Yesterday, I turned 29 years old. True to Hugging the Cactus tradition, I’m using today’s blog post as an opportunity to reflect on how I feel about this next year of my life.
I’m feeling…just fine about 29. Before you think I’m just saying that because it rhymes, or because I’m not genuinely happy to be 29 (the rhyming is just a bonus and honestly, I’m happy to be any age because it means I’m living and that’s a wonderful thing), let me jump in and say it feels fine because…it just feels right for me, right here and right now. It’s not “just fine” in a sarcastic or curt way; rather, it’s “just fine” in the sense that it feels good and perfectly acceptable and something that I will embrace.
To tie it all back to diabetes, “good and perfectly acceptable and something that I will embrace” is kind of the attitude that I strive to maintain when it comes to how I feel about my diabetes. Of course, I have my days where everything is far from good, perfectly acceptable, or embrace-worthy. But generally speaking, I’ve worked hard to get to a place where I simply and peacefully coexist with my diabetes. I ride the waves of highs and lows and always find a way or means to overcome the unexpected ripples of randomness that my diabetes drifts my way.
So I’d like to carry that mindset into the last year of my 20s: a mindset in which I take comfort in knowing that I’m capable of riding the waves caused by diabetes, or anything else in my life, really. Arming myself with the knowledge that I grow through what I go through will help me thrive with diabetes and life, and it seems like an excellent nugget of wisdom to bring with me into year 29.
This blog post was originally published on June 12, 2019 on Hugging the Cactus. I’m sharing it again today because when you live with T1D, it’s inevitable that you’ll attract stares – and sometimes questions you’d rather not answer – from people who are befuddled by your diabetes gadgets and gizmos. This one encounter in particular is a great reminder that not all oglers have ill intent…read on for more.
“Yo, I don’t mean to be rude, but what’s that thing on your arm? Looks pretty cool.”
I turned around to face the stranger who was looking at me and asking me this question. It was well after midnight and we were on the rooftop of a fairly crowded bar. It was a balmy, summery night and I was enjoying the atmosphere with my boyfriend and my best friend. I’d had a few drinks over the course of the night, but judging by the state of everyone else on the rooftop, I was probably more sober than most of them.
I could’ve answered his question in a scolding manner; it wasn’t a “thing”, it was a device that keeps me alive.
I could’ve totally dismissed him and told him to mind his own beeswax, because really, it is sort of rude to point out something on another person’s body.
I could’ve lied and told him it was something that it’s not to get him to stop bothering me.
I could’ve launched into an educational breakdown of what an insulin pump is and why my OmniPod looks the way it does.
I could’ve done any number of things, but instead I decided to say, “Oh, this is my insulin pump. I’ve got it decorated right now with a picture of a lighthouse because I like adding some style to it.” I smiled at him as a way of reassuring him that I really didn’t care that he was asking me, because I didn’t.
My straightforward answer seemed to please this random man. He told me again that he thought it was cool, and then we chatted a bit about where the lighthouse is and discovered we both have a connection to Massachusetts. Within a few brief moments, the conversation was over as we went our separate ways.
It was a perfectly harmless interaction that could’ve went a number of different ways, but to me, it’s all about context. This guy was just asking out of curiosity, and I truly don’t think he was trying to be rude about it. So I answered his question succinctly but good-naturedly, because I felt that was the only way to go about it in this busy party environment. Plus, let’s be real here…had I delved into a discussion about diabetes and devices, this drunk man probably wouldn’t have digested a single detail of my description. (Ahh, I love alliteration.) And another important point? He was damn right, my pump did look cool because of the lighthouse sticker!
But man, how much simpler it’d’ve been if I’d just been wearing my “THIS IS MY INSULIN PUMP” sticker on my pod that night.
I attended a family reunion earlier this month and got into a conversation with a relative who’s well into her 90s. She was asking me what I do for a living and I kept my explanation fairly high-level: “I work with college students who have diabetes”.
(Which, side note, I help handle the communications side of things for CDN and so far, I don’t often interact with the students…but I figured this was still a semi-correct answer that spared me from getting into the social media aspect with someone who’s probably never even heard of Instagram.)
Her response to my job description was…interesting. She started telling me the story of a “young bird” she once knew who had diabetes, needed dialysis, and then got her foot amputated. And then died.
This is a classic diabetes “horror story” that people often seem to tell when they discover that the person they’re speaking with has diabetes. It’s a story that’s told as a knee-jerk reaction: Either the person expresses their sorrow for the fact that the other person has diabetes, or they tell the tale of someone they knew who had diabetes and suffered immensely from it.
It’s a strange phenomenon, for sure, but one that happens across the board to people with diabetes.
You might be wondering…how do I react in situations like this? Is there a right or a wrong way to handle them?
I chose to navigate this particular interaction by nodding sympathetically. While I truly was sorry to hear about this “young bird” and her fate, I was also very uncomfortable by the story. I’ve never felt “okay” about discussing diabetes complications because they scare the living daylights out of me, and I also was completely caught off-guard that a simple question about my job was enough to trigger the telling of this vignette. So for me, this wasn’t exactly a teaching moment in which I could correct this distant relative of mine and explain why it can be harmful to tell these horror stories; in fact, this whole incident made me realize that I don’t think I’ve ever truly reacted to a diabetes horror story when it was told to me.
And I think I’ve finally figured out the reason why…I just don’t want to engage with a person who’s going to react to my diabetes by telling me about the terrible outcome experienced by someone with diabetes who they may or may not directly know. What’s the point? What else am I supposed to say besides I’m sorry? I can’t really think of a graceful way to turn the conversation around, so for me, it’s always felt easiest to just nod, smile, say something compassionate, and then end the conversation by walking away or changing the subject completely. It’s not right or wrong, per se, but at least I know that I’m doing right by myself and my comfort levels.
This tried-and-true tactic of mine just goes to show that not every diabetes anecdote can be turned into a teachable moment – at least, not in my opinion or experience.
Last week, I shared that I was going on my first overnight trip since being fully vaccinated. I also explained that it was a very special trip that I was taking: It was my childhood best friend’s bachelorette weekend!
As much as I was looking forward to it, I was also a little apprehensive because packing for trips with diabetes can be tricky. I’ve learned, courtesy of too many mistakes made over the years, that it’s extremely important to pack not just back-up supplies, but back-ups for the back-ups, and maybe even then some extra extra extra back-ups. It involves lots of careful thinking and planning to ensure that nothing is accidentally left at home.
And somehow, I managed to remember basically everything! I had plenty of supplies on me at all times and was more than adequately prepared to treat any scary high or low blood sugars.
But while I’m pleased to share that I didn’t need any single one of my back-ups over the weekend, I’m less than thrilled to divulge that my blood sugars were pretty rotten the entire time. I’m mostly to blame for this…it’s because of the food and beverage choices that I made. For example, foods like quesadillas and pizza are rare indulgences for me, and I not only consumed both, but I ate them in the same day. What was I thinking?! They can be tough enough to bolus for on a normal basis, but throw alcohol into the mix (I confess that I was, indeed, drinking) and I basically set myself up for failure.
In hindsight, I should’ve opted for lower carb drinks like vodka with seltzer water or whiskey mixed with diet soda. But I wanted to be like everyone else and enjoy a margarita or two and have the pretty pink drinks that we made at the Airbnb. And maybe I could’ve made smarter food choices, but truly, I didn’t have many options because we chose to eat at one restaurant with a limited menu and order takeout from a pizza joint that didn’t have anything like cauliflower crust.
To be fair to myself, I was carefully watching my blood sugar all weekend long. I was running temp basal increases. I was stacking insulin to bring my high levels down. I was drinking plenty of water and I was avoiding snacking on the delicious, tempting treats that all of the girls brought – I didn’t even eat one of the chocolate mocha cupcakes that I’d baked. And I did have great blood sugars overnight, which I had been really worried about. I was nervous about my CGM alarming and waking up everyone when we were all trying to sleep, but that never happened because I was in the low 100s for most of the night…much to my relief. (Side note: Even if I had gone low, I wouldn’t have been worried about getting support/help if I needed it. Basically, three-fourths of the guests are medical professionals so…I couldn’t have been in better hands!)
So yeah, my blood sugars could’ve been better this past weekend. But you know what? There are hundreds of times in my life that my blood sugar could’ve been better. It could, pretty much, always be better! For me, though, diabetes just wasn’t my main focus. My friend was my focus all weekend long. I wanted to celebrate her and this next chapter in her life and put my diabetes on the backburner.
And I know for a fact that the bride-to-be had an incredible time. We laughed as we told stories, we played games, we enjoyed yummy food, we visited a beautiful winery, and most importantly, the other ladies and I honored my friend and made memories together. That’s what matters, and as hard as it might try to interfere, diabetes can’t take that away from me.
As I say farewell to 27 and welcome a new year of life, I can’t help but reflect on how different the world was this time last year.
The pandemic was in full(er) force. The new normal was just establishing itself. Each day was scary and uncertain as hopes for a vaccine any time soon were somewhat bleak.
Fast-forward to the present: As the weather gets warmer, social distancing and masking guidelines are easing. More and more people are getting vaccinated on a daily basis. While we’re far from returning to life before the pandemic, we’re definitely much closer to being able to enjoy the simple pleasures in life (such as hugging a family member or friend) with less anxiety.
So even though the milestones I met in my 27th year (buying my first home, getting my puppy, surviving heartbreak and falling in love again, to name a few) are things that I celebrate daily, I’m also really looking forward to the minutiae of the next 365 days…seeing my family and friends in-person more frequently, breaking out of the bubble (safely, of course) that is my home, going to new and old places for both familiar and unknown experiences…in other words, I’m excited to embrace the things that I took for granted pre-pandemic.
I’m hoping that year 28 brings a whole lot of “great” with it: lots of love, joy, adventures, and hugs from all the people that I’ve missed hugging in the last year or so. Just like with everything else in my life, I’ll bring my diabetes along for the ride and celebrate it, too, because it just makes me appreciate all the things that make life worth living that much more.
Sushi. Wine. Not one, but two slices (I swear they were slivers, honest) of cake. A pod with a cannula that got bent out of shape accidentally due to clumsiness.
The above sounds like some sort of weird laundry list, but it’s really just all the factors that contributed to a night of high blood sugars and relative sleeplessness.
Let me explain what happened: The night started out fabulously! I got sushi for dinner from a local spot that I was trying for the first time. I was excited about it because sushi is a rare treat for me, and I figured the occasion warranted some wine – my first glass(es) that I’ve had in about 2 months (I gave it up for Lent).
Those two things right there are definitely a “dangerous” duo that can cause carbohydrate calculation errors or prolonged blood sugars, but I tucked that in the back of my mind because I wasn’t done with indulgences for the evening.
That’s right, I kept up with the carb-loading by enjoying some cake (white chocolate blueberry cake that I made myself that is just as decadent as it sounds) soon after dinner was done. My problem is that I thought I’d curbed the impact of the carbs by setting a temporary basal increase and stacking a small amount of my insulin, but no such luck. I’d destroyed my second piece (it was just a tiny sliver, people) and noticed that I was creeping up. I took more insulin and soon forgot about my high blood sugar as I immersed myself in episode after episode of Impractical Jokers, which, side note: It’s a series I just discovered and it’s hilarious cringe comedy that is the perfect thing to watch after a long day.
A handful of episodes later, it was time for bed. Or so I thought…because soon after I was settled in bed, I twisted around in just the right – or in this case, wrong – manner that was rough enough to loosen my pod from its allegedly secure location on my back. The smell of insulin was pungent and indicated to me immediately that the pod would have to be ripped off completely and replaced. And the sooner, the better, because my blood sugar was getting closer and closer to 300…definitely not a level I want to see before I go to sleep.
By 12:30 A.M., the new pod was on my arm and a temp basal increase was running to combat my lingering high blood sugar. I also gave myself yet another bolus and crossed my fingers, hoping that the combination would be enough to bring my levels down overnight.
At around 2 A.M., my PDM started beeping to let me know that it’d been about 90 minutes since the new pod was activated, so in response I woke up to silence it and glance at my CGM. My blood sugar barely budged! Frustrated, I gave myself more insulin and fell back into a restless sleep.
Several hours later, my alarm was blaring, far sooner than I wanted it to. I hit the snooze button, also taking care to check out my CGM yet again before I made an attempt at 15 more minutes of sleep. And guess what – I was still high. Quite high. Not 300, but in the mid-200s.
It was official: My blood sugar was punishing me for my night of careless carb consumption and reckless pod-handling. I shouldn’t have been surprised by the resulting chaos, but at least I was able to restore peace again the next morning…eventually.
Just about three years ago, I was helping my parents raise their puppy, Clarence. And naturally, with me being who I am, I found that raising him was a lot like dealing with diabetes – and wrote about it in this blog post.
Now that I’m a puppy parent, I revisited that post and found that there are even more similarities between the two.
For starters, one of the biggest parts of diabetes management is the constant monitoring involved in it. As it turns out, the same can be said about raising a puppy! Much like my blood sugar, I am watching her like a hawk during all waking hours. I’m prepared to pounce on her if she’s chewing up a puppy pad or squatting down to her business indoors, just like I’m prepared to act when my blood sugar is going higher or lower than I’d like.
Also, as it turns out – shocker – having a puppy around is exhausting. My sleep has been interrupted several times over the last few weeks by Violet’s whimpers. Before, I used to only have to worry about a Dexcom alarm waking me in the middle of the night, but now I have to respond to her cries, too. Fortunately, having a puppy isn’t totally like having diabetes in this regard, because at least I can nap when she’s napping! (We all know that diabetes never sleeps…)
Another similarity, one that I don’t mind so much, is the frequent exercise that Violet needs. Just like my diabetes tends to be “better controlled” when I exercise each day, Violet also responds really well to playtime. The best part is that after a nice, long session of fetch or tug-of-war, she tends to zonk out afterwards, which I see as the puppy equivalent of having the coveted 100 mg/dL blood sugar.
However, there are tons of obvious differences between raising a puppy and managing diabetes. But the best, perhaps biggest one of all? Violet improves (well, when she doesn’t have an accident indoors) my overall mood and mental health. I know that her ability to do this will only increase over time as she matures. And I know that having her around will help me through the tough diabetes days that I’m bound to face in the future, and for that and so much more, I’m thankful for my little pup.
For the first time in my entire life, I’m living alone. (Well, I have my puppy Violet to keep me company, but no other humans.)
The prospect of living by myself always freaked me out a little bit, mainly because of the fears I have about diabetes and the “what ifs”: What if my blood sugar goes too low and I can’t get help? What if I’m sick or spilling ketones and need someone to assist me? What if “something bad” (pick any bad scenario here that you can think of) happens, and because I live alone, I can’t take care of myself?
With these questions lurking in the back of my mind, I decided to do something about my worries. I moved into my new place a couple of months ago and since then, I’ve come up with some strategies on how to manage my concerns about living alone with diabetes that have provided both peace of mind and confidence in my ability to thrive in my new home.
Tip #1: Utilize the Dexcom Share feature. This is the best thing that I have done since moving out of my parents’ home. I had a conversation with them after a particularly frightening middle-of-the-night low, and we all agreed that it would be wise for me to invite my dad to follow my blood sugars using Dexcom Share. My favorite part about this arrangement is that my dad and I discussed what we were both comfortable with in terms of data sharing – we decided that it wasn’t necessary for him to view my blood sugar graph at all times, but that he should get alerted when I’m below 50 or above 400. It makes me feel so much safer knowing that he will know if and when those situations should happen, and that he will be able to help me (albeit, from a slight distance) if I can’t help myself.
Tip #2: Keep low snacks all over the place. I keep low snacks on every floor of my condo (the main floor, upstairs, and in my basement) and right next to my bed on my nightstand. It might seem like overkill to have juice boxes, gummy snacks, and glucose tablets all over the place, but the point of that is I never know when a bad low blood sugar will strike, and it’s much easier to walk a few steps to get a low treatment than to walk up or down a set of stairs. I’m able to treat lows very quickly using this method, and since my fear of low blood sugars is one of my biggest concerns about living alone, this helps me make sure that I can handle them efficiently when they occur.
Tip #3: Stay organized. It might sound strange that staying organized is a big help when it comes to living alone with diabetes, but I’ve found that it ensures that I’m able to access any of my supplies within seconds, if needed. I don’t have to rifle through drawers or cabinets to find out how many pods I have left, I simply have to walk into my bedroom closet and look at my shelf to see. I also have all of my medical paperwork – receipts, prescriptions, health plan information, etc. – stashed away in a clearly labeled folder in the filing cabinet by my desk, which again makes my life much easier when I need to find particular documentation at a moment’s notice.
Tip #4: Have emergency contacts identified and readily available. Nobody likes to think about something bad happening…least of all me. But I give myself peace of mind by having emergency contacts labeled in my iPhone using the Medical ID feature. If I needed to call one of them, it would simply take the push of a button (and a quick swipe).
Tip #5: Seek support over social media. When in doubt, I’ve had great success turning to my different social media platforms and chatting with others about issues surrounding living alone. Whether I add a story to my IG profile or send out a tweet when I have blood sugar concerns, I know that the diabetes online community will respond with guidance and insight to help me through whatever issue I may be experiencing. There’s something extraordinarily comforting about knowing that even though I’m living alone, I’m never truly alone because of the support I have.
When I think of January, the color gray comes to mind. This time of year is notorious for being a bit of a dull lull – a period in which everything abruptly slows down. The cold weather feels even colder and it can feel a bit like being trapped inside sometimes.
But we’re all pretty familiar with how that feels by now…
Anyways, that’s what I used to think of January. Now, I’m trying to shift my thinking and find the color and vibrancy in this month. After all, a new mindset – sort of like the one I touched on in Wednesday’s blog post but am still struggling to identify clearly – seems like it should just go together with a new year. If I keep the old mindset, I’ll get old results, and I don’t think I necessarily want old results (unless they pertain to the stretches of time in which my blood sugar levels have been spot-on, then I definitely want those results).
I’m rambling, I know. But this is my way of encouraging myself – and you – to do something that makes you happy today. Need some inspiration? I’ll share my plans: I’ll have a lovely homemade lasagna made by my mother, hang out at my parents’ house with our dogs, and text all of my loved ones to wish them a happy new year. If the weather cooperates, I’ll take a walk at some point to get some fresh air and a change of scenery. Maybe I’ll even get to totally veg out for a few hours and shirk the responsibilities of adulthood, pretending that a new workweek isn’t just around the corner.
All that sounds like a pretty great way to ring in a new year, don’t you think?
Here’s to a new year, your good health, hope, and of course, fabulous blood sugar levels.
Just breathe…a mantra easier said than done when each breath flows in and out smoothly, instead of in ragged, wheezing gasps.
I’m no stranger to asthma. I dealt with it throughout most of my childhood. The details are blurry on when I experienced my first asthma attack, but all I know is that it left me rasping and feeling (on top of sounding) like the cute little penguin from the Toy Story series, Wheezy.
The only thing that would keep my asthma symptoms at bay was nebulizer treatments. The nebulizer is one of those loud machines that generates vapors – albuterol medicine – that must be breathed in through a mouthpiece. I hated these treatments because they left me feeling shaky for a long time afterward and often caused high blood sugar, but it was much easier and more comfortable to breathe after them…so they were worth it.
Throughout my teenage and most of my young adult years, though, asthma slowly became a distant memory. I experienced it less frequently until it stopped altogether, and suddenly diabetes was the only thing I had to worry about. And I was glad for it.
But then…let’s fast-forward to the week leading up to Christmas. I was busy. I mean, wicked busy. I was running all over the place, jetting from one party to another, interacting with all sorts of people who were bringing germs from all over to each of these merry gatherings. I was getting run down and sleeping less due to the holiday celebrations, so really, it shouldn’t have surprised me when I felt the first tinge of a sort throat in church on Christmas Eve. But when that sore throat was soon followed by a tight chest and a whistling sound whenever I exhaled, I was taken aback – not to mention straight-up annoyed.
I treated the initial waves of wheeziness with my rescue inhaler. But when that started to be less effective over shorter and shorter lengths of time, I knew I needed to get in touch with my primary care doctor. So I did, and I met with a nurse practitioner who diagnosed me with something new: reactive airway disease. I left the office feeling shell-shocked over a new diagnosis that would mean that I would have to use a different kind of inhaler twice daily for the next two weeks.
I was afraid to start it for many reasons, but the two biggest ones were 1) I was nervous it would make my blood sugar go up and 2) it can cause thrush (also known as an oral yeast infection, which sounds positively nightmarish) if I forget to rinse my mouth out with water after each dose.
Overall, though, it doesn’t sound like too big of a deal, right? If it helps my breathing, it shouldn’t be an issue to add this inhaler into my morning and evening routines.
Silly old me, however, did turn this into a big deal. I wasted far too much time fretting over this inhaler and saying “woe is me” for having to deal with yet another medication that was extremely expensive (I paid $56.83 for the darn thing…I have no idea what the total would have been if I was uninsured).
My logical self knows that this won’t do any good. So now, I’m getting my act together and just rolling with the punches.