Tag Archives: life with type 1 diabetes

Calling Things by Their Proper Name and Why High Blood Sugars Always Make You Feel Bad

Dr. Stephen Ponder, an endocrinologist living with type 1 diabetes, has been posting thought-provoking questions on Facebook. One of the latest questions was: “How often do you say “good” or “bad” when talking about blood sugar (or an A1C)? If not, then how do you describe them? Should kids use “good” and “bad” when talking about their sugar levels?”

I thought I’d answer in the form of a blog post since this sparked a whole long train of thought for me.

Confucious supposedly said, “The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their proper name.” If something causes you harm–for example, as high blood sugar does, then I hesitate NOT to call it a “bad” blood sugar because it simply is, whether we acknowledge it or not. I believe it would be bad for my health if I didn’t identify, accept, and name the truth on a regular basis. It’s hard to swallow but my reality needs to be very much imposed on me if I am to act in my best interest.

Houston: We Have a Problem

People email me all the time asking what the secret is to my pretty good diabetes management and how I have the discipline for it. Honestly, any good I derive from my actions begins with calling things by their proper name. That means that I admit that eating what I want and covering it with insulin doesn’t work well enough (for me). I openly say that low carb for type 1 diabetes is the only way I know of, to get close to achieving normal blood sugar levels, a healthy weight, and safety from severe hypoglycemia. And I say that not having normal blood sugar levels is physiologically harmful because we know it is. If it weren’t, no one would be diagnosed with pre-diabetes with a 6% A1c level but, they are every minute of every day. It is on that basis that I call a 6.5% harmful and deem it not good enough for me.

If I don’t acknowledge that something is “bad” or “not good” then I don’t follow with the appropriate response or actions which have to do with changing those blood sugars or anything else. We need to apply judgment in our daily lives. It’s necessary. I have to be able to admit to myself when I’ve mistreated a loved one or I’ll certainly continue to do it. I have to be able to admit when I’m overeating, or I’ll keep gaining weight. And I have to be able to say “no, that’s not good for me” or I will suffer various potentially unlimited consequences. What is it they say to those with an addiction? “You must first admit there is a problem.”

High Blood Sugars Make You Feel Bad Even if You’re Told Not to Feel Bad

I understand parents of children with diabetes don’t want to use “good” and “bad” in relation to blood sugars or diabetes management in part because the child didn’t have anything to do with getting such a brutal condition and we don’t want them to feel bad about themselves due to diabetes. And I do support the effort many parents put into saying things like, “It’s not that you did anything bad, it’s that this isn’t working and we need to figure out what will work better.” There is still an acknowledgment that something isn’t working and the troubleshooting can begin and the child can feel better, physically, mentally, and emotionally.

I’ve recently put quite a bit of thought into why I struggle to do what I needed to as a kid with diabetes. There are several reasons but I think the main one is that doing what my parents and I were told to do didn’t ensure my success, at all, and made me feel sick and anxious anyhow and thus I acted out of hopelessness, by lying about my blood sugars, not always doing my blood sugar testing, and sneaking sugary foods to self-medicate my feelings of despair. I knew what my high blood sugars meant for my future, and in the immediate moment, my self-esteem took a hit. High blood sugars (especially really high blood sugars) make you extremely sluggish, make your saliva thick and foamy, your thinking slow, and make you not look and feel generally healthy (albeit subtly, at first).

Let’s face it, anything that is a detriment to health is a detriment to outwardly attractiveness, if not now, then later. I remember thinking as a teen that I was totally ok with my ears sticking out–there was nothing I could do, and they functioned properly, but I wasn’t ok with the weight gain I was experiencing from the way my diabetes was being managed. I wasn’t ok with becoming less attractive due to diabetes nor slower as I played sports which requires you to compete using your energy and speed. I couldn’t prove to myself or anyone else how just how good I could be as I couldn’t fully apply myself to anything. Within my capabilities, I tried SO hard, though. Not getting results for your efforts because of diabetes makes a person crazy. And successful diabetes management relies on the most effective efforts, not the most industrious ones so I lost out.

For those without diabetes, think of how you feel about yourself when you’ve been injured or come down with a bad cold–you’re knocked down a few pegs, right? Even if people are kind to you and don’t make you feel bad about any of it. Admit it, you feel less attractive, less productive, and you may feel motivated to do whatever it takes to get yourself back to feeling good, even doing things that you were not willing to do before that experience.

I believe many people with diabetes, including children, are in an impossibly precarious situation when their blood sugar management is less than ideal. This is particularly true once they learn what elevated blood sugars can do to them over time or once the negative effects stack up over the years. No, it’s not fair, or whatever, but all I know is my “good” diabetes management began when I admitted to myself that my diabetes management was “bad” and that if I were willing to make some sacrifices in the name of tight blood sugar management, I may have a ticket to health and happiness. It’s been more than worth it, which is why I keep annoyingly banging this tired drum.

Is it Possible to Do Better?

I am partial to diabetes management for adults and children which makes it easier for them to be successful with their diabetes because the alternative leads to misery. No matter how much you tell a person they are “good,” if their blood sugar levels are often high, they are going to be feeling poorly much of the time, and that is going to make them feel “bad,” regardless. It’s very hard for us to separate how we feel, physically, from how we feel, mentally. One follows the other. Feeling unhealthy does not lend itself to feeling good and it never will.

Do some people who don’t feel healthy manage to feel good and happy? Yes, but this is a feat not accomplished by most, and while children amaze us with their resilience alas, they do grow up, and many will suffer the weight of high blood sugars and blood sugar variability and fear of hypoglycemia as evidenced by personal social media accounts and all the studies pointing out rates of anxiety and depression in adults with type 1 diabetes.

This is why I encourage the attempt at a low carb diet for anyone with type 1 diabetes. Thanks to those who do very low carb diets, we’ve learned that it is possible to do better with glycemic control. Did you know that for a long time no one did better than a 4-minute mile and experts said it was impossible and once Sir Roger Bannister did, many others followed suit soon after? That’s because we can only accomplish what we believe is possible. I’m telling you that I’m not special, I don’t have more discipline than you, and that it is possible to achieve very tight and safe, blood sugar control.

The repercussions of this are incredible. In my experience, it leads to better moods, better relationships, improved ability to work, less fear of highs and lows, less anxiety, less depression, better sleep, and on and on. The positive effects are hard to quantify but they are exponential and eventually make going back to another way of managing diabetes something I won’t consider.

You can’t easily feel good about yourself if you don’t feel good physically and you likely can’t feel your best physically if you don’t have blood sugars as close to normal as possible. For more: check out the Sir Roger Bannister of the type 1 diabetes world: Dr. Richard K. Bernstein.

To conclude, I don’t worry about good/bad and any similar terminology when I think to myself, I worry mostly about my outcomes and my actual experience. It’s surprising how happy I can be while honestly telling myself that something is “bad”. That’s because I then put my energy into finding what makes it “good” and focus on that, instead. What you focus on matters and makes all the difference.

(If you manage your blood sugars well without low carb and you’re happy and healthy, I’m not directing this to you, at all.)

Monday 2015 Diabetes Blog Week Post I CAN

Click for the I Can – Monday 5/11 Link List.
In the UK, there was a diabetes blog theme of “I can…”  that participants found wonderfully empowering.  So lets kick things off this year by looking at the positive side of our lives with diabetes.  What have you or your loved one accomplished, despite having diabetes, that you weren’t sure you could?  Or what have you done that you’ve been particularly proud of?  Or what good thing has diabetes brought into your life?  (Thank you to the anonymous person who submitted this topic suggestion.)

 

Happy to be back after two years…

 

When I was 10 years old, I felt a very strong sensation bubbling up inside of me that I can now identify as drive and motivation.  For what?  I wasn’t sure.  I just felt a seriously strong longing to do something important, something that would help people.  This intensified when my sister was diagnosed with type 1 that year.  The most memorable dream of my entire life was right after her diagnosis.  I wrote it down.  Basically I was in the Amazon rain forest, just south of where I was born, looking for a cure for cancer (interesting that cancer be the disease I was curing in my dream-I think this had to do with all the talk of curing cancer from some unknown plant in the jungle at that time).  Anyway, my memory of this dream is freakishly long and detailed.  When I woke up I thought it was a sign I was going to at least work in some way or other to help others.

Then I was diagnosed with type 1 (the same year).  I felt ok for the first 6 months.  I was driven to succeed.  Then reality set it.  Diabetes was a bitch.  And I was stuck with it until someone lived my dream (in my child’s mind) and cured it?  Oh no no no this was not ok.  I got negative about it pretty quickly.  I felt my personality changing.  With every passing year I was further and further from myself.  I couldn’t help anyone-I couldn’t help me.

In my early 20’s, after depressing times due to friends dying and other losses and major fear over my physical and mental health, I began to turn around.  I tried to come back to myself.  That really was the way I thought of it.  I would remember how I was a positive kid, with a ton of spirit and wonder, and with a yearning to act on the compassion I felt for others.

So to wrap this up what I’m saying is that I can be ME despite my diabetes and because my journey has been as I described, that feels rather victorious.  I know diabetes can pull us away from all the good parts of ourselves with constant stress and suffering.  This is something I will constantly continue to struggle with.  But, I feel very much myself these days and for that I’m quite grateful.

Diabetes isn’t a Drama Queen

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The other night, I realized my kids had ate my glucose tablets so I reached under my bed for the emergency bag of gummy candies I have stashed there.  I frantically tore the bag open and started stuffing my mouth in frustration.  Alex studied me for a moment and said, “Are you ok?”

Through a mouthful of sticky, fruit shaped, red 40 dyed High Fructose Corn Syrup poison I muttered, “I hate these lows, the ones that shoot down quickly.”  Then as beads of sweat came down my forehead and my heart raced I said, “It literally feels like death is coming to get me.”

Alex looked at me sympathetically and said frankly, “Well, that’s pretty much what’s happening, isn’t it?”

I’m usually a tad dramatic but this time and many other times, diabetes rises to the occasion.

Diabetes isn’t a drama queen.  And we’re not drama queens or kings for living with it.

This stuff is for real.

My Reason

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I take care of myself for my husband and children.  For my parents, brothers, sisters, and friends.  For my extended family and friends composed of the DOC.  Last but not least I take care of myself for me.

Have a fabulous Friday everyone!

Remember, love and respect yourself and the rest will follow.

XOXO

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