resolutions.)

  • Goal #1 – I’d like to go back to checking my blood sugar with my actual meter at least 4 times per day. I’ve come to rely on my not-always-totally-reliable Dexcom a little too much. And since I have a well-stocked stash of test strips, I figure that it makes sense to use them before and after each meal, as well as when I’m not sure about my Dexcom’s readings.
  • Goal #2 – Change my lancet weekly, instead of monthly…ish. This is the other underused diabetes supply in my possession. As long as I decide on a particular day and time to do this quick little task, then I think it’ll be easy to follow through week after week.
  • Goal #3 – Stop snacking on “free” foods. I need to get it through my semi-thick skull that there’s no such thing as free foods when it comes to diabetes! I used to be able to eat a short stack of crackers, a handful of popcorn, or a bite-size piece of chocolate at any hour of the day and notice a very minimal bump in my blood sugar levels. This sure isn’t the case these days, and I want to set myself up for success by making sure that when snack cravings strike, I have plenty of water or gum on hand to help distract from faux-hunger pangs.

These goals may seem very minor to you, but for me, they’re all examples of some things that I truly think I need to address when it comes to my diabetes care and management. And the fact that they are “easy” makes them that much more attainable: It won’t take much for me to incorporate them into my routine, but over time, I’m bound to notice a difference (especially when it comes to that last goal).

Also, I think it’s wise to avoid setting overly ambitious goal – at least for the time being – because I’m not seeing an endocrinologist again for another month. When I do have that appointment, I’ll have a much clearer picture of what my diabetes goals should be as we approach 2020, and I can go about formulating a plan as to how to pursue them.

And on that note, this blog post wraps up the Happy Diabetic Challenge posts on my blog for National Diabetes Awareness Month 2019. I hope you enjoyed them, learned from them, or at least got to thinking more about your own diabetes as a result of reading them. I’m proud of myself for sticking with the challenge for the month, but boy, was it an exhausting 30 days of nonstop diabetes advocacy! I’m looking forward to December: It’ll be a nice change of pace to slow down and appreciate time spent with loved ones throughout the holiday season. I’ll still be blogging regularly throughout the month, just a little less intensely.

Hoping you had a wonderful Thanksgiving no matter how you chose to spend it, and wishing you continued success with your diabetes as the holiday season gets into full swing.

My T1D New Year’s Resolutions

New Year’s resolutions are kinda tacky and silly, especially ones that are broken three weeks into a new year. Even so, I like to put a little thought into how I can better myself when a new year begins, so I guess I’m the sort of person who (somewhat grudgingly) tries to make a commitment to some form of self-improvement around this time each year.

Happy New Year!
Are you making any New Year’s resolutions?

While some of my resolutions are going to remain private, I’d like to share others – specifically, my diabetes-related ones – here because I think it’ll be the first step in making them a reality in 2019. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far, along with some explanations why they’re my goals so far:

  1. Improve my A1c – This is kind of a cop-out resolution, because let’s face it, a better A1c will never not be a goal of mine. I’m in a better range now than I was a few years ago, which is a huge accomplishment in itself. But I know I can do more, and I have the drive and desire to get myself below 6.5 this year.
  2. Make time for more IRL T1D hangouts/meet more T1Ds – I can’t be the only one who scrolls through Instagram and feels pangs of jealousy when I come across photos of large groups of T1Ds hanging out, right?? A significant percentage of these hangouts are the result of T1D conferences, which I’m rarely able to attend. They either cost too much money or take place at an inconvenient time, so I’m forced to miss out on some valuable face-to-face time with people who understand me in a unique way. It’s definitely a bad case of FOMO. As a result, I want to be proactive and try to arrange more meetups in my area in the next year.
  3. Incorporate more self-care into my routine – 2018 was such an insanely busy year. I felt that, at times, I was getting pulled into too many directions and had obligations to so many people that I could barely keep up, let alone make any time for myself to catch my breath. I had days here and there where I could sneak away for an hour or two and treat myself to a massage or exercise at the gym, but I really didn’t have a single mental health day in which I unplugged from everything and kicked back. Though I know 2019 will be just as hectic, if not more than 2018, I still want to be sure to make more time for myself, even if it is just for five or ten minutes a day.

Now that I’ve shared my resolutions, I feel like that will hold me accountable for making a good-faith effort in accomplishing them. And I also feel that they will be good things for me to write about throughout the next year, so I can keep both my audience and myself informed of my progress.

And with that, it’s my final blog post of 2018. Here’s to 2019, a year that will be filled with plenty more content from Hugging the Cactus. To you, my readers, I wish you a healthy and happy new year!