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Posts from the ‘Diabetes and Emotions’ Category

Keeping it Bubbly Without Bubbling Over.

Yesterday, I was at the JDRF TypeOneNation event in Dallas (big thank you to Tandem Diabetes for sponsoring my attendance in full – more on that disclosure here), and I did two presentations.

Despite only seeing a circuit of airport/shuttle/hotel/shuttle/airport, Dallas was fun.

During my talk on “Life After Diagnosis,” a family asked about my views on diabetes, citing that I seemed to have a lot of energy.  (Little do they know that coffee is to blame.  A real one; my first in several months.  And it was lovely and made my brain go hey I still work – jump up and doooooown!)

“You seem very bubbly, and very positive about your diabetes. My daughter hears a lot about people who are very positive and upbeat about their diabetes. She is not there yet. How can we help her get there?”

That’s a loaded question, because it runs on the assumption that once you hit a moment of diabetes acceptance, you stay there. This September, I’ll mark the 30 year point with type 1 diabetes, and I’ve had more than a few run-ins with diabetes burnout, episodes of less-than-optimal, and emotional struggles with diabetes. Sometimes that’s not properly conveyed here on my website, and less-so in person, because I don’t like to write about struggling too often. It’s not a matter of being ashamed of the struggle, but more that chronicling emotional stress sometimes adds to emotional stress.

Think about it: if you’re feeling crumbs-ish about diabetes, and you make a list of reasons why you feel crumby about diabetes, now you have this list of crumbs-inducing stuff staring you in the face. A bulleted list of reasons you should feel like garbage.  That kind of reinforcement is not my jam.

For me, itemizing my grief doesn’t work. What does, at least for now, is identifying what’s bugging me and then embracing the opposite of that bug.  In the past, I’ve actively hated the process of checking my blood sugar.  Oddly enough, a new meter case was enough to trick my brain into being less frigging angry about it.  When my blood sugars were tanking after exercising and frustrations were mounting, my husband helped me focus on the benefits of the exercise itself, even if I was consuming a juice box (or four) after a specific workout.  Focusing on small victories made dealing with some of the bigger bullshit moments easier.

And sometimes I’ve just needed time to fill back up.

Diabetes “acceptance” isn’t a staircase, where you achieve a mental milestone and continue to work from that point. If anything, the emotional aspects of diabetes are more like an escalator that sometimes stalls out and becomes stairs, which then sometimes collapse entirely to become a slide backwards. I’m not sure what’s at the top, what the apex of acceptance might be for other people, but for me, I picture it as feeling comfortable taking a few steps forward at times, knowing full well I might stumble back.

The point is, there’s always something.  People aren’t always honest about what they’re struggling with, which can paint a perception of achievable diabetes perfection, which is absolutely not a thing.  I’m not sure how to advise someone to “get there,” but instead assure them that “there” looks different for everyone touched by diabetes.  Community, and connecting with others who understand on the most nuanced of levels, helps.   Diabetes is a journey.  It’s a pain in the butt.  It’s a constantly needy little thing that shouts often and loudly at times, whispers quietly and pokes me with an unraveled paper clip at others.

But at the end of the day, diabetes is ours to wrangle in, and on our worst days, the diabetes community helps us to hog-tie that shit.

(Also picturing comfortable pillows and one extremely fluffy and endearingly cross-eyed/double-pawed kitten at the top of this staircase, and maybe a giant iced coffee that I can stick my whole face into and then sprout gills to be able to breathe under coffee.  To be specific.)

Halfway Point.

We’re a little over 20 weeks into this pregnancy, which means that I’m over halfway done baking (baking? brewing? percolating.) the new little Sparling.  The last twenty weeks have been busy:

Doctors appointments.  There are many of these.  We started with the visits to the fertility clinic, where I had a lot of assessment visits and then, once we were actually pregnant, a series of progression checks before they felt comfortable releasing me to the wilds of a “regular high risk pregnancy.”  I’ve seen my endocrinologist monthly since finding out about the pregnancy, my OB/GYN up in Boston every three weeks (approximately), my eye doctor once (with another exam on the books), a dietician once (this appointment involved plastic food, which was predictable and sad), and have appointments coming up for an EKG (for me) and a fetal echocardiogram (for the baby).

Having so many appointments is a blessing and a curse for my mental well-being.  On one hand, it’s good to have all of these confirmation moments that the baby is growing well and that my health is holding steady.  And in the event that something crops up as problematic, I’m glad I’m in the good hands of Boston doctors to help me see things through as best as possible.

But on the other hand, every two weeks I feel like I’m going in for a test, and these are not tests I want to fail.  With so many milestones to mark and tests to take, it’s a constant reminder of how such a natural process can take unimaginable twists and turns.  I feel like I’m in a cycle of gratefulness and panic, with little reprieve on tap until late summer.  (When a new set of WTF and panic hits.)

Growth spurts.  The baby is growing according to plan and is right on track.  I, however, am growing much fasting in the belly department than I did when I was pregnant with Birdy.  I felt like I was “showing” at 8 weeks, and now at 20, getting up from bed is not a direct bend but more of a roll.  (In my mind, I look like a superhero rolling stealthly into a pose worthy of the movie poster, but in reality, I think I look like a dachshund trying to steady itself.)  There’s a definitive belly going on.  I had forgotten how quickly pregnancy changes my body, and it’s weird to look at photos from December where I look like myself to now when I look like a determined wrecking ball.

And it’s predictable, how infertility has shaped my view of my shape this round.  With Birdy, I felt every bump of my expansion and worried about the change.  This time, it’s weird how the itchy skin of abdomen expansion makes me feel unbelievably grateful.

17.5 weeks. Seems like the Juno filter is most appropriate these days. #diabeticpregnancy

A photo posted by Kerri Sparling (@sixuntilme) on

Blood sugars.  Diabetes was a pain in the behind last week, when highs came calling and refused to back down.  But this is where I’m oddly thankful for my decades of diabetes experience,  because I can be more nimble with my doses.  Waiting to see my doctor to tweak my insulin ratios is ridiculous when my needs are starting to change every few days.  I had forgotten about the increased insulin needs, but am reminded every few days, when a sticky 175 overnight on a Wednesday turns into the same thing on Thursday, which means a basal bump on Friday night because f*ck the bullshit.

But it’s working well because my A1Cs are exactly where I’d like them (for once), and despite highs here and there, I’m solidly in range the majority of the time, which makes me feel like the effort in is worth the outcomes.

There are still a lot of weeks to go before this baby escapes, so I hope I can keep the momentum and grateful-vibe going. Or, I may end up hiding in the closet with a container of Cool wHip until this whole thing is over.

Birdy.  Birdy has named the baby.  (We talked her out of Spiderman, laughed when she suggested “Peter Parker?” instead, and finally settled on a name that we plan to keep offline, per protocol.)

She’s excited to share her Batman bathroom, her frazzled parents, and her life with her baby brother. And hopefully she still feels that way after the first time he spits up on her.

5 Worst Things to Consume If You Have Diabetes.

Today is World Health Day and the focus is on diabetes.  Every media outlet in the world is picking up on this health story and twisting it just so, highlighting misconceptions aplenty and feeding the stigma about diabetes.  Messages get muddled and broken down into clickbait headlines that sometimes hurt our community more than they educate.

What are the five worst things to consume if you have diabetes? HINT: This is not a list of foods.  

  1. Misconceptions. Don’t consume them.  There is a public perception about diabetes as a whole and about the individual types – don’t let society’s misinformed views shape your own.
  2. Other people’s misunderstandings. Don’t consume them.  Don’t let people’s ignorance about diabetes ruin your day.  Correct their information and move on.
  3. Misinformed messages from the media. Don’t consume them.  Address and correct articles that perpetuate stereotypes and misinformation. We’ll never be happy, as a community, with a public health campaign, but we can take steps to help shape it in a way that feels right.  If not us, who?
  4. Anger and hatred towards our community. Don’t consume it.  People get angry about diabetes and the people who have it are often the target of blame, shame, and disgust.  Don’t let anger infiltrate our community.  We’re better than that.
  5. Stigma. Don’t consume it.  Don’t swallow it and don’t let it define you.  Taking care of your health is nothing to be ashamed of, so wear your efforts towards good health with pride.


What do I wish people knew about diabetes?  This:  

There is more than one kind of diabetes.  This isn’t a knock on my type 2 and gestational diabetes friends, but definitely a knock on society’s perceptions at large.  People have one musty, old perception of what diabetes looks like, and it’s always someone older, heavier, and lazy.  Would they be surprised to meet our fit type 2 friends, or the 20 year old gestational PWD?  Or a “juvenile diabetic” who isn’t eight years old? Or any of our community friends? Diabetes doesn’t have “a look.”

Diabetes affects more than just the person playing host to it. I am the one wearing and insulin pump, a continuous glucose monitor, and actually feeling these blood sugar highs and lows.  But I’m not the only one affected by diabetes.  My parents had to care for me when I was young, acting as my pancreas.  My friends have been affected by my lows and highs while we’re hanging out, sometimes forced to jump the bar and accost the bartender for orange juice.  (True story.)  And my husband has taken on this disease as his own as best he can, making it such an integrated part of our life together that I don’t feel alone.  Diabetes isn’t just mine.  It belongs to everyone who cares about me.

Diabetes isn’t just a physiological disease.  Mental health matters when it comes to diabetes management. It’s not just a question of blood sugar levels and insulin supplementation.  It’s about managing the emotional output that comes as part of life with a chronic illness.  It’s about the guilt of complications.  The pressure to control an uncontrollable disease.  The hope that tomorrow will come without incident. I feel that the emotional aspects of diabetes need to be attended to with the same care and diligence as an A1C level.  Maybe more so, because life needs to be happy, whether it’s a short life or a very long one.

Diabetes isn’t easy.  We just make it look that way sometimes.  Some of the perceptions that the general public has is that diabetes is easy to handle.  “You just wear the pump, test your blood sugar, and watch your diet and you’ll be fine, right?”  Wrong.  You can do the exact same thing every day and still see varying diabetes outcomes. It’s never all figured out.  Diabetes is a daily dance of numbers and emotions and even though we, as a community, make it look easy sometimes, it sure isn’t.

No diabetes is the same. Even within a community of diabetics, there are still widely varying ways of treating diabetes and even more ways of dealing with the emotional aspects.  There’s no winning combination and no “right” way to deal with this disease.  Being on a pump means you use a pump to infuse your insulin – this doesn’t necessarily mean you are taking better care of yourself than the person who opts for injections.  Low-carb doesn’t work for everyone, and neither do certain medications.  What works for you may not work for everyone. It’s important to remember that this disease, like life, doesn’t have a predictable path, so there are plenty of “right’ ways to handle it.

Just because we don’t look sick doesn’t mean we don’t deserve a cure.  That statement sums it up for me.  We might make it look easy, but it isn’t.  There’s no rhyme or reason to this disease, and even with the best care and the best intentions, complications can sometimes still come calling.  And their effects are devastating.  Diabetes, of all kinds, deserves a cure.  No one asked for any of this.  We deserve better than society thinking that diabetes isn’t worth their attention.

We deserve, we fight for, and we advocate for a better life, better health outcomes, … we deserve a fighting chance for a cure.

Voicemail for my Pancreas.

“Hey, you.  This is awkward.  Voicemail.  I hate voicemail.  But I haven’t heard from you in a while … almost like 30 years now, actually. How the hell have you been?  It’s been busy over here – a lot has happened since second grade.  I finished elementary school.  I learned how to tap dance but the whole baseball thing never really worked out.  Graduated high school, graduated college … I got married!  I have a kid – she’s almost six.  I have another one on the way.  There’s been a lot.  A lot has happened.

I know you’re in there.  Mostly because the other stuff you’re supposed to be doing, with all the enzymes and all that stuff, is still happening so I know you’re alive.  Just not doing the insulin thing.

But that’s cool.  I used to be angry about it, but I’m kind of over it.  Maybe not over it, but I’m apathetic.  Like I don’t care that you aren’t answering my calls these days – I don’t really want to talk-talk to you, but sometimes I would just like to say hi, punch you in your non-face face, and then move on.

But that’s not an option.  All I can do it keep going.  Keep checking blood sugars and taking insulin and doing the diabetes thing.  Working.  Growing this new kid as best I can and taking care of my daughter, too.  Doing the life thing.  Holding up my end of that bargain, at least.

I’m kind of glad you didn’t answer.  I don’t even know if you’ll listen to this, and I don’t really care if you do.  That apathy thing; It felt good to say hi.  And that I don’t mind you being gone.  I miss you – I’m fucking frustrated without you sometimes – but I don’t need you.

Okay, I feel better.  Sorry for leaving this on your voicemail.  See ya.”

“Hey again.  Sorry – one last thing.  I’m done saving all your fucking mail, by the way. Who gets that many catalogs?  And you owe the endocrinologist like a million dollars.  Might want to follow up on some of those bills.  Alright – see  ya.”

Guest Post: Taking Steps Towards Better.

Emotional health can influence someone’s physical health, and after decades with type 1 diabetes, I know that my health is best when I’m being cared for as a person, with mental health categorized as high a priority as my A1C or standard deviation of blood sugar.  How you feel about the disease you live with every day matters.

Today, my favorite texting friend (known formally in our house as The Briley) is taking over SUM to talk about the steps she is taking to overcome diabetes burnout and find  some peace in the daily demands of her disease.  You can read more from Briley on her blog InDpendence, or on Twitter as @4thandlife.  

  *   *   *

When I saw my new endocrinologist, Dr. A., she was better than I ever could’ve imagined. She helped me with my problems, and handed me a box of tissues as tears rolled down my face. At the end of our first appointment she asked if I wanted to talk to someone about my burnout. There were so many thoughts flying through my mind convincing me that I didn’t need to meet a mental health professional.But then the memory of being pulled out of a bathtub by my mother after I collapsed from a low BG rushed through my mind and my mental health advocate friend popped into my brain.

I said yes.

I didn’t know if it was for me. I didn’t want to go. But I didn’t want to be scared of my body anymore. I didn’t feel as comfortable with her as I did Dr. A. But it was okay.

There were questions that I was okay with her asking: “How low were you when you passed out?” And questions I tried not to answer: “Are you okay being single?” When she asked if I had a CGM, I had to explain how friends have all given me spare parts, but that I’m interested in getting the G4 with my new insurance. She proclaimed how excited she is for my friends and family to be up to date with my BGs. I didn’t have the heart to tell her I just want to see it on my phone.

It’s funny, when I leave my endo (past & present), I feel better because I feel like I have been hugged and comforted. I never felt comforted when I left her office. But I did feel better. Self-induced fear is a powerfully negative motivator. She believes that the fear of lows is where I sit compared to complete burnout. I have a hard time differentiating the two since whichever the reason is, I eat sugar earlier and bolus later. I was uncomfortable when she suggested raising my target BG (not being my endocrinologist or nurse), but when I saw Dr. A. again, she was very excited to have learned about my session and the why’s behind the change in my care.

I will be going back. But I haven’t yet. Even though I should. See, my co-pays are high enough that being at the office 5x in one month was way too much. She still scheduled me too early than what I can afford, so I cancelled that appointment. (Yes, I told her my very valid reasons for not going as frequently as she prescribes.) When I left her office, I was very unsure about going back since she ignored my information about being able to afford her. However, I feel better after hearing Dr. A. praise her work with me.

Am I out of burnout?

No way.

Am I making healthier choices and focusing on my diabetes in a healthier way?

You bet.

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