Without fail, every summer night when I go outside to get in my car, a few yellow spiders are hanging out on the hood and roof. When I approach, they look at me as if I am interrupting their block party. After catapulting myself into the driver’s seat a la Angelina Jolie in Tomb Raider, I give myself the “spider pep talk.”
“Ally, you are better than this. It’s one moment in time. Try to forget about them and get on with your life.”
If only the “take your insulin” pep talk was that easy…
Every type 1 diabetic understands the rocky relationship that we entertain with insulin. We can’t live without it, but sometimes living with it makes the act of living really, really difficult. Like the times when it almost kills us at 3:34 am with a blood glucose reading of 45 mg/dL when we inadvertently over-calculate the spike effect of pizza for dinner by bolusing heavily. Or the times when we hit a bad pump site at insertion and the cannula kinks and suddenly we want to drink water out of a fire hydrant like dogs do in 1960s cartoons. Those times, and any other times that insulin doesn’t work perfectly. Which is almost every time. Because. insulin. does. not. replace. a. normally. functioning. pancreas!!!! As we have all heard many times before, insulin sustains life, but it is not a cure for diabetes.
I will delve further into my own struggles with insulin as we progress in our blogger-bloggee courtship, but for now just know this: I sincerely appreciate the discovery of insulin and how much diabetes technology has changed over the course of my 23 out of 26 years of life spent as a type 1 diabetic. Every time I go to Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston, I look at the murals on the walls in the lower level of the building which depict some of the history of insulin, and I am so thankful to be a diabetic “now” as opposed to “then.” But I also fear and respect this life-saving commodity for the abusive lover that it sometimes is to all of us. I have a tendency to “under-bolus” because of the trauma that over-bolusing has caused in the past. Whew- the hardest step is admitting that you have a problem, right?
We are stuck in an ongoing oxymoron of sorts. We can’t take too little insulin or our sugar will be high; we can’t take too much insulin or our sugar will be low. And many of us grew up with the dreaded lecture from (insert whoever is applicable for you) ____________ (doctor, parent, school nurse, etc.) if we did not perform flawless algebra to compute the correct “insulin to carb to exercise to stress to illness to social life” ratios every time we took insulin.
But you know what? Once I admitted that the problem was there, a doctor looked me in the eye and told me that it was okay. Hers was not a lecture of blame. She told me that I could forgive myself, that I did not have to spend the rest of my days in self-imposed “diabetic timeout.” She told me that it was normal to be frustrated, that trying to play the role of a perfect pancreas every day was “not a good look” because it was essentially bullying myself, giving myself that loathsome lecture that I never really deserved in the first place. But why give yourself that negative commentary when you fully understand that diabetes is not so cut and dry? You are not an outsider to the disease, so do not treat yourself like you are.
I understand that I have the tools to do this, to improve and maintain my health. Not carrying “survivor’s guilt” of sorts is difficult for all of us who put in 110% effort every day only to have diabetes knock us on our asses with a herculean effort when we least expect it. What truly matters is that we have already entered the boxing ring. We have given ourselves the “insulin pep talk.” We have calculated the carbs in the 5 crackers that we snacked on and pressed a few buttons on our insulin pumps to account for them. And if we forgot to do so, or if we mistakenly took half a unit of Humalog less than what we should have taken to achieve an ideal blood sugar goal, so be it. We have tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day.
And we keep showing up at the boxing ring ready for a fight, which is more than most people can say…