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Posts from the ‘Real Life Diabetes’ Category

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

Slackadaisical

Talking About Diabetes Burnout

Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss!

 

 

Looking Back: Taking the Plunge.

Summer is coming to a close over here and as we prepare to send Birdzone to kindergarten, I am spending the last few days of summer with my child velcro’d to me.  In an appreciation for family and for how mine handled diabetes as I was growing up, I wanted to look back at a post from five years ago where my aunt takes a stab (ha?) at giving me my insulin injection.   My immediate and extended family both took excellent care of me as a kid, and I’m glad that diabetes didn’t prevent sleepovers.

*   *   *

I’m from a very big family – my mother is one of seven and my dad is one of five, for starters – so I had plenty of relatives who used to babysit for me when I was small.  Overnight visits at my aunts’ houses were part of the fun, and I always looked forward to them.  (Because – let’s be honest – I liked that they let me put makeup on them and do their hair.  My pretty aunts were like living Barbie Doll heads to me.)

Things changed a bit when diabetes came into the picture.  Sleepovers weren’t as easy to manage, because now we had to juggle insulin injections, blood sugar tests, and being on the lookout for high and low blood sugars – especially back in that first year when everything diabetes-related was so new to all of us. I was still a little kid, and now all this medical stuff, too?

When I was first diagnosed, I didn’t do my own insulin injections.  At the outset, my parents did my injections for me, but after a few months, my extended family started to learn.  I think about it now, having baby-sat for my nieces and nephews and little cousins, and I can’t even picture that learning curve.  I’m so grateful that my family came together to learn to deal with diabetes, instead of leaving my mom and dad as the only ones who were “in the know.”

One of my earliest memories with diabetes is of me waiting on my aunt’s couch while my mother tried to explain to my aunt how to administer my insulin injection.  And every time I recall it, it makes me laugh.

“You need to uncap the syringe, check for any air bubbles one last time, and then pinch up where you’re going to stick the needle.  Once the needle is in, you press down the plunger and pull the needle out.  No problem!”

My aunt was nervous.  “I pinch the skin and then put the needle in?  How fast do I put the needle in?”

“Pretty quickly,” my mom responded.  “Don’t think about it.  Just jab it in there, as gently as you can.”

“Okay, so pinch, jab, plunge, remove.  Got it.”

“Great, so are you ready to give it a try?”

(Mind you, the entire time they’re debating this, I’m face-down on the couch with my pants pulled down, waiting for the insulin injection to be given into my seven year old butt cheek.  Another truly classy moment for me.)

My aunt came towards me, brandishing the syringe like a hot poker.  She uncapped it nervously, pinched up the top of my hip, and said (and I remember this clearly), “Ready, Kerri?”

“Yessh I amph.”  I said into the couch cushion.

“Okay, here we go!”

She expertly stuck the syringe needle into my skin, and I barely felt the pinch.  And then she pulled the needle quickly out, letting out an “Oooh!  I did it!”

My mother sighed.

“You didn’t push the plunger down.”

“What?”

“The plunger.  To dispense the insulin?  You didn’t push it down.  You just stuck her with a needle and then pulled it out again.”  I could hear my mother trying not to laugh.

“Oh shit!” my aunt exclaimed.

I laughed, despite the fact that they were about to advance on me again with that syringe.

“You shed de esh word.”

Guest Post: Let’s Talk About It.

Diagnosed with type 1 at age 15, Kimberly Hislop has been living with diabetes for 18 years. She’s been an insulin pumper since 2009.  Kim is currently studying psychology with hopes of one day working with people who have been diagnosed with chronic illnesses. She’s been a guest speaker for pharmacists, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants, teaching about diabetic complications from a patient’s perspective.  Her writing can be found at Deniabetic, and today she’s rounding out my week of guest blogs with a really important topic:  diabetes complications and learning to live well despite their diagnosis.

*   *   *

Being diagnosed with diabetes is scary. We quickly learn that we can overcome our fear of needles as we do what is necessary to survive. In my opinion, the hardest fear to conquer is the fear of the unknown. As a person living with diabetes we hear the terrifying word “complication” and our thoughts run down the black hole of “what ifs.” This black hole can be depressing and paralyzing for some. I truly believe that the diabetic community needs to start talking about complications. Most of us can name them but that is where it ends. If we could understand what the complications were and how to treat them it could possibly lower the fear factor.

Seems simple enough, right? So why don’t we talk about it?

To me, people with diabetes are truly afraid of three complications:  retinopathy, amputation, and kidney disease. I have had to deal with all three of these. I think it is so important to talk about these for a few reasons. When you can find someone who has SURVIVED these complications it gives you hope. You can see that there is life after complications. Also there is treatment out there. When you diagnosis complications early, there is a possibility of reversing it or at least stopping the progression. It is not necessarily a “done deal.” We need to talk about these things so that we can learn to be an advocate for ourselves. If it is a new diagnosis, you may not know what treatment is out there or even feel that you can ask for a second opinion.

My first complication was neuropathy. It came on five years after my diabetes diagnosis, when I was 20 years old. I did not know anyone who had this complication. It was incredibly painful and debilitating. I spent six months in a wheelchair and had horrible side effects from the medication. I felt shame, guilt, and really misunderstood. Mostly, I felt alone. I followed what the doctors told me to to but like with most complications, they can’t tell you for certain that you are going to be alright. I became suicidal because I couldn’t handle living with the pain. I spent a few days in a treatment program and from there started talk therapy on a regular basis.

For me, when I am diagnosed with a complication my first reaction is to figure out what I need to do to treat it, if it is an option. I think it is overwhelming to deal with my emotions while dealing with going to doctors and figuring out treatment.  And after a complication diagnosis, I always wonder why. Why me? Why did this happen? What caused it? The problem with diabetes is that it is a self-managed disease. Sometimes the only answer I can come up with for the question “Why?” is “because of me.” I think of all the things I did wrong such as,

I didn’t test enough.
I didn’t count my carbs right.
I didn’t cover with enough insulin.
I skipped my shot.
I didn’t exercise enough.

The hardest complication to face was my chronic kidney disease. I did not want to talk to anyone about it. It took me a year before I made it public and really I was forced to when I realized that I needed to find a live donor for a kidney transplant. I did not want pity from anyone. I did not want anyone to ask me if I was ok because in truth, I was not. I did not have the energy to fake it for the sake of others. I also felt like it was my fault. If only I had taken care of myself during my college years, instead of living with an A1C of 19% for two years. I felt like maybe I didn’t deserve a new kidney.

I was also incredibly freaked out about having someone else’s organ inside of me. I was sure that I would feel different. I wouldn’t be myself anymore. I even had pictures taken professionally about a month before my transplant as a reminder of who I once was. My guilt and shame kept me from reaching out to others who were transplant recipients. When I would go to the doctor’s office it would be filled with people 20+ years older than me.

I felt alone.

I know I am not the only one. The problem is that we feel such guilt and shame that we don’t talk about it. I don’t want to talk about my kidney transplant because I know that people will assume that I didn’t take care of myself. I don’t want to share about my retinopathy because clearly I caused that myself. If you have ever felt this way, raise your hand. The truth of the matter is … diabetes is not your fault. There are some people who take the best care of themselves and they do not suffer from any complications, some take the best care and do. There are those that ignore their diabetes completely and yet are never diagnosed with a complication. Sometimes there is just no explanation for any of this.

It is so important for our community to talk about complications and the fears associated with them. Instead of feeling shame and guilt, we need to stand together. When you are diagnosed with a complication it is imperative that you connect with someone who has gone through it. It can take away some of the unknown fear.  Every time I have been diagnosed with a complication I have felt “this is the worst thing that has ever happened to me.” In the moment, that is what it feels like. But somehow, you survive. It takes hard work both mentally and physically.

We need to discuss the importance of mental healthcare in all of this. It is only natural to feel depressed when diagnosed with a complication. The fact is, you can’t take the best care of yourself if you are not feeling good about yourself.  We need to figure out how to take the stigma of “it’s my fault” if you are diagnosed with a complication.

Complications suck but there is a life after being diagnosed with a complication. So … raise your hand if you want to talk about it. Let’s get this conversation started.

*    *   *

:: raises hand ::  I have written before about my own experiences with diabetes-related complications, and I know that sharing that information was simultaneously terrifying but also empowering.  By talking about the thing I needed the most information about and the most support with out in the open, I was motivated to move past fear and step towards positive actions to improve my health.  If you are dealing with complications, or simply scared by the thought, please raise your voice.  You are not alone.  And with early detection, early intervention, and good mental health support, we can find a very good life regardless of the road we’re on.  Thanks for sharing your story, Kim.  It’s an important one to share.

 

Guest Post: LIVE! On-Air with Diabetes.

When I do speaking engagements, I get a little nervous about the arrow on my CGM before going on-stage, because a low during a presentation would be less than optimal.   How do you keep your wits when your blood sugar is tanking in front of an audience?  Live television anchors with diabetes know that feeling.  A few years ago, I met Cristina Frank through the #dsma Twitter chat and learned that she brings diabetes to LIVE TV every weekday evening, doing the blood sugar dance before every broadcast.  Cristina Frank is the evening anchor at KSNT News in Topeka Kansas. She anchors the station’s evening newscasts during the week at 5:00p, 5:30p, 6:00p, 9:00p and 10:00p, and today she’s taking the mic here at Six Until Me. 

*   *   *

A lot has happened to me on-air. I’ve played basketball with Harlem Globetrotters, reported from the scene of bridge collapse into the Mississippi River, covered severe flooding of upstate New York and even did a creepy ghost hunt in a haunted inn. While all that footage is sitting in news stations’ archives – what hasn’t been captured on tape is my type 1 diabetes.

I was diagnosed when I was 11 years old. So, by the time it came to graduating college and entering the grand ol’ workforce – I had the diabetes basics down pat (or as much as I thought!). Carb counting, insulin ratios – no problem…but now, throw into the mix the stress of breaking news, an unpredictable schedule (covering a ribbon cutting one day to then switching to a downtown fire that you cover overnight), deadlines…and this was a whole new game plan that (9 years into the industry) I’m still trying to navigate.

One of those twists and turns – has been how to handle a low blood sugar on-air. Low blood sugars are already a monster in itself. Now, try throwing that hypoglycemic beast with solo-anchoring a show, bright lights and facing a camera that is broadcasting out to hundreds of thousands of people.

I’m the evening anchor for the NBC/ABC affiliate in Topeka, Kansas. I have a co-anchor – but sometimes I have to solo-anchor some shows. In those moments (and even when my co-anchor is around) I am vigilant about making sure a low doesn’t hit while I am front and center on the newscasts. I test my sugar multiple times before the show. I try to keep my levels in (what I consider) the ‘safe range’ and then I always make sure to keep my meter right by the desk. But, sometimes – diabetes is stubborn and likes to make sure IT has the limelight.


One of those moments happened a night I was solo-anchoring. I felt good. I was walking out to the studio holding onto my pile of hundreds of pages of scripts. I headed to the desk prepped for 90 minutes of news. Back-to-back I was going to one-woman anchor the 5:00p, 5:30p, 6:00p news.

My sugar before show time was a steady 134. I felt confident in that range. The teleprompter was ready to go and keep on track, microphone was clipped on – lets do this!

The 5:00p newscast was cleared….the 5:30pm newscast was solid. One more newscast left. That’s when it hit. I got a little lightheaded (maybe it was just the fact I had talked for an entire hour), I was STARVING (it was almost dinner break anyways), I started to get a bit hot (I am sitting under a plethora of BRIGHT lights). All that reasoning went out the window when I did the no-excuses meter check: 54.

I didn’t have time to run to my desk to get a juice box. The newscast was starting and the news music was right on cue. There was no hiding. There was no, “good evening, northeast Kansas….can you give me 15 minutes to have a juice box?”

Nope. It was game time to power through this. I had to focus. I looked at the prompter (maybe it looked a bit hazy and those words appeared to be dancing around like they were doing the limbo) but I read it the best I could. I knew what stood between me and that fruit juice blend – was 10 stories. If anytime the phrase, “the show must go on” applied – it was here and now.

As soon as we got into the first commercial break – I talked through my microphone to my producer: “Can someone please go to my desk and open the first drawer? I need a juice box in there AS SOON AS POSSIBLE … I’m feeling low.”

Within seconds, a director was already down the hallway to come to my sugar rescue. I had 5 minutes – commercial break + weather forecast. Before the meteorologist had made it back to the anchor desk to cross-talk with me … I was feeling better.

At the end of the show, I asked everyone, “did I seem off?” To them, they couldn’t tell the difference.

When I first went into this industry, I secretly worried having my diabetes out there would be seen as a weakness. Raising questions from employers, co-workers, in the hiring process….is this going to be a negative held against me? This time had once again proven all of those fears and concerns – did not exist.

I am lucky to have always worked in newsrooms where my colleagues have always supported me – and have many times, ran out to a newsroom desk drawer to get me a juice.

Life in a newsroom can be very hectic and ever changing – no two days are ever the same. Throwing type 1 diabetes into that mix can be even a little more challenging. Juice boxes are a staple in my desk drawer. I have a special basal rate I have set with my doctors to make sure my sugars are on-point during a newscast. Even when I was a morning anchor, I had a special basal setting for waking up at 2:30 am (yikes!), being at work at 4am, on-air 5-7am and then going to bed at 6pm.

My producers, co-anchor, news directors, heck – the whole station knows I have type 1 diabetes! Most importantly, the community knows I have diabetes. Kerri was the person who inspired me to put my type 1 diabetes-ness (is that a word?) out there. And that has opened doors.

It’s introduced me to kids, people and families who are all impacted with type 1. I’ve been asked to visit local camps for kids with type 1 diabetes. I’ve met a man who is biking around the country taking part in several JDRF Rides to Cure. I’ve bumped into other type 1’s where I see a “pump in the wild.” Those moments have turned strangers into friends asking about temp basal rates before exercising.

Keep on talking about diabetes. Keep on tweeting about diabetes. Keep on posting about diabetes. Keep on creating awareness on diabetes. You can guarantee, I’ll be watching and cheering.

*   *   *

Thank you so much for sharing your story, Cristina, and I am really glad you’ve become such an integral part of the diabetes online community.  Cristina grew up in Massachusetts and is a proud fan of the Boston Red Sox (yay!)!  You can follow her on twitter @CristinaKSNT or on Facebook at facebook.com/cfrankKSNT.

Change Your Lancet.

This morning I woke up
And reached right over to the table.
Grabbing my receiver,
I saw my blood sugars stable.
Meter confirmation
Showed a 107 number
And that things had been quite steady
Overnight, while I did slumber.

(“While I did slumber?”
Yes, I used that phrase despite it sounding formal.
It’s fun to turn a stodgy phrase
To make sleep sound less normal.

“Okay, go on and tell you story,”
Thanks.  I almost blew it.)

I noticed, when I pricked my finger
That the lancet got stuck into it.

It was gross.  There was a shunk
As the lancet then deployed.
And the OUCH when it went in
Had me less shocked than quite annoyed.
Because I CHANGED that stupid lancet
Just the day before the last!
It wasn’t stale or all that old.
How dare it give my thumb such blast?

And not only did it sting
But the em effer didn’t bleed.
In order to check sugars,
“Change the lancet” was the need.

I gave it glance with both my eyes
After I took the lancet out
The tip looked worse for wear.
So what the hell – I swapped it out.

I tried again, this time determined
Not to let the prick be useless.
I resolved to change my lancet more
Lest diabetes think I’m truceless.
When the needle went in my finger
I squeezed it for a spell.
And blood came from the wound.
… and from a random spot as well.

What’s the moral of the story?
How can I work my D smarter?
Here’s advice for all the ages:
Change your lancet, or squeeze harder.

 

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.

Bring Pants.

Last night, I unpacked the suitcase I had used a few days earlier for a trip to Toronto for a conference. And then I promptly refilled the suitcase with clean clothes to prepare for my trip to Washington, DC today. It’s kind of exciting but also a wee bit of a bummer to be away from home so much.

I travel quite a bit, mostly for work-related events that bring me somewhere for a night or two, and then shuttle me back to Rhode Island. It’s a big departure from when I was in my 20′s, when I didn’t travel much at all. My 30′s appear to be the decade of departures (and arrivals), and over the course of the last few years, I’ve made a point to streamline how I travel. I used to bring the biggest suitcase in my arsenal and cram it, but now I make a game out of how far I can get with one, small carry-on.

Travel bird.

A photo posted by Kerri Sparling (@sixuntilme) on

A reader emailed me a few weeks ago (I read every, single email but I am a sorry creature when it comes to timely responses) about travel and diabetes, asking what kinds of tips I would have for would-be travelers. I ran through a quick list in my head, and it was strange to see how what was once a hyper-prepared, diabetes-obsessed list has (de-)evolved into a quest to not bring more than I need. But there are still diabetes nuances shoved in there.

  • You need to have your government issues identification. You aren’t able to rent the car or board the plane or stay on the train if you don’t have your ID. Smart to start there.
  • You also need to be wherever you are well in time to get onto the plane, train, or spaceship. My friends make fun of me for arriving at the airport two hours before my flight – “Do you really need to get there so early? Don’t you know how to do this?” – but being on time alleviates a lot of anxiety for me. So I get there early, damn it.
  • You need your medications. Whatever stuff you need (insulin? blood pressure medication? test strips?) make sure you take, and bring a little more than you need. Most often, I travel for two or three days at a time so I bring a week’s worth of medical supplies. (It goes up from there.) When I travel domestically, I don’t worry about original pharmacy packaging for my insulin, etc. but when I travel internationally, I make sure I have the box the insulin came in.
  • People talk about a note from their doctor explaining what the different diabetes devices are and do, and I carried one of these notes for a year or two. But I haven’t had much trouble at all with explaining things, and the few times that TSA wanted to go full-grope on me, it was minimally offensive (except that one time and I hated that one time).
  • You also need pants. Or some kind of nether region undergarment that covers up your parts. Not wearing pants or similar will have you ushered out from many different situations that escalate pretty quickly.
  • And in my travels, I need to have a jar of glucose tabs or other fast-acting low blood sugar treatments within reach at all times. You never know when you’ll need to treat a low (or when you might need a burrito) and it sucks to have what you need most tucked, and out of reach, in the overhead compartment.
  • And lastly, you need a destination. Our trip a few weeks ago brought my family and I to Birmingham, then Huntsville, then back to Birmingham, AL. It was a very mellow trip (lots of very nice people, some rocket ships, a fistful of rage-filled mosquitos) and we saw some of the northern Alabama sights. (Like this rocket and this space suit and this beautiful bride.)

When I was younger, the biggest travel hurdle for me was actually booking the trip. Anxiety about traveling and being away from my comfort zone kept me from experiencing a lot of things I now regret missing. Over the last few years, I’ve broken away from my trepidation and am trying to be braver. (And judging my the miles I’ve logged over the last few years, I think I’m making up for lost time.)

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