When a person starts taking insulin it brings a new level of complexity to treating type 2 diabetes. For one thing, you have to learn how to give yourself injections. And insulin itself is not like pills or other liquid medicines, it’s kind of fussy. But those might not turn out to be your biggest concerns.
What’s the First Thing to Know About Insulin?
Insulin is a medication, not a judgement.
Some people see using insulin as a failure—the result of not keeping diabetes under control. First of all, while you can make decisions about how you manage your self-care, you cannot “control” diabetes. Secondly, diabetes is a complex, degenerative chronic condition influenced by genetics and environmental factors. There is no treatment or lifestyle change that guarantees you can stop diabetes from progressing forever.
Because some people see insulin as a failure, they often feel stigmatized. One survey found that 61 percent of people with type 2 diabetes who used insulin therapy reported feeling stigmatized. Some of this feeling is due to the fact that taking insulin makes diabetes more visible and the general public doesn’t necessarily understand what’s going on when they see someone pricking their finger or taking a shot.
Stigma is a problem because it undermines people’s ability to manage their diabetes.
That feeling of judgement often gets in the way of feeling comfortable taking medication when needed, regardless of where you are or who you are with. Also, it chips away at the confidence needed to make healthful choices when faced with social pressure.
To successfully use insulin first you have to face down any stigma you are feeling.
You’ll have to be confident in your ability to do some new things, like learning how to give yourself an injection—even if syringes aren’t your most favorite thing in the world.
You’ll have to commit to finding a way to follow your insulin regime consistently—regardless of whether you’re at work, or in a social situation, or with people who aren’t as supportive as they could be.
You might have to start with a bit of “fake it until you make it” attitude. But success will come when you commit to learning and consistently practicing how to manage your diabetes with insulin.
What Else Is There to Know About Using Insulin?
Using insulin is complex and demanding. It has a lot of moving parts. It can be prescribed as a single shot of the same number of units at the same time every day. Or it can be prescribed as multiple shots of varying units based on your current blood glucose (BG) reading and/or the number of grams of carbs you are about to eat.
You will, most likely, feel overwhelmed at some point.
Work with your healthcare team to make sure you learn, practice, and become proficient in everything you need. This is not the time to be shy about asking for help. Your state of health depends on it.
Here’s a list of the many things you need to learn about when starting to take insulin:
- The types of insulin
- How to store insulin properly
- What type(s) of insulin you are being prescribed
- How long it takes for the insulin you’re using to enter the bloodstream
- How long the insulin you’re taking will stay in the bloodstream
- How to give yourself an injection
- How to determine what dose of insulin to give yourself
- When to give yourself a dose of insulin
- How to recognize and treat hypoglycemia
- Changes to your BG monitoring routine
- What side effects to look out for
- What info to track
- When and how to report back to your healthcare team
What’s the Best Way to Learn How to Use Insulin?
Learn from your healthcare team.
Your healthcare team should be knowledgeable and committed to helping you. In addition to seeing your primary doctor you will most likely meet with a diabetes educator or nurse to learn how to use insulin. Your pharmacist can tell you about insulin and your prescription, but not about your diagnosis. Remember to ask for help and more information when you need it.
Be persistent until you truly understand.
Sometimes you may need to ask the same question several times or ask different people the same question until you really understand the answer. That’s okay. Your healthcare team is there to help you and you need to be able to manage using insulin on your own.
Look for helpful apps and devices.
An app can be helpful for tracking medication and side effects. They make it easier to keep a log and share that log with your healthcare team.
There are devices that can help make taking insulin easier. For example, after having my insulin freeze in a hotel room refrigerator I searched for another way to safely store insulin while traveling. I found an insulating gel pack that I soak in water and it keeps insulin within its safe temperature range.
Reach out to diabetes peers for "BTDT" experience.
Your diabetes peers can often cut to the chase with many lifetimes worth of "been-there-done-that" experience to help you problem solve or plan.
For example, when I started taking insulin I wasn’t comfortable stabbing myself with the syringe. A friend of mine told me about a spring loaded device that I could put my syringe in and it did the stabbing for me. That device helped me get comfortable with giving myself an inject and I no longer use it.
What’s the Best Way to Move Ahead Using Insulin?
Be persistent until you feel confident.
Practice. Ask questions. Seek answers and well-informed advice. Practice some more. Keep doing these things until you feel confident in your ability to manage your diabetes using insulin on your own, anywhere and anytime.