I’m Right, You’re Wrong: Debating with T1D

This blog post was originally published by Hugging the Cactus on September 12, 2018. I’m reposting it today because it is still incredibly important and relevant: We ALL must work together and treat one another with respect. Life with diabetes is hard enough on its own! Diabetes online community, I love and value you so much…please just remember to be kind to others. Continue reading for my thoughts on why I think it’s fruitless to debate one another regarding diabetes…

I found the diabetes online community (DOC) a few years ago – or perhaps it found me – and to this day, I’m incredibly grateful for it. It’s introduced me to new friends and it’s always been a reliable source of information. Whether I’m lamenting a low blood sugar at 2 A.M. or asking if anyone has advice on a pod problem at 2 P.M., odds are I’ll have someone reaching out to me within minutes in some form or fashion. That kind of on-the-fly support is invaluable.

That being said…the DOC is not always a perfect safe haven.

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It isn’t productive to argue over who is “right” and “wrong” when it comes to diabetes care and management because it’s highly individualized.

In fact, if there was one thing I could change about it, it would be to make it a judgment-free space: because all too often, people are unfairly judged for how they choose to manage their own diabetes.

I’m not saying that people aren’t entitled to opinions. Of course they are! But what happened to respectfully disagreeing with people?

I’ve seen situations like the following across different social media platforms:

  • People getting attacked for following low/medium/high-carb diets
  • People getting criticized for sharing “good” and “bad” blood sugars/A1cs
  • People getting judged for dealing with diabetes burnout – as well as people getting judged for sharing their diabetes triumphs
  • People getting discouraged from posting only the pretty parts of diabetes

We can’t keep doing this to each other. Just because a certain diet or T1D management strategy works out well for one person, doesn’t mean that it will work the same for another. That’s because diabetes is not a one-size-fits-all condition.

And we shouldn’t be judging one another for our differences. In fact, our differences can teach us so much more than our similarities can. We should celebrate one another for living with diabetes: doing the best we can, day after day, whether it yields “ideal” or “not ideal” results. Because it’s damn difficult to manage, and anyone who says otherwise is being judgmental.

We can learn and grow from one another, which is pretty powerful, as long as we refrain from this “I’m right, you’re wrong” attitude.

Memory Monday: The First Time I Met an Endocrinologist that I Didn’t Like

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…

…the first time I met a diabetes doctor (endocrinologist, or endo for short) who I didn’t like. At all.

I knew right off the bat that we would be a bad fit, because he started the appointment by sharing his own blood sugar with me (as he was also a T1D). “Oh, I’m 136 right now…that’s a bit high, so I’m going to take insulin for it.” He reached for his insulin pump and I stared at him, nonplussed. Since when was 136 a “high” blood sugar? Why was he sharing this with me? If his own target blood sugar range is so narrow, then what the hell is he going to think of me when he reviews my own data?

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The face I make when I think about that awful appointment and the negative thoughts it gave me about my A1c.

The appointment only went downhill from there. At this point in my life, I was a brand-new college freshman, and my diabetes was simply no concern of mine. So my blood sugars and A1c weren’t great.

And I got scolded for it.

Throughout the entire appointment, I felt judged. I held back tears at points because I felt that I had to explain myself to this guy, that I had to somehow get him to understand that the transition to college hadn’t been easy on me, and that’s why my A1c was high. But I couldn’t get the words out. Instead, I sat there, numb, as he lectured me on what I should and shouldn’t be doing to take care of my diabetes. He kept insisting that I go onto a pump, which at that time, was totally scary to me – a non-option. He was so adamant that I got frustrated and shut down towards the end of the appointment, nodding and smiling tightly at his words.

I’m certain that I cried on the way home from that appointment out of frustration over how it went. I didn’t feel motivated to take better care of myself; instead, I felt rotten. I realized that just because someone is a doctor, it doesn’t mean that they necessarily know how to convey messages about health to patients. In other words, not everyone has an appropriate bedside manner.

Fortunately, that was the first and last time I saw that doctor. He moved to a different practice weeks after I saw him. My next endo appointment was with my current doctor, and seven years later, it’s one of the healthiest doctor/patient relationships I’ve ever experienced. When I look at it that way, it was worth experiencing the worst in order to get the best.

Diabetes and the Blame Game: Why it’s Harmful to Judge People with T1D

Here’s a little disclaimer: This post is highly personal. I’m going to dive deep here and talk about a few things that bother me when it comes to how others perceive T1D. My opinions are strong, but I’m entitled to them – just like you are.

“I can’t believe his blood sugar got that low. He really needs to have better control over his diabetes.”

“Why wasn’t she carrying a snack with her? That’s so irresponsible, she should know better!”

“They’re unhealthy. The way they manage their diabetes isn’t okay and it’s no wonder they go to the doctor so much.”

These are words that others have spoken about people with diabetes in my presence. While these thoughts and feelings aren’t necessarily about me, it doesn’t mean that I don’t take them personally.

Why do they bother me? Because they’re dripping with judgment.

It’s easy for someone who simply doesn’t understand diabetes to make assumptions based on a couple of observations they make about someone with diabetes. But just because it’s easy to assume things, it doesn’t make it okay.

Just because you see someone have a tough diabetes day, it doesn’t mean that’s what it’s like all the time.

Just because someone forgot to carry a low blood sugar remedy on them, it doesn’t mean that they always forget one.

Just because you know of someone who frequently visits the doctor, it doesn’t mean their diabetes is “out of control.”

Just because you blame someone for not taking “proper care” of themselves, it doesn’t mean that they don’t try their damnedest.

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I can do all the right things for my diabetes over the course of a day, and still have it go wrong. Blaming and shaming me for being a bad diabetic only makes matters worse.

That’s what’s so wrong about making assumptions about how someone manages his/her/their diabetes: It’s impossible for anyone to know the full story about that individual’s diabetes, because they are the one solely in charge of it. They know how it behaves 24/7/365. They know it better than their doctor, spouse, family, friends, and coworkers. And the funny (and by funny, I mean really shitty) thing about diabetes is that sometimes, you can’t predict what it’s going to do next. So you have to be prepared to roll with the punches at a moment’s notice. And you’ve got to be that prepared all the damn time: when you’re awake, asleep, traveling, exercising, working, and just plain living.

Sounds exhausting, doesn’t it?

So that’s why I think the blame game is especially cruel when it’s played to cast judgment on people with diabetes. We have the incredibly difficult task of taking care of something that most other people never have to worry about, and blaming someone for not “doing what they should be doing” is heartless and does nothing to help them.

I challenge anyone reading this to think twice before they jump to conclusions about how a person with diabetes takes care of themselves. Remember that just because you may have witnessed them going through a difficult diabetes experience, it doesn’t mean that it’s like that for them all the time, or that they aren’t doing everything they can to take the best possible care of themselves. The world is occupied by enough critics – do your part to be supportive, not shameful.

Why I Refuse to Quit Carbs

Recently, a random person on the Internet criticized my choice to incorporate carbohydrates in my daily diet. Thanks for the unnecessary judgment, stranger!!!

I’m not really upset about the comment, though, because it prompted me to reflect on why I consume carbs.

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I LOVE CARBS. But of course, everything in moderation! So as much as I’d like to eat this mountain of nachos – a serving will do just fine & works better for me.

For me, it’s about more than just enjoying (relishing, adoring) the taste of carb-heavy substances both starchy and sweet. Carbs also help me achieve balance in my blood sugars. For instance, I find that consuming a serving of carbohydrates at dinnertime keeps me steady as I move through the evening hours. Say that I’m eating grilled chicken with a side salad for dinner. That’s a good meal by itself, but I like to complement it with a carb like half a cup of mashed potatoes or brown rice. I’ve noticed that the carbs kick in more slowly when they’re consumed with minimal or zero-carb foods, thanks to the power of the glycemic index.

The glycemic index is, in short, a measure of how quickly the carbohydrate content of foods will affect blood sugar levels. Since learning about it in college and subsequently researching the glycemic indices of various foods I eat, it’s been an immensely useful tool in determining the makeup of my meals throughout the day. Knowing the glycemic index of a wide array of foods also helps me figure out the timing of my insulin doses; in turn, preventing crazy spikes or crashes after eating.

I can’t shortchange carbs for the fact that they literally save my butt sometimes, too. When I’m experiencing a low blood sugar, nothing BUT carbs will bring me back up to a normal level. Whether it’s carbohydrates from healthy fruits or straight-up candy, it’s giving my blood sugar the surge it needs to keep me going. Like many things in life, it’s a matter of moderation – making sure I don’t consume TOO many carbs when I’m experiencing a low.

If you’re someone who thrives on low carb, high fat diets, that’s great! I know that many people find this to be a successful method in achieving target blood sugars. But for me, my tried-and-true technique of balancing carbs, fats, and proteins is always going to be my ideal strategy. Just because that’s what works for me doesn’t give anyone a right to criticize me for it. I’m here to live my best life, as we all should try to do. Shouldn’t we encourage one another to thrive, instead of judging?

The answer, if you didn’t realize, is YES.