Living With Type I Diabetes

Friday, November 13, 2015

Almost three years ago now, I wrote a post letting any of you reading know that I had been diagnosed with Type I Diabetes.... and I haven't ever really written anything more on the subject since. But, November is National Diabetes Month and tomorrow is International Diabetes Day, so I wanted to take a post and just... revisit, give an update.

Because, the thing is, being diabetic is something life altering, which, yeah, sounds pretty dramatic and hard- and some days it does feel hard- but mostly what I mean, is there was a New Normal. I think a lot of people with chronic diseases or illnesses can relate to that. It can be hard, but mostly it just is- you have to adjust.

A lot of the things I think that freak most people out are what became routine the quickest- mainly giving myself shots of insulin, and pricking myself to test my blood sugar levels. For a Type One diabetic, what has happened is your body has stopped producing insulin, the thing that helps your body handle glucose, the form of energy your body needs. Consequently, your body A) doesn't get any of the energy it needs and B) your body gets filled up with unused glucose. Your blood gets super high amounts of sugar. It is hard to have high blood sugar, though it has to be very, very high to actually kill you. But it gets unpleasant- you're tired and you ache and your emotions go all over. And you start to lose weight because your body isn't getting what it needs from what you eat, so it is converting stores of energy. You are starving to death, even when there is food to "eat." So, you have to inject insulin into your body in order to process food and get your body energy. Yay for the science that allows us to do that with synthesized insulin! However, the pancreas in a person is able to monitor your blood sugar levels in a way medicine can't yet, so once a diabetic starts taking insulin there is another possible problem- low blood sugar levels.   We aren't talking the every day "hangery" feelings some people get when they don't eat. When blood sugar levels get low a person can start acting abnormally (No joke, my doctor gave me a card for emergencies that tells people I'm diabetic. It starts off by telling people  if I'm acting weird it is not because I'm drunk. Lovely.), be  uncommunicative, get the shakes and not think clearly. If it is low enough you can lose consciousness and a whole other host of unpleasantness follows. All this up and down in your blood sugar levels is hard on your body and leaves you with a low immune system and over time, heightens your risk for a lot of things such a blindness, and infections in limbs that might even result in limb loss!
So, as a Type I diabetic, you are in charge of monitoring all this and making sure you don't do a bad job of it because- well. Consequences. And it takes time, diligence, a lot of medical supplies,  a lot of needles, and a lot of support to make things work. But you know- I'm very lucky to have a good team of people who help and I think many other diabetics would concur. And, as I said, you adjust. Still, here are some thoughts diabetes (and how you can help the diabetics in your life, by, well, being a good person).

Number One Thing: How people react to knowing you have diabetes. I mean, sure, there probably isn't a great way to react to hearing about someone's medical issues beyond, well, listening and acknowledging the fact. But in general, I always think of that card for people with cancer. It says, "When life gives you lemons, I won't tell you a story about my friend's cousin who died of lemons." Pretty much true for any illness or accident- chronic or not.  This seems very obvious, but, dude. It is apparently Not. Obvious. to most people. The number of times someone has told me about their cousin/friend/dad/dog who also has/had diabetes (and 90% of the time it is Type II which is NOT the same thing) and how some strange herbal remedy fixed them up/or they ate cake till they died/or whatever.... Not really what I need to know.  Also, telling me you wished you had this disease because it made me lose weight and you'd like to lose weight?  Not cool.  Likewise, saying "hope you don't lose a foot" is just downright passive-aggressive.

People also feel, once they know, that it gives them a right to comment on how and what I eat.  Don't do that. First off-  A diabetic basically just needs to eat healthily and with good portions yadda yadda yadda, in order to carb count. Still, there are some foods I really miss eating because they just take too long for my body to process and do a number on me. Most days its fine, but some days I hate having a complicated relationship with food, and even though your words about the food the diabetics in your life are eating may come from a place of concern and caring, that can get lost and seem judgemental instead.  Second- well.  My husband -and maybe my parents because they are my parents-  can comment on my food habits. My doctor and the people he works with on my case can comment on my food habits. Joe Shmoe off the street? Frankly?  Not his business.  

The positive thing though is- you do adjust and it Just Is. And most people I know with Type I Diabetes are these amazing people who just go, go, go and don't let things stop them. They are fighters who don't let the exhaustion, the highs and lows, and all the shots get them down.  But- it is still a real presence in their and many others' lives- today, this month, all the time. So,  the TL;DR take away from all this is- please take time today to support the research to help and cure diabetes. And in your day to day lives be willing to listen to, rather than just advise, those who are dealing with any sort of chronic disease. Listening is a form of generosity that never goes out of style. For all that sort of support- thank you.


  1. Thanks for a useful and informative post!

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  2. This was an interesting post. Thanks for sharing. It has made me understand the disease and side effects associated with it better.


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    1. Thank you for letting me know this Suzanne; it means a lot to me that you did!

  3. This is so interesting. I have a chronic injury, so I know a bit about what you mean by adjusting to a New Normal. Still, I amazed by what science has done for diabetes and saddened by how much more needs to be done. Thanks for sharing your story!

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    1. I think a lot of people with chronic injuries or illnesses probably have to deal with some of the same or similar issues (and probably some unique to their situation as people too...) Thank you for commenting on this; it means a lot.

  4. This is a great post! I've learned so much about diabetes in the last 2 years (due to my project). There are a lot of misconceptions out there, especially since there are different types of Diabetes (I, II and gestational). Also, medical knowledge and therefore advice is constantly changing. For many years, people with diabetes weren't allowed/supposed to eat fruit but I think now that view has relaxed a bit. Education is key here, as usual. :D

    I can't believe that people feel they can comment on your health condition (or anybody's really). Let's leave that to the health professionals, eh? :D

    One thing I was amazed at how different levels of health support (obviously this is NZ) for different conditions. I think there needs to be more support for type I diabetes as this is a genetic condition which you don't have any control over!


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