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Posts from the ‘Diabetes and Emotions’ Category

Bury the Gift.

I hate the “gifts” of diabetes.  It makes me a little twitchy when anyone asks me to think about all the good that has come as a result of my diabetes diagnosis.  The urge to reach across the table and poke them in the nose and remind them, “Disease is not a PLUS,” is hard to squish.  Diabetes doesn’t give gifts and I don’t like giving it credit for any of my perceived strengths, as far as I’m concerned.

I was reminded of this when Birdy and I were reading a book over breakfast the other day.  It was about cats (contain your shock) and discussed how cats may bring you “gifts” to impress you.  The book kindly suggested that you appreciate the gift and then politely bury it.

“Bury the gift” is how I deal with the things diabetes has brought into my life that are an asset.  I appreciate the perspective and lessons I’ve learned after twenty-nine years with type 1 diabetes, but I’d still like to take all of those “gifts” and politely bury them in the backyard. 

However, I have to grudgingly admit that the influence of diabetes on my life hasn’t been all garbage, so I’ve dug up some of the gifts in order to work my way out of this patch of wet paint.

Breakfast reading. #burythegift

A photo posted by Kerri Sparling (@sixuntilme) on

One gift? I’ve learned to see things in numbers.  For better or for worse, a plate of food is not a plate of food but instead a math problem.  I can calculate how many carbs are in a set meal and mash that up with how much insulin is on board, the amount of exercise I have done (or will do), and take any cortisol-inducing stressors into account when deciding how much insulin to dose.  This is not a magical power but a talent that many PWD have in their arsenal.  It’s hard-earned, the ability to rake your eyes over something for the briefest moment and determine the amount of dangerously-potent drug you need to administer.  Hogwarts doesn’t teach this shit.

It’s helped me learn to forgive.  In order to succeed in a body that doesn’t make insulin anymore, I had to learn to forgive that shortcoming.  I had to teach myself to let go of some of the anger and find things I was still okay liking.  This was a very hard learning curve and I still struggle with it on days when diabetes makes me filled with rage.  But my body is still mine, and still  successful in so many other ways.  I forgive my pancreas, mostly, for being a crumb.

Diabetes has helped me learn to be patient.  Waiting in line at the post office, at the airport, in the grocery store … it’s all smooth when I compare it to the endless vacuum of minutes while I’m sweating and swaying and waiting for food to bring my blood sugar back up into livable range.  I am able to be more patient because I’ve learned to wait.  (This mindset works 80% of the time but has limits, like when I ask Birdzone to put her frigging shoes on seventeen times in efforts to not miss the school bus. Just. Put. Your. Shoes. ON.)

It’s showed me that some shit is terribly funny.  Even when it seems like it shouldn’t be.  Diabetes isn’t funny (except that it totally has to be when emotions are intense and the tension can’t be broken with anything other than some gallows humor).  Some of the hardest laughs I have ever had have been through tears of frustration.  Laughing at this nonsense keeps me centered.

And life with diabetes has taught me perspective, a perspective that I would gladly do without but since I don’t have a choice to give diabetes back, I’ll take the perspective it offers and try to remain grateful for it.  Some people are frustrated by the statement, “But it could be worse.”  That doesn’t frustrate me.  I believe it could be worse, and I’m grateful that it’s not.  I’m thankful that I live in circumstances that allow for a butter compartment stashed with insulin and a job that pays for medical necessities.  Diabetes has shown me what one malfunctioning order can do to my system, which prompts me to take good care of my body, broken bits and all.  I’ve had close to three decades with diabetes, and I’m unsure about what opportunities the future might hold.  But I’m not waiting for a cure.  There’s life after diagnosis, and I can’t put everything on hold until “there’s a cure.”

There’s still a life.

And there’s still a mental garden filled with “gifts” that I can draw from when I need to.

(Is it okay to end on a macabre mental image about dead mice that my cat has brought to us, comparing those critters to the things that diabetes has taught me?  I say yes, and will blame Halloween.)


Wet Paint.

I looked at my blood sugars in the last few weeks and my worst response was my lack of response.  In reviewing the numbers, my brain only shrugged in apathy.

A year or two ago, I would have looked at the dwindling number of finger sticks and the creeping trend of high numbers and been very, “Whoa.  What is going on here, and how can I stop it?”  The rational, tuned-in part of my mind would fire up like the boiler in my old house did, whirring to life in a flurry of noise and action and suddenly I’d be warm and en route to taking control.

Trouble is, I think my boiler blew out.  I just don’t give a fuck at the moment.  I slipped without meaning to.

I used to be able to detect this slippery slide into giving-less-of-a-fuck a bit better.  There were warning signs that made me take notice and then take action.  But this time, it’s not burnout that I’m feeling.  I don’t think it’s burnout, anyway.  And it’s not depression, or at least it doesn’t feel like it did a few years ago when I had trouble finding my footing.  This feels a little different, more like exhaustion than anything else.  I’m having trouble finding balance (ironic) in managing diabetes, work, motherhood, and marriage.  The travel on both sides of the family businesses has been especially manic, leaving a lot of random, loose ends flapping in the breeze.

Blah, blah, blah, life, life, life, right?

But they aren’t random loose ends.  For me, the frayed bits are my health management habits.  And I’m not focusing on the right things.  My laundry is washed, folded, and put away but my finger sticks have dwindled down to two or three per day.  I’m bolusing off my CGM way too often, but the floors are swept.  Birdy’s book bag is ready for school every morning, complete with a note in her lunchbox, but I’m not checking my fasting blood sugar until she’s already on the bus for school (two hours after waking up, mind you).

This is not cool.  This is not good.  And this feels both irresponsible and stupid.

Which, in turn, makes me feel irresponsible and stupid.

I have no idea what my A1C is.  I haven’t had it checked in four months.  I need to schedule an appointment to have my eyes looked at in efforts to keep tabs on the macular edema, but I haven’t made that phone call, either.  The diabetes to do list is painting me into a bit of a corner, and I’m having trouble stepping onto the wet paint.

But this morning, when I sat down to work, I realized that this feeling of defeat was keeping me from wanting to do anything.  I didn’t want to write.  I didn’t want to work on booking travel or on presentations I have to give.  My mind kept jumping to the next distraction, the next thing that would keep me from acknowledging that my disease, this serious health condition, was being mismanaged by me at the moment.

Something has to change.  And it doesn’t appear that my pancreas will be making insulin any time soon.  So I need to be much better about paying attention to my diabetes care.  The cyclical nature of my diabetes apathy is such that it comes and goes without much warning and is hard to prevent.  But that doesn’t mean I can surrender to it fully.  Because I like being alive and well, and I’d like to continue to be alive and well.  So hang on … let me do some quick follow through for a minute …

… I’ve just called my endocrinologist to make an appointment, and in the meantime I’ve asked for lab orders to be sent to my local lab so I can have an A1C run closer to home.  I need to know where I stand, and how I can move forward.  I’ve also called and scheduled another eye dilation to have my eyeball status checked.  And the last phone call was to my medical supply company to reorder some supplies.

Tomorrow, I won’t change everything.  I’m still tired.  Still tired of diabetes and ashamed that I’ve let other health focus points take my attention away to such a degree.  But I need to change something.  And the first thing I decided to change was the idea that I need to keep these feelings bottled up and hidden away.  I’m struggling something fierce these days – have been for a while – and I needed to say it out loud in order to push me to actually do something about it.

So I’m doing something.  I might end up tracking that wet paint all over the house, but at least I won’t have my back up against the wall anymore.

29 Years with Type 1 Diabetes.

Even though my diabetes diagnosis was twenty-nine years ago today, I feel kind of done with letting it serve as a milestone marker for me.  In years past, I liked marking the day because it felt like a moment of flipping the bird (not this Bird) to diabetes.  Over the last few years, I’ve kind of liked not paying much attention to the anniversary; it was an opportunity to remove the bold underline from diabetes.  Diabetes is something that’s part of my life, but letting it blur my focus isn’t a good head space for me to be in.


Instead, I’m focusing on the shit I like.

Like how my daughter is five and a half years old and she’s a really happy kid.  The smile that spreads across her face when she sees the school bus approach in the morning is my new favorite thing.  That, and watching her walk with a book bag that’s half the size of her body.

[Total aside:  I also really like that, in our neighborhood, the school bus drives in and picked up the kids, goes up the road and through the cul-de-sac, and then drives by us again as it leaves our street.  Which means that the parents stand there and wait for the bus to come back, then we all wave like lunatics.  It's a very strange custom and one I already find comforting.  (I wonder if the sidewalk group of showered-and-dressed parents eventually devolves into a ragtag pile of bed-headed, bathrobe-wearing, coffee-cup-clutching adults.)]

I like my husband.  So much that I taught our daughter how to write names in the peanut butter.  She thinks it’s a weird custom, but got all excited when given the opportunity to write “LOOPY” in the untouched surface of a new jar.

I like my job.  Living with diabetes can be an intrusion and as I mentioned last year, the intrusion seems to have dulled over time for the most part, but the career and the voice that I’ve had the good fortune to build as a result of this frigging disease is more fulfilling than any other job I could imagine.  I’m looking forward to the chance to meet with my European counterparts in Stockholm next week, and very excited for what’s on tap for 2016.

I like my health.  There are bits and pieces I’d change, if given the chance (see also:  bringing diabetes back after 30 years, mostly because I’ve kept the receipt this whole time), but on the whole, I am extremely lucky to have a disease where I can strongly influence my personal health outcomes.  I am in the driver’s seat, even if I have an unruly passenger.  Despite diabetes, I can still run.  I can still dance (badly).  I can make mistakes.  I can make a difference.  I can still stay out late and laugh hard (resulting sometimes in a snort, which is not cool, body).  I can raise a family.  I can be a crumb.  I can also be a good person.

I canAnd you can.  (Toucan.)

And I like you guys.  A lot.  Your support and camaraderie has been instrumental over the last decade, and I think I’m in a better mental health place as a result of this community.  Twenty-nine years ago, community was limited to my zip code.  Now, some of my best friends are based in this community, and I’m grateful as eff.  Access to this digital database of truly amazing human beings has been the best thing diabetes has brought to my life, islets down.

So onward, you guys.  ONWARD.  To another year of BYOI(nsulin).


Longest Dexcom Break in Six Years.

“Is it because of the skin thing?” he asked, watching me put the transmitter and receiver on the bedroom dresser.

“Yeah,” I replied, only it wasn’t exactly the truth.  Sure, my skin had some pretty irritated patches from the constant application/reapplication of my CGM sensors, but it was manageable, especially if I was more diligent about rotating my sites.  But it wasn’t just the physical itch or the bulk of another device stuck on me.

I needed to fly blind for a while.

Which sounds ridiculous, because I am lucky as hell to have access to that data insight in the first place.  Twenty-some-odd (they’ve all been odd) years ago, I would have laughed in you face if you told me I could have access to all-day streaming blood glucose data without having to prick my finger ever five minutes.  I remember putting on my first Dexcom sensor and being amazed at the trends alone (the old STS wasn’t up to G4 standards).  Using a CGM helped me corral my blood sugars in pursuit of a happy-baby-range A1C without working in a pile of low blood sugars.  And throughout my pregnancy (and the subsequent raising of my now-not-so-small Bird), the data was beyond useful.  It became indispensable.

But after six years of wearing the sensor almost all the time, feeling like the two hour booting up time frame was an eternity, I needed more than two hours off.  I needed more than two days off.  I needed to take the sensor off and put it on a shelf for a week or two in order to stop leaning on it so heavily and to help retrain my body and my mind to tune in more actively to diabetes.

Because when the sensor is on and throwing data, I trust it.  Trust to the point of crutching out on it, not testing my blood sugar often enough throughout the day and making corrections and meal doses off the CGM data.  (Do as the FDA and Dexcom say, not as I do.  Consult your doctor before ever consulting the likes of me.  See also my Dexcom disclosure.)  For years, the CGM data was making me better at the job of managing my diabetes.  I liked it that way, but in the last few weeks (admittedly, months), I haven’t been doing a good job of staying on top of my diabetes.  Instead, I’m letting the technology take control, when the one at the helm should be me.

Took a break.

A photo posted by Kerri Sparling (@sixuntilme) on

So I took off the sensor about a week and a half ago.  Defiantly, but also half-expecting to cave and put another one on right away.  For the first two days, going to bed at night was the toughest part because of my concern for overnight hypoglycemia.  But I was testing more, and I set an alarm one night to double-check, and then there was this moment when I wasn’t panicking about the lack of data because I had started re-trusting my own ability to do this myself.

Because I can do this. I have done this. This Friday marks 29 years of doing it and doing it and doing it well. I’m in control, despite the work it takes to get there and the patchy moments of “Yeah?”

This afternoon, I’ll pop a new sensor on and watch my glucose live-stream again.  But it will be different because I won’t feel like I’m along for the ride with this diabetes bullshit.  I feel a little more like I am back in the driver’s seat, with technology as my seat belt instead of my airbag.

To A Crisp.

The folks at Diabetes Daily have cobbled together a day to discuss diabetes social media burnout.  (Yes, ironic to dedicate a day of online discussion about diabetes social media burnout …) but the topic is real and something that we have all encountered over the years, so it bears discussion.

Only I’m not talking about it today.

Why?  Because I don’t really feel up to it.

The crap that I have to do to stay on top of diabetes is non-negotiable.  Checking blood sugars, making careful food choices, exercising, blah, blah, blaaaaah.  That stuff is part of the repertoire I cannot ignore without putting my health at significant risk.

But the blogging partTwitterInstagram?  Answering emails?  That’s not required for diabetes management.  That’s auxiliary.  And mostly positive, in my experiences.  The Internet isn’t always the cuddliest place, but in the diabetes community there is a welcomed trend of positive interactions and real, substantial relationships with people touched by diabetes coming together to share experiences, ideas, and to help someone carry the parts of diabetes that get a little heavy at times.

But these connections are not required.  They are a choice you can make, just like opening your computer or clicking away on your smartphone.  More choices follow from there, steeped in personal preferences:  Download the Facebook app on your phone?  Only use Twitter during #dsma?  Take weekends off from social media?  Engage with trolls?  Engage in supportive interactions and fruitful friendships?  Give a shit about cruel things that people might say?  Ignore/block/delete unwanted commentary?  Seek out local, in-person meet-ups?  Have long text message threads with friends you’ve made in the DOC?  Dedicate your personal and professional life to diabetes efforts?

… or how about take a breath?  Enjoy a combination of what’s available.  Relax a little bit.  Enjoy social media as an option, not as a requirement.  The Diabetes Online Community is a tool in our diabetes management toolbox.  And just like with any toolbox, you don’t always need the same one.  (Avoid trying to use a flat head when you need a Phillips.  Don’t use a hammer when you need a steamroller.  Learn the difference between a level and a wrench.  Never substitute playdough for a nail.  Don’t chew on a socketwrench.  Et cetera.)

For more on diabetes burnout with a side of social media, check out these posts:

Slightly Charred

Show Me Your Pump … Or Not


Talking About Diabetes Burnout

Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss!



Slightly Charred.

Diabetes burnout and social media burnout have a tendency to go hand-in-hand for me because it becomes tiresome to document my failures.

“No, the failures of your pancreas,” said a friend.

Nope.  The failures of me, pancreas and all.  I can’t separate the two.  Diabetes challenges me emotionally and physically because I am lucky enough to deal with a disease that offers me a fair amount of control … which translates into a predictable to do list.  As much as I try to reduce my level of responsibility when it comes to this crap, I have to own my role in this disease.  It’s not something I could have prevented, but it is something I have to deal with.  I look at other health issues in my life and realize how little influence I have over them.  And then I look at diabetes and I’m forced to acknowledge that this disease is a confluence of intention and reaction.

Writing about diabetes has become hard some days.  It used to feel good to write about a low blood sugar and get that story out there because it felt like a purging of bad feelings, and the flood of “me, too!” moments made the edges of frustration softer.  Now there are moments when sharing feels pointless; no one needs a reminder of why my disease can be a pain in the ass … least of all me.

I have good intentions.  I intend to take care of myself, and despite the variables that influence diabetes outcomes, I make efforts.  (I exercise.  I eat well.  I don’t smoke.  I am proactive with my medical appointments.  I check blood sugars and take insulin.  I list things that seem smug, like the aforementioned list.)  But diabetes is still diabetes, and I am still reacting to the disease a fair amount of the time.  Reacting to a low (eat something!) or reacting to a high (bolus!) or reacting to a skin irritation (Toughpad me) or reacting to frustrations related to the diagnosis of complications (eyeball fuckery) or reacting to the underlying theme of always hoping for the best and yet being pragmatically prepared for the worst.

Community helps me process this stuff.

Community is a good way for me to manage my emotional health as it relates to diabetes (directly).  Connecting with peers helps me find my footing in moments when I feel like diabetes is dominating.  But that sounds so formal, like secondary headline on a journal article.  The diabetes online community and all this blogging stuff has given me so much in terms of emotional health success.  So what am I doing, writing about social media burnout?  I actually feel stupid saying that there can be burnout from social media, even though I know there can be.  It just feels like the most first world issue there ever was.  Almost like having too many pairs of sturdy shoes – “I simply cannot manage all of the opportunities that are available to me!  Woe is my woe-crammed self.”

So am I burnt out?  Or just slightly charred?  And do I need someone’s permission to voice this issue?  (No.)

Sometimes I question my decision to (over)share so much of my diabetes process in a public setting.  Putting information out to the Internet invites strangers to comment and critique, which is productive when the discussions are empowering and awful when the discussions are cruel.  I’ve had a lot of positive experiences overall via the Internet but it’s been a mixed bag at times.  Which I’m not surprised about – not everyone will like everything, or support everything, or spell everything correctly – but at the same time, it surprises me when I see people rip others apart for their shortcomings or vulnerabilities.  Watching people run commentary that’s hurtful detracts from the nice, mellow community vibe that I appreciate most.  Basically, sometime people (myself included) are dicks, and I hate when that happens.  It makes it harder to share openly and to support.  As the years go by, I want to share less because I want to protect my right to fuck up.  It’s a weird halfway, because the moments where I fuck up are the ones I need the most support during.

So what’s the point of this post?  Here you go:  On September 1st, the team at Diabetes Daily wanted to generate some discussion about social media burnout.  And I hope people talk, because discussions like these make our community stronger.  Or at least that’s the goal.

It’s not about curating a perfect online existence; it’s about living a real, healthy life even with the raw and ragged edges.

A Matter of Apologies.

“I was low.  I was frustrated because of the low blood sugar.  I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay,” and I can tell she means it by the look in her friendly, brown eyes.

I used to be very terrible at saying, “I’m sorry.”  I would hold on to frustration and anger in a way that was not good for me or anyone around me, making a grudge or the need to feel like I “won” the disagreement take precedence over a relationship.  I’d keep “I’m sorry” under my tongue because I didn’t want to admit that I’d done something that hurt someone’s feelings.  I felt embarrassed to admit my shortcomings.  It felt awkward and bad.

It took a long time for my head to figure out that my heart was better off if I let the sorry fly, but once I came to that realization, I tried to embrace as often as I could.  (I also had to work on the “does this interaction make me better or worse as a person?”  This is still a work in progress.)  Now I’m less terrible at saying, “I’m sorry,” and I feel better for it.

As much as I hate to admit it, my blood sugars are not only influenced by my emotions (stress, anyone?) but they influence my emotions, as well.  The way my numbers make me physically feel can cause me to act like a total crumb.  It’s another reason to be aware of what my blood sugars are, and if I enter the Crumb Zone, apologize for it.

I find myself apologizing to my daughter at times for entirely blood sugar related reasons.  Sometimes I snap because I’m taking yet another bolus to correct yet another high and my body is riddled with sugar and rage, and I will be far less than patient with my little one as a result.  Other times I raise my voice because I’m trying to treat a low blood sugar reaction and she’s at my elbow asking to [insert rogue request from active 5 year old here].  Losing my patience during the course of run-of-the-mill parenting is something I am not proud of, but losing my patience because diabetes is leaning on my parenting style is something I want my kid to understand as best she can, because I don’t want her ever thinking my seemingly random outbursts are tied to her in any way.

It’s a weird balance between feeling like I’m blaming diabetes for my actions and simply explaining my actions.  Am I in the Crumb Zone (or Mayor of Crumb City, if you’re nasty) because of diabetes?  Nope.  Diabetes doesn’t get credit or get blamed.  But sometimes this disease is part of the explanation, and I want my family to have a sense for how, and why, I’m wired a certain way.

There are moments when Birdy assumes my attitude problem is diabetes-rYes, this whole post was an excuse to use the Siah-in-a-banana picture again.elated when it’s not, and I’m forced to fess up.

“Are you in a bad mood because of a low blood sugar?” my daughter asks, pointedly.

“Not at the moment.  Right now, I’m in a bad mood because I just realized I left a banana in the car while I was on my trip last week.  And now I’m afraid to open the door and confront the banana stink.”

“It’s okay,” she says.  And then adds, “Ew.”



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