Sleuthing

This week I exhaled and sent an email to my doctor, the opening line reading, “Today was so hard.”

It is unlike me to show that much vulnerability upfront, but I was exhausted. And, if I am being totally honest, the past few months have been so hard.

Please trust me that this is more than the typical “diabetes rollercoaster” term used to describe the highs and the lows inherent to living with diabetes. Heck, it has been the diabetes “Tower of Terror.” Blood sugars were thrown into the spiraling abyss of lows in early 2016, only to ricochet back up into the stratosphere, seemingly unscathed by my defensive insulin jousts this spring.

For most of my life, I have known this truth: There is a “great unknown” affecting my diabetes. As a young child, I would be fine one minute, building couch cushion forts with my siblings, and the next minute I would be covered head-to-toe in a rash.

I recall being about eight years old and lifting my shirt to see large, circular patterns of hives all over my abdomen. My limited reference point at that time was the worst case scenario discussed in Catholic grammar school. This was clearly modern day leprosy in a suburb north of Boston! I tipped my head back and screamed at the top of my lungs.

Mom reassured me that although hives are unpleasant, I was not dying. This outbreak was no match for an Aveeno oatmeal bath. Do they still sell that stuff?! Magic!

I developed blistering rashes on my hands and fingers, an itchy-then-painful contact reaction. Contact with what? We still do not know. Anything and everything could be the trigger. As an adult, this occurs less frequently, but still happens from time to time.

There are other vague symptoms much like those described in this articulate New Yorker piece: low-grade fevers, allergies, stuffy nose, scratchy throat- that general sense of feeling run down but not sure exactly what is wrong. All of these factors send my blood sugar (and ketones) soaring, due to the obvious biological response to inflammation/bodily threats.

While you may be reading this and thinking, “So what?,” I assure you that I have spent years asking the same. In acute instances, this stuff seems trivial. But long-term, the sum of the symptoms is messing with my overall health. I have worked so hard to rewrite my diabetes management with multiple daily injections, to push the limits of my anxiety and to experience more freedom as a result, and to play by the diabetes “rules”.  Therefore, I will not allow this undefined immuno-gobbledygook to strip me of my health and dignity.

Because no doctor has time in a half hour appointment slot to put all of these puzzle pieces together, the puzzle has laid strewn across the table, unfinished, for decades now. Perhaps it is seeing the CGM graphs with more yellow (“high”) than I would like to publicly admit, perhaps it is the struggle to get through adult responsibilities each day when feeling like a fatigued zombie, or perhaps now is simply the right time.

Whatever it is, I am ready to connect the dots, with the help of a qualified healthcare team. We will become the Sleuths of 2016, our magnifying glasses polished to uncover clues along the way. Inspector Gadget and Harriet the Spy will have nothing on Boston physicians- I guarantee it!

In a few weeks, I will attend my first appointment with a renowned immunologist at a Boston hospital. The receptionist forewarned me that an allergy scratch test is imminent, and friends in the autoimmune world recounted lots of blood draws. Although my symptoms may not meet a diagnosis standard, they still exist. While my hope is that the doctor’s investigatory work rule outs any major problem, I also fear not having a real answer. Actually, I mostly fear not having a course of action.

Best case scenario: It’s not modern day leprosy, I’ll live, and this is how we’re going to treat this immuno-gobbledygook so that it no longer wreaks havoc on my blood sugar. The End. Happily ever after. Puzzle fully pieced together into a picturesque Thomas Kinkade image.

Then I will send my doctor an email, the opening line reading: “Today was so good!”

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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.

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24. P.S. I Forgive You

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You have been a part of me for 24 years– which is 8,760 days- you selfish, conniving, jerk.

You have pierced my skin over 160,000 times.

On occasion, you have damaged my kidneys and my psyche, my relationships and my view of the world.

They were freak events- both my diagnosis and the insulin pump product defects that plagued me in my twenty-third year of dealing with your crap- but they happened to me, a living, breathing human being who did nothing to ever deserve that amount of suffering.

None of us did.

Today I am not mad at you, though.  I have spent enough time asking “Why?” to know that you don’t care why.  You just do as you do, whatever your flavor of the week is.  Sometimes the stars align and I get my insulin doses right for a day.  Other times, I go to bed frustrated with myself that I didn’t do better, although I know rationally that most of this is not that simple.

I want you to know, however, that there are things that you have not taken from me in 24 years of being an unwelcome guest dwelling in my body.  Through your efforts at taking, you have actually given me things: perspective, friends, academic opportunities, a passion for helping others, the therapies of writing and talking.  There is some reason for all of this, and many times I have known that God- and God-sent people- were the ones who got me through.

Why did I survive a disorienting and quickly-declining 46 mg/dL blood sugar value in my twenty-third year as a type one diabetic?  Frankly, without Dexcom CGM, I wouldn’t have survived, so that’s why.

Why do I read Facebook posts about children with diabetes, fighting back tears as their Moms and Dads document their struggles?  Because I know that these kids will grow up to be kinder, smarter, and more considerate for having gone through it.  And if we have to go through it, we might as well turn out as the type of people everyone would want to have as friends.  We might as well turn the bad into as much good as we can.

Why- as I sat in a waiting room in Boston, the sickest I had ever been with persistently high blood sugar that would not budge no matter what we did, scared and alone- did a doctor sit next to me quietly?  Why did she urge me to receive her treatment after I had run from it months earlier?  Why was she so confident that we could do this?

Why was she right?

We are doing this, and we’re going to continue to do this- to fight back, to live well.    

Why am I blessed when there are thousands of people all over the globe who may not have proper access to insulin and medical professionals?  I don’t know why, but I am cognizant of this idea today, especially.

Now, in my almost twenty-seventh year of existence, I have reached marker number twenty-four with type one diabetes.  It has not been easy, but it has been… something.  Some people never have this chance.  Some people are not diagnosed in time.  Some people die waiting for life-sustaining medication.

“Some people” are people who have feelings and families, and who could have bright futures, too.  Spare a Rose, Save a Child / Life for a Child get it right; those of us who are fortunate enough to have access to insulin can pay it forward with a few clicks of a mouse and a few dollars donated.

At least for today, diabetes, I want you to know that I forgive you.  I haven’t had it as hard as some.  In fact, I can count my blessings because of the perspective that you have given me.  There will be many more times that I will scream my lungs out in frustration with your stupid games.  But if I don’t forgive you right now, I will live however many more diaversaries there may be with a sense of embitterment at the life that I could have had without you in it.

Instead, today I recognize that living despite having you along for the ride is a gift in and of itself.  Please know that I am going to make the most of that life.  Thanks for reminding me to do so.

Broken Record.

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Disclaimer: Before we really dive into things, you should know that this is a lengthy post, and it may not be all rainbows and sunshine.  Read at your own risk.  I personally hope that you are feeling a bit adventurous as a reader today, though. 🙂 

When my mother was in second grade, she was running through the auditorium and accidentally dropped her Bambi record on the ground.  It shattered into tiny pieces, and the janitor swept them up and gave them to her in a plastic bag.  She walked home sobbing and was heartbroken when gluing the pieces back together did not make the record work again.

If I told that story to a child today, she would laugh in my face and say that my Mom should have used an IPod instead.  Fair enough…

Well, I have become a broken record myself.  I know it and everyone else knows it.  I don’t even want the attention.  I just want the simple act of screaming my lungs out when I’m angry, and it usually comes disguised as some sort of social media rant about stupid drivers on the way to work or something else that is irrelevant.  I have lost friends over it, and I say this to my doctor all the time: Although diabetes is to blame for many bad moods, at the end of the day, I still have to answer to God and to the people in my life.  Diabetes isn’t a good excuse, then.  I can still be a respectful human being despite diabetes-induced mood swings and frustrations, and I need to work on this. I’m trying, which has to count for something.

But it is also very difficult to describe to people what stubbornly high blood sugars feel like and what a physical and emotional ass-kicking it is when nothing you do works to solve the problem. This is my reality on many days, and I imagine some of you reading this understand exactly what I mean. I hate to say that this type of suffering has changed me, but in some ways, it has. I am always on edge about how I will prevent and treat these highs, and I don’t remember the last time I just let my guard down and enjoyed the moment- probably because I was nursing a high blood sugar back to health in the background of that moment, with everyone around me remaining oblivious.

Many people have “yessed” me to death in regards to my insulin pump struggles, including family members. “Are you really just going to say ‘I know’?!” I scream on the phone with Mom. I get upset with this response, but I also understand it from a psychological perspective. There is really not much that others can do to help. They are not the ones up all night changing pump sites any more. They do not have to go to work exhausted and seeing spots because of high blood glucose. As much as they try to “get it,” they can’t completely comprehend what it feels like.

Some others have told me to toughen up or that it’s in my head, including fellow diabetics. I have a much more difficult time swallowing humble pie at that point. That advice adds nothing to the equation; it is the same as telling a depressed person to simply be happy. If life were this easy, there would be no depressed people, and there would be no sick diabetics. This is a “cop out” sort of commentary. It is much more beneficial to the friends, patients, coworkers- whoever is struggling- if we assure them that we believe them and that we are hopeful that they will find solutions. Dumbing down the problem by dismissing it as “it’s in your head” only angers that person. And guess what? It’s probably not in his or her head, especially if the person involved is a type 1 diabetic. We know our bodies better than most people do, and we know when something is awry. If you are a type 1 diabetic who has been lucky enough to avoid insulin pump problems, well, please cut us some slack that we have not been as fortunate.

Anyway, this is the blog post that I’ve owed you all.  I am BEYOND frustrated.  Forgive the length of this post, but I have to get all of the information out there. Bear with me while I go over the details, and then I really, truly need your expert advice, especially before I meet with a pump representative and my nurse for a troubleshooting appointment in two weeks.  I pinky promise that if I can ever help you in return, I will do whatever I can to pay it back, or to pay it forward. If you’re participating in the DOC, then I already know that you’re an expert, so please, please chime in here if you can help.

I am 26 now, and I went on a Medtronic MiniMed insulin pump about ten years ago while in high school.  It immediately changed my life for the better.  No more shooting up insulin doses in the bathroom stalls, no more limiting my food intake, and so much more freedom.  As my nurse would say, I had “virgin skin” that had never been pierced by insulin pump sites, and my absorption was great.  Once in a blue moon I would experience a technical issue, but this happened twice a year or so.  (I understand that an insulin pump is technology and it is not perfect.  Although if I could go back in time, I would erase the failed pump site on the one day of my life where I decided to try an iced mocha sugary drink thingy from Dunkin’ Donuts…).

Anyway, while in college, after my body experienced some wear and tear from the pump, I started to have site issues more frequently. On my twentieth birthday, I indulged in a pizza dinner with friends and had some ice cream for dessert, only to discover a bent cannula afterwards and a blood glucose reading of over 500 mg/dL. It’s my party, and I’ll cry if I want to. I also experienced some severe lows in which the whole world felt like it was falling down around me.  I was spooked- by the highs and the lows.  I had to figure out a way to stay between the lines- not too high and not too low- easier said than done with type 1 diabetes, as we all know.

According to my doctor, I literally experienced trauma from the “extremes,” the severe highs and the severe lows. This mental trauma has changed my reactions to things, has made me live a hypervigilant life in order to survive.  My brain was in fight or flight mode when these adverse situations happened in college.  I flew away from carbs.  If I ever have a kinked cannula again, at least I won’t make the mistake of eating pizza on top of it (as if anyone knows when they have a kinked cannula). If I eat salad and protein instead, maybe my sugar will be 300 instead of 500 if that happens.  And so I lived, for many years.  Until my body started to scream that it needed fuel, and it burned fat in place of carbs, and I saw ketones quite often.

I still struggle with working an adequate amount of carbs into my daily diet and with taking a more liberal amount of insulin, but I am trying. I have a phenomenal doctor who doesn’t make me feel stupid about my fears.  In fact, she makes me feel brave for showing up at her office to fight those fears.  There are some days where we are literally high-fiving and prancing around the room because I ate a half of a sandwich when my sugar was already 250 and I took quadruple the amount of insulin that I would normally take, which is usually still not enough.  But it is one giant leap for Ally of Very Light, No Sugar, so we celebrate those moments heartily.

What is making this process even more complicated is the fact that the majority of the time, I experience some sort of problem with my insulin pump and we cannot trust in the delivery mechanism for insulin. So, not only am I petrified of highs and lows, but I am constantly questioning whether the pump works or not.

I want to go on the record and say that I really like Medtronic MiniMed as a company. In my ten years of experience with them, the customer service has been top-notch.  If I need a supply, it is at my door within a day or less of placing a phone call.  Their phone representatives yield calls at all crazy hours of the night.  Their PR team does a great job of answering questions.  Angie, in management, has spent hours on the phone helping me investigate my pump issues.  I will not forget how she moved me to tears with a simple question a few weeks ago: “If you’re putting the pump site in your back, and you’re already on the thin side… well, doesn’t that hurt you…?”  Um, yes.  That part of it gets lost in the shuffle when you just want to absorb the medicine going into you, but the human connection was there.  She was clearly upset that I was in pain.  As was the Medtronic representative at my diabetes clinic who helped me with various sites last year and was a wealth of knowledge regarding all aspects of insulin pumping.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Medtronic doesn’t like bad pump days just like I don’t like them.  We are all in this for the greater good of living well with diabetes.  Alas, we have to fix these issues, for the sake of my health and for the sake of current and future insulin pumpers who may experience similar issues.

Anyway, I started off with the Quick Set infusion sets years ago, but had to switch off of them due to kinking cannulas. The Silhouettes, which have a larger cannula, worked slightly better, but my sites were so irritated that a nurse, upon seeing a picture of one site in my phone, in no uncertain terms told me that I was never to use them again.  I was allergic to some of the material, making absorption of insulin questionable due to the agitated areas.

The Sure T site, which uses a stainless steel needle that inserts into the skin and looks like a thumb tack, has been useful in that it has cut out the kinked cannula problem. Because the needle stays under your skin and you need to be able to disconnect the pump for various activities like showering, there are two attachments to the Sure T.  See photo above; disregard “love handles,” please.  One long tube connects to the reservoir in the pump.  There is a small needle at the end of this tube.  This small needle clips into a connector site, which is attached to a smaller tube running down to the needle under the skin.  To remove the pump, you detach at the main connector site.  I have had a few bizarre occurrences where the sites were snapped together but insulin was pooling at the connection instead of going through the smaller tube and into my body through the needle, causing me to spike high ketones.  Medtronic promptly replaced all of those lot numbers for me and is investigating the issue.

I am also relatively thin, so it is hard to find areas with enough fat for the sites. I never used to experience much pain with site changes, but now I feel significant shooting pains, sometimes lasting for days and making me nauseous.  My health care team has retired my stomach for sites to give it time to heal.  I sometimes use my sides and have experimented with the lower back but have not had great results so far.  Upper butt works okay but tends to be quite painful.

I feel like I have seen the whole spectrum: from pain-free, easy site changes years ago to painful, troublesome sites in recent times. I know that I am not crazy, that I am experiencing problems that are really disrupting my quality of life.  With each bad site change, I am often on the couch chasing ketones away all day and taking manual injections on top of changing out problematic pump sites.  It is no way to spend one’s mid-twenties on a weekly basis, and I want this to change so desperately that I am willing to try pretty much anything.

I would like to continue pumping because of the fine-tuning that the pump allows. I can take my mini-bolus at the beginning of dinner and bolus more ten minutes later if I go back for seconds.  I can tweak my overnight basal rates, etc.  While I do not remember seeing ketones often with multiple daily injections (MDIs), I do not like the thought that once that insulin is in you, it’s there for the day.  And if you need to bolus, it is a bigger deal to get the dose right on the first try so that you do not have to take more shots later on.  Socially, it is simpler for me to press a few buttons on a pump while in grad class late at night than it is to go to the bathroom to take a shot.

My final issue is not with the pump itself, but with the insulin. I have used a pump for years; there are usually a few pesky bubbles which can be flicked away and forgotten about.  But lately, it’s like the insulin is feisty before it even gets inside the reservoir.  See photo above.  Millions of tiny bubbles shoot around my Humalog bottle.  I have tried new orders of Humalog, attempted using different bottles, etc.  Nothing changes the presence of these bubbles.  When I fill the reservoir, I flick out the big bubbles, but usually a few tiny culprits hang out by the top of the reservoir and refuse to move.  Over time, they expand, blocking proper insulin delivery or causing some air, instead of insulin, to be delivered.  My sugars will run high for hours until I figure out the issue.  I recently gave Novolog a try, but the first two attempts yielded big bubbles as well and my sugars were high for days.  It is as if the bubbles compromise the efficacy of the insulin, and it is so not cool.

As noted earlier, I am meeting with my nurse and a Medtronic representative in a few weeks to go over all of this and to walk through the process with them to see if we can identify the issues. In the meantime, I ask for your prayers and your advice.  Some of you have reached out to me about the bubbles and you have made me feel so much better in knowing that I am not a lunatic, although I truly wish that none of us had to suffer through these circumstances.  A lot of times people are quick to blame the user.  Maybe there is user error?  If so, I’m willing to admit it and move on.  I just want to feel healthy again and to regain the quality of life that the pump originally afforded to me.

I apologize for the broken record-ness, but I am fighting for my health here.  It is disheartening when you are making big strides in your diabetes management to tackle your fears, yet something as simple as a few air bubbles is wreaking havoc on your control.  I am incredibly concerned about the toll that this is taking on me physically and mentally, and about the burden it is placing on my family and friends who want to help but don’t know how.  Perhaps you hold the answer, DOC.  In fact, I’m sure you do.  What works for you?

Very Light, with Sugar?!

It’s been a while, but it happened again.  And it possibly occurred twice this week.  No, I didn’t eat cheese and crackers for dinner; that happened thrice, not twice.  I kid you not- there was sugar in my coffee on two possible occasions.

The first incident was Thursday evening on my way to grad class after work.  My routine did not stray from the norm: leave work with five minutes to spare, race to class by pretending that I drive a Ferrari instead of a very dinged up Nissan, and stop at the drive-thru for coffee before screeching into campus.  I honestly think the cream was bad; I drink this coffee twice a week for class nights and it never tastes like this.  But it was… sweet.  And alas, so was my blood glucose that evening.  I hovered at 220 mg/dL, not ideal considering that class is three hours long and I prefer to go into it without the furrowed brow look of an anxious diabetic.

I sipped the coffee cautiously.  Caffeine is the grad student version of crack cocaine.  Sure, consuming boatloads of coffee each day probably isn’t the healthiest option ever, but neither is snoring in an eight-person class.  I need that caffeine, if simply for the placebo effect of feeling that I am awake and ready to participate in the discussion.

With each sip my taste buds perked up a bit.  Maybe the coffee shop girl misunderstood me and put in a flavor shot instead of the one shot of cream I requested?  But what if it’s just that the cream is a little sour (not a big deal if it keeps me awake for class) and I end up bolusing for carbs that in reality do not exist in the coffee?  What if I have to leave class early?  It’s such a small class; I can’t just slip out unnoticed.  My mind was set on “rapid-fire mode,” shooting off a million and one scenarios of diabetic “what ifs.”

In the classroom I compromised with myself.  That last sip was sweet, Ally.  It’s really not worth the problems for a little caffeine.  Buy a Diet Pepsi at the break and get on with your night.  In a stubborn preschooler sort of way, I was annoyed.  I WANT THE DAMN COFFEE!!!  But my mind’s internal lecture won by rationality in that moment.  Deep breath, moving on…

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I wish so badly that mainstream society could spend a few moments inside of our minds when they are like that.  Each person has his or her own personal problems.  I have diabetes, but I am blessed to have a secure job that pays the bills each month.  Some people may not be so lucky in that regard.  I do not mean to downplay others’ struggles here.  But I do intend to showcase just how much of a mental battle diabetes poses.  Such a simple gesture- sipping on a coffee that perhaps has a spoonful of sugar in it, or perhaps not?- is a diabetic guessing game that can have dire consequences.  The average human being consumes coffee loaded with sugar quite frequently without any further thought than to enjoy the savory flavor.  As diabetics, our options are limited: Take too much insulin, and hypoglycemia appears.  Take too little insulin, and your blood sugar skyrockets, leaving you with a gigantic headache while grappling with a graduate level psychology course that is already a lot of material to digest without any added wrenches thrown into the mix.

I opted for the easiest way out: do not take any more insulin and throw out the coffee.  Figuratively, I do this quite often in life.  It is easier to turn down the sugary shot of alcohol when friends buy a round of drinks for the table than it is to chase high blood sugars all evening.  I am not much of a risk-taker when it comes to calculating insulin doses; I would rather stick to what works, or mostly works.  That is just my way, and who is to say if it is right or wrong?  Chances are it is neither.

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On Saturday, I ordered my usual small iced coffee, took a large swig, and immediately spit it back through the straw.  Sugar!!!  This time it was definitive.  You would have thought that I swallowed rat poison by my reaction.  I waved frantically at the drive up window until a bored high school aged employee asked what was wrong.  I restated my order and he begrudgingly went off to make a new coffee.  Take two, mission accomplished.

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I can’t wait for the day when we are cured and we do not have to be intimidated by an accidental addition of sugar in our coffee.  Until then, I will continue my emphatic “very light, no sugar” order at the local coffee shops.  I also pledge to stop and think from time to time of how lucky I am to be able to take a deep breath and to refill my lungs, organs of mine that work well, with fresh air.  Those with cystic fibrosis or lung cancer may not know that feeling anymore.  If any non-diabetics stumble upon this post and read this, I hope that tomorrow when they drink their coffee they take a moment to remember what a blessing it is to enjoy food and drink each day without a second thought.  Life is not always easy, for any of us, for various reasons.  Let’s try to be a bit more understanding of each other.  Walk a mile in one another’s shoes- rather, enjoy a very light, no sugar coffee on me…

#FreeDiabetics

I love this movement because it is short and sweet (pun intended).

Check them out at:   https://www.facebook.com/freediabeticsmovement   and   @freediabetics_

We live in a world very much capable of finding a cure for diabetes, but it will take lots of prayers, research, financing, and determination.  Until then, diabetics are imprisoned in a state of constant vigilance regarding high and low blood sugars.  There is no parole when it comes to type one diabetes.  #weneedacure

FreeDiabetics3

Side Note: Very Light, No Sugar suggests looking at Faustman Lab at Massachusetts General Hospital and donating whatever you can- even the $2.00 that you would normally spend on your morning coffee- to help us to one day rid the world of diabetes.

http://www.faustmanlab.org/

Don’t Cry?

As type one diabetics- many of us diagnosed as children- we learned from a young age to be tough.  Grown adults cried like sissies getting their flu shots at the health clinic while we stood still with stoic faces.  One of my strongest memories is of my first endocrinologist’s office. I had just turned three years old and was getting accustomed to insulin injections and finger pricks. This particular office in the Worcester, MA, area performed A1C tests by drawing blood from their subjects’ arms with syringes and then sending the samples off to the lab. Pretty caveman-like if you ask me…

Well, I was three years old and a few nurses were pinning me down to stab me with a long needle. Naturally, I cried. We went back to that office a few more times. I can still visualize the indoor playground they once had in their waiting room, until someone became fearful of liability and it was removed. My mother tried to comfort me, telling me to be strong. “Try not to cry,” she said. What else could she really say? I was going to get shots for the rest of my life, so the sooner I learned not to fight this concept, the better for all of us.

At the next appointment, I bit my bottom lip and braced myself for the impact of the syringe in my tiny arm. I didn’t cry my usual amount, but I whimpered a bit.

“I didn’t cry!” I proclaimed as we walked through the parking lot afterwards.

“You didn’t…?” Mom asked.

She was not trying to come off as cold, but was rather incredulous at how my young mind had just rationalized away all of the tears flooding the examination room a few minutes earlier.

I had the three-year-old version of an “Ah ha” moment, in which I realized that okay, I had cried. But I wasn’t going to cry anymore. I resigned myself to this fact, and at the next appointment I did not cry. I had accepted my fate in some small way; shots were here to stay.

Shortly thereafter my parents took me to the renowned Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston, a decision partially prompted by the fact that their A1C tests were performed with simple finger pricks as opposed to modern-day torture tactics. Over two decades later, I am still a Joslin girl. And I still fight back my tears sometimes, but I am slowly learning that it can be healthy to let them out once in a while, too. There is certain strength in vulnerability, in showing that you hurt emotionally and/or physically but that you are going to get through that pain.

I cannot speak for every type one diabetic out there, but I would venture to guess that some of you have difficulties letting your guard down at times, too. How can we complain about a head cold when we have endured thousands and thousands of injections over the years? I can’t believe my boyfriend is upset that he lost his football game! Seriously?!!  But the reality is that these are human emotions and normal trials and tribulations of life, even if these situations are not a life or death fight as diabetes sometimes can be. It is more natural to express what you are feeling than to avert your eyes to the ground while feverishly blinking back tears. Trust me, I have been there, done that, and many times at that rate.

I see today that my mentality of always being strong was a survival tactic yet a detriment all at once. Some days I have a quick temper because it is easier to be angry than to acknowledge being scared or defeated.  I am my own worst enemy when it comes to epic PMS-y Facebook rants, but this is an excuse.  Sure, we were dealt very frustrating hands by being diagnosed with diabetes.  The general public misunderstands the constant battles we endure.  We rarely get a break from the burdens of this disease.

But at the same time, if I cut the BS and allow myself to say, “Okay, your blood sugar is high and you’re afraid of the long-term damage this could do to your body, and you’re tired from being up all night responding to Dexcom alarms, and you’re stressed with ‘normal people’ factors like work and grad school,” then yeah, I am a human being. It is okay to cry.  It is okay to be fearful.  It is okay to feel, to admit that sometimes pump site and CGM changes hurt like hell even though you told yourself that the pain was the least of your problems years ago.

And I said that yesterday, too. To which my doctor replied, “But it’s not the least of your problems if you’re shooting a pump site into muscle because you have no ‘real estate’ left that is free of scar tissue.”  Fair enough, and directly to the point.  She is right.  Acknowledge that it is a big deal, Ally.

Sometimes crying makes one braver than not crying.  At least crying invokes honest, real emotion from which we can grow.  I’m ready to ditch the war paint if it means connecting with others on a more meaningful, understanding level.