The DOC: The 24/7 Support System I Never Knew that I Needed

I’ve lauded the DOC (Diabetes Online Community) time and time again for connecting me with individuals globally who are also affected by type one diabetes. And I don’t foresee an end to my desire to express gratitude for this amazing community, because over and over, members of it continue to blow me away with their words of encouragement and gestures of friendship.

My latest wave of gratefulness was spurred when I arrived home from work on Monday to a cheerful, Tiffany-blue envelope waiting patiently for me to open it. It was a delightful little package from my friend Sarah, who I “met” via Instagram over the summer. Besides diabetes, we share common interests in fitness, wellness, our pet dogs, and bright colors, among other things.

Sarah went out of her way to mail me a few goodies (shown in the picture), including a cute T1D key chain and an adorable cactus card with a message of support written inside. I was incredibly, pleasantly surprised by all of it. It wasn’t about the material items for me (though they are totally my style, and I can’t wait to make use of them). It was more so how she took the time to put it all together for me, cleverly incorporating some of the things that introduced us to one another in the first place, that really blew me away.

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Sweet trinkets from a sweet friend!

It got me thinking about the larger diabetes community I’ve met and harvested friendships with in the last several years. And as hard as it is for me to properly describe the level of richness, knowledge, and support that those friendships have given to me, it’s beyond easy for me to say that I am infinitely thankful for all of them, and I hope that in return, I am able to offer at least a fraction of the same to others.

With all that said, it’s even more mind-blowing to me that I resisted this community for such a long time. For the first 14 years or so that I lived with diabetes, I rejected the notion that I needed peer support to help me manage the emotional and physical aspects of diabetes. I turned down offers to go to diabetes camp. I didn’t interact with the only two other diabetics in my school’s district because I feared social isolation. In some situations, I even pretended that I didn’t have diabetes, because my yearning to be normal like everyone else overpowered my need to make my health a priority.

That’s why I don’t think it’s a coincidence that things started to turn around when I met other T1Ds my age. That marked the point where I could have open, honest conversations with others who were going through similar life events at the same time as me, without the judgments or criticisms I may have had to endure if I had those same conversations with family or doctors. While I know that I need to give myself and my personal growth some credit for improving how I manage my diabetes, I would be remiss if I did not also attribute some of that credit to the members of the DOC who have made meaningful contributions to my life and my outlook on it.

It’s funny that something special in the mail made me contemplate all of this, but Sarah’s thoughtful package to me is a tangible representation of how connections within the DOC have changed me for the better.

Thank you, Sarah, and another big thank you to those of you in the DOC that I have met, as well as those I have yet to meet.

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What is “Controlled” Diabetes?

There are few word pairs I loathe more than “controlled” and “diabetes”.

How the hell can diabetes be “controlled”? It’s not a video game to be played with a controller. There’s no character selection or “start” button. And it most definitely can’t be shut off with the flick of a switch.

On the contrary, it’s my opinion that diabetes is a bit of a wild beast that can’t simply be tamed. It doesn’t care if you follow the same routine every single day – it’ll act up for no damn reason whenever it pleases, much to the dismay of a person dealing with it.

Diabetes will do what it wants, when it wants. It will wake you up in the middle of the night because of a low blood sugar. It can throw your whole day off track because you make your plans around it. Diabetes itself comes with so many variables, between the devices and the effectiveness of medication, that it can oscillate no matter how hard you try to keep it steady. How can something like that possibly be under control? People with diabetes, like me, are given tools that are intended to help manage diabetes, certainly, but we have yet to receive something that allows us to influence it completely.

get lost in stockholm

If I had to take a stab at guessing what people thought “in control” diabetes looked at, it would be more than just the “perfect” flat-lined CGM graph. It would be more than going to bed each night and waking up every morning, having just enjoyed an uninterrupted, sound night of sleep. It would be more than having the freedom to make spur-of-the-moment choices regarding a daily routine or diet.

But for now, I’ve accepted that my diabetes is something I manage rather than control…but I also accept my refusal to let it control me.

Diabetes, Diets, and Holidays are Naughty, Not Nice

Ahh, the holiday season…it’s been in full swing for just about a month now, and with that arrived a bevy of parties, potlucks, and poor dietary decisions. In a week, the new year will be here and it’ll bring a fresh start with it, but for now…I’m trying to find a way to make peace with all the indulgences I’ve enjoyed in the last several weeks.

Takeout Chinese food, pizza, homemade roasts, and baked goods galore are among the gamut of glutinous grub responsible for transforming me into a guilty gourmand over the course of the holidays. (Can I get a round of applause for that alliterative sentence?) I wish I could say that I had the willpower to resist the temptation of these foods that have been provided at the various holiday parties I’ve attended; alas, I couldn’t stop myself from noshing on them just as much as the other guests at these gatherings. A fair share of my fellow party attendees commiserated with me about diets flying out the window this time of year, but very few of them could understand that the fattening fare impacts more than just my waistline.

My blood sugars, of course, have been a victim of holiday feasting just as much as my size six jeans.

Feel the joy!
Instead of sugarplums, I’ve got visions of wacky blood sugars and too-tight pants dancing in my head. Fun!!!

Truthfully, they’re not as terrible as they’ve been during past holiday seasons. But that doesn’t mean I’m satisfied with them, or okay with the fact that they tend to rise and crash at equally rapid paces when I eat too much of the carb-y stuff and correct accordingly with insulin. The roller coaster ride combined with the feeling that I’m turning into the Pillsbury dough girl is what I’m fed up with, and I’m trying to figure out a way to stop punishing myself for it. After all, a new year IS right around the corner, and like many others in the world, I can and should use it as a reason to start eating more mindfully and healthfully, leaving the dietary mistakes of 2018 in the past.

It’s definitely cliche, but I’ve got to get back into the routine and replace all the cookies and fancy chocolates I’ve been consuming with leafy veggies and lean proteins. It won’t be easy, but I know that it’ll be worth the improved blood sugars and looser pants that are bound to follow.

 

Beyond Diabetes

This November, I participated in the #HappyDiabeticChallenge on Instagram. This challenge centered around daily prompts to respond to via an Instagram post or story. I’ve decided to spread the challenge to my blog for the last couple days of National Diabetes Awareness Month. As a result, today’s post topic is beyond diabetes.

I can’t believe that today is the final day of November, A.K.A. National Diabetes Awareness Month. In a way, I’m relieved. After all, diabetes advocacy can be exhausting. I’ve kept up daily Instagram posts, in one way or another, in response to the #HappyDiabeticChallenge. I’ve tried to keep all of my blog posts this month on theme. I even participated in a fundraising live stream on YouTube, which was an anxiety-provoking yet exhilarating event all on its own.

Needless to say, I’m looking forward to dialing it back down, temporarily, for the month of December. I won’t stop advocating, but I will take a small step back from it so I can recover and process everything from the month in my own time.

It’ll be a good way of reminding myself that I’m more. More than just this stupid chronic disease. There’s so much more to me than diabetes: I’m a daughter, a sister, a girlfriend, a best friend. I’m a dog lover (despite being allergic to most of them). I’m a young professional. I’m a millennial (who proudly owns the moniker). I’m a Disney fanatic and Harry Potter obsessive. I’m a creative and passionate person who cares about a lot of different people, things, and projects.

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I am more than my diabetes.

I’m beyond my diabetes. I prove that to myself each day by living my life unencumbered by it. When it knocks me down, I always get back up to remind it that I’m the boss.

Beyond National Diabetes Awareness Month is a broader realization that I’m a bit burnt out by this hardcore advocacy. And that’s okay. I’ll take a breather and remember to enjoy life more, because I know that I’m beyond diabetes.

This Thanksgiving, I’m Thankful for…Diabetes?

This post originally appeared on my blog at ASweetLife.org on November 26, 2013. It’s hard to believe that I wrote it nearly five years ago, but with Thanksgiving occurring tomorrow, I thought it would be appropriate to revisit it since it captures my feelings about diabetes this time of year. Of course, life has changed quite a bit in the last five years, so I’ve made a couple amendments (below, italicized) to the original…

Each year around Thanksgiving, I think about the things that I am thankful for in life. Some obvious answers come to mind: my parents. My brother, my boyfriend, my dog. The fact that I am able to attend an amazing college. The roof over my head and the food on my plate. The list could go on and on. I’m sure most of my answers are unsurprising.

But is it weird that I’m thankful for diabetes, too?

Don’t get me wrong here. Oftentimes, I resent that I have to deal with the burden that is diabetes on a daily basis. I cry about it, I get angry about it, I curse about it. I wish that it didn’t impact me or my loved ones the way that it does. I’m all too aware, however, that I cannot change the role diabetes plays in my life. All I can do is accept it. When I did that and truly thought about what acceptance means, I began to think of why I might feel blessed in some bizarre way to have diabetes.

For starters, my diabetes has brought me closer to my family. My mom and I are able to relate to each other on a different level because of it. My dad and my brother show concern and unrelenting support for us that might not be the same if Mom and I did not have diabetes.

Sometimes, I think about how even though my diabetes seems to have a mind of its own, it adds a certain degree of control regarding some aspects of my daily life. It helps me get into a routine that is pretty static. It relies on what I choose to feed myself; in this way, it motivates me to make the right choices when it comes to my diet.

tgiving

And it has brought some amazing opportunities my way. Without diabetes, I would not have become president of the UMass Amherst chapter of the College Diabetes Network. I would not have discovered the Children with Diabetes: Friends for Life conference that I attended in Disney this past summer, where I made some awesome friends who keep in touch with me. And I certainly would not have begun blogging for ASweetLife.org. This experience itself has allowed me to get in touch with my feelings regarding diabetes to a greater extent. I have been able to explore my interests as an individual who loves to write. I have the pleasure of speaking with a wider variety of people within the diabetic community and hearing individual stories that I might not have ever heard.

I never would have guessed that a mere five years after writing this post, I’d be writing content for my very own diabetes blog. The creation of Hugging the Cactus is a huge diabetes-related accomplishment itself, but I’m reflecting on other diabetes changes I’ve experienced and how I’m thankful for them…so many come to mind. My OmniPod insulin pump, my improved A1c levels, new friendships formed…I’ve come a long way, and I’m grateful for every single positive experience that diabetes has brought into my life.

That’s why I’m seeing diabetes as something to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. I long for the day where diabetes is cured and I no longer have to think about it. But for now, I want to make the best out of something that could be perceived as the worst.

With all that said…enjoy your Thanksgiving holiday! No matter how you choose to celebrate it, remember that you are loved, you matter, and there’s people in your life who are endlessly thankful for your love and light.

An Incident I Won’t Forget

Low blood sugars are funny. Not ha-ha funny, but peculiar in how they affect me physically and mentally.

A few weeks ago, I had an experience with a particularly scary low. It frightened me so much that I’m only just getting around to writing about it now, because I needed some time to gather my thoughts on what happened.

I’ll set the scene: I was home alone. I had eaten a carb-heavy dinner and decided to do a 30-minute, high-intensity workout. This was definitely far from my best idea ever, because due to the high-carb intake, I had a lot of insulin on board. That, coupled with the exercise, meant that my blood sugar was bound to crash soon after completing the workout.

And it sure did.

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Falling rapidly.

I had just stepped out of the shower and wrapped myself in a towel when I began to feel it. That sudden wave of weakness, shakiness, and dizziness. I walked to my bedroom, grabbed all of my diabetes supplies and my cell phone from my purse, and sank down to the floor with everything in front of me. I knew it would be wise to just sit there for as long as I needed, because I was afraid to go down the stairs (and possibly fall down/hurt myself in the process) in that state.

I checked my CGM, which confirmed that I was dropping quickly. I stared at the screen, panic flooding throughout my body. It occurred to me that I should probably do a finger stick check to make sure I was really that low, so I did, and saw that I was 60 mg/dL.

 

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The scene of the incident.

Now, I’ve absolutely been lower than 60 before. It’s never a pleasant experience. But rather than using that as a comforting thought, I couldn’t help but dwell on how terrible I felt and how frightened I was to be home alone with at least four more units of insulin still working in my system.

All I could do was chew four glucose tablets, suspend my insulin delivery, and wait.

In that period of time, I was totally immobilized.

I’ll never forget how alone I felt, how out of control I felt.

I felt powerless against my diabetes. My own body.

I’ll never forget the fear that consumed me, that nearly prevented me from helping myself in this situation.

I’ll never forget texting my mother and my boyfriend, telling them what was happening, and expressing how scared I felt.

I’ll never forget bursting into tears when they didn’t reply quickly enough.

I’ll never forget turning to my T1D Twitter buddies for help by sending a tweet about what was happening, or how swiftly and comfortingly they responded to me.

And I’ll never forget how I let my mind drift as I wondered whether I’d be okay.

It sounds totally dramatic, especially for a low that, in the grand scheme of things, could’ve been much worse. I can admit that.

But I can also admit that this is one of the few times in my life that I felt truly terrified of my diabetes, and swept up in the fact that things can change so quickly with this condition that it can quite literally knock you off your feet.

Obviously, I recovered just fine that night. The glucose tablets did their trick and my low symptoms subsided. It took longer for me to calm myself down, to breathe normally, non-panicky breaths. At least my puppy was around to soothe me.

I was fine, I will be fine. But I won’t forget this incident, ever.

Hugging the Cactus is One Year Old!

October 2, 2017: The day that I hit the “publish” button and Hugging the Cactus went live.

I can’t believe it’s been one year (and one day) since this blog was officially born. So much has happened in my life in the last 365 days, both related and not related to my diabetes.

HTC Birthday

And this blog has gone through so many changes in that time span. From aesthetic to logistical, it’s been a (welcome) challenge to figure out the best way to write and run Hugging the Cactus. I’ve learned so many new things along the way and I continue to learn more on practically a daily basis.

Although I wish that diabetes wasn’t a part of my life – or anyone’s life – I’m grateful that I’ve mostly made peace with it after 20 years of living with it. Actually, scratch out the “living with it” and replace it with “thriving with it”. I used to think that was totally cheesy, but that phrase really does encapsulate what it’s like to be undeterred by diabetes.

I’m also grateful for you, the reader. There are times in which I question why I write this blog. Those times are fraught with self-doubt, writer’s block, and listlessness. But then someone reaches out to me – directly through the blog, via social media, or even in-person – and they offer support or let me know that my writing has resonated with them in some way. And that, right there, reminds me why I write this blog: to connect with others, to remind people in the diabetes community who deal with this isolating chronic illness that they’re not alone, and to raise general awareness of T1D. There are many people in this amazing tribe of ours who write better blogs, take prettier pictures, and impact a larger audience than I do, but like them, I’ve found my own voice that has allowed me to channel my experiences with diabetes in my unique, storytelling way. And I plan on continuing to do so for a long time to come.

So thank you, reader, for stopping by here three times a week and supporting my mission. I hope that you enjoy the next year’s worth of Hugging the Cactus. For now, let’s celebrate today by reminding ourselves that we’re more than our current blood sugar values or A1c levels. Celebrate by choosing to do more than just live: thrive.