“I never meant to make you cry, but tonight / I’m cleanin’ out my closet.” -Eminem

My apartment could easily get selected for a TLC special entitled Hoarders: The Diabetes Edition. I have mountains of old supplies stocked up just in case the apocalypse ever occurs and I for some reason need a 6-year-old infusion set for an insulin pump that I no longer utilize…  (Note: Proper medical guidance instructs never to use expired supplies.  I am in no way recommending that you do so.)

I have trouble discarding diabetes supplies because they represent my lifeline, even if they are expired.  The thought of running out of supplies freaks me out.  Temporary relief arrives when my mail order pharmacy prescriptions knock at my front door, providing life in predetermined 3-month packages per my insurance provider.  But what if I drop and shatter a vial of insulin accidentally?  I may need my fridge stockpile to get me through until my next order.  Most of us are privileged enough to obtain medication through various means, however much of a longwinded telephone loop-de-loop headache that process may render.  If we lived somewhere else or during some other time, we may not have been able to count these blessings.  My bedroom’s diabetes supply closet is a constant reminder of this privilege.

There are certain items that I can’t bring myself to throw out, but probably should.  I returned to multiple daily injections in December after going through the hardest time of my life- a period in which the only type of infusion set that would work with my body type just so happened to have a product defect in multiple lot numbers.  I spent a majority of my time on the couch chasing ketones and brainstorming with insulin pump company representatives and my medical providers as to how we could correct this problem.  I fought going back on shots tooth and nail, bitter that an infusion set component measuring only a few centimeters long could have such dire effects on my health when it was not functioning properly.

“My quality of life will be ruined on shots!” I exclaimed.

“Can you honestly tell me that you have much quality of life right now?  You’re on the couch with ketones every day fighting for your life,” my wise doctor replied.

And so I finally caved and returned to a Lantus and Humalog regimen.  It was rocky at first, but I am now enjoying my time (mostly) ketone-free.  The blood sugar management still has its ups and downs, an inherent trait of type one diabetes.  There are days when I miss the insulin pump’s fine-tuning aspects wholeheartedly.  I still glance down at my waist to check the time on my pump from time to time, only to discover that what was once such a major part of my life is not there any longer.

When I first transitioned off of the pump, my resentment was palpable. Screw you, pump! I’m moving on! This was a mental game in which I tried to convince myself that this was the right move.  A majority of modern day diabetics use pumps, and I felt crazy that this was not a viable option for me.  Yet time and time again, my infusion set changes proved that this was not working for me personally.

Subsequently, I grieved the pump’s loss under a mask of anger and sarcasm.  During some particularly emotional days, I still think it’s Halloween mask time.

Yet after this struggle, there remains a part of me that cannot bear to throw out the pump supplies.  They have defects, so I cannot donate them to charity for fear of putting someone else through ketone hell.  Instead, they crowd my coat closet by the front door, my bedroom closet from floor to ceiling, the space under my bed, and other spots below stacks of grad school books. I might need these supplies again one day, right? They are a lifeline to another time, another method of managing this jerk of a disease.

Perhaps I will try again.  Not yet.  But perhaps.  The pain is still too raw and we still have too much work to do on the shots before a new decision can be made.

I would be lying if I said that I am not still processing my frustration and disappointment in the entire faulty infusion set situation.  Heck, I’ve certainly blogged about it enough.  But I am more cognizant of the concept of forgiveness and enjoying the present moment now.  I saw firsthand how quickly health can change, what it feels like to watch yourself dwindle away into nothingness.  If it was not for determined doctors and nurses who believed me and did not give up, I may not still be here.  But I am here, so I need to make the most of this life.

Just in case I ever need the insulin pump collecting dust on a shelf, its infusion set and reservoir packages will decorate my room for now.  Whenever I move to a larger residence, I will box them up and put them in a storage closet, packed away neatly with the other memories of my life.  Out of sight, out of mind.

Honestly, though, whether insulin pump enthusiasts or shots supporters, we do not need bigger apartments with huge walk-in closets.

What we really need is a cure.

pump boxes

#NoFilter Coffee?

In my enthusiasm for the start of DBlog Week yesterday, I did not give a proper shout out to Karen Graffeo until the Comments section of my post.  I’d like to rectify that here.  This is my first DBlog Week, and I am absolutely loving the discovery of blogs that I did not know about beforehand, as well as hearing from my usual favorites.  How cool is this community?  Seriously.  It’s bursting with goodness this week.  I am sure that organizing DBlog Week involves tons of hard work on Karen’s part.  Not only that, but every time I go to comment on a post, I see that she has already left her words of wisdom behind!  What a great example of giving back to this powerful community.  Thank you, Karen!

Here’s my take on today’s theme, “Keep It To Yourself”:

Those of you who read my blog or follow me on Twitter already know that I wear my heart on my sleeve and I speak with #nofilter in the heat of the moment.  There are some things that I have been rather coy about, though.

When I first began blogging in September 2014, I vowed to be transparent, and I still uphold that promise.  Sometimes it makes me feel like I need to share everything, though.  Realistically, I can be honest and helpful in the diabetic online community without jeopardizing the privacy of those who have not necessarily signed up to be featured on a diabetes blog.

When I was in high school, I used to hide behind bathroom stall doors when taking insulin injections.  My classmates did not know that I was diabetic until the end of my freshman year. I built up my “diabetes coming out party” so much in my head that I turned it into a much bigger deal than it was in reality. Once I was cool with diabetes, everybody else was, too. For the sake of living my life with more ease and with more safeguards in place in case of an emergency, I eventually disclosed that I was diabetic. A weight was immediately lifted. No more hiding syringes in my coat pocket. No more making excuses about why I had to sit out for a few minutes at soccer practice while my blood sugar came up from a low. The rest is history. Now ya’ll can’t shut me up about diabetes, right?

We all come to terms with diabetes in our own unique ways. Some people may always choose to be private about diabetes. Others might spread the diabetes Gospel loud and proud. We are all individuals, and just because I am outspoken about my life with diabetes does not mean that it is the right path for someone else to follow.

  • I have a type one diabetic relative who I have alluded to at times.  For the sake of my relative’s privacy, I do not mention personally-identifiable details online.  While my relative is not necessarily shy about diabetes, I also do not feel that it is my place to tell my relative’s story. It is not my own story to tell. If/when my relative ever wants to get involved in the #doc, I will always support that choice. But ultimately that choice is up to my relative, not me.
  • I also hint at my employment duties at times, not necessarily because I have some big, fancy, secretive job, but more because in a selfish way the #doc for me represents a little cocoon in which I go to seek comfort and strength. If I mingle my professional life with the #doc, it loses that element of “everybody gets it here” that I have grown to love. This is not to say that diabetes and professional lives do not mix. Heck, there are plenty of #doc success stories to show that one’s passion can become a great job. This is just where I am here and now, and right now I need the unconditional support that I find in the #doc. No strings attached.
  • I have never named my personal doctors and nurses on my blog. They did not sign on the dotted line to become the heroes that I describe in my writing, so I do not give their identities away. They may be humble about what they do, for example. I try to respect those boundaries. This is not to say that I would not disclose that information in the right moments. If someone lived in my geographic area and thought that my personal doctor could help him/her, by all means I would ask my doctor’s permission to pass along contact information. The point is similar to what I noted above with my diabetic relative: I try my best to respect that perhaps others do not want the spotlight on them.
  • My tweets have also been vague regarding the topics of mental health and sexual/physical assault, also out of respect for friends near and dear to me who are some of the strongest people in the world. Just know that I support their advocacy causes wholeheartedly. Society is starting to turn the corner on stigma in these situations, but we still have a heck of a long way to go.

With the final point in mind, I invite you to foster a Coffee Convo with someone who may need it.

It is okay to have #nofilter. But sometimes we do not need to yell things from the rooftops to get the job done. We can respect others’ privacy and still show the world that we care. I kindly ask you and your coffee cup to do so.

I Can Because Someone Believed That I Could.

I was running late one day during junior year of high school and our Spanish teacher, Ms. K., questioned me in front of the class.

“Why were you late again, Ally?”

“Umm… we got out of Math late today.”

“Fair enough.  And who is your Math teacher?”

“Mrs. H.”

“Okay, I’ll chat with Mrs. H. later on today.”

Umm, what?!!  Well, there goes my great excuse!  Mrs. H. knows that we were not late today! 

As my classmates filed out into the hall at the conclusion of class, Ms. K. held me back, deciding to give me one more opportunity to come clean.

“Ally, why were you late?  For real.”

“I didn’t want to say it in front of the class, but I was having issues with my blood sugar,” I replied, staring at the floor.

“I’m so sorry.  I wasn’t thinking of that earlier.  Anytime you have to leave the classroom and do whatever you need to do- please just take care of yourself, okay?” Ms. K. responded, suddenly concerned.

“Okay.  I’m sorry again.”

When I tell that story to my coworkers, I usually tell it as a joke.  In my head I know full well that it is a rationalization: Hardy har har, see, diabetes comes in handy sometimes!

The truth of the matter is, being so far removed from that incident in high school, I’m not entirely sure what actually transpired when I look back now. My best guess is that diabetes became a convenient excuse when I saw that I was going to be disciplined; there was not a major diabetes emergency going on that made me late for class. In that case, I owe Ms. K. a coffee/beer with my apology the next time I see her.

At the same time, did diabetes sometimes make me late because I had to make an extra stop at my locker to check my blood sugar, or go to the bathroom when my blood sugar was too high, or scarf down a granola bar when I was low? Absolutely. The mature thing would have been to discuss this with my teachers beforehand so that they knew that I was trying my best. Alas, I was a dorky high school kid just trying to fit in.

You are in the driver’s seat of your life; diabetes is just the pesky younger sibling trying to hang out with the cool kids. Do not let diabetes be the excuse that gets you out of detention. If you mess up, take responsibility. But also recognize that diabetes does like to throw some wrenches into the mix of life, and you should be upfront with those who may need to understand. Tell your teacher or your boss if you are not feeling 110% one day and need to take a breather outside. I wish that I had fostered that discussion in hindsight.

In grad school I have been blessed with professors who have taken a keen interest in my academic development. I am open with them about diabetes because I am more comfortable in my own skin now compared to high school. On the particularly rough days with my insulin pump problems in the fall, my instructors showed me selfless compassion. They respected that no matter how sick I was, I was going to get my work done on time and do it well. (Something about stubborn Italian pride, right?) Yet on many occasions, they held me back after class- not to scold me for being late, but to make sure that I was okay. Every ounce of hard work that I put into my degree is a reflection of the confidence that my instructors hold in their students’ abilities.

I can.  You can.  We all can.

I can because academic instructors believed that I could- diabetes and all.  In the process, I started to believe, too.

gpa

“Shots, Shots, Shots, Shots! Everyyyybodyyy!!”

(Thank me later for getting that LMFAO classic stuck in your head.)

May 6 will mark six months since my return to multiple daily injections (MDI), or, as I like to say, “shots.”  Let’s call it like it is, people.  It’s sticking a needle in your arm, butt, back, stomach, leg many times per day to deliver life-sustaining medication.  It is not a cure, but it gives us life each day.

At a recent doctor’s appointment I proclaimed, “This rollercoaster isn’t working.  I need to return to the pump!”

To which my doctor countered, “And you told me the same thing about the pump before you went back on shots, Ally!”

I responded with a stunned face that only a googley-eyed emoticon can convey.  My doctor was right.  Diabetes is not as simple as insulin pump versus shots versus Afrezza versus whatever floats your boat.

If I have learned anything in the past six months, it is just how different everyone’s diabetes is and just how different our treatment methods may be- whether out of personal choice or simply out of necessity.  I’ll give another plug for Spare a Rose here: Most of us in the #doc are blessed to have any access to insulin, never mind the added bonus of having some flexibility in treatment options.

With that said, I know I seem like a broken record about the insulin pump.  I want to set things straight here once and for all, while providing an update about my shots journey for those who may be interested.

Insulin pumps, when functioning optimally, are amazing devices.  Going on the pump in high school opened up a whole new world to me.  My parents breathed a sigh of relief that I could enjoy being a dorky kid with a bit more freedom back then.  There are things that I miss immensely about insulin pumping: fine-tuning insulin doses, temporary basals, basal adjustments in one minute flat, carb-count/correction factor/insulin on board “wizards,” stability in blood sugar values on the good days.

If the pump works for you without many issues, all the more power to you. I want you to use whatever makes you feel healthy and happy- the same goals that I want for myself. In my rare case, going on shots had to serve that immediate interest in order to save my health. Do what works for you.

You can achieve a healthy lifestyle on shots, but it is more of a clunky, awkward sort of dance.  Once that Lantus is injected, it’s there for the day.  On Friday, my pancreas decided to rev up a notch (sarcasm), and for some odd reason I could not get my blood sugar to rise all day despite having taken the same dose of Lantus that I take every single day and hardly bolusing Humalog.  I force-fed myself almost all of the leftover Easter candy to no avail.  Good Lord did I miss the temp basal feature of the pump then! I longed for the personalized touches of modern technology that brick and mortar insulin injections simply do not afford.

I would ultimately like to ease into an “untethered” regimen of background Lantus in case of pump failures coupled with insulin pump usage again. However, this is quite complex, and we are not quite there with the shots yet. More details need to be worked out in terms of my basal and bolus plans. We are not settled into our comfort zone at this time, but we will get there.  For now, we are enjoying the fact that insulin is getting into my body without technological glitches causing ketones each day, a freedom that I will never take for granted again.

Many topnotch brainiac doctors have looked into my pump issues. We know that the product did not work for me personally. But we also know that a pump-centric solution has not yet been provided. Right now, we do not need to add another factor to the equation. We’ll give shots a shot (see what I did there?) for another few months, at least.

I find myself daydreaming about a cure so often now: the party on the tropical island with the entire #doc; the sugary drinks consumed without having to stop and bolus- whether that be via insulin pump or shots; the happy kind of tears.

As a child when that elusive diabetes cure was “ten years away” (cue inside diabetic joke laughter), my father used to tell us about the enormous cure party we would have. There would be a table in the middle of the front yard with a sledgehammer on it. We would smash my blood glucose meter, syringes, and other diabetes supplies into tiny pieces to signify victory over a vindictive disease.

The sentiment was well-intentioned, although today I must admit that I laugh a bit at that particular daydream. If I were cured tomorrow, all of those diabetes supplies would immediately be donated to people who needed them in the interim. The supplies have nobler uses than being crushed by a sledgehammer.

We should be thankful for the supplies that we have keeping us alive right now. If an insulin pump does its job for you, perfect. If Afrezza is your drug of choice, inhale away. If shots suit you better, go for it. However you choose to do so, just fight the good fight until there is a cure.

Please keep those cure daydreams alive by continuing to advocate so well. #weneedacure