Do These 3 Unexpected Things to Manage Your Diabetes Better

Month after month and year after year you struggle with checking your blood sugar, taking your medication properly, eating the right foods, exercising enough, and staying away from nights that undo all your two steps forward.

You’re a perfectly smart individual, completely capable of doing what needs to be done. You read about how people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes do amazing things and quickly realize that some of your excuses fall a little short. You can’t figure out why you aren’t able to manage your diabetes well even though you have the tools and resources you need with which to do it.

Besides, diabetes is just one of a bunch of other problems you have. You too are dealing with relationships and work and finances.

But some people with diabetes are doing well and you wonder if you could be one of them. Deep down you know you could. You just need…something…

Now I don’t know you so I’m only going to ask you to consider the possibility that perhaps, mostly what  needs to change are your surroundings,

Your surroundings would include any people, places, or things in your proximity.

The People You Surround Yourself With

Let’s start with people. If you’re an adult you probably have a choice regarding who you spend your time with. Are these quality people? Do they treat you well or poorly? Are they negative? Do they manage to bring you down with their words or actions? Do they abuse themselves and do things you don’t respect?

You might first try telling the people in your life how you feel and what you would prefer from them. If they can’t do any different and are only helping to pull you down, you’ve got to let them go. Your diabetes will eventually destroy your health if you don’t manage it and it won’t help blaming anyone in the end. Not when you get to decide who to spend your time with.

Where I come from there is a saying that says, “Better no company, than bad company”.

Try being a person who is just, honest, hardworking, and virtuous. You’ll alienate the wrong people and attract the right ones. Those qualities will also be major boosts to your arsenal for managing diabetes.

The Places You Live and Work

Now for places. Do you hate where you live or work? If so, are you working on a plan that will slowly get you out of there? It may take 5 years (as it did for me to leave a job I hated) but you’ve got to at least lay out your plan and take steps toward it. We spend a lot of time where we live and work so, again, if that is what brings you down then work towards getting that obstacle out of your way.

Don’t despair if things seem impossible. They always do–especially when we are feeling overwhelmed. Just start writing down what you want and the steps you think you should take to get there. Try to be calm, daydream a bit, get creative, and figure out your escape.

Talk to a loved one about what you are trying to do. Maybe you can get some support. Perhaps someone you trust could also help give you feedback about what you want and why. Go to a rational thinker, not someone who will give you emotional advise, which is great for some things but terrible for your life’s practical maneuvers which require you to be wise.

The Things You Own, Which Own You

There is much value in cleaning up our possessions in a way that will minimize anxiety and stress and maximize efficiency and value. Have you heard of Marie Kondo, the Japanese tidying guru? Her book may not be for everyone but I dare say she is on to something. She recommends owning only what we all need and love.

You know how most people love going to hotels? Well, I spent the last few years staying in dozens of them–three and four star hotels. And what I discovered was that they are all pretty much terrible. No, really. They are dusty, mildewy, smelly, and the only thing actually going for them is that they are minimalist and tidy.

So when you and I first step in we go into “spa brain” where we get a sense of peace and relaxation even though we are walking on a carpet that contains blood, semen, and urine. Again, no, seriously. A friend contracted MRSA from walking barefoot in a very nice New York City hotel and spent many weeks in a hospital.

Now what if we could come home and feel “spa brain” every day? Don’t you think that would help you stay focused and more relaxed on what you need to do to maintain your healthy habits?

The key is to strip your belongings of things you don’t love, as Kondo recommends and to only keep something if you truly can’t live without it. I got rid of so much stuff recently that I was able to put my diabetes supplies in a pretty box that was previously used for something else. I have been better about changing my syringes and lancets ever since and I also stay on top of what needs to be reordered because everything is so nicely organized.

Check out Kondo’s book from the library or purchase it on Amazon and start making some darn space for a life in which you manage your diabetes and health (let’s face it, those take up enough space on their own).

I Think This Because I Live It

I have done these three things I’m suggesting, not perfectly of course, as we’re all a work in progress. But, I have experienced major changes that have been well worth all the little steps it took to get here. I once felt hopeless and worried that diabetes would kill me at age 40. I thought diabetes was too hard to manage even for just 24 hours. I felt depressed and anxious and didn’t know how to alleviate my symptoms.

I’ve found that for me, it has truly helped to keep quality company, mold my life so I spend my days where I want, doing what I want, and chucking items that are only going to stand in my way, mentally and physically.

In a way, it’s all about removing what isn’t going to support what we want or need. When you remove what isn’t wanted or needed you are left with everything you want and need. It’s quite perfect.

The bit I wrote about how we have to be virtuous and all that…that part is instrumental. Deep down we all recognize quality. When we think and act like quality people we are self-motivated to hold our heads up high and finally treat ourselves with self-respect. The best anti-depressant I’ve ever experienced has been working to be a self-respecting and useful person.

It isn’t self-respect to live amongst clutter, surrender to a dead-end job, or to maintain a toxic relationship. These aspects are huge in our lives and we either surround ourselves to an environment that promotes and supports our success, or we don’t.

I don’t have it all figured out and I have a long way to go still but, I get emails from people who want to know what advise I have on how to manage diabetes well and some who ask about relationship and parenting and other topics. So what i’ve shared is what I rely on to help me maintain an A1c between 5-6 %, a healthy marriage, happy kids that I unschool, and work I enjoy.

I’ve noticed that people who manage their diabetes really well do these things, also. You can learn to do them, too if you want. Just pick one and begin.

XOXO

My Experience With Intermittent Fasting for Type 1 Diabetes

In a nutshell, intermittent fasting means closing the window of time during which you eat.

If you have breakfast at 7am and finish dinner at 7pm, you’d be eating during a 12 hour window and fasting for the other 12. Many of us don’t do that, though.

Nighttime snacking is likely an epidemic and from what I hear/read, it is wise to give your body at least 12 hours of fasting time.

Have you ever skipped a meal and felt lighter, recharged, and not hungry? I have often felt this way. I understand about a third of you will probably be about the opposite but such is my experience.

Intermittent Fasting for Weight Loss

I was interested in intermittent fasting years ago when I read what Tim Ferris had to say about it. He has access to exceptional people, is wildly curious, and respects science to as much as a degree as I can tell so I tend to consider what he has to say.

I started trying it a year and a half ago in the hopes it would help me lose some stubborn weight. If I didn’t have type 1 I might have type 2 diabetes. In other words, I become resistant pretty easily and quickly to insulin. If I eat my disciplined way and exercise my basal insulin is about 11 units every 24 hours. If I eat the standard american diet and don’t exercise it goes up to about 30 units every 24 hours. Big difference.

Anyway, I began by just not eating breakfast and having my first meal of the day at lunch (noon) and then having dinner at about 6pm and finishing up at 7pm for the night. I continued my walking most days, trying to walk at least 3 miles a day.

This was easy for me because I have always regretted breakfast. Seriously, I eat it and feel too full for lunch and if I skip lunch I get hungry so it just complicates things and zaps my precious energy. For so long though, the commonly heard “never skip breakfast” has prevented me from doing what felt right.

I lost 10 pounds in about 8 months. I’ve since lost another 5-6 pounds by having lunch not at noon, but at 3pm each day. I’m never hungry before 3pm each day so it seems I have adjusted to this way of eating, which is cool.

Intermittent Fasting for Better Blood Sugar

The other reason I’ve enjoyed intermittent fasting is because instead of figuring out insulin for three meals or more a day, I’ve cut it down to two, giving me one less variable to mess up my blood sugar levels with.

Skipping breakfast helps with the dawn phenomenon and morning exercise, too I think.

For example, when I get up, I first test. I adjust with insulin if needed, usually giving the tiny bit extra for the dawn phenomenon and then get on the treadmill. Exercising in the morning before food has proven to help burn more calories AND it has been proven to keep exercise happening in the first place. If we put it off for later in a busy day, it may just not happen at all.

During and after my walk on the treadmill I will drink coffee, which is my personal way of incentivizing my walk.

When Will I Stop Losing Weight?

I’m very curious about this question because if eating well, consistently walking, and fasting keeps reducing my weight, what does that mean?

Does it mean that intermittent fasting is helping to boost my metabolism? I swear I eat as much food as I used to, if not more. My last blood tests from 2 months ago show my thyroid working much better than it did 2 years ago when it was at the very lowest end of normal, so that is encouraging.

I’m not done losing weight so I will just continue on the path i’m on. I estimate that for my 5’4 height and very small frame I should weigh less, still. Belly fat is my main concern and as my kids lovingly tell me, my stomach is a “cozy and squishy pillow” to lay on.

I’ll be very interested to see if my blood pressure changes in a positive direction with any additional weight loss (fingers crossed). You’ll be the first to hear about it if it does.

Why I Understand Low-Carb Proponents for Type 1 Diabetes

Some people are very strong supporters of a low-carb diet for people with type 1 diabetes (or any diabetes). Historically, this group of people has not been well-received by many with type 1 diabetes or those who have children with type 1 diabetes because of the way that insulin can be utilized to not deny a person certain foods and the joy they bring.

I can sympathize greatly with the idea that we all deserve a treat from time to time and I can understand why some want to eat what they want and just learn to manage with their insulin timing and dose. I can certainly see why raising a child with type 1 diabetes and having them never eat sugar or many carbs can seem like a daunting and almost cruel route.

I’ve long made the case for reducing carbohydrates on a personalized level. For example, I do believe that some people cannot feel well or thrive on an extremely low carb or ketogenic diet (I can’t) so it makes sense to take symptoms in consideration. I do think that facts indicate how reducing carbs increases the chances for more stable blood sugar levels but, there are different degrees one can take when it comes to carb intake. I’m not extremely low carb but I have a low enough carb intake that my blood sugar management is pretty good, my triglycerides are very low, and I avoid extreme highs and lows on a consistent basis.

The “I can eat that” movement of the past decade has seemingly fizzled out. Or maybe I’m not reading as many diabetes blogs as I used to. Either way, I can’t help but wonder if people have endured experiences like the ones I have which bring me to the conclusion that “yes, I can eat that, but I will likely suffer the consequences of doing so, so in a way, no I can’t eat that”.

Early on, during the first decade or so with type 1 diabetes, these consequences seem acceptable to many of us. The future is far away. As someone who has now lived with type 1 diabetes for over 22 years, I see things differently.

After 20 years with type 1 diabetes, there is a much higher likelihood for a great number of horrible complications. These are ominous when you aren’t experiencing them but when you are…well let’s just say that it is an entirely different story. There is a pain on top of the pain of those complications and it involves the question “What if?” “What if I could have avoided this?” “What if I had just managed to have better blood sugar management during those first 10 years?” “What if I had just ate fewer carbs?” Those questions are brutal. I endure them on a regular basis. I sometimes wish I could relive my childhood and rip all those carbs out of my hands.

So because of those questions and the pain associated with them, I feel that it is a good idea to share with others what I wish I could have done differently so that they may be better armed to avoid the complications I’m getting a taste of now. Everyone should do what they think is right for them, of course but, I didn’t even have a chance growing up because no one said “low carb eating can help you avoid dramatic blood sugar swings” and my healthcare team encouraged eating pasta, oatmeal, and cereals-all the things I avoid like the plague nowadays. (The other negative side effect is I’m now working really hard to learn to trust doctors again.)

I respect any diet a person chooses if it works for them. I totally understand not having the level of willpower required to deny pizza or ice cream on occasion (I haven’t got it). Most people with type 1 have an A1c that is too high, though. I’ve had an A1c between 5- 6% for the last 11 years and stuff is starting to happen. And some of this can’t be alleviated much or fixed with any medication or treatment. I’m only 33 years old. Not everyone is as sensitive as me but we don’t find out until it is too late.

That said, I’m generally doing very well. Life is good and I am healthy enough to do the things I want to do every day. I’m just choosing to recognize that some unfortunate things are starting and I still have many decades to go–and that is terrifying. I’m picky. I want to be AS freaking healthy as a non-diabetic. I don’t deserve less than that…but I know I have to work for it.

Some Dr. Bernstein supporters are kind of known as bullies in the online diabetes community. I hear comments about them where people express annoyance at how passionate they are about pressing others to consider a very low carb diet for type 1 diabetes. While I want people to engage myself and others in a respectful way and most of these low carb supporters have been very respectful to me personally, I have never been able to deny that even when someone is rude, they have a point. An A1c that is at or near normal levels is probably the best defense when it comes to complications.

Yet, at the same time, I acknowledge that I can’t eat as disciplined as I’d like. Well, not that I can’t, but apparently, I won’t, although I do better than I used to which gives me hope about the future. Kudos to those of you who do. You have my bewildered awe and respect and to those of you who struggle like I do, don’t stop trying and please stay open-minded about what you are capable of. Many years ago I saw no way of getting my 9% A1c down until I learned about low carb eating and I slowly began to implement it.

That said, we are all on a different part of our own journey and I support you where you are at. I share what has helped me because I wish I’d known some of these things sooner. Time has a way of flying by and I find it telling that I am not traumatized by a childhood full of insulin shots and finger sticks and being different and having sugar-free jello for my birthday. No…it was those crazy blood sugars.

Why Do We Demand People Understand Diabetes?

Photo Credit: Ana Morales

Photo Credit: moreartplease.com

“Why are you eating that?”

“Why do you have to check your blood sugar in public?”

“Why are you so picky about your food?”

“How come your blood sugar is so often high or low?”

We hear these things sometimes, right?

Even though it can be tiring, over time I’ve learned to welcome any question on the above list and others like it. I appreciate the opportunity to answer these questions and the curiosity behind them. I will quickly admit that in some cases, people aren’t being curious but instead using a question as a way to provoke–in those cases I respond appropriately.

However, curious individuals asking me a genuine question do not cause me to be offended. How can I be offended by someone’s ignorance when I am just as ignorant on other subjects?

I think we should consider NOT demanding people learn what to ask us so that we can have open conversations and get real communication flowing.

Have you felt unsure about asking someone a question for fear of offending them? Isn’t it unfortunate? And doesn’t it lead to you to most likely stay ignorant? Has anyone ever asked you a bold, ignorant question, leading you to an opportunity to clear it up and feel truly heard?

When someone asks you a question, which below example would be the most productive response?

a) “I demand you inform yourself on the right questions to ask me.”

b) “When you ask me about this, please only do so if you genuinely want to know and intend on hearing my answer.”

The answer is B, right?

I’m a wife to my husband of 8 years. I kindly express the ways in which he can support me and share feedback about how something he does or says makes me feel. I don’t demand he do anything because I don’t want to insinuate that if he had the choice, he wouldn’t do it. If that were the case I wouldn’t have married him in the first place.

In other words, If we communicate in the same way we’d like others to communicate with us, I think we will all be better off.

So go ahead, ask me why I’m eating that. I may smile and say, “why are you eating that?” which may lead you to either feel what I’m feeling or you may say “because I love eating this” and then I’ll say “same here”.

The above example leads me to another point. I think we should encourage each other to actually say what we mean. Perhaps what you really want to know is, “why are you eating that cookie, I thought people with diabetes needed to stay away from sugar?” Now that is a question I can answer well for you because I understand exactly what you want to know and why!

“People with diabetes can eat sugar and for different reasons some eat more and some less than others. I am eating a cookie because I want to and am able to cover that cookie with fast-acting insulin. If you want to know why another person with diabetes is eating a cookie you’d have to ask them.”

I could also say, “I’m sorry, it is none of your business.” And you know what, that would be ok, too. I’m very much a proponent for your freedom and mine. You can ask a question and I don’t have to answer and vice versa.

But I am much more likely to answer with the former. I’m enthusiastic about helping others understand diabetes better. I think it helps society’s general understanding of diabetes. Just like I think encouraging questions instead of limiting them with rules and shaming helps society’s understanding of diabetes.

When people say something like, “At least you don’t have cancer” and it gets you upset, resist the temptation to be passive aggressive and just tell them the truth: “That is upsetting because it feels like you are minimizing my situation.” A compassionate and worthy individual would want to hear you out on this and would probably apologize for inadvertently belittling your illness by comparing it to another.

I totally understand the inclination to educate people on what is important to us. However, do you realize how hypocritical it is to tell people they must “get diabetes right”?  Does this mean we should spend all our free time educating ourselves on what is important to everybody else? I have had diabetes for over two decades, write and talk about it for a living, and even I can’t get diabetes right all of the time!

What if we all just drop demands and talk kindly and openly with each other as we go along?

You don’t have to agree with me, of course, but those are my reasons for suggesting we not demand people understand diabetes before they, um…understand diabetes.

It Took Me 20 Years of Diabetes to be OK with Finger Sticks

When I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 11, I would brace myself before every finger stick when checking my blood sugar. Sometimes I hesitated for only a moment and other times it took me about 3 minutes to hit the trigger. I was told by many well-meaning people that I would soon adjust and the fear and hesitation would subside.

Several years later I remember taking a long while to muster the nerve to intentionally cause myself pain and a school friend remarked, “You’d think you would be used to it by now.” She was right, I mean, I certainly did ask myself that. After all these pricks, why do I still feel the way I did when I was diagnosed? I would countdown in my head, lose my courage, and start all over again. When I finally did it, it was usually painful. My heart would race, I would sweat, and I’d find myself gasping for breath since I had just held it for too long. I wonder if this made it harder for me to test as often as needed. Maybe.

Then after more years of diabetes I one day stopped before pricking and thought, “Wow, I’m still scared of this little needle.”  Then I thought about how since I was 11 I had always uncovered my meter screen from right to left, anxious about the first number on the screen. Would it be a 1, 2, 3, or please-not a 4? I was anxious about the pain and the number result.

Soon after I read that anxiety can make us more sensitive to pain and I also read somewhere that we can help reduce the pain of our finger sticks if we calm ourselves before doing it. I found that taking a few really deep couple of breathes and doing the finger stick in the middle of an exhale helped. It was also helpful to accept that this was my reality and I could, in a way, embrace it by thinking “just do it” and not overthinking it. I even tried humming a theme song in my head during the blood sugar checking process. Aside from these techniques I worked on viewing my blood sugar results as merely helpful data and not a personal attack on my abilities to live with diabetes.

I’ve now had diabetes almost 22 years. A few days ago I checked my blood sugar and as I zipped up my meter case I realized that I didn’t hesitate before using the lancing device anymore. I thought, “Wait, when did this happen?” I can’t say exactly. It kind of snuck up on me–probably due to being distracted by two children. I am thrilled, though. Finally, after all these years I can comfortably check my blood sugar? It may sound like a small thing but it’s a big deal to me.

If you experience this hesitation and feeling of dread before inflicting necessary pain on yourself, I recommend three things:

  1. Don’t be hard on yourself. Not when it comes to finger sticks and not when it comes on your blood sugar levels.
  2. Try deep breathes and focus on the info you are about to get–versus focusing on the finger stick itself.
  3. Practice acceptance. Acceptance of whatever you are about to see on your meter before you see it. Remember that you need this information to keep yourself feeling good and well-informed. Accept that these finger sticks are painful. You aren’t weak or crazy for thinking so.

Be patient with yourself as you figure out what works. And if you have any tips that help you please share in the comments.

The Time I Realized Diabetes Occupies Too Much Head Space

Years ago I suffered from a 9 millimeter kidney stone that had to be laser zapped into pieces. The procedure was deemed “successful” but left me with a torrential avalanche of small kidney stone pieces that sent me right back to the hospital in extreme pain later that same day. It was the type of pain that makes you lose the will to live because in the moment, you need anything to come between you and that pain.

Luckily, after a few hellish hours, my nightmare was over. I was sent home with strong pain medicine to take over the next few weeks while more kidney stone fragments made their way down my ureter.

I kept feeling twinges of pain so each day I took one of my pain pills. I knew that if the pain got too bad before I took medication, that the medication would be almost useless at that point and since I was traumatized from the pain I took my precautions against it.

I took the daily doses for about two weeks before I decided to chuck the remainder of the pills in the garbage.

I did this because those two weeks were among the best of my entire life. Let me explain.

During this time, I was coming out of a period of poor diabetes management so I was healing from some diabetic nerve damage in my feet, healing my depression and was also in the process of working on improving my issues with anxiety surrounding my diabetes.

The strong pain medication didn’t allow me to feel my foot nerve pain and it seemed to completely remove my anxiety about my diabetes. I lived temporarily as someone who, about half of the time, forgot she had diabetes in the first place.

This was wonderful to experience (though I don’t and can’t recommend it to anyone, of course). I became the opposite of my uptight self who was always paying attention to symptoms and was worried about blood sugars. I dare say I was the most pleasant version of myself I’ve ever witnessed. This isn’t to say that people with diabetes are uptight–but some of us are because it is the only way we have come to cope with trying to manage our condition. I truly admire those who can take good care of themselves without becoming a little neurotic. It is true too, that I may have been feeling so great partially due to not being in pain after being in tons of pain and the stark contrast left me in a type of momentary heaven.

My mind felt free to interact fully with those around me because I wasn’t stuck in my internal dialogue regarding my worries about insulin, blood sugar, complications and carb counts.

So how did I manage my diabetes during those two weeks? Really well, actually, because I was in the habit of checking my blood sugar levels and so that still continued like clock-work. I kept giving insulin like before and I kept eating low carb foods as usual. I was aware that I may not feel highs and lows on a strong pain medication so I threw in more blood sugar checks and even these were easier because I didn’t feel apprehension about the results. I am pretty sure I also did less anxiety eating and made better food choices, too.

I realized that my feeling so wonderful about life had everything to do with an illusion however, so I knew that before I became addicted to the pills, I needed to get rid of them for good. It hurt but I threw them in the trash, felt an impulse to rescue them and then threw the trash out in the garbage can.

It was a major bummer but my lesson here was that my goal would be to continue doing what I needed to do to manage my diabetes while somehow managing to turn off the perfectionistic and unhelpful demands and worries I was living with. Those two weeks proved that I didn’t need all that to manage my diabetes well.

It has been 11 years and I don’t think I’ve had a happier consecutive two weeks since. I’m still working on toning down my bouts of negativity and anxiety. I may not have achieved what I would have liked to but I’m hanging in there and am regularly picking myself off the ground and I suppose that counts for something.

I can live with myself as long as I keep trying.

Diabetes and Clinical Language Problem: We Have the Power

Recently and over the years, there have been very intelligent and thoughtful written reactions to the way that people with diabetes are clinically labeled as uncontrolled, non compliant and non adherent.

I wanted to share my thoughts today.

First, I think we need to define what “control” means in regards to diabetes and blood sugars.
Clinically speaking, my doctor would label me “in control” or “compliant”. Does this mean I always manage my blood sugars, can always predict them or often have swings that are outside of my ability to manage? No, but it means that my daily readings and A1c are generally considered the best possible for someone without the ability to make their own insulin.
 
Whenever an additional factor is present like gastroparesis, poverty or depression then we ourselves should keep those in mind so that if we do somehow come across the label “non compliant” we remind ourselves that we have our own legitimate reasons for blood sugar instability. While it is nice if others support us, especially for those without the self-confidence to prop themselves up emotionally, I think we should strive to be responsible for our own feelings of guilt. I understand this is difficult depending on who you are, what you have been through, how you were raised to think and so on.
I no longer feel guilty about my blood sugar management when it is poor. I know diabetes is hard and I work to improve it while patting myself on the back for attempting the impossible. This helps me tremendously because instead of sinking at the sound and judgment of a word, I focus more on the meaning of it and what I need to do. I’m not always very good at this but I try to focus on solutions instead of my feelings. I get that this can be very hard. I for one, always initially react emotionally to something and those feelings often overwhelm me when trying to think clearly. Still, I find that it helps to stay rational and try to keep emotions out of the troubleshooting process. 
Better results regarding my diabetes are going to help me feel better so they are my lighthouse.
I can certainly empathize with wanting clinical terms to go away. I’ve always advocated that doctors keep their technical in-house terms to themselves because they do not translate to people and their feelings. The truth is that outcomes are negatively influenced when people are emotionally upset. Doctors should recognize that there are many good reasons why someone isn’t managing their blood sugars as well as they’d like and help a person make improvements wherever possible without using a phrase that doesn’t take their serious effort into account. In-house, fine, I’m “controlled” or “uncontrolled”, whatever. Sitting with my doctor in an office, I’m “doing my best” and then we proceed to improve what needs improving.
 
If a healthcare provider or institution doesn’t want to change their ways of describing me on paper, I’m not going under for it, not going to cry, be hurt, feel inadequate. Not in the least bit. And I hope you don’t either. You are doing the job of an organ! If you are alive you already have my genuine congratulations. Maybe in this context we can all think of control as a clinical term to describe best outcome treatment goals being met? After all, our doctors and clinicians need a way to describe us for data compilation and such.
376275_257610637629407_1743629357_n.jpg
In the meantime I suggest not tying any of your value, self worth or personal efforts to language. We have the power to start solving this problem for ourselves and our children by not being victims of words if we don’t want to be. 

 

Taking Control of Your Health

Too often, I have worried about my health, let questions swim around my head and neglected going to the doctor to deal with my concerns. I know why I’ve hesitated. It has to do with two simple things: fear and money.

Fear is so powerful a motivator but it isn’t a positive one. To neglect one’s health due to fear is generally to encourage a more negative outcome based on putting off something important. For example, the person with diabetes avoiding their annual eye exam may create a more frightening scenario when they finally go and find out they would have been better off knowing about a treatable eye issue while it was easier to treat and while their vision wasn’t yet compromised. I did this the year before last and when I went to the doctor a few months ago, basically shook in my boots over what she was going to find in my eyes. I was lucky–this time.

Money is not just a huge motivator, it’s a stubborn deterrent. If I can’t afford something, I can’t afford it, right? Thanks to credit cards, more of us are managing to get our insulin, strips, and doctor visits in but we are psychologically crumbling at the rising debt caused by affording what we need, knowing that we are further in the hole. I posted a while back about how much I spend on healthcare outside of my premium each year on my diabetes. That was just a few years ago and the number has not doubled or tripled, it has quadrupled since then. My family income hasn’t quadrupled so good luck to us. I’m not the only one trying to choose healthier versions of food, better insulin, adequate strips, and regular doctor appointments. I know many of you are struggling with the same and it is frustrating. We have to make some hard choices don’t we?

So how does one cope with these realities and still feel like we are in control of our health?

I don’t really know but I can tell you what I do to feel as close to that as possible.

First thing I do is make a list of my concerns and questions. I try to get as many of those as possible met at doctor visits. I ask my husband to help me make sure I go to the doctor. I think of my children and how they need me to be well and I push through and make sure I don’t neglect getting my questions answered and concerns dealt with. I go to the doctor with a list of things so that I don’t forget anything. Pushing through fear ends up feeling better than cowering at it.

Then I create a list of things to do each day that support my goals. Eating healthy, exercising each day, getting enough sleep and water, checking my blood sugars and taking my insulin–these are all non-negotiable. I have to be that person who loves spontaneity but who puts her foot down and tells people, “Sorry, I am not available at that time of the morning because that is when I work out.” Or “No, I can’t get a drink, I have to get to bed, maybe tomorrow at an earlier time?”

When it comes to finances, I also have to put diabetes and health first. So I budget diabetes and health items in like a car payment or the mortgage and try to have the mentality that these things are more important than even a mortgage. Wine and entertainment may seem like necessities but aren’t really. Those things get pushed back if needed. No it’s not fun… yes it is worth it.

The thing with discipline is that even though it seems really boring and restrictive, it doesn’t have to be. It can be the most empowering and noble thing in the world because of what we can accomplish through this discipline (and how we are the recipient of all the earnings). And you don’t have to suffer if you don’t choose to. Suffering due to our own choices can be very minimal or even non-existant because we are in control and no one is the boss of us and we aren’t blowing aimlessly in the wind like my blood sugars after a pizza and dessert.

Sure I mess up and throw off my health from time to time with poor choices. However, each time this happens I’m only more convinced that my disciplined routine is wonderful because it is what gives me the feeling I imagine healthy non-diabetics have: to feel decent most of the time. How marvelous it is to feel decent most of the time. With diabetes and without discipline, feeling decent most of the time isn’t possible (unless you are special and not like me). Think of how much you can do when you feel fine most days and can carry on with work, family, friends, and fun?

I’ve spent about half of my whole life feeling crappy and that is why I’m so enthusiastic about taking control of my health, despite the challenges. I deserve to feel really good and so do you!

 

Hypertension

High blood pressure made its debut 7 years ago when I was pregnant with my twins and developing preeclampsia. A day before they were born via necessary c-section I laid in bed thinking that I felt like the life was being sucked out of me. With my enormous belly I rolled myself out of bed and hobbled over to the computer as my husband slept. I researched my symptoms and realized I was experiencing high blood pressure.

After having my kids my blood pressure took a few months to stabilize. Then, each time I visited a doctor’s office they would check it and find it sometimes in normal range and sometimes in prehypertensive range.

During the last year I felt a terrible range of symptoms anytime stress was present (and if you are me, that is quite often). I could hardly explain my symptoms except to say that I felt once again that my life was draining from me. I’m known for my dramatic interpretations of things but at times I’d really clutch my chest and wonder why I felt like my heart was stressed, literally.

Recently, I’ve been going to bed later and sometimes finding myself dehydrated. It’s easy to neglect self-care if it comes on gradually. So although my decline in health appeared sudden, in wasn’t. I should probably expect the recovery to take equal time.

I came home from a cross country trip in a panic a few weeks ago. For months I’d been struggling with an irrational but growing fear of type 1 diabetes in my son and before I boarded my last plane home, my husband informed me that our son spent the last few hours vomiting. I had a panic attack on the plane. When the plane landed my husband let me know that my type 1 diabetic sister, Ana checked our son’s blood sugar and he was 96. I felt relieved in my mind but my body was still in panic mode.

When I got home there was an ambulance in my driveway. I felt a squeeze in my chest. My pulse was off the charts. I ran into the house to find out my son was fine.  My husband had felt worried and unsure about how our son was doing and since I wasn’t there he called paramedics to help him. No sign of dehydration. Perhaps a stomach virus or food poisoning. We were to keep him hydrated.

I stayed up with my son that night and went to sleep at 5am. I knew I was abusing my body but I couldn’t figure out how to be a good mom and a person who could take care of herself at that moment. I had to defer to the next evening when my husband got home from work and I got myself to a clinic to get checked out since I also had symptoms of a possible blood clot from my flight. My electrolytes and kidneys were tested and in fine condition. My pulse was about 120 and my blood pressure 188/105. The doctor couldn’t understand why at 33, I’d have such high blood pressure. My BMI is 23% and I exercise nearly each day. I eat very well. My A1c stays between 5.4 and 6.1.

I did lose my grandfather when I was very young to a stroke and my aunt has had high blood pressure since her 20s. On the other side my grandmother has had high blood pressure for a long time. So I suppose I am predisposed. I have lived with type 1 diabetes for 21 years which is an undeniable stress when not managed well.

Fast forward a few weeks. I’m on blood pressure medication. My dad turns 60 the same month I turned 33 and I have asked myself several times, “Am I going to make it to 60?” I know I probably will but my concern is the state of health I will be in at that point. I am the most stubborn person you will meet. I want to be relatively healthy or not be at all. Yes, I just said that. I think it is a comment completely and utterly based on fear and past experience. I’ve already had a hard time and things will probably get worse? How do I mentally manage that possibility? Are these feelings normal? Do I have some kind of diabetes burnout?

My plan is to sleep well, take deep breathes, practice more gratitude, keep exercising, keep eating well, entirely avoid coffee and alcohol, and try to accept that I need blood pressure meds and that maybe I have done an ok job and things just happen. I see a doctor soon to talk about my anxiety and blood pressure.

Do any of you deal with similar issues?

 

 

What my Son Taught me about Respecting People’s Fear of Needles

I grew up with type 1 diabetes and so it became crucial that I get comfortable with checking my blood sugar and giving myself injections in front of other people.  I would often be afraid of their reaction.  Would they be disgusted?  Worried?  Alarmed?  I have always used some discretion when handling these acts in public but I’ve also been vocal about how these acts affect me and not anyone else so I really don’t want to hear anyone complaining about it.  After all I’m the one enduring the pain, right?  Well, I may have been wrong.

My children are six now, but I noticed that when they were about 4, my son would stare at me when I gave my insulin shots.  He would watch the needle go in and out.  He’d even observe as I put the orange cap back on the syringe and zipped it back up in its case.  I thought to myself, “well, he sure seems interested” and I’d answer any questions he had about what I was doing.

As he got older he would ask questions like, “mommy, does it hurt when you do that?”  And I’d answer truthfully, “yes, sometimes it does, but usually it doesn’t”.  He would then say something like, “I sure am glad I don’t have diabetes.” In the past year, he has winced every time I prick my finger for a blood sugar check or given an insulin shot.  I also noticed that sometimes he would appear to physically shake off the image he just saw the way a parent might when envisioning a worst case scenario involving their precious child.

I have been quite accustomed to doing all these diabetes things in the same way someone else might pull their hair up into a ponytail or role up a shirt sleeve.  In other words, I have grown into an adult that recognized I needed to be comfortable checking my blood sugar and giving insulin anywhere and in front of anyone for my wellbeing and so I do these things mindlessly and without the crippling worry I felt as a child or teenager.  In doing so I’ve learned that most people have a lot of empathy and compassion.  They are cautious if they don’t know me and if we are say, shoulder to shoulder on a plane ride, but still rather polite.  I always imagined that I’d have children who wouldn’t even blink at my pricking my finger because I figured they’d be used to it.

My daughter has been an interesting comparison.  She doesn’t wince or tremble or look like she is in pain for me at all.  Instead, she looks away and continues what she is doing, staying just as happy-go-lucky as always.  Recently, after injecting, my son said,  “Mommy, it hurts me so much every time I see you do that.”  I quickly rushed to his side and said, “But, I’m ok sweetie, it only hurts a little, I’m still happy and smiling and everything is ok.”  Then he explained how he knows it does hurt sometimes, how he has seen the little bruises that sometimes arise, and how he hates that something painful is what keeps me alive.  Such empathy!  Then I was stunned when he said, “Would you please turn around when you are giving your shot so I don’t have to see?”

And I suddenly understood something I hadn’t before.  Some people watch us inject or prick our finger and genuinely feel a tingle through their body thanks to a release of cortisol brought on by the stress of the great load of empathy they feel for us.  Most of these people know we have to do what we do but some people are very sensitive, so much they might appreciate us having more discretion around them because they will feel our pain to some extent.

You might think of someone you don’t particularly like and not really care too much about their reaction.  I get it, but we all desire compassion from others and the only way to really earn that is through reciprocal empathy.  I care about you and you care about me.  My son doesn’t get that stress response anymore because even in the comfort of my own home I turn around or go to a different room.  When we are in close quarters I let him know what I have to do and he appreciates the warning so he can turn away.  Then I say I’m done and both my kids look at me and smile.

I now extend this awareness and courtesy to others wherever I go.  I bet there are less people out there with a fear of needles than those who are quite simply sensitive to another’s suffering.  And who would want to make this sweet little face upset?Christmas-Day-2011-134.jpg

Just to clarify, we people with diabetes should absolutely do what we need to do, when and where we need to do it. However, life should be played by ear and there are easy little ways to spread compassion as we go.  I’m not boldly defiant about my diabetes management in public–i’m calmly adamant that it’s the right thing to do.  When I soften myself up and show empathy towards others, they show it right back. It’s a win-win, what I’m advocating for.

Copyright © 2017. Powered by WordPress & Romangie Theme.