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On Life and Death with Diabetes

I rarely speak or write about the disease I have had since the age of 12. However, I decided to use this site as an outlet for things that I am vexed with and interested in throughout my short life online. In another life, this was Nickelback, now it's a little more real. :) I have been struggling lately with the mental battles it requires to be a diabetic, so I thought I would share my frustration here for all to see.

Next Summer, I will have had diabetes for 30 years. Now, you'd think celebrating 30 years for most anything would be on the agenda. Diabetes has been with me long than nearly all of my friends. I've had diabetes in my life almost twice as long as I've known my wife. Diabetes is the friend I just cannot get rid of. He's always there reminding me that I am not in control of my body. He is the guy yelling spoilers at the end of the movie. Eventually, he will be the reason I pass from this world. He is the worst.

A recent conversation about symptoms led me to this post so that I could introduce a part of me so many of my real friends know exists, but have little true knowledge about. They have seen its effects. My somewhat erratic behavior when my sugar is low. My increasingly grumpy demeanor when my sugar is high. They are familiar with both of those facets of my life as a diabetic. Only my mother and my wife truly know what I go through on a daily and nightly basis just to be "normal". Normal is an incredibly good place to be. It's par. It's home.

A good day with diabetes looks like this:

  • Wake at 8-8:30. Feel pretty decent. Normal grogginess. Check sugar, it's somewhere between 90 and 140

  • Lunch goes well. Sugar is between 100 and 150 throughout.

  • An hour after lunch, sugar is a little high but expected for lunch. Adjust accordingly.

  • Dinner goes well. Sugar is 120 or below.

  • Bedtime comes and sugar may be < 200 but not adjustment-worthy because I'd rather not crash at night.

  • Wake up the next morning ready to go.
    What happens when 1 thing goes wrong:

  • Wake at the normal time. Feeling really run down or even hungover. Did I take melatonin? No. Did I drink an 8 pack? No. Ok...sugar is high. And it is. It's 256 and I feel beat already. Adjustment occurs.

  • Feel a little better at lunch, but sugar is still in the 200s. I eat, because I have to, and adjust as needed.

  • An hour after lunch I am ready for bed and blood sugar is in the 300s. I finally decide that the best thing I can probably do is change out my equipment and hit a fresh "spot" on my body to connect my pump. I do this and take insulin to react to the high number on the screen.

  • 2 hours later, I am sweating. My heart is racing. My mind is scattered and my vision starts to blur. It also happens that I am on the disc golf course or at the gym because exercise helps lower blood sugars for me sometimes. I shove every bit of sugar in my bag or car into my mouth to adjust for a low sugar. I am louder, goofier and pretty annoying and more so depending on what that number is that I can't check because I am, again, not at home to check it and didn't bring the checker with me. I know if my vision is compromised, it's below 40 though...because experience.

  • Dinner comes and goes. Did I mention that my rebound sugar after a low is high now because I freaked out and ate 1 stinking glucose tablet too many? Or 5 too many. Who could count at that point? So I adjust for the 400 on the screen and try to count the carbs in the delicious meal my wife made, but I can't really enjoy because I am miserable. Again.

  • 3am. That should be enough. But I'm awakened because my sheets are wet and my mind is racing. Check sugar, it's 40-50, which is better than previous, but my adjustment and new spot placement have worked together to crash me again. I eat accordingly and go back to sleep 2 hours later.

  • 8am wake up with a near migraine and generally tired. Take Advil, drink coffee and check sugar. Hey...it's 112. Hooray for all. I might be "normal" today.
    The bad days come in different flavors and that example was a more drastic one, but I doubt when I meet friends out to do something, they know I've gone through any piece of that. Or they might! Some have enough perception to see through my thinly veiled disguise and attempts at being a Muggle to know that something is up. But that's just the daily work of a diabetic. It's what we "do" every day if we are attempting to have a good life and not a bad death.

This morning I saw the news that a member of A Tribe Called Quest had died from diabetes. I didn't read any articles because I want to wait until we have more information on his death. Not because I suspect foul play, or drugs, or anything else nefarious. It's because we don't really die of diabetes. Diabetes accounts for hundreds of thousands of deaths a year. In 2010, it was the 7th leading cause of death because it was listed as an underlying reason for deaths. Diabetes doesn't kill, but it opens the door to your killer.

Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney failure. Diabetes means that I am 1.8x more likely to have a heart attack after the age of 20...and it goes up every year. Strokes are right behind that at 1.5x. In other words, something not great is on the way. So there is the real struggle.

So I exercise. I weight too much, we all know that, but I exercise so that my heart is stronger. I try to eat well but fail like anyone else. I fight the good fight and cannot lose weight. Know why? Insulin can block fat burning. So I have to take less insulin but to do that I have to lose weight. After 40, with other systems tiring in my body, it's becoming increasingly harder. So I deal with the feelings of failure, compounded by my feelings of failure from falling off my diet in various ways.

And when I lay in bed at night with my sugar whatever the heck it is because I'm just too tired or sad to go check it, that's what bugs me. I can and will do better. Or maybe I won't. But at the end, will it matter since the door to heart disease, blindness, amputation and kidney failure was opened 30 years ago?

Now...I said all that to say this: I'll be fine. I have a fantastic life with great friends, music, disc golf, a beer or 2 on occasion and the best wife. I enjoy my life because of the phantom I described above in the back of my mind that lingers. I am a 29-year diabetic and thus far have shown no side effects other than cold feet and dry skin. At this point I should have manifested retinopathy or some form of macular degeneration, but I have been blessed and show no signs right now. The doc says that if I haven't I probably will not. "Probably". I think that's what I will call the phantom in my mind. Probably will get me some day. There are no guarantees with diabetes.

I attempt to approach my disease with humor, as I approach everything else in life. So I will end this post with a joke that sums up my dietary life:

A Diabetic walks into a bakery and asks the guy behind the counter, “What do you got that is safe for diabetics?”

The Baker says, “Everything. As long as you don’t put it in your mouth.”

Thanks for sharing in my struggle. If you feel the need to further the study of diabetes and hopefully find a cure, please donate: http://www.diabetes.org/Donate‎