5 Things That I Don’t Mind About Having Diabetes

I thought about how I should title this blog post many, many times. It didn’t feel right to say “5 Things I Like About Having Diabetes” or “5 Things That Make Diabetes Okay”…because I will never like having diabetes, and I will never be okay with it.

But that being said, after living with it for 21 years, there are some “perks” to it that have made it somewhat more bearable. Okay, a LOT more bearable. Besides insulin, diabetes technology, and the like, there are five things that I came up with that make diabetes suck less for me.

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First, and most obviously…diabetes has brought wonderful friendships into my life. I’ve written about these friendships many times before and I’m sure I’ll continue to do so in the future, because they’re invaluable to me. I have some regrets about not realizing the importance of peer support when it comes to diabetes when I was younger, but maybe I figured it out in adulthood because some part of me knew that was when I would need it the most.

Second, diabetes has made me stronger. I won’t downplay the fact that it increases my anxiety and stress levels…but I also can’t deny that the trials and tribulations of life with type 1 diabetes has made me a tougher person.

Third, diabetes has forced me to be an obsessive planner. I do wish that I could live a bit more spontaneously sometimes, but honestly, I’m pretty proud of my ability to think ahead and plan well in advance of things. These planning skills have translated to other aspects of my life, too – I wasn’t on the party planning committee at work just for the heck of it!

Fourth, diabetes has taught me so much about nutrition. I’ve been reading nutrition labels before I could read actual books. I’ve met with nutritionists at various points in my life to learn how to eat a balanced, healthy diet that consists of the right amount of carbohydrates for me. I’ve educated myself on the power of the glycemic index and how it impacts blood sugar. Without diabetes, I’m not so certain that I’d have such a clear understanding of how different foods affect my entire body. I’m grateful to know so much about nutrition, because I think it makes me a healthier person, overall.

And fifth, diabetes has lead me to several interesting (and in some cases, compensated) research opportunities. Yes, you’ve read that correctly – my diabetes has allowed me to be a research study participant in a handful of studies and I’ve gotten paid for my involvement. The amounts have varied over the years – anything from a $5 Amazon gift card to a $200 stipend – but it’s not just getting paid that makes research participation worth it to me. It’s also knowing that I could be making a difference to the larger diabetes community. For instance, offering detailed feedback on a diabetes device or product might help make it better in the future, and if that means I spend an hour on the phone answering questions, then of course I’ll do it.

In times of diabetes hardship, it’s important for me to remember these five things. Diabetes was a shit card in life that I was dealt, but it’s not the worst thing that could happen to me. Reminding myself of these bright spots help to make life with diabetes a little bit better.

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Why Online Communities Aren’t Always the Best Source of T1D Support

Before I jump into this post, let me make this unequivocally clear: The DOC (Diabetes Online Community) has been an incredible source of support, advice, and education to me ever since I discovered it (roughly seven or eight years ago). This post isn’t necessarily about the DOC; rather, it was inspired by a recent experience I had with a totally different online community. But what I’m about to say here can be applied to just about any kind of virtual support group in existence…

In addition to the DOC, I consider myself a member of a few other online communities. One of them is focused on fitness. (I’m not going to specifically name the group here, mainly because I’d like to maintain its privacy as well as the privacy of its members.)

Anyways, said group was formed to provide members with a place to post about their respective fitness journeys. Members are encouraged to post daily about their workout routines, nutrition plans, and any emotions that might arise as they work toward building a healthy lifestyle. It’s common for members to interact with one another and show support when someone is struggling, as well as applaud victories big and small as they’re met. Unsurprisingly, negativity and criticism aren’t welcome in this group, as it can be detrimental to the goals that each member has for himself/herself.

Thanks for the love!

In keeping with the spirit of the group, I posted a photo a few weeks back of myself (making a grumpy face) after a particularly challenging cardio workout session. In the caption, I wrote: “Excuse my pissed off expression…I had to cut cardio fix short because my blood sugar was getting too low. Only worked out for about 20 minutes this morning. I really wanted the full one cuz I treated myself with food just a tad too much yesterday…but I don’t totally regret it because it reminded me that I just don’t feel good when I snack unnecessarily. I’m always struggling to remember to only eat when I’m hungry or if my blood sugar is low, not because I’m bored or emotional. I know one day I’ll fully accept this and practice it!”

I wasn’t seeking sympathy or anything, I was just being honest with the other members of the group and channeling a bit of my frustration. Regardless, a few people did comment on the post with some reassuring words, like “you’ve got this”, “thank you for sharing”, and “one day at a time”, which I appreciated.

But what I did not appreciate was the comment thread that followed and involved myself and two other group members (my thoughts as I initially responded to this chain are denoted by asterisks):

Group Member #1: Oh no, be careful! Do u usually run low?
Me *Not wanting to dive into a long explanation*: I’m pretty well controlled for the most part, but exercise can make me go low sometimes! 
Group Member #1: do u have diabetes?
Me: yes, type 1 diabetes for 21 years now
Group Member #1: oh wow! Be careful!! Do u carry glucose tabs with you?
Me *Rolling my eyes as I respond, and adding a “haha” to keep it light*: of course! Haha I’ve had T1D for a very long time so managing it is second nature.
Group Member #1: okay good! Just making sure. Sorry, this was the pharmacist in me asking (an annoyingly cute monkey-with-hands-over-eyes emojis PLUS smiley face emoji followed this comment)
Group Member #2: The nurse in me wondered the same. 🙂
Group Member #1, responding to Group Member #2: haha! (followed by a stupid heart emoji)

What exactly is my issue with this thread? It starts with the “be careful”. It was probably an innocuous comment on the poster’s end, but I thought that me telling her that I’ve had diabetes for 21 years might signal that I know a thing or two when it comes to managing it. It also mildly irked me that she was qualifying her comments to me by saying that she was a pharmacist. That’s great and all, but that doesn’t make her an expert by any stretch of the imagination on diabetes…same thing to the girl who also chimed in by saying she was a nurse.

Now, you might be thinking that I’m overreacting to this whole thing – and part of me agrees, I’m sure that both girls just had pure intentions and wanted to offer support in their own ways – but if that’s the case, then this is a perfect example of how things can get misconstrued in an online setting. My interpretation of this thread is that both girls were trying to tell me that their expertise in their respective fields meant that they knew a good bit about diabetes, and rather than come off as supportive, the comments felt like show-offish (like, oh, look at me and how much I know!) and as if they thought I couldn’t take proper care of myself. Again, my interpretation may or may not be true, but it’s fact that we all need to be careful when choosing our words in situations like this. Even better, when something isn’t totally clear, we can choose to say nothing rather than chime in with a comment that might come off wrong or sounds misguided.

With that in mind, I now get why some people say that online support just isn’t for them. Personally, though I appreciate and like being part of online communities, this experience did teach me a lesson about being careful with my interactions in these spaces, and that I should always try to remember…it’s impossible to gauge tone/emotion in the comments section, and coming across as a know-it-all isn’t a good look on anyone.

Memory Monday: Carb Counting and the Calorie King

One Monday per month, I’ll take a trip down memory lane and reflect on how much my diabetes thoughts, feelings, and experiences have unfolded over the years. Today, I remember…

…discussing carb counting and the role of The Calorie King with a nutritionist.

I’ve met with a nutritionist as part of my diabetes care a few times in my life. During my last visit, maybe six or seven years ago, the nutritionist gifted me with a book entitled The Calorie King. “It’s really going to help you with your carb counting,” she told me.

I remember staring at the book dubiously. It was a compact little thing adorned with bright, bold colors. A bearded man wearing a crown was the cover image, and I couldn’t help but think that it looked totally dorky. I was skeptical: How was a book about calorie counting supposed to help me with my carb counting?

Fresh and Organic
Have you ever heard of The Calorie King or used it yourself for dietary or nutritional purposes?

As it turned out, it could help me a lot.

The Calorie King wasn’t just a list of the calorie content of different foods – it was a comprehensive guide that told me everything about the nutritional content of food. It was like having a manual of nutritional labels, except it was in an easier-to-digest format. And it gave me something that I’d never had access to before: Carbohydrate counts of food that you can get at fast food places, sit-down restaurants, and the like. It gave me a better sense of just how ridiculous some restaurants’ portions can be, as well as how serving size is one of the most critical factors in determining a food’s carb count. My mind marveled at that silly little book’s treasure trove of information, which would be key in helping me determine how much insulin I should take for food in just about any situation.

These days, I use apps on my phone whenever I’m unsure about a given meal or food item. They’re far more convenient than lugging around a copy of The Calorie King. But it turns out my nutritionist kinda knew what she was talking about when she told me that it would open my eyes up to the world of more precise carb counting. And for that, I’m grateful.

 

A Device-Free Shower

For the first time in *literally* years, I took a device-free shower the other day.

AND IT WAS AMAZING.

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Ta-ta for now, little friends.

Let me clarify that by device-free, I mean that I wasn’t wearing a pump or a CGM on my body. Both were due to be changed that evening, so with what can only be described as unadulterated glee, I peeled my Dexcom followed by my pod off my body before practically leaping into the shower.

It probably sounds funny, and perhaps a little dramatic or flat-out fucking weird, but those 15 minutes without a single medical device stuck to me were glorious. I wasn’t worried about accidentally knocking something off. I was free to scrub off the adhesive that had kept the devices stuck to my skin, and I felt oddly empowered – carefree, even – that I could enjoy one of the most mundane daily routines without needing to worry about my diabetes. Sure, for the duration of my shower, I wasn’t receiving my basal rate of insulin, but I really didn’t care because 1) I took a small bolus to compensate for it before I removed my pod and 2) I was more focused on doing this one little thing for myself to reclaim my body from diabetes devices, even if it was for a short window of time.

So you might argue that I had my first truly nekkid shower for the first time in forever. And it made me happy. A brief reprieve from diabetes is always welcome, and I’ll take it in whatever silly form I can get it in.

Metformin Update #1: Slow Start Comes to a Screeching Halt

A month ago, I wrote about how I was going to start taking an oral diabetes medication called Metformin. You can read all about what is is and why I started taking it by clicking here. (If you didn’t read that post when it was initially published, I recommend skimming it quickly before you continue reading this one…otherwise, what I have to say next might not make much sense.)

All caught up? Good. Now I can tell you that my first Metformin update isn’t much of one…because I’ve already stopped taking it (for now, anyways).

ClearanceYard Sale
For now, this vial of pills will remain mostly full.

After two weeks of taking one pill after dinner daily, I decided that I needed a break from my new diabetes therapy. There’s a lot going on in my life right now – I’m moving to a new state in a matter of days, so all my spare time is spent either packing or seeing my family and friends. Adding a new medication into the mix, one that can cause unpredictable blood sugars, just doesn’t make sense. And while it could be argued that I could make adjustments to my insulin dosages to help mitigate the number of lows I experience, I simply don’t have the patience to fiddle around with my insulin-to-carb ratios or basal rates at this time. It’s all too much change at once, and even though I’ve become much more comfortable with new things in my adulthood, I still need time to acclimate to them.

I explained all that, albeit much more succinctly, to my endocrinologist via my patient portal messaging system a few days ago. And she’s totally on board with my decision, thank goodness. I’m free to resume Metformin again when I’m ready.

The affirmation from my endo that I was doing the right thing feels great. It helps me feel more confident in making choices that benefit my body’s health as well as my mental health. Even though now doesn’t feel like a good time to be taking daily doses of Metformin, I know that won’t always be the case. Maybe, in time, it’ll become a crucial component of my diabetes care and management routine – maybe I’ll end up valuing it as much as my OmniPod or CGM. But for now, I’m okay with putting it off just a bit longer.

A T1Diary of my Recent Endo Appointment

I’m trying something new here today, folks. As you can see, this blog post features not just words, but video, too. How exciting! The aforementioned video shows the before, during, and after of my most recent endocrinologist appointment. I share a touch more than I normally would in this format, and I cover something that’ll be a big subject in one of my upcoming blog posts.

Originally, I shared this video (in short clips) directly to Instagram, where it would live in my stories for 24 hours before going away. But the thought occurred to me to save and splice the video segments together to create a full video, albeit a poorly manufactured one. I’ve decided to call it my first attempt at video blogging, otherwise known as vlogging.

Fear not, my fellow wordsmiths: I still plan on writing actual blog posts. I’m not sure how regularly I’ll be vlogging. But I can promise that if people kinda dig this, then I’ll make a point to vlog semi-regularly. I can also promise that the videos will be a bit shorter and shot in one take, because 1) I don’t think anyone wants to hear/watch me blabber for more than a couple minutes and 2) it’ll help ensure that I don’t jump around from topic to topic. And for the sake of full disclosure, I’m not lovin’ my once-a-month Favorite Things Friday post as much as I used to…so this may eventually replace it. We’ll see.

So, without further ado, enjoy this little video from me…and remember that it was initially created for Instagram, which encourages users to make very short video/photo clips, and helps explain why this whole package is a bit choppy. And please do let me know, in the comments or on various social media channels (accessible in the upper-right hand menu of the Hugging the Cactus homepage), what your thoughts are on vlogging.

 

5 Tips for T1Ds Dining Out

Nothing beats home-cooked meals. But it is nice to go out to eat after a long workweek or to celebrate a special occasion. It’s a good way to unwind and socialize.

And like many other things, it’s also a little bit more complicated when you have type 1 diabetes. Not every T1D might feel the same way as I do, but there are times when I feel worried about going out to eat. Specifically, I start asking myself questions like, “Will there be a decent variety of lower-carb choices on the menu? Have I had this kind of cuisine before, and can I accurately predict how it will impact my blood sugar? Can I order what I actually want to eat without worrying about the carb content? Will the portion sizes be too small or too big? How long will it take for my meal to arrive, and does this mean I can safely pre-bolus for it?” Sadly, those are just a few of the questions that come to mind before some restaurant excursions.

5 tips for t1ds dining out

That’s why I like to remind myself of the following five tips. They’re pretty common sense, but then again, they’re also key for me to enjoy a meal out guilt-free and in a way that works best for my diabetes.

  1. Cut down on carbs, as needed. I’ve learned that one of the best ways to make sure my blood sugars cooperate during a dinner out is to try to reduce my carb intake as much as possible. After all, most restaurants don’t have nutritional information readily available for diners to consult. As a result, it’s impossible to know every single ingredient that could be in a given dish, let alone their carbohydrate content. So that’s why I cut corners where I can. If I’m craving a burger, I order it and ask for it without a bun. I substitute fries or other starchy sides for a salad or seasonal vegetables. If I notice that a pizzeria can make a cauliflower crust instead of a normal one, then I ask for it. I find that using this strategy helps me in just about any kind of restaurant. And if I find myself wanting to order something really high carb (which is rare), then I rely on tip #2.
  2. Ask for a doggy bag. Say I ordered pasta at a restaurant. At most places, there could be upwards of 80 or 90 carbs in that one dish, which is just too much for me to consume in one meal. So I make a plan to eat half of it and bring home the rest. It’s a tried-and-true technique that works for anyone who’s trying to watch what they eat, not just people with diabetes. It’s a win-win because I can still order that carb-y dish, but I don’t have to worry about potentially taking too much or too little insulin to cover it. Fewer carbs in one sitting means less room for error.
  3. Load up on veggies. I incorporate as many vegetables as I can into my meals at restaurants. In addition to subbing sides, I also will focus on eating those if they come with an appetizer. For me, it’s all about filling up on the healthy stuff so I don’t leave the restaurant with too much food guilt.
  4. Share with your table mates. Whether I’m with a large group or just part of a pair, I almost always offer to share appetizers or desserts as a subtle form of portion control for myself. Who doesn’t love splitting an order of nachos or a slice of cheesecake? It’s a great way to start off or end a meal out that involves minimal guilt or blood sugar concerns.
  5. Order drinks with care. I’m very careful when it comes to choosing drinks that have zero carbs, or at least very few carbs. More often than not, I stick with water or unsweetened iced tea with lemon to accompany my meals. But when I choose to drink alcohol at a restaurant, I try to order a glass of wine or lower carb cocktails. I tend to have better luck with those, because I can more accurately predict how they’ll affect my blood sugar, if at all. I do like beer and order it from time to time, but I limit myself to no more than two – any more than that and I push my luck by running the risk of experiencing high blood sugars.

But arguably my most important, unofficial sixth rule is to remember to enjoy myself. There’s no sense in stressing too much about what my blood sugar might or might not do (unless there’s extenuating circumstances, then I totally pay it proper attention). I like to bear in mind that no matter how my blood sugars may react to certain foods, I still have to eat. Why not appreciate every aspect of the experience?