Four

Very Light, No Sugar celebrates its fourth blogoversary today.  I am typing this while sipping on a blueberry coffee with cream, of course.  Some things never change…

Healthcare is keen on data, and I am humbled to note that VLNS has been read in 104 countries and counting since my first post in 2014.  We surpassed the 100 countries mark this year, a feat that I never could have predicted those 4 years ago when I was sick on the couch with a defective insulin pump, simply setting out to blog in search of answers, advocacy, and support.

While my personal healthcare and advocacy journey has been marked with the typical waxing and waning, highs and lows analogous to life with type 1 diabetes, overall I am happy that this space exists.  Where we go in the future is to be determined, but VLNS will forever be a part of my heart.  And I am grateful for those of you who have loaned VLNS some space in your hearts as well.

I have admittedly been quieter on social media lately, and particularly, on this website.  Perhaps my semi-silence is my own subconscious form of protest, the loudest way to express that I will never be okay with the clanging tambourine of the status quo in diabetes land.  The older I get, the clearer it is to me that we have our work cut out for us.  Perhaps I am the rogue #doc voice still figuring it all out, and I would be remiss to pretend to be anything else as a blogger.

Simply being alive, ~27.5 years after a T1D diagnosis, with health insurance and access to insulin, puts me in a very different position than most of the people living with diabetes worldwide.  I pledge to continue to advocate for all of us.  Sometimes that means taking a step back in order to stand up, to challenge the way things are and to remember the human faces behind why we need drastic change.  Sometimes that means recognizing that my own voice doesn’t have to be the loudest in this moment; in fact, it is easier to hear the community vibe when I turn my own volume down and listen.

There are pillars of truth that have not changed in my 4 years here:

We need a cure.

We need inclusive community that is not scared of entertaining various viewpoints, that can agree to disagree, that lifts up rather than puts down.  We need each other.

We need megaphones, and at times, we may need space.

We need a free, unbiased press and a healthcare industry that values humanity above all else; we need healthcare players who recognize that sometimes the will of The Whole may differ from the corporate office views.

We need affordable, accessible insulin.

We need blogs and tweets and advocacy actions.  Look around.  It’s working.  I’m proud to call many of you my friends and fellow advocates.

 

Thank you for allowing Very Light, No Sugar to be part of the #doc fabric for the past 4 years.  The diabetes landscape may change, for better or for worse, but our roots will always be strong.

Cheers,

Ally

 

VeryLightNoSugar_Logo_Final_3

 

 

 

 

 

“I Be Up In The Gym Just Working On My Fitness”

In the famous words of Fergie, “I be up in the gym just working on my fitness.”  Or, at least I should be for my overall health, as well as my diabetes management.

Admittedly, my exercise regimen has waned in recent times.  During grad school, I was on a mission to do #AllOfTheThings and to do them very well, so I was somewhat of a “gym rat.”  Nowadays, I will meander around the city on my lunch breaks or take a stroll to de-stress after work.  Otherwise, does lifting up a Bud Light and putting it down count as a workout? (Inquiring for a friend…)

Needless to say, when I was asked to review the fabulous Christel Oerum’s eBook, Fit With Diabetes, I realized it was a good opportunity for an exercise and diabetes tune-up, and, perhaps, to help some of my readers/followers do the same.  (See below for my disclosures).*

Christel- Front page

Christel is “one of us,” a fellow person with diabetes (type 1), who clearly has a passion for fitness and healthy living.  She does not come off as “preachy” in the eBook, which is a welcome change to what is customary in literature regarding diabetes and exercise.  Rather, Christel is down to earth and likable.

She acknowledges that there is certainly tough work cut out for us, yet illustrates that our goals can be more attainable through some helpful tips.  As Christel explains in the introduction to the eBook, we each have individualized diabetes and exercise needs, but with a proper framework in place, we can make the process smoother.

From cardio, to resistance training, to nutrition, to workout routines, Fit With Diabetes has us covered.  The various chapters of the eBook are user-friendly in terms of looking up specific areas of focus quickly and easily.  Christel provides real world examples for various scenarios, such as planning effectively for different types of exercise whether using an insulin pump or injections.  From my viewpoint as someone looking to get re-motivated on the exercise front, it was nice to see these firsthand examples.

I believe this eBook is a useful tool for anyone living with diabetes, their support networks, and healthcare professionals, alike.  Christel provides a straightforward guide by which you can generate your own effective course of action.

Please see here if interested in reading the eBook.

Many thanks to Christel for contributing this insightful work to our community!

 

 

 

*My disclosures are the following:

I was asked to review Fit With Diabetes, and I received a copy of the eBook in order to do so.  Opinions expressed are my own.

Thank you to Ginger Vieira for introducing me to Christel Oerum of DiabetesStrong.com and author of Fit With Diabetes.

 

 

 

 

3!

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

 

VeryLightNoSugar_Logo_Final_3

 

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.

img_9395

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

 

VeryLightNoSugar_Logo_Final_3

“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!”

Milestones.

This week will be my final class before graduating with my Master’s degree at the end of December.  The saying about a weight being lifted is true.  As I handed in my final paper last week and my classmates hoorayed, happy to see one of their own crossing the finish line, I instantly felt relief.

Unless you live under a #doc Twitter rock, you know that I was on an emotional rollercoaster last week.  I second-guessed whether I would get my final paper done in time.  Mostly, though, that doubt was due to the anxiety of moving forward in life, of leaving behind the structure, love, and discipline that grad school has blessed me with over the past two years.

As much as I have complained about homework on the weekends, truth be told, I will miss the academic environment very much.  There is a definable purpose there, a working towards something greater than oneself, a joy of learning amongst peers and professors who are just as passionate about healthcare and making the world a better place.

Grad school becomes a part of one’s identity, and I am scared out of my mind to not cling to that role soon.  My go-to introduction spiel at cocktail parties has been, “I’m Ally.  I work fulltime at _____ and I go to grad school at night at _____ and have I mentioned how freakin’ busy I am all the darn time?!!”  As fulfilling as these different components of my life are, it is now time to put what I have learned to good use and to explore new opportunities- after taking a much-needed vacation.

My identity as a graduate student may be shifting, but I do not necessarily have to be lost.  Perhaps I have already been found, and that is what is so scary- those moments of truth where you reconcile who you are, with who you have been, with who you want to be.

Complicating such notions is the fact that today marks my one year shot-o-versary, or the anniversary of returning to a multiple daily injections regimen after a decade of insulin pumping.  I have beaten a dead horse over this, but in case you are new to Very Light, No Sugar: Insulin pumps are great.  Sadly, I experienced product defects with mine and watched my health slowly slip away as a result.  The pros of using injections for me, personally, outweighed the cons, so here I am.  Do what works for you.

My current apathy about the shots milestone surprises me.  In many ways I expected to be just as proud about the shots as I am about my impending Master’s.  But I’m just… not.  Shots are my new normal.  Some day that may change (diabetes cure, please!), but for now, this is what I am working with.

And to be honest, I think that apathy is a good thing.  It means that I have made peace with some of the previous bitterness, that I have chosen to chalk up the pump company’s ignoring of my email pleas as being due to an overloaded pump rep.’s inbox, even though I know in my heart that was never the case.

I now experience the freedom of insulin getting into my body every time I inject, and those #JerkFaces also known as ketones do not hang around much anymore.  I have proven to myself that I am stronger than I ever believed, and that it is good that we have many options in our diabetes management tool boxes.

Every day, I have access to life-sustaining medication, something I will never take for granted again.  Others are not as fortunate, and I am attuned to their suffering because my faulty insulin pump taught me what it feels like to lack insulin.  It is a brutal, desperate torment.  Only insulin can fix it.  And while I feel blessed to have escaped my insulin-delivery mishaps, I will always remember and pledge to help those who do not have access to insulin.

I recall emailing my doctors a week into our shots trial and implying, “Hey, I tried.  Time to call it quits and return to the pump?”  And I remember my dismay at their gentle urging to stick it out one more week, one more month.

Today- one more year- I am happy that I listened.  The difficult days are still here.  But the good days are back, too.  Any day not spent battling ketones on the couch is a day that I must be thankful for, and I am.  I just need to work on expressing that more often.

So here it goes:

I am thankful to have enjoyed the opportunity of receiving a graduate-level education.  During the days of my insulin pump saga, when the ketones were syrupy-thick in my blood and the couch was my home, grad school was the bright light that I could focus on.  I read and read and read and repeatedly told myself that one day I would feel better and have my degree.

Today, I am happy to be here to see that internal mantra come to fruition.  Thank you to everyone who has rooted for me along the way.  My gratitude is best expressed by leaving you with the prayer said on my long drive to Boston before difficult medical appointments:

“In every circumstance and in all things

I have learned the secret of being well fed

and of going hungry,

of living in abundance and of being in need.

I can do all things in Him who strengthens me.

Still, it was kind of you to share in my distress.”

-Phillipians 4:12-14