The Emotions of Low Blood Sugar

This post was originally published on Hugging the Cactus on October 8, 2018. I’m sharing it again today because as I sat down to write a new post, my blood sugar tanked…frustrating the hell out of me by taking away any and all creativity. But it did remind me of the timelessness of this post, and how the emotions of a low blood sugar can be so varied. Read on for more…

Previously, I’ve written about what it feels like to have low blood sugar. While many people with T1D feel the same symptoms as me when they experience a low, there are even more who experience a wider variety of emotions and sensations.

Renza, a T1D Twitter friend of mine, did a little investigating into how others would describe what it’s like to have a low blood sugar. She sent a tweet that read:

#Diabetes friends. I’m crowdsourcing (again). If you had to use ONE WORD to describe how hypos/lows feel to you, what would it be. Go!! #Hypoglycaemia

She received nearly 100 responses, which I’ve compiled into the below graphic.

Looking at this word collage is a bit startling because it represents the vast array of feelings associated with low blood sugar. Most of them are negative. A handful of them start with the prefix “dis”, which describes something with an opposing force. A couple of them relate to feelings associated with eating. And just about all of them can be summed up as sensations that I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

To me, this graphic serves as a stark reminder that diabetes is more than just a chronic illness that affects the body: It affects the mind, too.

What Happened When My Blood Sugar Crashed in the Grocery Store

I knew something was wrong when the walls of the soda and seltzer aisle felt like they were closing in on me, Star Wars-trash-compactor style.

You would think a blood sugar is no sweat (pun intended) in a place where food is so easily accessible, but this experience was far from it.

On a recent trip to the grocery store, I went low. And when I say low, I mean low – I wasn’t just shaky, I was sweating literal bullets and having a hard time seeing straight in front of me.

My boyfriend – thank goodness he was there – knew something was wrong just by looking at me. He suggested that I grab some fruit snacks from my backpack and I heeded, tearing open the small foil packet and tossing the contents back as quickly as I could. I chewed, grimacing as I tasted the strangely saccharine, perfume-y gummies, but I barely cared about the taste. I just wanted to feel better. That’s when my boyfriend placed a hand on my back, noting my clammy state, and escorted me over to the dining area at the front of the store.

“Just stay here, I only have a few things left to grab. Maybe you’ll be feeling better by checkout time,” he said, before asking me if I was okay to be left alone.

I was. I hated that he was seeing my like this, in this vulnerable, sweaty state that seemed impossible in the chilly air of the grocery store. I told him I would sit and wait there for him, fighting the feeling that I was a small child waiting for a parent to finish up some boring adult task. As I nearly collapsed onto a chair, all I wanted to do was shrink so nobody could see me: It seemed as though all sets of eyes in the vicinity were locked on me, the perspiring wonder who looked quite unwell.

I was only on my own for about 5 minutes, but time dragged as I anxiously awaited my boyfriend’s approach to the checkout line. I thought I’d wanted to be alone as I let the fruit snacks kick in, but turns out the opposite was true. I clung to his side as I slowly registered that I felt safer around someone who knew exactly what was wrong with me and how to handle it if things got worse.

As we exited the store and loaded the groceries into the car, I noted that my shakiness was dissipating, as was the beads of sweat on my body. This low episode was over and I was relieved to be on the other side of it. I was also relieved that I didn’t have to go through it alone: turns out lows are a bit more bearable when you have someone else with you to help you through them.

What It’s Like to Wake Up in the Middle of the Night with Low Blood Sugar

You stir suddenly from a dreamless sleep, knowing that something must’ve disturbed your slumber but not quite sure what it may have been.

This blog post was inspired by a recent middle-of-the-night low that went…well, exactly as I wrote it here. I wrote in the second-person perspective so you might be able to imagine what it’s like, if it’s something you’ve never experienced before.

Reflexively, you reach over to where your phone is perched on your nightstand. You check your notifications and confirm what you’d been hoping wouldn’t be a problem tonight: Your blood sugar is low and you must do something to fix it.

You unroll a couple of Smarties from their package, almost surprised at how dexterously you do so. After all, it’s an odd skill to have honed over the course of your life to be really good at opening up packages of the food just moments after you were sleeping soundly, but you’re accustomed to it. You chew up the Smarties as quickly as you can, grimacing slightly as their sweet-sour taste mingles with traces of toothpaste from when you brushed your teeth before bed. You sink back against your pile of pillows, sighing, as you wait for your blood sugar to come back up.

You wait. You wait some more. You scroll mindlessly through various apps on your phone. You’re not feeling better. You wonder to yourself, how much more do I have to do to fix this? You wish you weren’t alone right now. Low blood sugars are scary to deal with on your own, especially when they sneak up like this in the middle of the night.

Your mind begins to spiral as those nasty “what ifs” enter your thoughts. What if you plummet further? What if you lose a lot of sleep over this one pesky low? What if you don’t recover from this low and…?

Just as you begin to think of the most unpleasant scenario, you realize that your shakiness has subsided. The sweat on your skin has dried and your vision seems to be less foggy – it’s hard to tell in the dark, but not wanting to turn on anymore lights, you settle back into bed more comfortably and close your eyes.

You hope you can go back to sleep quickly. You hope that you don’t have to wake up again for the rest of the night for any blood sugar-related issues. You hope that you aren’t exhausted because of this one tomorrow.

You hope that tomorrow night is different, but with diabetes, you never know.

A Security Blanket

I never thought I’d come to think of a nasal spray as a security blanket, or something that would provide me great ease of mind, but that’s exactly how I feel about my Baqsimi prescription.

I’m all stocked up on Baqsimi for the time being.

Baqsimi is a nasal glucagon that is a million times easier to use (or at least, understand how to use) in an emergency situation than those old red kits from the days of yore. In all my years of diabetes, I never could remember step-for-step what the process was like for using glucagon – in fact, I had an app downloaded on my phone just so I could practice it every so often as a refresher, but even with the app I felt ill-equipped to use glucagon on myself, or anyone else for that matter.

That’s why when I first heard about Baqsimi a few years ago, I breathed a sigh of relief. Finally, there was an option out there besides glucagon! The freedom to have choice, rather than be forced to stick with something, goes a long way in life with diabetes…in life, period. I was excited that I could choose to keep Baqsimi on hand just in case I ever did experience a severe hypo, a possibility that has always frightened me, especially when I started living alone a year and a half ago.

And when I was recently taking inventory of my diabetes supplies, only to discover that my Baqsimi was expired, I made it a priority to get it refilled as soon as I could because of just how much I’d reaped the benefits of peace of mind. So I made a point of calling my doctor and asking for fresh prescriptions for both Baqsimi and insulin, because it just so happened that I was running low on my Humalog stash.

A couple days later, I went to the CVS drive-thru, picked up the prescriptions, and drove home. While driving, I couldn’t help but feel so grateful that it was actually easy for once to do something for me and my diabetes that was necessary and would provide me comfort. If only it could be like that every time.

My “New” Low Blood Sugar Treatment of Choice

The concept of a “low blood sugar treatment” makes me giggle, because it implies that the glucose (sugar) needed to bring levels back within range is basically medicinal. Sugar? As medicine??? Kind of, sort of, pretty much when it comes to fixing a low.

Over the years, my preferred low treatment has taken many forms. In the early days of my diabetes, it was usually glucose tablets or orange juice. In most of my youth, juice boxes were number one, but as I got older I felt ridiculous carrying those around, so I switched to fruit snacks and kept glucose tablets around as an old reliable. In college, I loved mini boxes of yogurt-covered raisins (they were great for less urgent lows, with roughly 10 grams of carbs in one teensy little portable package). And in my adulthood, I’ve rotated through a mix of all the aforementioned items, but with a brand-new one entering the forefront for me as of late.

And that new one is…Smarties!

One of the many Smarties stashes I’ve got scattered around my home.

Yup, Smarties, the classic candy that just might be the most ideal low blood sugar treatment I’ve used in recent years. There’s solid grounding behind that logic: For starters, Smarties come bundled up in tiny rolls that are easy to slip just about anywhere – a pocket, a glovebox, a nightstand, and the list goes on. Smarties don’t melt and withstand just about any weather condition. They’re also perfectly portioned, with one roll containing 6 grams of carbs so it’s convenient to eat just one for a slightly low blood sugar or 2-3 for more stubborn lows. There are even giant Smarties rolls that are great for when I need a quick blood sugar boost before a workout – I just eat one or two individual giant-size Smarties and I’m good to go. And despite being reminiscent of chalky glucose tabs, they do taste significantly better and I swear they dissolve faster compared to their drugstore counterpart.

All those pros and nary a con for me to nitpick…I think I’ve finally found the best low blood sugar treatment for myself – for now, anyways.

A Rookie Mistake

You’d think that 24 years of living with diabetes would turn anyone into a seasoned veteran of the condition, but even the most experienced people with diabetes slip up and make mistakes every now and then…

Case in point? Me, because I neglected to make sure I had a way of monitoring or checking my blood sugar when exercising…and then experiencing a scary low that I probably could have caught sooner, or maybe even avoided, if I hadn’t been so careless.

This all happened because I inserted a new Dexcom sensor just before taking off for my 3-hour self-defense class. I knew that the sensor’s warm-up period would end and that my continuous blood sugar readings would begin partway through class, so I felt fairly comfortable going without a blood sugar meter as a back-up. After all, my Dexcom sensors almost always start up without any issue, so I was trusting that this one would follow suit.

And that was my biggest mistake: trusting my technology.

Any time I make a rookie diabetes mistake, my palm goes straight to my face in embarassment.

When the warm-up period was complete and the class was taking a quick water break, I decided to check my Dex to see what my first blood sugar readings were. I was surprised (and instantly annoyed) to see that instead of a number, my Dexcom was displaying a request for a blood sugar calibration – just like the old G5s used to ask for upon insertion of a new sensor. I couldn’t understand why this happened, but I knew that pondering the matter wouldn’t make any difference…the only thing that would get my Dexcom running normally again was the finger stick checks, which wouldn’t be possible for me to do until I got home from the class because I was without my meter.

So I had no choice but to rely on nothing but my instincts and sensations in order to get a sense of where my blood sugar was headed for the remainder of the class.

And let me tell you, I can’t remember the last time I felt so vulnerable in terms of my diabetes. I was running on zero information, other than the fact that I typically can feel oncoming low blood sugars and that I tend to feel thirstier when my numbers are on the upswing. It was disconcerting – even more so when a little while later I started to feel shaky and dizzy, like I was starting to go low.

I knew I could either 1) treat what I thought was a low blood sugar and deal with the potential consequences (high blood sugar) when I got home, or 2) take a chance and ignore the low symptoms because I couldn’t confirm whether or not I was actually low. I hate to admit it, but I let a good 15-20 minutes pass before I decided it was better to correct what felt like a low rather than run the risk of passing out in front of the entire class. Turns out that I made the right call to treat my low: I felt much better after I ate some fruit snacks, and my blood sugar when I got home that evening was in the low 80s, indicating that I probably avoided a pretty nasty low in class.

While the whole incident could’ve been easily avoided, it did remind me that I ought to take some of the trust that I have in my technology and distribute it a little more evenly between it and my instincts. I proved to myself that in emergency situations, I don’t need a meter or a CGM to pick up on low blood sugars (though I obviously would prefer to have that equipment at my disposal at all times). Instead, I need to trust my instincts more and procrastinate less when it comes to taking an action – because if I had waited longer than those 15-20 minutes, the situation could’ve escalated and then I would’ve really been kicking myself for leaving my meter at home.

Rookie mistakes suck when they happen, but at least the silver lining is that there’s always a lesson to be learned (or reinforced) when they do.

3 Nighttime Lows in a Row

The night of the first low, I was “good” and treated with glucose tablets.

The night of the second low, I shamelessly treated with a leftover Halloween candy blondie (okay, two of them) that I had made earlier that day.

The night of the third low, I was exhausted. And feeling nothing other than a desire to sleep, I treated with both glucose tablets AND sour patch kids, because my body decided it needed that many carbs in order for my blood sugar to level out for the rest of the night.

By that third night, I was so dang tired. I’d had to go downstairs to get the sour patch kids, and by the time I was done eating them, I couldn’t fathom walking all the way back up the stairs to get into my big, comfy bed. So I just crumbled onto the couch, pulling a blanket over me, and snoozed there for a bit. I probably could’ve curled up into a ball on my carpet and slept just as soundly, even if only for awhile, because I was so spent from being woken up in the middle of the night for the third evening in a row to treat a low blood sugar.

I wish that people knew that diabetes is truly a 24/7/365 condition.

I hate having my sleep – which seems harder and harder for me to get enough of as I get older – interrupted by something as stupid as a low blood sugar.

I hate having to eat in the middle of the night and ruining the minty taste leftover from my brushed teeth prior to bedtime.

I hate that sometimes, the low is bad enough that I get woken up one or two or even three more times in the same night because I’ve got no choice but to consume more carbs.

It seems fitting to write about this – how disruptive my diabetes has been to my sleep over the course of three nights, let alone my entire life with diabetes – during National Diabetes Awareness Month. Because I don’t think the rest of the world really understands that diabetes truly does not have an “off” switch. People who live with diabetes don’t have the luxury of sleeping peacefully without having a single worry about diabetes: It can and will disturb the soundest of sleeps, and it’s frustrating, inconvenient, and annoying every time it does.

Minty Apple Juice

Some weird food combinations actually work – I know this for a fact because I Googled it and the Google machine is always right…right?

Okay, so maybe I’m not brave enough to try combos like olive oil and ice cream or oreos in orange juice, but at least I can tell you about an odd food pairing that most definitely does not work.

And that, my friends, is anything minty with apple juice.

I should know because I got to try this less-than-delightful combo two nights in a row…thanks to diabetes.

If you’re guessing that I experienced a low blood sugar immediately after brushing my teeth and chose to correct it with apple juice both times, then you’re a smart cookie (or at least a cookie who can put two and two together).

On the first occasion this happened, I figured that drinking a juice box for the low was probably the wisest decision because I wouldn’t have to worry about getting food stuck in my teeth – I could maybe even drink the juice without needing to brush again.

I was very wrong about this.

10/10 would not recommend drinking apple juice right after brushing teeth.

The moment I started drinking my apple juice, my taste buds were rocked by the unpleasant union of minty freshness with tart sweetness. It was truly disgusting and I wanted nothing more than to brush my teeth again…but laziness and exhaustion (from both my day and my blood sugar) caused me to collapse into bed instead. I fell asleep with that weird bitter taste lingering, much to my chagrin.

So you can bet that when the exact same thing happened the following night – my Dexcom alerted me to a low within 60 seconds of me finishing my teeth brushing – I forced myself to brush my teeth again because I simply couldn’t stand the minty-apple-y taste.

And I decided to make a mental note, after this second encounter with nasty minty apple juice, that I would check my Dexcom before brushing from that point onward.

The 1 A.M. Cupcake

Zzzzz…huh? What’s that? I was sleeping so deeply…

Oh, I’m low.

Dazed, I roll out of bed and suddenly become aware of how hot I am. Beads of sweat are rolling down my back, making my pajamas stick to my skin. I look at the number on my Dexcom – there isn’t one.

It just says LOW.

I grow more alert and turn to my test kit to do a fingerstick check and verify my Dexcom reading. My meter says that I’m 44.

And suddenly, I’m feeling that low. I need sugar, stat. I could open the bottle of glucose tabs conveniently perched on my nightstand, chew 5 or 6, and then get settled into bed and fall back asleep relatively quickly. But the desire to get downstairs and eat the contents of my kitchen strikes, even though it’s 1 A.M. and eating too much at this time of night wouldn’t be good for either my blood sugar or my sleep hygiene.

Ignoring my more rational side (as well as my glucose tabs), I grab my phone, my meter, my PDM, and my bathrobe and stumble down the stairs in the dark. I turn on the ceiling fan in my living room in a desperate attempt to cool down faster before I walk into the kitchen.

My eyes fall on a cupcake sitting innocently on the counter.

This isn’t a picture from this particular incident – nobody wants to see me when I’m this low – but this is one of the cupcakes that I’d made. Violet always wants me to share.

I don’t think twice – I tear the wrapper off and three bites later, it’s gone.

I collapse on the couch, directly under my ceiling fan. I am a sweaty mess. This low is hitting me hard. I put the TV on in a futile attempt to distract myself while I wait for the cupcake to kick in, but instead of paying attention to what’s on the screen, all I can feel is gross for choosing to eat a damn cupcake at 1 in the morning instead of doing the “right” thing and treating my low from the comfort of my bed with glucose tabs.

20 minutes later, I start to feel chilly. I’m no longer perspiring and I feel all of my low symptoms subside. I’m better, so it’s time to head back upstairs and try to fall back asleep.

I toss and turn for a bit, cursing diabetes and its middle-of-the-night low blood sugar curveballs, and the stupid 1 A.M. cupcake that my diabetes somehow convinced me to eat to treat a low instead of waiting to have it at a time that I could actually enjoy it.

Diabetes strikes again, I think as I drift back to sleep.

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.