Hey, that’s mine. And I’m taking it back!

I must confess that I haven’t been in a “very light” mood this week.  It’s a combination of PMS, a pesky chest cold, and the manner in which they catapult my blood glucose to the stratosphere, stuck no matter how many tears I dry or units I bolus.  It’s diabetes at its most vindictive: Ha! Your bazooka-bolus will drop you a whopping TEN mg/dL!  This in turn causes me to feel badly about my irrational BG “failures,” as well as my subsequent grumpiness.  I tried to take a Twitter hiatus as the Catholic grammar school mantra, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it,” rang in my ears.  I woke up the next day to a few private messages from well-wishers (thank you- you know who you are), and I realized that instead of hibernating on Twitter perhaps I should open myself up to that support.  After all, it’s the signature of the online communities that I have grown to love.

#BellLetsTalk tweets and blog posts inspired me during my figuratively “extra dark coffee, loaded with sugar” musings.  It is humbling to see that so many people worldwide shared their deeply personal stories during this Canadian mental health effort, and by doing so they inspired others to seek support and to perhaps share their own stories, too.  #BellLetsTalk celebrates these strong, courageous souls.  I could feel the societal stigma lifting as I perused their words, felt their pain as a fellow human being, and admired their strength.

When Sophie- the talented blogger of Writing Possibility whose honesty and eloquence in writing make her one of my favorites in the #doc- invited me to participate in the Take Back What’s Yours campaign, I knew that this was an opportunity to empower myself during a week where diabetes was making me feel especially vulnerable.  Take Back What’s Yours is an effort launched by Chloe’s Concept encouraging readers to take back something good that may have been lost along the way during life’s tribulations, such as a hobby that brought joy or a sense of hope.  If you feel so inclined, please join us in taking back what’s yours.  Let’s celebrate ourselves in the spirit of #BellLetsTalk and #TakeBackWhatsYours.

Here’s what’s mine, and I’m taking it back:

Note: You’ll get the gist of it as you read each paragraph, but in certain circumstances I am “taking back” in the sense of regaining my footing with something I have struggled with.  I am taking it back in that I am conceding that it happened, but I will not allow it to occur anymore if possible.  In other circumstances, I am “taking back” positive things that I have lost sight of recently.  While the hashtag’s meaning may have been slightly altered for purposes of this blog post, I think the theme of #TakeBackWhatsYours is still alive and well here.  This is the best way that I can express the hashtag in terms of my individual trials in life.

1.)  From a point-forward basis, I am taking back the nights that I went to bed hungry as an employed, educated American woman.  I have been blessed enough by my current circumstances in life to be able to put food on the table; now it’s time to enjoy it again.  I do not fit the stereotype of a starving child in a third world country far away from here, but I have been far too familiar with hunger due to the aftermath of faulty insulin pump sites and the fears running rampant in my own mind.  Food is not the enemy.  Insulin is not the bad guy.  And I am fully capable of doing this, no matter how scary it seems.  I will not go to bed hungry any longer.  This means I must make some concessions: bolus larger amounts of insulin before bed; eat when my blood sugar is higher than I would prefer for it to be going into a meal; learn that it is okay to see some slightly-skewed blood sugars during this time of growing; share my story in case someone out there is hungry for the same reasons.

2.)  I am taking back the “set in stone,” predefined amounts of insulin that have so dictated my dosing for many years.  Each day with diabetes is different, and insulin needs to reflect this.  I will be more flexible.  I will email my doctor about the mini-successes.  I will celebrate them.  And I will pledge to keep trying.  If the dose misfires, well, I have enough experience to know how to handle it by now.

3.)  I am taking back feeling guilty about my feelings.  From day one of creating this blog, I promised to be authentic, and I believe that I have been.  Sometimes the #nofilter thing makes me feel like I’m wearing my emotions on my sleeve too much, but I wouldn’t be me if my sleeves weren’t a little dirty.  I am taking back being too hard on myself for a tweet that I perceived as overly-cranky or for fear of annoying others.  We all annoy someone at some point at some time.  If we are in the wrong, we can apologize and move forward.  But if we walk the line of keeping too much to ourselves, we aren’t allowing others in as much as we should be.

4.)  I am taking back my former joys and living in the moment.  I will recognize that I am more than diabetes and health care advocacy.  While these are enormous passions of mine, I also need to take some time for myself to try new things and to chill out with my own thoughts.  Always being on the go and jumping head first into the next project are qualities that have helped me to succeed, but reading a book for pleasure or grabbing a beer after work with friends on a Wednesday night are also ways in which I can obtain happiness.  There doesn’t always have to be a goal: an A1C target, a certain GPA, a defined objective measurement of success.  Instead, there can be some down time to relax, to connect with the people around you, and to be present in life.  It is fine to be hardwired to “busy and productive mode,” but setting aside a few hours a week for other enjoyments is crucial to long-term health and happiness.

5.)  I am taking back my ability to allow others in to help.  As a diabetes-induced defense mechanism, I have handled things on my own for a while now.  When friends try to help, I’m initially willing to talk their ears off about diabetes, but by the end of it, I’m usually saying things I don’t mean to say out of frustration.  The more open I become, the more vulnerable I feel, and the more I can’t seem to come to grips with it.  For the sake of my relationships, this nonsense has to stop.  As much as I want to act tough and invincible, the reality is that there will be times where diabetes has a strong hold over me.  Why not accept the support others are so generously trying to give me, even after I have pushed them away?  These are clearly goodhearted people, and I should be counting my blessings instead of running from them.

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Move along, Negative Nancy!

Truth be told, I haven’t posted as much because I’ve been a little too Negative Nancy and not enough Very Light, No Sugar for my liking.  Consider this an apology of sorts.  This disease, in my adulthood, has changed me.  I miss the carefree kid in high school who was a dorky, yet extroverted, fun-loving person.  Nowadays, I don’t know what happened to that girl.  I’m still Ally, but on the rough days, I’m Angry Ally.

“Anger is a secondary emotion,” my friend said last week, when we chatted about the typical emotional twenty-something-year-old female stuff.

I have always known that, but the way she said it just stuck with me.  She’s right.  There’s more depth to my anger.  I’m hungry, for starters.  On the bad pump days when my blood sugar hovers in the 250s and 300s, I avoid carbs as if they were the Grim Reaper.  Sometimes it takes the entire day to recover after a pump problem, and I have just adapted to the growling in my stomach and the hunger pangs lodged in my ribcage.

“You look skinny to me- skinnier than when I last saw you. It’s all of this ketone stuff with the pump, huh?” my nurse asked gently as she tried to identify good insertion sites for the pump.

“No.  I’m actually gaining weight from the grad school diet,” I defensively replied, convinced that she was wrong.

That night I stepped on the scale and was surprised to see the 5-pound weight loss.  While it is an easy coping mechanism for all of us to laugh it off and say, “Well, maybe ketones bring one positive to the table,” the reality of that statement is that it is not a joke. Losing weight due to ketones is never a good thing. It is your body burning fat for fuel. It is another painful pump site because you’re out of cushioning. It is how diabetic eating disorders can begin, and it is harmful to the body no matter the circumstances leading up to it.

 

Full disclaimer here: I wholeheartedly intend to eradicate ketones from existence whenever possible, and I would rather gain some pounds than suffer one more day with ketones. But I am mindful of how easily this could escalate into a larger problem. I believe that this is an issue that needs to be discussed more often in the diabetes community, so here is my limited knowledge on the topic and my best effort to get a more open conversation going. If you believe that you may have an issue related to this topic, please know that you are strong and that you owe it to yourself to feel better by getting help.

Beep, beep, beep. Snooze. Ten more minutes. No, eleven. No, thirty-five. Yawn. Working fulltime, grad school at night, and driving to Boston regularly while figuring out the diabetes dilemmas are exhausting in and of themselves. Then, as we all know, diabetes loves to come out to play from dusk to dawn; it’s like a Great White Shark or something. In other words, it is a large nuisance with a ferocious bite. We’ve all been there: Head on the pillow, deep breath, fading into sleep, and then… EEEEEE EEEEEE EEEEEE from the Dexcom on the nightstand. Dexcom is like the loyal dog which never strays from its owner, and I am so thankful to have access to this lifesaving product. (It’s as good a time as any to remind us about #MedicareCoverCGM, right?) But it is just another example of the many ways diabetes disrupts our rest.

Being tired and hungry, for me at least, means that my patience threshold is running on vapors by 10:00 am most mornings, no matter how many very light, no sugar coffees are consumed. Little problems seem like big ones when all you want is pizza for lunch but you know that salad with a few miniscule pieces of chicken is your untimely fate for the day.

Or that one dramatic coworker is going on and on about how much his head cold has negatively impacted his life, and you can barely contain yourself from throwing vocabulary daggers his way- something along the lines of, “I HAVE POKED MYSELF WITH 50 NEEDLES. IN. THE. PAST. THREE. DAYS!!!!!” But you let it slide because you don’t have the energy to fight another battle. But then you feel guilty because you missed a chance to advocate and enlighten the ignorant, damnit! And then you feel like your focus is only about you, when you know full-well that many other people suffer, too. And then you start to live-tweet your emotions, and you worry that you are annoying the heck out of the people in your virtual support team, whether a valid concern or not. And then you feel guilty again. And then your CGM buzzes and you’re still 278 after the second pump change…

I admire the people in the DOC who are open about their emotional struggles with this disease. It takes true guts to be vulnerable to that degree. So, yes, I have a front row seat in the fan club for, well, all of you. It is difficult to come to grips with one’s own emotions at times, but in the long run it provides a healthier mental and physical outcome, if history and science are any indication.

Although being Negative Nancy is not fun, maybe I should also give myself some slack here? Diabetes is a daunting, never-ending job, and those outsiders who say “Laughter is the best medicine” probably haven’t tried to laugh when they have moderate-to-large ketones. It’s just not happening, people. But I can promise to attempt to tap into that whole thing called “perspective” that diabetes gives us a bit more often. We all know that little things aren’t the end of the world because we have already lived through the end of the pancreatic islet cell world. Badasses.

Thanks for putting up with my grumpy tweets. Sometimes it just helps to be heard.

Are you there, God? It’s me, Very Light, No Sugar.

Did you just laugh?  Because God did.  Or I like to think He did.

I know God is there.  I know people from the diabetic online community are there, partly because I tweeted that it was 3:00 am and I was awake and frustrated with diabetes and I knew that people from the #doc were up, too, and it got a few favorites rather quickly.  It’s funny how those simple gestures can make one feel less alone.  Excuse my rapid-fire Twitter vent session following that tweet, but I’m tired and I’m aggravated and maybe this blog post should be called “My Stream of Consciousness Regarding Diabetes at 3:48 am is actually ‘Very Dark, Corny Humor'”?

Well, this is real.  This is what those #FreeDiabetics pictures portray without sugarcoating it.  We all want to be free and we deserve to be free.  This is the side of diabetes that society doesn’t often see; this is the suffering that I wish none of us ever had to endure.

I’ve been on the phone with diabetes companies all week trying to sort out insulin pump problems that I am having.  I owe ya’ll a blog post about that, I know.  Consider this the precursor post.  We are troubleshooting every element to see where the problem arises.  Is it the infusion sets?  Is there a product defect?  Is the pump functioning properly?  Is the reservoir releasing insulin correctly?  Am I inserting into scar tissue?  Muscle?  Am I sick?  Am I stressed?  These are the constant questions when something goes awry with diabetes; rarely is the culprit caught red-handed.

Ketones are my nemesis.  They make me buckle at the knees and revert to being a whiny, miserable child.  Even small amounts of ketones send me straight to bed.  Unfortunately, with all of these issues going on in the background, ketones rear their ugly, ketonic heads quite often nowadays.  It is a testament to how great my nurse is that she is one of the only people who I can definitively tolerate in these moments of weakness.  Well-intentioned friends and family members are unjustly used as scapegoats for my anger when ketones appear.  It is easier to allow a nurse or a doctor to tend to the invisible wounds.  Alas, they are in Boston and I am in the Providence area, so it’s Ally versus the Ketone Crusader at what is now 4:00 am.

I struggle with taking in a lot of carbohydrates during the day.  Years and years of traumatic experiences- from inadvertently taking too much insulin to having a bent pump cannula while eating pizza which led to a blood sugar above 500 on my birthday, etc.- have led to a “fear of extremes,” as my doctor put it.  We’ve all been there to some degree.  But I am being honest with you all in that I am somewhat stuck there right now.  I go to the doctor all the time to work on this.  Part of the process comes with trusting my insulin delivery mechanism.  Let’s narrow down the potential problems list until we find something that works in terms of insulin pumping, and then we have to work on ingesting more carbs and properly dosing insulin once we can be confident that insulin is delivered.  Back to the basics.

I do not want to go to bed with my stomach growling anymore because I am afraid of eating a big dinner on top of a potentially-faulty pump site.  I promised my doctor last week that I was going to try, that I wanted to do this.  “I do not want to go to bed hungry at twenty-six years old, and that’s one thing I can commit to changing,” I said as she smiled and nodded, proud of our progress.  But tonight I did go to bed hungry.  I had eaten a larger than usual dinner (but still not large enough) and changed my pump site afterwards, while then babysitting my blood sugar as it slowly but surely went up and up.  My stomach churned as ketones formed, but I convinced myself that they were not there and went to bed, ignoring the persistent emptiness in my gut by sleeping it off.  Later I woke up with a ketones level of 1.2, probably a combination of my body burning fat for fuel in its hungry state as well as a bad pump site…  again.  This happens on a weekly basis, hence the ever-growing bags under my eyes.

Back to the drawing board.  My goal tomorrow (well, later today at a normal hour) is to eat more carbs and take a “perceived risk” by dosing more insulin with my spiffy new pump site once I wake up in a good range and know that the site is doing its job well (fingers crossed).  I would greatly appreciate it if anyone who has gone through similar trials with insulin pumping and low carb intake would offer advice, whether in comments here or in private messages.  (See Contact page on the blog).  I know that I’m not crazy, that there truly is a problem going on even though I feel like a broken record talking about pump site issues, that someone out there has to relate to this somehow.  Please, help a diabetic Sista out.  If I can pay it forward in any way at a later time, or even if this post resonates with you in some manner, my work here is done for 4:30 am.

Time to go count diabetic sheep.  Goodnight, #doc.  And thank you for listening.