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Living with Type 1 Diabetes. What’s that like?
I have had Type 1 Diabetes for over half my life. I was diagnosed at 16 years old right before the start of my Junior year in high school. Of course, this was a huge life change, but I am pretty proud of how well I took it in stride. My mom is also a T1D, so at the very least I knew what was happening. Add in the fact that I was a bit older than most when I was diagnosed, so I was able to understand it all.
For the most part, I don’t let Type 1 Diabetes run my life. I don’t talk about it all the time, and I don’t let it hold me back. I’ve traveled all over the globe and been fine, played rugby and been fine, birthed some kids and survived, and now I’m training for my very first (eeeek!!) Half marathon. So does it get the best of me? Usually no. But that doesn’t mean never. There are a few misconceptions that I’d like to address if you’ll humor me. Then I’ll run you through a typical day in terms of me and type 1 Diabetes.
- Type 1 Diabetes is an autoimmune disease. It has NOTHING to do with how much sugar I ate, what I weigh, or any other decision I have made. Basically, my immune system got drunk without my permission and started a fight with my beta cells (the ones that produce insulin) and my immune system won. Yay immune system?
- It’s lifelong, it’s not going away, and you can’t fix it with cinnamon. It amazes me how many people send me snippets of different ways to ‘cure’ myself. It ain’t happening people. I’ve accepted it, now so should you.
- I’m pretty damn self-sufficient. While it is helpful to ask me if I need anything when my blood sugar drops, or to be considerate of me when planning things…..I got this. Am I always 100% on the ball? No, but I’m pretty damn close. If I need help or want special treatment I am going to ask for it.
- I am not Julia Roberts in Steel Magnolias. Yes, there are brittle diabetics out there. No, I am no one of them. I am actually really dang healthy. I work really, really hard to be in control of my blood sugar. So when people assume they can help me better than I’m helping myself (looking at you L&D nurse from hell!) it gets really frustrating. Especially when they’re not diabetic themselves.
What’s my day like with Type 1 Diabetes?
The very first thing I do in the morning is test my blood sugar and correct if necessary. This involves a finger prick and 10 seconds of my time. Then it’s off the wrangle kids and eat breakfast. 99% of the time breakfast is a shake. If I KNOW I’m going for a run right after school drop off or heading to kickboxing I will skip the bolus (that’s a little shot of insulin for those unfamiliar. For me it’s pressing some buttons on my pump) This usually means my blood sugar might spike a bit more than I’d like immediately after eating, but my shakes are low glycemic index, so unless I add a banana it’s usually a minimal spike. And provides me with the wiggle room I need to get through a workout.
What on earth does that mean?! Wiggle room to get through a workout?! Well you see, part of the fun of Type 1 Diabetes is that you have to factor in ALL the things that raise and lower your blood sugar. Exercise lowers is. Well usually. A HIIT workout might raise it. Fun, right? It’s like living a math nightmare! It’s sort of like if you had to manually manage your heart rate or breathing. It sucks, but after a while, you start to learn your body. I know I have to be above 120 to go for a run. And I usually take tablets or Juice Plus chewables along with me in case I start to feel a low.
Feel a low. That’s a fun one. Some diabetics can’t feel them at all. Since now we’re post-workout in my day, we can talk about lows. My knees feel loose and shaky, that’s the first step. My hands shake, I feel grumpy. The absolute last thing on earth that I want to do is eat. But I have to. Nothing tastes more disgusting than glucose tablets when you don’t want to eat FYI. I’m not always low after working out, but it happens sometimes.
I eat lunch and do chores and other mom-related activities. I should note that by around lunchtime I have tested my blood sugar 2-3 more times if I’m not wearing my glucose sensor. Which is currently missing somewhere in my house. My meals are usually pretty rigid and don’t change much day to day because I’m boring. But that also helps with the hell that is carb counting. I have to know the net carb count of everything I eat so that I can bolus the correct amount of insulin. Again, math nightmare.
Net carb count? Yeah, that’s a thing. You need to subtract the fiber. And measure the serving sizes. It’s super fun to go out to eat or visit friends and eyeball and estimate carb count. But again, you start to know your body and find your sweet spots. It’s also really fun when the same carb amounts of different foods require different boluses. For example, I need at least twice as much insulin for 15 grams of carbs in rice as I do for 15 grams of carbs potatoes. Since I also have Celiac disease (EYE ROLL) I have to eat Gluten Free. Gluten-free grains all seem to require more insulin than wheat did for whatever reason. So I had to readjust for EVERYTHING after that diagnosis. It was like starting over.
So let’s assume at this point in my day I’m done with dinner and maybe I want some wine. I want ALL THE WINE. Alcohol is something all diabetics are told to stay away from, but I like to live my life my way, not the doctor who looks at me for a total of 60 minutes a year’s way. So I drink some alcohol occasionally. Which is a whole other factor in terms of the blood sugar puzzle. It spikes it, but then for whatever strange reason it crashes down and stays lower the whole next day.
I’ve had my wine and I’m going to bed. the last thing I do before I go to sleep is test my blood sugar. Again. This is usually test number 10-12. Then, if I wake up at night (I have small kids, so this is guaranteed) I test it again.
Things not discussed that mess with my diabetes: pregnancy and nursing, the sunrise, any illness, my period, stress, hydration, driving and flying, and many more.
Things not discussed that diabetes messes with: work, clothing options for my pump, pregnancy and nursing, medications, sex, sleep, hunger triggers and hormones, weight management, and more
Let’s wrap this up, shall we?
To the non-diabetics: I share all of this with you not for pity or attention, but because I don’t think people realize how much mental work this takes every.single.day. And much like being a mom, there is no time off from it. Burnt out? Too bad! I don’t talk about it, I’m a speed demon with the testing, and frankly I’m just plain GOOD at it…. but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.
To the newly diagnosed/ parents of the newly diagnosed: It is ok. Things are going to be fine. You/ your child can, and will, do whatever you want despite this stupid ass disease. I’m not a superhero, but I have traveled abroad for months at a time. I played sports, have kids and I have a great freaking life now. It. Is. Going. To. Be. OK.
To my fellow veteran diabetics: AMIRIGHT?!?