Diabetes and Room for Error

I have a confession to make: I’m a bit of a perfectionist. I know that perfectionism can be my own worst enemy and hinder me from accomplishing goals, but it’s just the way I am in some situations – particularly, with my own diabetes.

My diabetes perfectionism means that there is very little room for error when it comes to dosing insulin properly for the foods that I eat. Like many people with diabetes, I strive to bolus as accurately as possible to ensure better blood sugar outcomes, but I don’t always succeed at this.

That’s why I try to reduce the amount of possible error by being very specific about the number of carbs I consume at mealtimes. In fact, I have a self-imposed carbohydrate limit of about 60 grams of carbs per meal. I don’t know where this number came from, and I definitely exceed that from time to time, but for some reason I never input a number greater than 60 carbs into my PDM even when I know I’m probably eating more carbohydrates than that.

This is because of my fear of the room for error, and the potential consequence being a severe hypoglycemic event.

Something I learned by writing this post? My inner perfectionist is at war with my comfort with room for error.

In other words, even when I may be exceeding my “comfort carb count”, I know that the room for error grows with the amount of carbs that I consume. More carbohydrates = more insulin = a greater room for error, something that freaks me out and that I attempt to control by only bolusing for what I feel is an agreeable amount. I’ve written about this phenomenon of mine before and my desire to get over it, but as I continue to work through it, I think it can only be done if I change my thinking about the margin of error that I’m willing to tolerate.

This is where it all comes full circle and I begin to understand how perfectionism, the room for error, and my diabetes management all play off one another…which is to say, they don’t fare well together whatsoever. Because my room for error is low, I don’t dose correctly for some meals, which drives my inner perfectionist crazy because it’s at conflict with my inner scaredy-cat who’s afraid to dose the right amount because I don’t want to deal with any negative outcomes. I’m literally in conflict with myself, which is a wild thing to realize as I write this blog post, but it’s the truth and I’m glad I’m uncovering it.

It will absolutely take time, but as I begin to let go of some of my perfectionist tendencies, I’d like to learn how to also usher in a greater comfortability with the room for error. I’m looking forward to exploring this and hope that I can reconcile the two so me and my diabetes can live in better harmony.

The Comparison Culture and How I Tune It Out

We all know that social media can be…damaging.

Scroll through Facebook, Instagram, or any other social network and 99% of what you see is the idea of “perfection”: Beautifully dressed and made-up individuals showcasing their gorgeous homes or families or possessions. Usually, some sort of caption will accompany the post and it might say something like “so blessed to do life with my dream partner” or “we just bought our first home, can’t wait to fill it with joyous memories” or some other gushing, effusive language that is followed by a series of exclamation points and emojis.

There’s nothing wrong with this…except for the fact that, obviously, people’s lives aren’t as “perfect” as they seem.

Life is messy, but we don’t get to see that side for many people on social media.

This is true not just about life events, but something as specific as life with diabetes.

I think that our community has gotten a lot better about it, but I used to see so many posts that showed “perfect” blood sugar graphs and “perfect” A1c readings.

And I used to obsess over these posts.

I’d wonder why I wasn’t achieving the same levels of success as these other individuals. I’d convince myself there was something wrong with me, and that I’d never have blood sugar graphs or A1c levels that were “good enough” to share online.

Between diabetes perfectionism and real-life perfectionism (Why aren’t I married yet? When will it be my turn to start a family? What’s wrong with me that I haven’t met all the other adult goals that so many of my friends have met?), I was starting to drive myself insane.

Social media was breeding a culture of comparison for me.

I couldn’t log onto an account without immediately comparing myself to the images I saw and the stories they told.

It’s taken time, and I’m not always good about it, but I’m learning to tune out the noise on social media and how to stop comparing myself so much to others.

So how did I start to unsubscribe to that culture of comparison?

For starters, I came to terms with the fact that I didn’t want to leave social media altogether. I like how it keeps me connected with family and friends on top of connecting me with individuals all around the world. I like how it functions as a support system when I need to consult my diabetes online community for wisdom and guidance.

But I knew that I needed to take a step back. So I started slowly and gradually: I removed the Twitter and Facebook apps from my phone, telling myself that if I really wanted to check the feeds for either, I could do so using my Internet browser. I also spent less and less time scrolling, a habit that was addicting to me because I wanted to see as much content as possible, but also one that I recognized as damaging because more content meant more comparisons to others.

The most important thing that I did, though (and continue to try to do) is repeat a few mantras to myself:

This is just one page of this person’s story.

You don’t know the whole picture.

You don’t want to be anyone other than yourself because you truly do love the people and things in your own life.

It might sound silly, but reminding myself that social media is designed to show off the “best” parts of our lives really did help me come to terms with the fact that I needed to stop comparing myself to everyone. Just like I have plenty of bad things that happen in my life, I have a hell of a lot more good, and just because I don’t choose to showcase everything on my feed doesn’t mitigate the good.

And one last thing that I’m trying to do? I’m simply trying to be happy for others who revel in their successes and choose to share them online. I’m also trying to pay closer attention to those who are brave enough to showcase their failures online, diabetes-related or not. In fact, it’s not uncommon for me to open up my Instagram app, scroll through my feed, and see the most “perfect”, straight-lined Dexcom graph followed by an “imperfect” topsy-turvy Dexcom graph. I’m training myself to react to the former graph not by comparing myself, but by feeling good for the person who posted it. And in terms of the latter graph, I also don’t want to compare myself to it (I’m not proud of it, but I’ve taken a look at “bad” graphs before and said OMG, my numbers are sooo much better), but instead offer words of encouragement or commiseration – because we’ve all been there.

The comparison culture is toxic. It’s taken time for me to realize just how much it was affecting me, but now that I have, I’m glad because removing myself from it will help enrich the relationships I have online and in real life. When it comes to diabetes specifically, it’s difficult enough managing my own, and that much harder when I compare how I take care of it to how other people with diabetes live their lives. Learning to appreciate our diabetes differences instead of stressing over them makes it so much easier to support and uplift one another when we need it most.

5 Confessions of an Imperfect T1D

Newsflash: I’m not a perfect T1D. Shocker, I know!

Every so often, I like to remind myself that perfection is impossible, especially when it comes to my diabetes. But all my life, I’ve yearned for it in a hopeless pursuit. I agonized over essays before submitting them for grading in high school and college. I have a penchant for baking, which requires precision in order to be successful. And I’ve done virtually everything I can do to get and maintain “perfect” blood sugar levels at all times. Which of those named feats sound the most fruitless?

So to help remind myself that T1D shouldn’t be about perfection, I decided to compile a list of “confessions” about my not-so-perfect T1D tendencies. I think it’s important for me to share them here, since we are in an age of showcasing diabetes “wins” over “failures”: Straight, in-range CGM graphs, A1cs below 6%, balancing a social life with a career and family and other responsibilities ON TOP OF diabetes…these things should be celebrated, but we also shouldn’t forget about the lessons we learned along the way to help us get to these points of dia-winning. Plus, projecting an air of perfectionism at all times is just absurd and we all need a reality check sometimes, myself included.

The Missing PDM (and the Panic That Followed)
Remember Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen? This post is like that except with more diabetes.

Here are my five confessions. Which ones can you relate to?

5. Sometimes, I conveniently “forget” that I have diabetes and snack freely on food that I shouldn’t, or that I should bolus for. It’s a bit irresponsible of me, but if I notice that my blood sugar is between 90 and 140 or so, I help myself to a little snack from the kitchen. It’s never anything too big; for example, I just ate a mini dark chocolate peanut butter cup because I noticed my blood sugar was 132. But it is almost always something that will make my blood sugar go up a bit, and I need to stop fooling myself into thinking that these snacks are “free”.

4. Until recently, I never had a stash of ketones test strips (out of pure laziness). Ugh, such a diabetes no-no. Someone slap me on the wrist. In my teenage years, though, I found that we’d stock up on ketones strips only for them to expire before I could use, well, any of them. So I thought to myself, why bother buying them if I can’t even get any use out of them? Luckily, I came to my senses just a few weeks ago and realized that it’s always better to be prepared, even if it means spending a few extra bucks unnecessarily.

3. Organization of my diabetes supplies is…lacking. On Instagram, people are constantly showing off their beautifully organized diabetes drawers and bags and pantries…and I have serious envy of their carefully curated supply stashes. I’d describe mine as something more like an organized mess. I’ve got my Dexcom G6 sensors stacked haphazardly in the closet because they don’t fit in my set of three plastic drawers that hold everything else in a total nonsensical manner. When it comes to diabetes, I’ve got higher priorities than organization, even though I do appreciate tidiness in general.

2. Self-control is not a concept that exists to me when my blood sugar is low. I know some people with diabetes who have restraint when their blood sugar goes low: They treat it with around 15 grams of carbohydrates and wait about 15 minutes to make sure that they’re headed in the right direction before doing or eating anything else. Wellll…that is not me, especially in cases when my blood sugar goes low in the middle of the night. I’m not proud of it, but every once in awhile, I’ll roll out of bed (no matter how early or late it is) and head straight to the kitchen to treat a low with cereal and peanut butter and cookies and anything sweet I can get my hands on. It’s not pretty.

1. I take extreme care when it comes to using my diabetes supplies in a sanitary and recommended way, but if there’s one thing I couldn’t care less about, it’s lancets. Ideally, lancets are disposed of and replaced on a routine basis. But…I just…don’t do that. Honestly, I don’t really remember the last time I changed my lancet. I definitely do it at least once a month (which might make some doctors squirm) and usually before I travel somewhere. I don’t know…when it comes to diabetes, there’s so many other things that take a much higher priority in my book. Plus, at least I do change my lancet multiple times throughout the year – I know of some other T1Ds who have ‘fessed up to doing it ONCE a year, on January 1st, and that’s it! God love ’em. I know I do for their blatant honesty!