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Posts from the ‘Psychosocial Support’ Category

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.

Photo Challenge: #DOCtober.

Taking pictures is something I like to do very much.  I’m not terribly talented when it comes to doing it and my equipment is pretty basic, but I enjoy framing something up and preserving that moment.  I used to take a lot of pictures, but I’ve tapered off in the last few years, and I miss it.




I am forcing myself to get back behind the lens with a daily photo challenge for October.  The twist – BET YOU DIDN’T SEE THIS COMING – is to see if I can find something diabetes-related to photograph for the month.  If I can, awesome.  If I can’t, that inability shows how diabetes can’t and shouldn’t always be front-and-center.

Want to join me?  I’ll be posting on the blog and Instagram under the hashtag #DOCtober.

For #DOCtober 1/31, I’m already cheating a little by posting a photo from last week.  The sign reads, “Unusual Pumpkins + Gourds.”  And it reminded me of you guys, the diabetes community.  The patient community.  The community of people who are touched by some kind of health condition but aren’t owned by it and are beautiful because of and despite it.

Well sheeeeeeeeet, if we aren’t all a pile of beautifully unusual pumpkins and gourds.

Guest Post and Giveaway: Overcoming Diabetes Overwhelmus.

Today, I am honored to have Susan Weiner and Paula Ford-Martin contributing a guest post to SUM, writing about diabetes burnout and their new book, Diabetes 365: Tips for Living Well.  I’m pretty biased, as I used to work for Paula at dLife (and with Susan), but their book and their message are a tremendous resource for newly diagnosed and veteran PWD alike. 

I’m also excited to host an opportunity for three folks to win a copy of the book.  To enter to win, please leave a comment with your best tip on dealing with “diabetes overwhelmus.”  (Be sure to include your email!)  The giveaway will be open until Thursday night at midnight EST, and winners will be announced on Friday morning. 

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Overcoming Diabetes Overwhelmus
Guest bloggers Susan Weiner and Paula Ford-Martin

The late, great Dr. Richard Rubin had a great knack for turning a quality phrase. “Diabetes overwhelmus” (a.k.a. diabetes burnout) was one of our favorites. Layman’s definition? When the continuous demands of diabetes, and the non-stop flow of diabetes-related information, simply become too much to deal with and you’re ready to throw up your hands and have a mad as hell moment.

The side effects of diabetes overwhelmus are a tendency to become less active in one’s own self-care. So diabetes management starts to slip, stress goes up (along with stress hormones and blood sugar), and then you’re caught in a vicious cycle of bad feelings – both physical and emotional. It’s a crappy place to be.

Now we want to take a moment to pause for a disclaimer here. We both work in diabetes, we support friends and family with diabetes, and we know a lot about the academics of the disease. But neither of us can say we have the intimate knowledge of knowing what it’s like to live with diabetes 24/7.

But stress, the broader idea of “life overwhelmus,” and the negative impact both have on the human body? We’ve got loads of personal experience there. The busier life gets, the harder you need to work to maintain your physical and emotional well-being. Yet most of us let life’s obligations push those things down in the priority list. And even though we’ve both worked in the health education field for many years, we admit we have let stress get the better of our health and well-being more than once in our lives. In fact, we wish there was a frequent flyer program for hospital visits and doctor’s appointments – we’d be Platinum Club Members.

A survey on stress in America found that almost half of the population has experienced a major stress in the prior twelve months, and health problems were cited as the most common source of stress. Thirty-six percent of people living with a chronic illness reported high stress levels in the prior month, with a whopping 60 percent of those in “poor health” reporting those same high stress levels. That’s probably not a surprise to anyone reading this blog post. Being “sick” makes you stressed, and stress makes you sick.

Susan has a patient, Tess (not her real name). Tess has type 2 diabetes, works full-time, takes care of a family, parents teenage children, and is the primary caregiver for her live-in mom, who was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Over time, she found herself completely overwhelmed and bombarded on all fronts. Eventually she stopped taking care of herself. She ate food on the run, sometimes skipped her meals completely, didn’t refill her medications, and didn’t keep doctor appointments.

Tess felt terrible and had high blood sugars. But she went to visit Susan because she was ready to take one small step to get out of her diabetes rut. Susan listened to what Tess’s biggest stressors were and her desire to address them, and they started with one simple goal focused on an issue plaguing Tess – taking time each night to pack up snacks and plan the next day’s meals. Over time, they added more small goals based on Tess’s real life problems, and now she feels in control of her life and health again. She isn’t eating out of frustration or anxiety, and is starting to gain better control over her blood sugar.

It was this small step approach that inspired our latest project, Diabetes 365: Tips for Living Well (Demos Health, 2015). We wanted to help people like Tess come at diabetes from a less intense, more manageable angle. Our intent was not to offer a soup to nuts guide on treating your diabetes; instead each day of the year offers a new start and a focused tip, idea, or action you can take to improve your health and happiness. In other words, it’s not the OED of diabetes, it’s daily Cliff Notes. As our friend Jim Turner says, “Diabetes is complicated and overwhelming enough. I like simple, straightforward suggestions.”

“Bite sized” diabetes goals may be your way out of diabetes overwhelmus. Or, you may find relief in other ways – diabetes support groups, meditation, or reading a daily dose of inspiration here at SUM. But at the root of it all is not letting life get in the way of living, and finding a way to co-exist with all of those personal, professional, and diabetes challenges. In the words of our gracious host Kerri: “I need to remember that I can do this. I can conquer this. I can design this and devour this and delight in this.”

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Susan Weiner is owner of Susan Weiner Nutrition, PLLC, in New York. She is an award-winning author, registered dietitian-nutritionist, and certified diabetes educator. Susan is the 2015 AADE Diabetes Educator of the Year, the 2015 Diabetes Health Monitor LifeChanger award winner, and the 2014 Alumna of the Year for SUNY Oneonta. She is also the 2015–2016 editor for On the Cutting Edge, a peer-reviewed journal for the Diabetes Care and Education practice group of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Susan advises several nonprofit groups devoted to diabetes advocacy; she is on the advisory board of Diabetes Sisters, and is an educational advisor for Marjorie’s Fund. She is also the diabetes medical advisor for and is on the medical advisory board for dLife.

Paula Ford-Martin is an award winning health writer, editor, and content producer. She is the author of more than a dozen consumer health and parenting books, and currently works as a freelance content strategist and consultant. Paula was part of the core team that created and launched dLife, a groundbreaking multimedia diabetes consumer resource. She served as the Chief Content Officer of dLife for eight years, and her work on CNBC’s dLifeTV—the first and longest running primetime diabetes television show—garnered her 26 Telly Awards. You can learn more about Paula and her work at


ALL NEW Jerry the Bear Revealed.

My daughter loves Jerry the Bear.  And not because he’s this fancy teddy bear aimed at teaching children about type 1 diabetes.  She doesn’t care a whole lot about that.  She likes that Jerry is soft and cuddly and has a friendly face, and that he also needs her to give him food and check his blood sugar.

Birdy getting to know Jerry the Bear. #diabetes

A photo posted by Kerri Sparling (@sixuntilme) on

“Like you do, Mom,” she says while she counts the carbs in the snack Jerry is about to have.  She’ll bolus him, feed him, and then drag him outside to her playset, where she and Jerry play in the clubhouse.

It’s not about diabetes, it’s about life.  But as she’s playing with this toy, she’s learning about diabetes in a way that speaks directly to her five year old sensibilities.  Jerry is a powerful teaching tool.

Today, there’s a new Jerry the Bear in town, the brainchild of Hannah Chung and Aaron Horowitz (two Rhode Island locals, making them even more awesome in my Rhody Pride mind).  Hannah and Aaron were kind enough to answer a few questions about Jerry and what’s coming next for the Sproutel team.

Kerri:  How long have you been working on the new Jerry, and what is new about this iteration of the amazing bear?

Team Sproutel:  We’ve been cooking up “new Jerry” in our labs for the past 9 months or so. This new version of Jerry is built from a curriculum centered on general health and wellness education for all kids. We now have expansion packs to customize Jerry’s eduction for kids with type 1 diabetes and food allergies.

Through our work with kiddos with type 1 diabetes and our research into other childhood conditions we began to realize that there are certain pillars of health education that apply to all children. We see this new bear as a platform to deliver high quality health education to all kids.

Kerri:  Why move from an embedded device to Jerry’s new “portal?”  And what are some of the different features of the portal?

Team Sproutel:  Jerry’s new portal is a window into Jerry’s world. As you wave the portal over Jerry’s body it show’s an x-ray view of what’s happening inside. Besides being cool, the new portal enables some neat features. First of all, it means that Jerry is now washable! This is something that parents really wanted because it wasn’t so easy to keep little Jerry clean with all of the playtime he was getting. It also enables us to grow Jerry’s world with new characters. Next year we plan on releasing additional plush characters from Jerry’s world, like his little sister Isabella, who will be brought to life with the same portal.

Kerri:  I see you’ve moved from diabetes into food allergies.  How are you able to have one bear to unite them all?

Team Sproutel:  With this new bear we’ve created a core set of play patterns that are fun for all kids. In order to keep Jerry happy, you have to feed him healthy foods, exercise with him, and keep him nice and clean with a good tooth brushing. This enables us to layer disease specific education on top of Jerry’s core functionality with expansion packs. For each condition we have an accessory (like an insulin pen or epi-pen), condition specific storybooks that teach hard skills, and new behaviors (like a blood glucose level!).

Kerri:  What’s next for our friend Jerry?

Team Sproutel:  Our aim is to continue adding more conditions onto the Jerry platform! We have a long list we’re currently thinking of for our next expansion pack and welcome any suggestions.

Kerri:  How can the diabetes community help move the mission of Jerry the Bear along?

Team Sproutel:  We have so much love for the diabetes community. For the past 3 years it’s felt like we’ve had a new family, one that has supported our growth and loved us unconditionally. We couldn’t be more grateful! It would be incredibly to have the support of the diabetes community to spread the word of what Jerry has done for kiddos with T1D and the hope for what he can do for all children.

Kerri:  And lastly, how can families order their own Jerry the Bear?

Team Sproutel:  We’re currently taking pre-orders on our website for the new Jerry the Bear at a special 30% off discount.

The press release from Sproutel this morning has some great information about Jerry, including Sproutel’s mission to continue to give back to the community.  From the release:  “Best suited for children ages 4 to 9, Jerry the Bear will be available to preorder at $99. Sproutel has pledged 1% of sales to help fight obesity and hunger through the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC). Expansion packs will support finding a cure for type 1 diabetes through the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), and food allergies through Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE).”

You can find out more about Jerry the Bear, and his team, through their website.  Or by following @JerryTheBearCo on Twitter.  Or by watching this video about the new and improved Jerry.  Huge thanks to Hannah and Aaron for continuing to remain true to the cause and the community, and for creating a profoundly effective teaching tool that you can hug.

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.


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