Although November 14th marks World Diabetes Day, today is no different from any other for those living with type 1 diabetes like my girlfriend, Michelle. Witnessing the daily (more like hourly) routines of those with chronic diseases like type 1 makes you realize how lucky you are to enjoy simple things you don’t think twice about, like diving into the complimentary bread basket at restaurants…
This is for all you diabadasses out there, who are working 24 hours a day balancing on a metaphorical tightrope, trying to achieve a blood sugar within healthy range. It’s also for all you honorary diabadasses – those who provide support and help us stay motivated to manage our disease as best we can.
I’ve had type 1 since age four. Though I am optimistic about future medical advancements and know that I can still achieve whatever goal I set out to accomplish, it’s a process…a never-ending math equation. I have at least one high or low – or both – every day. Twenty years later, I still have my moments where I snap and cry. I cry over superficial stuff, like having my Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM) bulge from under my clothes, or having scars and marks on my stomach from insulin injections. I cry over legit stuff like the fear of complications, or the thought that I could not see a cure within my lifetime.
I know I’m not alone. I know that others share my fears and frustrations, but also my hopes and dreams of what life without diabetes would feel like. That’s why the concept of “community” is so important and so powerful. Strength is in numbers (no pun intended [only my type 1’s get that]), so let’s take whatever opportunities we have to motivate and educate, shall we?
Type I 101
How to pronounce diabetes: Dye-ah-beat-ese NOT Dye-ah-beat-is
What’s the difference between type I and type II?
Both types refer to a lack of functioning of the same body part (pancreas) and hormone (insulin) but, other than that, they are truly different diseases.
- Type I cannot be prevented, there is no cure, and the cause is unknown (although there are genetic and environmental factors).
- Type II is what most people associate with being overweight. It can potentially be prevented, or reversed with healthy diet and weight management.
How are bodies with diabetes different?
Those with type I diabetes don’t make insulin. For example, imagine going to a concert…the “venue” is a blood cell, “tickets” are insulin, and the “people” represent the carbohydrates or sugar they eat. Stay with me here…
People without diabetes have tickets (insulin) already purchased on their phones and ready to scan. They can show up and walk right in without a worry in the world. Woo! Mosh time!
People with type II diabetes have tickets (insulin), but they have a tougher time getting in (i.e. they don’t make enough insulin or their bodies aren’t as good at using it). Maybe they need to go to will call? Or the line is suuuuper long…Getting in requires more effort (i.e. daily pills, exercise and weight loss, etc. ).
People with type I diabetes don’t have any tickets (insulin), period. Bummer, I know. Our pancreases don’t make any insulin, so we need to inject it ourselves using syringes or an insulin pump. Then, our bodies can let the sugar we eat into our cells for energy…in other words, so that we can get into the venue and enjoy the show! So for all you people who think diabetics can’t eat sugar, you’re wrong! We can go to the concert, we just need to get tickets first (give ourselves insulin). We “get tickets” by going through a three step process: First, we “carb count” (aka use nutrition labels or just guess how many grams of carbohydrates we’re going to eat). Second, we calculate how much insulin we need based on the carbs. Finally, we inject the insulin by using either old-school syringes or pens, or an insulin pump.
What does it feel like to have a high blood sugar?
Like maple syrup is running through your veins. In this case, there is a ton of sugar floating around in your bloodstream, instead of going into your cells to be used for energy. So you’re tired, lethargic, and thirsty. This is when you need to inject insulin to bring your blood sugar down.
What does it feel like to have a low blood sugar?
Like Ocean Flight 815 going down in Season 1 of Lost. You feel weak and shaky…like your body is shutting down. Your cells don’t have enough sugar (aka energy) to function and keep you alive! In this case, you need sugar ASAP. Orange juice! Halloween candy! Honey packets from Starbucks!*
*The type of sugar matters. You need simple sugars to bring you up FAST, because they don’t require a ton of work and time for your body to break them down. So fruit juice, glucose tablets, etc. Complex carbohydrates take more time for your body to digest. That whole wheat bagel with cream cheese? The fiber and fat is just going to prolong the amount of time it takes for your blood sugar to come up.
What’s more dangerous? Going low or high?
See Max’s drawing below:
Both are dangerous, but pose different threats. As I explained to him when we first met, managing type I is like hiking a steep mountain. The immediate risk is greater when falling (going low) than hiking up (going high). Though high blood sugars can lead to long-term complications, a bad low blood sugar can cause you to pass out, and in the worst cases, they can be fatal. So if a type I friend of yours is going low, the best thing to do is get them sugar PRONTO!
WTF (Where’s The Food?)
Those with type I diabetes can eat anything, even a big slice of cake. In fact, we NEED sugar when we have a low blood sugar! That said, it’s a lot more difficult to guess the exact amount of carbohydrates (which break down into sugar) in that slice of cake and frosting, in order to give the correct dose of insulin needed. So, the fewer the carbs, the less insulin I have to give, and the less mental math I have to do. So if I go to a party and I don’t want to worry about giving insulin, I snack on cheese, veggies and dip, meats, olives, etc.
What’s in my bag?
Whenever I see one of those “What’s in my bag” pages in US Weekly I laugh. Celebrities swearing that they can’t live without their rose water hydration spray or $30 lipstick…LOL.
I dream of a day when I can leave the house carrying a tiny clutch purse with only my lipstick, cell phone, and I.D. A day when I can run a half marathon without thinking about my blood sugars…but more than that, I look towards the day when all of us with type I and our loved ones can sleep easy, knowing that the various threats and burdens of the disease are no longer. Now that, calls for a massive party…with a big sugary dessert table I might add!
Want to be a part of the cure for type I? Donate here to JDRF, the leading global organization funding type I diabetes research. Donations are being matched until midnight tonight!