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Very Light, No Sugar is celebrating its third blogoversary!

Thanks to those from all over the world (99 countries!) who have read my website over the past 3 years. How humbling to see that our words are able to reach so far, and that we remain unified in our mission to kick diabetes to the curb.

This year provided different avenues of healthcare advocacy for VLNS.

Reese joined our ranks!

The Coffee Dates interview series was a big hit, and our strong resolve to make insulin accessible and affordable was a highlight topic.

I am grateful to have traveled to Indy to participate in Lilly’s insulin access workshop at their corporate headquarters in April.  (Yes, I still intend to blog on this; yes, I’ve drafted the blog many times, in my head and on paper; yes, I have disclosures: Lilly covered my travel, lodging, and meals.)  More to follow, but briefly: It meant a lot to me to see the makers of and the history behind insulin firsthand, and to be able to advocate at that level for a better diabetes world.

Also new this year, VLNS has dabbled in No Rules (free verse) Poetry.  Poetry is fluid; it is not always autobiographical; it allows us to explore beyond the usual confines of writing. I am super excited for my tickets to see Neil Hilborn during his upcoming, mostly-sold-out U.S. tour!  Mental health and poetry- these are a few of my fav-o-rite things right now, and no one does them better than Neil.

On that note, I believe strongly that sometimes our best advocacy is to simply be honest- even brutally so. Do I have regrets about blogging? Frankly, yes.

If I could go back in time, I wouldn’t have been so corny when first starting out in the DOC. (“We are diabetes warriors, waging a cliche battle, we will overcome, ahhh!”).

A hard lesson in reality this year is that sometimes, no matter how tough your armor, diabetes and other stuff still hurt like hell and feel like losing more than winning. Occasionally, I wish I could crawl back under my little rock and regain my privacy and my life pre-blog. Or that there was a non-live-tweeting-your-emotional-rollercoaster space where one could simply shout at the wall.

There are a lot of asks in advocacy, and it is hard to say no. But advocacy needs a better balance- taking our time (and having our time respected) when experiencing too much at once.

No matter what, I will always be appreciative of this website and its following. And I hope year #4 is productive and meaningful for all of us.

Cheers!

-Ally

 

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Reese’s Cups and Hamster Wheels

I first fell in love with memoir as a junior in high school during a course aptly titled Rewriting A Life.  There, I was introduced to the work of Mary Karr, and to this day I soak up her words like a sponge absorbs a misplaced glass of cabernet: fully, and scattering droplets where they are most needed (the only clean part of the carpet, for example).

Here’s a droplet:

When you’ve been hurt enough as a kid (maybe at any age), it’s like you have a trick knee.  Most of your life, you can function like an adult, but add in the right portions of sleeplessness and stress and grief, and the hurt, defeated self can bloom into place.

-Mary Karr

That’s sort of how I feel lately.  The perfect storm of life stressors- past, present, and future- has left me questioning my moral successes and failures, my worthiness as an advocate, and where to go from here.  The answer is that there is no black or white response- only more questions, and more places to go.  The best work I can do at the moment is simply to voice this.

I am angry that our fellow people with diabetes are dying because insulin is inaccessible and ludicrously expensive.  I am angry that the people who can afford insulin- myself included- are under the constant pressure of maintaining positive disease outcomes with rusty toolboxes.  I am angry that we do not have a cure.  I am angry that we are so fragmented as a community, that when we voice dissent we are quickly hushed by the status quo of comfortableness and the diabetes industry- luxuries that so many others do not have.  Finally, I am angry that I am angry, that I have scapegoated much of my anger on diabetes, and that I have not always handled life’s difficulties with the grace and dignity that I know dwell within my heart.

However, I am grateful that despite the bad stuff, there are friends and supporters who still believe in the good stuff.  Their love has never wavered, and has inflated into a life raft when needed most.  (Thank you).

Rewriting A Life does not mean you get to copy and paste a Cinderella ending to your story.  You simply get to live it, and to describe the good and the bad in detail that has the potential to resonate with someone else who desperately needs to hear you.  Perhaps you desperately need to be heard, too.

Recently, emotional and physical health have felt like running on the hamster wheel while nursing a sprained ankle and a hangover.

So, I switched things up and adopted a guinea pig.

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This is Reese.  She is colored like a Reese’s cup.  

She is currently petrified of me, but I hope the same thing that I hope for you, or me, or any living creature: that she feels loved nonetheless.  

 

 

 

Not-So-Terrible-Two’s

Very Light, No Sugar has reached its second blogoversary.  Although I find myself wondering how time has flown by so quickly, that simply means it’s been a fun two years.  In 2015, I had a lot to say at this time.  This year, I will keep it short and sweet.

Thank you to those who have visited my website over the past two years.  When starting a blog in 2014 from a tiny apartment in Rhode Island, I never imagined that people in 73 different countries would visit my little corner of the internet so far this year.

Although 2016 has brought some diabetes frustrations along the way, I am comforted in knowing that we have honestly shared our stories with the world.  Someone out there who needs to hear our words is listening.  The #doc and other healthcare arenas are platforms by which we can give a voice to a greater purpose, where we can make the decision to be good despite the bad that life throws at us.

Your faith and support on the bad days make the diabetes cross a lighter weight to carry.  Your genuine kindheartedness makes the good days that much sweeter.

I still daydream about the day when I will celebrate blogoversary # XYZ and get to write that our communal efforts cured diabetes that past year.  In the meantime, I am simply happy to have found your support, and hopefully to have offered some back in return.

 

Forever lifting my coffee mug to you,

Ally

XOXO

 

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“Survey Says…?!”

***Update: The survey is now closed. 

Thank you so much to everyone who participated and/or helped to spread the word!

Diabetes folks, please consider participating in my research survey, which can be found here:

Very Light, No Sugar Survey 2016

 

Please read the bold text of the cover page, as it is very important to our data collection.

Sharing is appreciated. Thank you!

 

 

Words

The third DBlog Week topic, Language and Diabetes, is one that hits close to home for all of us.  Currently, I’m saving many of my thoughts on the topic in anticipation of Stanford Medicine X in September.  At MedX, I will be participating in an ePatient panel on mental health and chronic disease, and language will surely be discussed there.  We hope you will join us- whether physically at Stanford, or virtually!

In the meantime, please see here for some prior thoughts on the words we use, and how we should use them.

 

Naked and Not-That-Afraid

Admit it. You clicked. But I pinky-promise Very Light, No Sugar is not about clickbait. Instead, let’s have a good time with this one.

The Discovery Channel hit a homerun with its series Naked and Afraid, which drops made-for-TV couples in the middle of nowhere and challenges them to survive together with few resources. Heavy emphasis on few resources. Because oh yeah, the individuals are naked while doing all of this, their not-so-PG-features blurred out with video editing and then broadcasted all over cable television.

I’d argue living with chronic illness presents similar trials. At diagnosis time, your entire world was rocked. You were thrown into unchartered waters with a leaky inflatable raft and asked to somehow make it all work. And you did. Some days are better than others, but even on the worst of days, you’re still floating.

Picture the tabula rasa of #doc Adam and Eve in the Garden of Endocrinology. They have no shame. They have not experienced the “diabetes police,” the misinformed stereotypes, the media onslaught. They are simply there, together. And naked. Except for those button-looking health technology thingamajigs attached to their skin.

Eve may have come from Adam’s rib, but the missing aspect of the story is that she came wielding prehistoric weapons of mass destruction: CGM inserters. Hence, Adam’s rib pain. From there, they took turns replacing insulin pump infusion sets for one another, the very first example of putting the “care” in healthcare. There were no deductibles or tense waiting rooms. This was solely Adam and Eve, charting the course together.

When they found the apple, they wondered how much to bolus for the carbs.

“This looks like a McIntosh. What do you think? 15 grams?” Diabetic Eve asked, squinting at the red and green hues.

“I don’t know. That’s kind of big. Won’t Endo yell at us if we don’t get this right?” Diabetic Adam fretted.

“Don’t be a wuss, bae,” Diabetic Eve retorted.

And so they each took a bite, tossing the apple back and forth. A few minutes later, the CGM beeped, its graph entering the yellow “high” territory just in time for the dreaded Endo appointment.

*****

As I previously wrote, I received my Dexcom supplies last week after fighting for far too long to obtain them from various avenues.

The new Dexcom transmitter has been great, from what the box still holding it tells me. After all of the drama in reordering the Dexcom, I would have bet money that I’d insert a sensor and begin the 2-hour warm-up within minutes of the package delivery.

But that did not happen. I do not exactly know why, but I have some educated guesses:

I got so burnt out by the process that I wanted nothing to do with health tech once the battle was won.

This is not for lack of being thankful; I am eternally appreciative of the positive impact of diabetes technology. Instead, this is about needing a break, to not think about something that consumed my thoughts for weeks as I awaited its arrival. Considering I use insulin pens instead of an insulin pump, my body is momentarily device-free. Now I’m working on such a literal and figurative diabetes reprieve for my psyche, too.

Perhaps the tech hiatus is also a “screw you” to our ridiculous, convoluted system. The healthcare loop-de-loop may have briefly stripped me of my dignity, but this tech vacation affords me some “control” again. I have the ability to make my own decisions about my body, mind, and soul.  This is the first step in putting my anger aside to do so.

Years ago, the conversation would have played out like this:

“You’re so stupid! How can you be so ungrateful? After going through all of that to get a new Dexcom, and spending all of that money, you’re just going to let it collect dust in the corner?!! Just so, so, stupid. So selfish.”

Many conversations with compassionate friends and healthcare providers later, I know now that the people who said those harsh things to me could never handle the constant nature of diabetes if they had to live it. I can. It is not always graceful, but I do it. I’m not stupid. Or ungrateful. Or selfish.

Tired? Yes. But every new morning is a “reset button.” This time I will not be pressing the button on a tech device; this reset button is an emotional one that cannot be objectively quantified. Its name is Freedom.

Diabetes is a catch-22, a continual give-and-take, a balancing act on a tightrope that is jostled every few minutes. Sometimes we have to weigh the risks and benefits, the pressing concerns and the long-term impacts. In doing that, I recently realized that my emotional needs trump the physical safety ones provided by Dexcom, in this immediate moment.

Although I miss Dexcom alarms alerting me to problems overnight, I have to trust my own intuition again. Strip it down, back to the basics, Diabetes 101. Simplify.

I set nighttime alarm clocks and hope that now is not my time to go via an unshakeable low blood sugar in my sleep. And if it is my time to go, well, that’s mostly in God’s hands, anyway. My gut tells me that a Dexcom break for a few weeks will do more good than bad, so I’m running with that idea. I am trusting in Him, and trusting in me.

When I am ready, I will definitively return to CGM. Without Dexcom, I find myself looking back at my apartment whenever I climb into my car, sensing that I left something behind, like I am reaching for a familiar hand that suddenly is not there. I miss slipping into Dexcom’s added diabetes security blanket like it is a favorite pair of boots, the perfect fit.

For now, though, I am going to enjoy the little things again: the long, hot showers; the consumption of McIntosh apples with old-fashioned carb-counting and blood sugar checking a few hours later; the silence of a room devoid of vibrating tech devices; what it feels like to be Ally in her own skin- skin that is entirely her own real estate right now.

Like Diabetic Adam and Eve, I am naked and trying my best to remain strong, and good.

I am naked and not-that-afraid.

 

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!”