How I React to People’s Diabetes “Horror Stories”

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?

Diabetes horror stories are not among my favorite kind of tales.

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.

How My ‘Betes Behaved During Bachelorette Weekend

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!

Fun fact: We took hundreds of photos this weekend and my diabetes devices aren’t visible in any one of them. This was done on purpose: I just didn’t feel like having my devices out on display for all to ogle at.

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.

Congratulations, R & T! I love you guys.

28 and Feeling Great

I turn 28 years old today!

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.

Me with one of my favorite parts of 27

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.

When Carbs Collide with a Bent Cannula, Chaos Ensues

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.

I want to say I regret nothing about this carb-o-licious evening, but…

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.

How Raising a Puppy is Similar to Dealing with Diabetes, Part 2

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.

Raising a puppy is only this cute and sweet about 2% of the time. (Okay, total exaggeration here, but I’m writing this after Violet decided to do her business in her playpen just after I had her outside.)

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.

Happy New Year!

It is officially January 1, 2021.

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

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.

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The rescue inhaler that’s been my best buddy the last couple of weeks.

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.

I’m trying to gently remind myself…just breathe.

 

Where I’m From and What my Diabetes Community is Like There

It’s November 18th which means that it’s Day 18 of the Happy Diabetic Challenge! The prompt for today was fairly simple – state where you’re from – so I decided to delve a little deeper and explain what my diabetes community is like at home…

Home is where the heart is, and it just so happens that I’ve got quite a diabetes community there, too.

I spend most of my time in Virginia these days, but I’m originally from Massachusetts. Growing up in that state shaped me as the human being that I am today, and it’s also where I had a total change in perspective when it comes to diabetes, community, and support.

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A map of Massachusetts, with a few diabetes accessories sprinkled in there.

I’ve said it many times here, but throughout my youth, I had my mom and my aunt as my type 1 influences in my life – that was it, and that was all that I needed and wanted.

Or so I thought.

When my feelings on diabetes support changed in college, I quickly discovered the value in fostering a sense of community wherever I go. So I made it a mission upon graduating to make sure that I maintained diabetes connections at home. It felt especially important as I was about to undergo another major life transition: joining the workforce full-time.

And I’m glad I fulfilled that goal. Through the power of social media, I attended a handful of diabetes meetups in the last few years that provided that sense of belonging that I yearned for and introduced me to many local T1Ds.

So as you may be able to imagine, it’s been tough for me to still receive invites to events and gatherings that I can no longer readily attend since I’m in a different state most of the time.

This is why I finally decided to do something about it. Feeling inspired by the spirit of National Diabetes Awareness Month, I found a group that meets up semi-regularly in my new location. I was nervous about it, but I made an introductory post on their page. I explained that I work from home; as such, it’s hard meet new people. And not only would I like to connect with other T1Ds, but I’m also interested in volunteering in the area.

My “bold” move paid off. Within hours, several people had commented on my post and made it known that I could reach out to them whenever to arrange a lunch or explore the city. I haven’t taken anyone up on it yet (with the Thanksgiving holiday being so close and all), but it’s really nice to know that the offers are there when I’m ready to take them up on it.

Even though the concept of “home” has been a little shaky in the last year, I know this much: Wherever I wind up, I’ll find and nurture a diabetes community there because people who just get it make even the strangest of places feel a whole lot more welcoming…and like home.

French Fries Are (Still) Evil

In Hugging the Cactus’s infancy, I wrote a blog post called French Fries Are Evil. In this post, I came to the conclusion that french fries are evil because they’re fatty, slow-releasing but high carb little jerks.

I’m here today, almost two years after that post, to let you know that these feelings toward french fries have not changed one bit.

Yep, they’re still evil.

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French fries…a.k.a. little sh*ts.

They straight-up tricked me into thinking that I was bound for a night of beautiful blood sugars not too long ago, despite the less-than-healthy decisions I was making regarding food and drink.

Why did I (naively) think that french fries would play nice with my blood sugars?

Well, for starters, I was doing my best to cut carbs the rest of the carbs I’d be consuming for this particular meal, which was a pulled pork sandwich with a side of fries. I ate less than half of the bun and I certainly didn’t finish the heaping portion of fries. But I did eat a lot more than I normally would (and savored every single one), making sure to bolus semi-aggressively for the indulgence.

And I was literally coasting for hours afterward – I didn’t budge above 130 for at least three hours post-meal. I was confused, but elated! Did I finally figure french fries out? Did I master the correct portion of carbs/protein/fat to eat with them? Or maybe my pancreas decided to resuscitate itself for a narrow window of time that particular evening?

I’m gonna go with the latter.

Because a bit after midnight – a witching hour, indeed – that’s when the crazy corrections, and excessive cursing on my part, started. The french fries had made a proper fool of me again, and I couldn’t believe I’d really fallen for their conniving ways again.

Needless to say, I won’t be ordering french fries with my meal again any time soon. Some foods just aren’t worth it when it comes to figuring out how to make them play nice with my diabetes, and french fries don’t quite cut the mustard.

Oh, and YOU’RE WELCOME for the really silly pun.