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.

Capture
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.

16E24606-06FB-447B-90B5-BEF2FA19E4CA
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.

 

4219504D-CA13-4224-B5BA-9C90BB58F79D
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.

I Know, I Know: I Talk Too Much About Diabetes

Diabetes is never far from my thoughts.

I write a blog about it. I vent to family about it. I almost always casually mention it to new people that I meet.

I have multiple social media profiles dedicated to it. I own several t-shirts that identify me as a person with diabetes.

It’s the first thing I think about in the morning when I wake up, and the last thing I think about before I fall asleep at night.

And yet, sometimes people complain – jokingly and seriously – that I talk about it too much.

Of course I do! I totally own up to that fact. But think about it…

Doesn’t it make sense that I talk about it so much?

Untitled design
…but there’s a reason for it.

It affects the most mundane decisions that I make on a daily basis. It affects my mood. It affects my body. It affects the foods I consume. It affects what I carry in my purse each day and what I pack in my luggage on vacations. It affects my finances and my gym routine and the doctors I have to see.

If someone thinks I talk too much about my diabetes, then I’d like them to understand this:

Talking about diabetes spreads awareness and saves lives.

Bold, italicized, and underlined so the message and its significance is clear. Too many people in this world just don’t understand type 1 diabetes. They don’t realize how dangerous it can be, or how it is managed. In my personal experience, being open with others, answering their questions, and dispelling diabetes myths has resulted in nothing but positive outcomes.

It’s even helped people I know save a life, because they knew what to do when a T1D close to them was experiencing a hypoglycemic event.

All because I “talked too much” about diabetes.

With that in mind…you can bet that I won’t be shutting up about it any time soon.

Drinking and Diabetes: Lessons Learned in College

This post initially appeared on Beyond Type 1 on May 19, 2016. I wanted to republish it here because I will be exploring this topic further in November, which is National Diabetes Awareness Month. Stay tuned!

In September 2011, I started college at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. I’ll never forget the range of emotions I felt when my parents dropped me off: anxious, excited, anxious, scared, anxious, curious … and did I mention anxious?

A reason why I was so nervous was that going off to college represented my first true taste of independence. I would be a full 90 minutes away from my parents, who have acted as key teammates in my diabetes care and management over the years. It wasn’t like I was starting this academic and social pursuit freshly diagnosed; after all, I’ve had diabetes since I was 4 years old. Growing up with it made me accept it as my reality early in life, and I never really minded it. It started to become a worry, though, when I was hit with the realization that I had to immerse myself in an unfamiliar environment, away from my parents and healthcare team who knew me and my diabetes best. I wondered, “Can I do this?”

Fortunately, my schedule was so full, so quickly, that I barely had time to dwell on my concerns. I attended my classes, bonded with my roommate, established a diverse friend group, experienced the culinary offerings of the dining halls, stressed over homework assignments, and tried new group fitness classes at the gym, among other things. Best of all, my newfound friends didn’t seem to mind my diabetes at all — they asked me endless questions and thought nothing of it when I whipped my insulin pen out in the dining halls to bolus for meals. Establishing a routine helped with my diabetes management and before long, I started to feel more comfortable with this whole college thing … except for one aspect of it.

Alcohol: It’s a taboo concept in the diabetes world, but certainly not on college campuses. Before I left for college, my parents and I did talk about drinking and social pressures, but we didn’t have an in-depth discussion about diabetes and drinking. The main takeaway was a tacit understanding that safety should always be my number one priority.

Molly-Johannes_4-300x300
Diabetes won’t stop me from enjoying the occasional drink – I just need to imbibe carefully.

I’ll admit that among the various other activities I participated in freshman year, an occasional party at which alcohol was present was part of the gamut. One particular party stands out in my memory because it taught me, more than words from my parents or my endocrinologist could, just how important safety is when it comes to drinking and diabetes.

I ventured to an off-campus party with a group of friends one Saturday night. It was a stereotypical college party: loud music, lots of people, long lines to use the one bathroom in the house. For the first couple of hours that we were there, we were having a great time meeting new people and drinking a bit. As I was sipping on my beverage, I helped myself to some of the tortilla chips, the communal appetizer laid out for party-goers (clearly, no expenses were spared for this shindig!).

I was stupid and didn’t monitor how many chips I was eating or how much I was drinking. Instinct told me to test my blood sugar and I discovered that I was high—much higher than I anticipated. I started rifling through my purse for my Humalog pen when it hit me that I never packed it.

This story could have ended much differently, but I’m happy to say that I was just fine by the end of the night. I told my friends what was happening. Instead of expressing disappointment over leaving the party, they were super understanding and insisted on escorting me home to make sure I could get my medication. Before long, I was back in my dorm and administering insulin. Once I started to come down, I went to bed and woke up at a normal blood sugar the next morning.

What exactly did I learn about drinking and diabetes that night? A few important things:

  • Always have all of my supplies with me when I go out and indulge in a drink or two. This means I would triple-check, from that point onward, to make sure I had my meter, insulin, test strips, glucose tablets and everything else I might possibly need.
  • Check my blood sugar before, during and after drinking to maintain healthy levels.
  • Set an alarm or two before bed so I can wake up and check my blood sugar.
  • Go out with a supportive group of friends — even though I was panicking that night over my hyperglycemic blood sugar, I felt comforted by my friends’ presence and support.
  • Refuse drinks if I don’t want them. I’ve never felt pressured to drink, even when everyone else around me is. As long as I’m having fun, my choice to not drink doesn’t matter.
  • Research carbohydrate content of alcohol so I know how to account for different drinks. I also have done my homework, so I know that different alcohols affect my blood sugar at different rates, if at all.
  • Avoid sugary drinks. They’re often not worth it, and it’s easy for me to replace certain mixers with diet or sugar-free drinks.

I learned a major lesson that night. Since then, drinking has become an occasional social activity for me that I no longer fear due to my preparedness and openness on the subject. I understand that drinking and diabetes sounds scary and forbidden, but this is why it’s important to talk about. Discussing it with family, friends, and your healthcare team can help you feel reassured over how to handle it. Now, I can confidently raise a glass of dark beer or red wine (my personal favorites), knowing I can enjoy a drink safely despite my diabetes.

Memory Monday: That Time I was Bullied for Having T1D

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…

…when my alleged “best friend” picked on me for having diabetes. It sucked.

Let me recount this tale by saying first that this was many years ago – I think it was in third or fourth grade. Since my grade school days, I’ve made much smarter choices when it comes to my social circles.

But back then, I didn’t really know any better. I just wanted to be friendly with everyone.

I digress…

Back in elementary school, we were awarded fitness “medals” for being able to complete a series of exercises in physical education. These medals were really just flimsy little patches that you could sew on to a backpack, but nevertheless, I wanted one very badly. But no matter how hard I tried in gym, I just couldn’t complete as many reps as it took to earn a medal. I was always just shy of the threshold, much to my frustration.

I’ll never forget when my “best friend” told me that there was a very obvious reason as to why I couldn’t, and would never, earn a medal:

It’s because she has diabetes, she can’t do anything right with that!

In that moment in time, I was too dumbstruck by the stupidity of that comment to tell her that she was wrong. I was also incredibly hurt by her words, and they haunted me for many years after they were so callously said to my face.

IMG_3978
My Lilly medal means more to me now than a stupid grade-school medal ever could.

Now, as an adult reflecting on it, I wish I had told her that diabetes could never stop me from doing anything. I wish I told her that she was in the wrong for saying what she said, and I wish that she could see all that I’ve accomplished over the years in spite of my diabetes.

But most of all? I wish I could thank her for that comment – because as mean as it was, it gave me something to think about on the days when I just want to quit because of diabetes. Her words serve as a reminder to me that I can and will succeed at anything I set my mind to, diabetes and all.