Mentally preparing yourself for the rigors of Diabetes

Amylia Grace Yeaman Health Guide
  • [How] To be or not to be--that is the question. -Shakespeare 



    Sometimes my cats forget they're cats, and they act like humans. I'll walk upstairs after throwing in a load of laundry to find that the chicken sandwich I left on my plate has vanished.  For a moment I think to myself "What the %@$? Who ate my sandwich?"  


    That's when my cats suddenly snap out of it and remember they're not human after all. They get all skittery and run into the bedroom to hide. The pretense of their humanness is over. And while I'm not big on stealing sandwiches, I had a similar moment yesterday where pretense quickly vanished.

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    I felt good at first. I kind of forgot I was diabetic. I felt like a kid again (the pre-Type I diabetes version). It was a full-on celebration of goofiness at Dave & Busters in honor of my mom's birthday. Mom and I had a lot of fun, but twice that evening I found myself "snapping out of it" as the reality that I was, in fact, diabetic, set in. Twice I struggled with very low bloodsugars. Pretending to ride Harleys, jumping virtual rope for tickets and playing competitive air-hockey apparently takes it outta a girl. 33 mg/dl was a low moment, indeed.


    As the mother of twins with Type I diabetes, it isn't easy for her to see her "babies" suffer, no matter the age. Despite tweaking basal rates and testing before, during and after her birthday party, the lows hit me suddenly. I couldn't control the urge to drain two glasses of Coke in a matter of minutes. At times I barely notice the symptoms, but yesterday's string of lows really shook me up. At bedtime, a 61 mg/dl was followed up by a 331 mg/dl after treating my hypoglycemia too aggressively.


    That frustrating cycle of "low-overtreat-high-overbolus---low-overtreat-high" still gets me sometimes. In my weak, shakier moments, I feel afraid and vulnerable. I just wanted to be a kid again, and wanted my mom to experience the non-diabetic version of me. It didn't happen. I tried to hide it from my mom, but twice that night I felt very much the opposite of strong and young and carefree despite the playful environs. Twice I felt guilty for having to stop the festivities, divert attention, and treat my lows. Logically I know it wasn't "my fault," but sometimes the illusion of full responsibility beats the alternative. Sometimes, admitting I'm not in total control feels much, much worse.


    Like many diabetics, I am still relatively young, but carry the heavy burden of fear that accompanies me after twenty-one years struggling with some of this stuff. No matter how many times I've experienced the awful symptoms of severe hypoglycemia, there's still this visceral, primal fear and panic that rises up in me during those hazy-headed, shaky lows. They're scary and hard to handle while fuzzy-brained. And while diabetics can't live in a state of constant fear and anxiety (or we'd never get out of bed in the morning), this undercurrent of fear is one of the hardest complications for me to live with--fear of things like painful neuropathy and vision loss accompanied by fears surrounding how well I'd handle all that, and the effect it'd have on me and my family. Fear that guilt and shame may overpower me if this body that has worked so hard to keep me going all these years (despite less than optimal conditions) one day fails me-and the fear that that day may not be so far off. The fear of death coming before I'm ready for it.


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    More often, though, what arises is an intense fear of compromised health and a compromised quality of life while still here. It scares me in ways I don't often talk about. Most days I don't like to make a big deal out of my diabetes. Don't like to worry about what-its or dwell in fear or unknowns. But there it is. Twenty one years in to this disease, I'm still healthy and virtually complication-free, but secretly wonder when the gig may be up. It feels like I'm waiting for the other proverbial shoe to drop. It's not inevitable, but some days it sure feels it.


    So I don't talk about these things a lot, and I apologize that these are not comforting thoughts I share with you today. But more often than not, I deal with worrisome things not by ignoring them, but by acknowledging them and arming myself with information and candor. Then, I move on. I think of it as empowering myself by learning as much as I can from the best possible sources both on and offline, and giving it to people straight. Some days it's just putting one foot in front of the other. But I have a low tolerance for bullshit-from my doctors and nurses, my friends and family-and yes, from myself (hard as I try), so I try to put things in context and reframe bothersome thoughts. By contextualizing "the facts," challenging my thoughts and subsequent reactions, I regain some sense of control over my reactions. This certainly trumps mindlessly ingesting the incessant drip, drip, drip of negative messages that seem to surround us in the media and from ill-informed but well-meaning onlookers.


    Don't get me wrong: I'm not suggesting we simply tune it all out, but I take what I read or hear with a grain of salt, and expect most readers do the same. For example, while management of my diabetes is in my hands on a day-to-day basis, full control seems like a fallacy to me. Is this disease manageable? Much of the time, yes. But regardless of whether your A1C is under or over 7.0, one doesn't ever "fully control" Type I diabetes. This beast is never fully tamed. I've learned the hard way that like it or not, we can't always control what happens to or inside of us. I don't like to admit this-even typing it is painful-but it's true.


    What we choose to do with the control we do have is the important part-and that gives me enough hope to keep trying and doing my best, even when the odds seem stacked against me. Even when it seems my best efforts are not paying off in ways I'd like. Especially then.


    What do you do to keep hope and a clear head about you when diabetes bums you out? Where do you find the strength on days diabetes seems to drain it outta you?

Published On: October 21, 2010