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Posts from the ‘Relationships’ Category

Looking Back: Postcards from Eddie.

This morning, I thought about Eddie.  Eddie was the kid who I shared the hospital room with back when I was diagnosed with diabetes in 1986.  He popped into my head after I woke up, jet-lagged and confused from traveling yesterday, and watched a spider scuttle across the ceiling of this apartment.

Eddie had been bitten by a spider; I had been bitten by my immune system, after a fashion.

*   *   *

Sometimes the only concrete proof that diabetes hasn’t been with me forever are the cards my classmates sent.  Made from Manila paper, the kind found in abundance in elementary school, the kids in my class used their Dixon Ticonderoga No. 2 pencils and a fistful of crayons to let me know they were thinking about me.

“Dear Kerri, I heard you were sick.  We cleaned out our desks yesterday.  You left your lunch here.  The pear was all rotten.  Hope you feel better soon.  – Mike.”  This card was illustrated in pencil, showing a skeleton picking up a spoiled bag lunch from the garbage can.

“Dear Kerri, Get well soon!  Love, Megan.”  A rainbow of three colors, – pink, blue, and purple – sprawled across the sky, represented by one line.  A tree with two apples hanging enormously from its branches stood exactly the same height as the building labeled “Hospitoll”.

These cards are safely packed away, somewhere at my dad’s house, with the pee alarm and the old blue comfort pillow that I used to clutch while I sucked my thumb.  My mother always claimed that she’d give me these things before my wedding day, a promise she followed through on when my husband and I married in 2008.

Even if I never see them again, I remember the cards.  I remember snippets of those years like they were postcards from someone else’s life.

A picture of the carousel near my childhood home brings back memories of black raspberry ice creams, riding my bike into the village with that Jack of hearts card stuck in the rear tire, and collecting the perfect, miniature shells that washed up on the shoreline after the hurricanes made their tour.  No memories of a finger stick or an injection.  But I do remember that, if I rode my bike all the way to the beach, I could have ice cream without taking a shot.

I don’t remember everything about my diagnosis.  They spoke mostly to my parents.  My dad paced the room and looked out the window.  My mom sat at the table with the endocrinologist, listening and taking notes.  Books on long and short acting insulin, a proposed diet, and a chart to log my blood sugars slid across the table.

I wasn’t paying too much attention to these attempts at education.  The 13 year old boy who shared my hospital room had been bitten by a poisonous spider and was hooked up to an IV drip bag that I found much more interesting.  The bite mark was an angry pink and the boy said it itched tremendously.  He and his IV pole and me with my Kitty sat in the children’s ward and watched television.  He introduced himself as Eddie.  I told him my name, too.

“What are you in for?”  He raked his fingers down the side of his ankle, where the bite waged war on his immune system.

“I have diabetes.”

“Oh.  I’ve got a spider bite.”

“Wow.  Can I see it?”

“Sure.”  He rolled up his pant leg and exposed the sore.  “Where’s yours?”

“I don’t have any marks on me,” I responded.  We watched TV while our parents talked to doctors.

In a box in my attic today, I found a postcard from Eddie.  We corresponded as pen pals for for several years.  I remember writing to him about cats and going to the beach, ice cream and bike rides, but never diabetes.


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.”


Diabetes Blog Week: The Quiet Parts.

Feels weird, and slightly ironic, starting a blog post about the diabetes-related things I don’t share here on the diabetes blog I’ve written here on the open Internet about my personal experiences with the disease.  It’s been ten years of this – the idea that there’s crap I don’t talk about might seem like a big fat lie.

But there are plenty of things I have decided not to share, both in the realm of diabetes and in the regular flow of insulin-free life.  I’m an oddly private person, considering what I do professionally.  So what do I share, and what do I choose not to share, and why?

“You put it out there, so you’re inviting people to judge you.”
That’s true.  By putting our lives “out there,” we are giving people information to judge us, for better or for worse. Giving the specifics of my lab work results or my weight or my fasting blood sugar this morning provides people with a window into my health reality.  It lets people put me into a statistic, or a range, or an assumption.  Some people are comfortable with allowing that kind of access.  I have come to realize that I’m not that kind of person.  No, I won’t tell you my A1C, even if it’s stellar and in-range and covered in fucking glitter.  I work very hard to manage this disease, and I’ve come to realize that I’m not the kind of person who does well being judged for that specific number, especially when that judgment attempts to minimize my efforts.

Because (being totally honest), I cared very much about the critique for a few years.  There was a time when I posted about my A1C while preparing for pregnancy (it was higher than what my doctor’s recommended, and I was writing about my struggle in bringing it down to baby range), and the comments that came back about my number ranged in their tone and sentiment.  Invited, warranted, or not, I can handle critical commentary, but there is a fine line between “constructive criticism” and “cruelty.”  And once I stopped getting all twitchy about the unsupportive commentary (because it’s not all going to be supportive), I felt a lot better.  Getting older has made me care less about being judged and more comfortable and confident about my decisions, decisions like not sharing my personal lab data.  Or like decisions to write about diabetes online in the first place.

“Just because you give them a window doesn’t mean you have to give them a door.”
We are not obligated to share.  We chose to share.  I write this website, and will continue to write here, because of the connection to the diabetes community that sharing fosters.  I love that part of it.  It took me a long time to realize where my boundaries are, and to feel comfortable staying within them.

While I chronicled my pregnancy in a very detailed way, I didn’t share everything.  Before my daughter was even born, I decided to keep her name offline, and after sharing some of her baby stories, I decided to keep her offline, too.  And I share a lot of the silly things related to diabetes, and some of the complicated things, too, but there are thoughts I have about diabetes that are sometimes so terrifying and other times so fucking arrogant that I keep those in, too.  Diabetes is so personal and runs a pile of gamuts.  Sharing it all feels like too much, at times.  Sharing some, however, helps me deal with the emotional side of this chronic illness.

A window in our lives?  That sounds nice.  Opening the door and letting in everything, and everyone?  I can’t manage that kind of flow.  What if a bat flies into my living room?  Fuck bats.  So I’m sticking with the windows, with the screens firmly in place.

“So what kinds of stories will we never hear you tell?  And why won’t you tell them?”
I don’t share stories about my extended family without their permission.  I don’t post about where I live or where I work during the day.  I absolutely do not write about arguments with family.  I do not share things that make me sad while I’m going through them (but sometimes I will share once I’m on the other side of that kind of emotional upheaval, as is my comfort level).  This kind of paints life as though it is “perfect” and without struggle, but I think we all know that the stuff we read on the Internet is always written with specific bias and through a specific lens. (Though I do try to disclose my financial biases, and also, I will always like my kid more than I like your kid.  It’s a fact.  Unless you are my husband, in which case I like your kid as much as I like my kid, for obvious reasons.)

I won’t tell some of these stories because they sometimes hurt to go through, never mind the added pain of retelling them.  I won’t tell them because they are mine, and privacy is an often-underrated but essential part of a peaceful life.

What I will share are stories about how diabetes affects my life, and how it plays a part in shaping my experiences.  I will connect with others through these stories and those friendships will color my existence in a way that I am still understanding and always appreciating.  I will share in hopes that someone will feel less alone, just like I feel less alone every time I read a new blogger or find a new Twitter DOC connection or have an awkward interaction with someone in a bathroom.

Regardless of how much or how little you share, your voice is important, and our community flourishes as a result.

*   *   *

This is part of Diabetes Blog Week, where blog prompts help generate a series of posts by folks in the Diabetes Online Community.  Here’s today’s prompt:  “Many of us share lots of aspects of our diabetes lives online for the world to see.  What are some of the aspects of diabetes that you choose to keep private from the internet?  Or from your family and friends?  Why is it important to keep it to yourself?  (This is not an attempt to get you out of your comfort zone.  There is no need to elaborate or tell personal stories related to these aspects.  Simply let us know what kinds of stories we will never hear you tell, and why you won’t tell them.) (Thank you Scott E of Rolling in the D for this topic.)”

Do You Lie to Your Doctor?

I have found it challenging, at times, to tell the truth to my endocrinologist.   

“Exercise? Yes. I exercise. Nine times a day, I exercise.”

“I have no idea why I was high last Thursday. Or this morning, for that matter.”

“Counting carbs? Yep, I’m all over it.”

Interested in more than just my lab work, my endocrinologist asks me thoughtful questions about my family, my relationship with my husband, and life outside of the confines of my A1c result. So why, as an adult, have I had issues being honest with my endo about the diabetes problems I need real help solving, particularly in moments where I could have just ‘fessed up and saved my endo the effort of trying to find “a solution.”

In this month’s edition of SUM Musings on diaTribe, I’ve drawn from my own experience and collected some thoughts from others about why patients hide the truth from their doctor, what could improve communication between HCPs and PWDs, and how we can embrace a culture of honesty in pursuit of better health.  (Yeah, it sounds kind of serious, but I had a cat wrapped around my neck the whole time I wrote it, so there’s an element of furry fury to the whole thing.)

Thanks to Martin, Lorraine, Kate, Howard, and Sean for their contributions!  Head over to diaTribe to read the whole thing.

An In-Depth Look at the Diabetes UnConference.

Peer to peer support has been shown to be highly beneficial to those living with diabetes. The report, “Peer Support in Health – Evidence to Action,” summarizing findings from the first National Peer Support Collaborative Learning Network shared that: “Among 20 studies of diabetes management, 19 showed statistically significant evidence of benefits of peer support.”  In keeping with that theme, The Diabetes UnConference, the first peer-to-peer support conference for all adults with diabetes, is on tap for March 2015.

Founded by Christel Marchand Aprigliano, The Diabetes UnConference is facilitated by volunteers well known to the diabetes community: Bennet Dunlap, Heather Gabel, Manny Hernandez, Scott K. Johnson, George Simmons, Dr. Nicole Berelos, PhD, MPH, CDE and Kerri Sparling [me ... can you tell this part was a bit of a cut-and-paste from the "about" page on the UnConference website?  Yes ma'am.]  These diabetes community leaders are familiar with the topics that will be covered; each live with diabetes.

The Diabetes UnConference will be held at the Flamingo Las Vegas from March 12 – 15, 2015, and today, I’m talking with founder Christel Aprigliano about the when, how, and most importantly the why of this ground-breaking event.

Kerri:  I know you.  And think you’re awesome.  For those who haven’t met you yet, who are you, and what’s your connection to diabetes?

Christel:  I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of Six Until Me times two. (That would be twelve years old, if you have problems with math like I do.)  I didn’t know many other Type 1s growing up and spent a lot of my teens and early 20s ignoring the physical and psychological issues of having this disease. I had a great medical team that stuck with me and helped me to learn how to live with it, not fight against it.

In August of 2005, I complained to my then boyfriend (now husband) that there weren’t any weekly podcasts about diabetes. Next thing I knew, we had started diabeticfeed, talking about diabetes research news and interviewing people doing amazing things with diabetes. (This interview was in January, 2006 with a woman named Kerri Morrone. We talked about Jettas and diabetes.)

I joke about being a part of the DOC before it was the DOC. While we stopped producing diabeticfeed, I’m doing other things: writing at ThePerfectD, working with other advocates on cool projects like StripSafely and CGMSafely and founding The Diabetes UnConference. While I’m not thrilled to have diabetes, some of my most favorite people in the universe came from connecting with others because of it.

Kerri:  There are a lot of conferences that center around diabetes.  Why the UnConference? 

Christel:  I’ve been to a lot of diabetes conferences and some of the best experiences I’ve had are not in the research sessions or keynote presentations; it’s hallway moments when I’m connecting with another Type 1 or sitting around a lunch table sharing stories and tips. I would leave these conferences wishing that I had more time to talk about the emotional aspects of having this disease and how to live well with it.

During a brainstorming session at the Medtronic Advocacy Summit in January, a question was asked: “What could you do this year in the diabetes community to make a difference?” And the next thing I know, I’m saying that I wanted to have a conference that would bring adults with diabetes together to talk about living with diabetes and learning from each other  – an “unconference.”  (Unconference is a concept made popular by the tech community, where the agenda is decided by the participants during the first hour of the conference. No keynotes, no research sessions, just talking and sharing in a safe environment where there’s no judgement.)

What also makes The Diabetes UnConference unique is that it will bring type 1 and type 2 adults together in one room for a multi-day conference. No other conference does that. We all have non-functioning pancreases (only varying by degree), we have many of the same long-term complications, we all have to deal with depression and burnout and stigma, and we all want to live well with diabetes. We can learn from each other in a safe environment.

Kerri:  What was the scariest thing about taking the leap to put this conference together?  What was the most empowering?

Christel:  The scariest thing has been the idea that I’d be sitting in a huge meeting room in Las Vegas by myself, eating several thousands of dollars worth of food by myself to fulfill the contract that I signed with The Flamingo. I don’t have enough insulin to bolus for it all! (Thankfully, everyone I’ve spoken with about The Diabetes UnConference has been excited about it.)

Really it’s the idea that there people out there who need and want to talk with other people with diabetes and don’t know that this exists. It’s always that way with something new and innovative, isn’t it? We also have scholarships available for those who do want to come but may not have the financial resources to attend.

The most empowering? Knowing that it’s the community that is making this happen. I may have had the initial idea, but without amazing facilitators and participants who want to create this unforgettable experience is mind-blowing. This is about a community helping each other, learning from each other, and connecting with each other. This community empowers me to believe that we can do so much when we listen to each other.

Kerri:  Why should people attend the conference?

Christel:  We spent a few hours each year talking with our healthcare team, mostly about lab results and medication adjustments or treatment recommendations. The rest of the year, we’re on our own. We don’t have time to talk with them about our feelings surrounding living day-to-day with diabetes.

Our community is amazing. We can talk about the emotional aspects of living with diabetes online, but nothing can take the place of looking into each other’s eyes when you talk about fears and burnout. It’s rare to find someone willing to talk about diabetes sexual dysfunction in public, but by creating a safe environment where others might have the same issue and may have a solution? You may not feel comfortable talking about job discrimination online, but in person? I want people to have a safe place where they can express their feelings and get support and hopefully options…

Plus, when the diabetes community gets together, we build these incredible friendships and have an insane amount of fun. Laughter is always in ample supply.

I don’t want people to feel alone with their diabetes. I felt alone for years. That’s why people should attend.

Kerri:  How can people register? 

Christel:  Go to to register and learn more about the conference. (It’s March 13 – 15, 2015 and being held at The Flamingo Las Vegas. We got great rates for the hotel, too!)

Our scholarship applications are open until September 30, 2014.

We’ve got some wonderful surprises up our sleeve, thanks to our sponsors. Insulet, Dexcom, Roche, and B-D have committed to helping make this conference happen, and I’m so grateful. (That being said, any company who is interested in helping can contact us and be a part of this.)

Kerri:  Thanks, Christel.  And for those reading, the scholarship applications are open until September 30th, so if you’d like to apply, please click over and send in your applicationHope to see you all in March in Las Vegas!!

Looking Back: Define? Or Explain.

The tagline on my blog is “Diabetes doesn’t define me, but it helps explain me,” and today I’m looking back at the origin of that phrase in a post from May 2006 (This was a discussion with my older brother, and I’m grateful that both my brother and sister contributed to my book, Balancing Diabetes.)

*   *   *

“Diabetes doesn’t define you, it just helps explain you.”

It struck me that he was right.

Darrell and I don’t talk about diabetes very much. I don’t remember ever talking about it when we were kids. We played with LEGOs and built army forts for the hamsters to live in. There weren’t any big diabetes discussions and, quite frankly, we never really talked about it until I started the blog.

But during a discussion we had today, it came up.

“Diabetes doesn’t define you, it just helps explain you.”

Diabetes didn’t make me smart, but being regimented and dedicated to achieving results on a medical level may have made me work harder in school. Diabetes didn’t make me determined, but it may have contributed to my constant drive towards my ever-changing definition of success.

Such perspective is gained from a chronic condition, regardless of its complications. It doesn’t define me, but the strongest parts of my personality may have been gently shaped by the perspective gained from having it.

Diabetes didn’t make me love with such ease, but having tasted my own mortality makes every hug, every laugh, every kiss that much more needed and appreciated.

I hope so fiercely for a cure. I hope for a cure every time I see a press release about new research breakthroughs. I hope every time I test my bloodsugar that the numbers will always be in range. I hope every time I go to Joslin. I hope every day.

“Diabetes doesn’t define you, it just helps explain you.”

I didn’t ask what he meant because I already knew. Diabetes isn’t Me. It doesn’t own me or define me or ruin me. He and I both know that.

When I wake up every morning and test my blood sugar, when I prime the pump, when I calculate the carbohydrates in a meal, I know it doesn’t define me. But when I am feeling anxious or scared about my medical future or just simply overwhelmed, I know it doesn’t define me.

It just helps explain me.

Guest Post: Someone Who Understands.

Part of what drew me to the idea of creating a diabetes blog was the search for, and the hope of finding, people who understood.  Google was a dark abyss of bad news and depressing statistics; what I needed was to connect with others who were living life, with diabetes along for the ride.  That same connection still feels necessary, now almost a decade later.  This morning, fellow PWD Heather Gabel has offered to guest post about the search for and the becoming of Someone Who Understands.

*   *   *

Holidays are meant to bring family, friends, and loved ones together. It is the nature of holidays to feel warm feelings, give hugs and thanks, and to eat all the treats you can.

I would be fibbing if I said the ‘Holiday Spirit’ didn’t consume me each year. I start preparing for December 25th on November 28th. The giving and the hugging and the loving fills me with a sort of joy that I don’t find as readily accessible in other times of the year.  However, ever since diagnosis, which for me was at 11, there has always been something missing. One piece of the puzzle that until last year I could not seem to find.

Pardon this cheesy attempt to convey the overall sentiment, but to feel complete during the holidays, all I want for Christmas is … Someone Who Understands.

I want someone who knows what it is like to wake up in the morning on Christmas and do diabetes things before joining the family. I want to talk about what it feels like to miss those moments of laughter coming from where you would have been if diabetes didn’t take those minutes away.  I want someone who has been through the “Should you be eating that?” and that saddened glare when mom sees that you have stolen one of Santa’s cookies.

Connecting with someone who understands is so powerful during the holidays, when what makes you different feels isolating and you really get the FOMO (fear of missing out) going on.

Last year I stumbled upon something that filled that gap. What was it you ask? Why, the DOC [Diabetes Online Community] of course.

This outstanding community of individuals, via Twitter, Facebook, blogs, TuDiabetes, Glu, Children with Diabetes, or other social networking site, has connected me to a SWU (Someone Who Understands). And, to even more capture the holiday spirit,  the DOC allows me to be someone else’s SWU.

The DOC is a birthplace of friendship. Year after year, you get to know your DOC friends more and more.

I was talking with Mike Lawson about this recently and he described something I hadn’t really addressed before. He said that before he started going to conferences and meet ups, it felt like he had two distinct groups of ‘friends’. His “friend-friends” being those he physically spent time with and his “online-friends” being those in the DOC. When he started going to conferences and meeting face to face with the people he knew so well online, the groups began to merge. The lines between them became fuzzy and overlapping.

As a PWD (person with diabetes), and a PWD who has now attended four diabetes conferences, I couldn’t agree with Mike Lawson more.

Meeting people you know well through online platforms feels strange and almost backwards. You know their secrets, their fears, their hopes and dreams, and then you meet them and begin small talk because you don’t know much about their home life, their job, responsibilities, their family.

Relationships develop online, but they seal in person.

As a PWD who is 23, the holiday gap is not entirely filled by the DOC, and this is why: finding a Someone Who Understands who is close to my age is incredibly difficult online.

I don’t always feel a need to talk to someone in my exact same boat, usually if you have diabetes that is sharing waters and thus close enough. But there are times when I want to connect with a PWD who is wondering what to do after college, how to land a entry level job that offers good enough insurance, how to wear a bikini with both CGM and pump sites hooked in, etc.

There are programs out there bringing together 20-somethings with diabetes. There is College Diabetes Network, Friends For Life, Students with Diabetes, Facebook groups such as Females w/ Diabetes, Diabesties, etc. There are mentor programs like Insulliance via Beta Connect and fundraising young adult groups such as JDRF YLC chapters. BUT, there still seems to be something lacking.

It is a feeling of solidarity.  Where is a core group of PWD’s going through life post college?  Where do we meet up? How do we stay in contact?  I am certain that there are groups of friends with diabetes in the 20 something range who would completely disagree with me. You interact constantly and feel supported by your peers. That is wonderful! Where do I sign up?

If this is your circumstance, I urge you to grow your group.  Find ways to connect with others who are blogging and tweeting and Facebooking. Make a blog, yourself, and invite others your age to read it.  (A great example of someone who recently started this process is Walt. He is a 20-something who has yet to meet another PWD in person. He couldn’t find the voice, so he started it.)

During this holiday season, the DOC could become greater, more powerful. We could reach out, and welcome floaters and lurkers and plan to meet or attend the same conferences. We could inspire them to begin sharing their vital voice.  It could be a merrier year in the DOC, if we collaborated and sought out a 20-something group of advocates, writers, athletes, innovators, students, shakers, and makers.

I feel certain that there is complete openness for something like this to develop within the DOC. We just have to begin moving in that direction.  (Hey veterans, any ideas of how to begin?)

If you are a 20-something and write a blog, leave your URL in a comment below and share if you are interested in forming a solidarity group. How can we better support each other?  Moving forward through life’s many stages would feel more safe if we could all experience it together.

If you are interested in reading some diabetes blog’s by 20 somethings:

Walt’s Blog
Courtney’s Blog
Heather’s Blog
Elizabeth’s Blog
Jen’s Blog

*   *   *

After graduating from UC Berkeley with a degree in East Asian religion and philosophy, Heather Gabel joined the Diabetes Hands Foundation team in fall 2012. While working there, she has become greatly involved in the diabetes community, both online and off. Heather founded an organization called Beta Connect that inspires positive language practices in people with diabetes through the implementation of mentorship programs at hospitals and healthcare centers.

And please, if you’re a 20something blogger living with diabetes and you want to find, or be, that Someone Who Understands, please leave a link to your blog in the comments.  Make the search easier!


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