Monday, March 30, 2015

The Complication That Nobody's Talking About

Part of the job of being diabetic is being bombarded with unpleasant information.  Commercials, pamphlets, homework, ignorant strangers--they all love to chime in and pester us with the statistics of diabetes complications. Since about 4th grade I've learned to keep only one ear open. You can only hear such facts so many times before you start to really panic. But each time a new one arose, I was educated on it, talked about it, then tucked it away in a neat little box in the back of my mind.

However, there is a certain complication that I never heard about on TV.  I never was informed about it in the doctor's office. I never had an ignorant stranger tell me an incorrect fact about it (sadly). In fact, I didn't even know that it was a statistically significant, existent, real complication until my college years. Although my common sense had brought me to the conclusion quite awhile before.

People with diabetes are approximately twice as likely to develop depression or anxiety than people without. This can be said of many other chronic illnesses and disabilities. While this complication was not out in the open to me until young adulthood, the more time I spend with the knowledge, the more sense it makes. Diabetes is a constant weight on the back of your mind. No matter how well-adjusted you are, no matter how brave, you constantly have the pull of it slowing you down.  You have to think ten steps ahead: will I go to the gym today? Should I not give insulin for this snack? Do I take my pump off now? What if the gym is then closed? What if?

There is such a great deal of subconscious what-iffing in diabetes that it now seems strange to me that someone wouldn't develop depression or anxiety. "What-ifs" are such a major component of anxiety disorders in particular--so what can be expected to happen when they are so deeply ingrained in your daily life? As people with diabetes we constantly have a weight attached to us. And if we don't, we run the risk of damaging our bodies. The constant nagging thought at the back of our mind is bigger than homework, bigger than relationships, bigger than work. It is our survival.
Of course this isn't to say that people with diabetes are doomed to live a life plagued by melancholy and worry. It merely means that we are more susceptible to another complication--one that we need to start talking about. We need to start talking about it because once it is out in the open, once we deal with it, we can not only live with it but thrive. I read a snippet the other day from someone stating that depending on the way you look at it, mental illness can be seen not as a demon, but as a superpower. We can use it to our advantage. It makes us more resilient. More empathic.

But that's only if we don't ignore it.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

On the Sunny Side

I think it's important every so often to mix in blogs that don't totally revolve around diabetes, medicine, or anything dreary or sad. This is especially important now that I am a full-time MSW student and am learning many distressing (albeit, fascinating) new things. My mom always asks me why I don't have any happy stories to tell.

But this is a happy story! It's also what will be occupying my teeny tiny spring break. No, it's not Cancun or Cabo or even Miami. But it IS my 2015 BOOK CHALLENGE. I know, exciting.

Let me tell you what I love about books.  Besides teleporting you away to another world where you don't have to worry about anything or anyone, they also make you smarter.  They say the best way to improve your writing is to read.  And it's true.  Whenever I read a particularly good book, I have a burning desire to write for weeks after.  Books are a distraction.  They give us a break from school, from diabetes, from stress, from everything.  They are a way to keep fantasy and imagination an active part of our lives.

You learn new things when you read books. Tiny little tidbits of information that may or may not be useful to you, but it doesn't matter because you can feel your brain growing.  What I like about finding a good book challenge is that there are books from all different categories on it. For example, my first book (one with nonhuman characters) was Call of the Wild, a fiction novel written from the point of view of a dog; and my second (one you were supposed to read in school but didn't) is Is There No Place on Earth for Me?, a nonfiction work written by a journalist accounting for the life of a woman with severe, treatment-resistant schizophrenia. You never know what you are going to learn next, or what wonderful quotes you're going to stumble upon.

So if you're looking for a new hobby or something to do in your spare time, try a book.  Even if it's ten minutes before you fall asleep each night. You never know what you might find.

Some of Kristi's Favorite Writers
  • John Green
  • JK Rowling
  • Paulo Coelho
  • Dr. Seuss
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald


Monday, March 16, 2015

The Monster Under the Bed

It is a thief in the night.  The monster under the bed. The lingering thought in the back of your mind that sticks from when you are brushing your teeth, through your dreams and nightmares, and into the early morning. Will I go low tonight? Will I wake up in a cold sweat dying for cupcakes and ice cream? Is my meter near my bed? Is there juice near my bed?

Nighttime low blood sugar isn't the most pleasant of things to talk about, but it's something that has really be gnawing at my restful sleep the past couple of nights. I am fortunate enough (knock on wood) to wake up when my blood sugar goes low. However, this typically is never a pleasant experience.  When I was young, I would sit straight up in my bed and call for my mom until she came and fed me juice and wiped away the cold sweat that had accumulated all over my face.  Now, I half-wake, toss and turn, mumble to myself, and have a strange internal conversation until I finally roll over and grab my meter:

"Get up. Open your eyes. You are low."


"Just roll over. Just test and you can go back to sleep."

"No. Too tired. Too asleep."


I'm not quite sure why this conversation happens and why I don't just sit up and test. Is it sleep deprivation? Is it my subconscious trying to be in denial of my diabetes need? Either way, it scares me when I wake up and find that I am in fact low. Why was I trying to stay asleep? Which leads me to further worry about those who do not wake up when they feel low. Thankfully, modern medicine has come a long way and many sensors can now stop incoming insulin when they read a low blood sugar.

However, this doesn't make nighttime hypoglycemia any less stressful, both for parents and for those with type 1. It is a haunting that we have to learn to cope with. And it doesn't exactly do wonders for one's psychological well-being. Things such as nighttime lows remind me why those with type 1 diabetes are much more susceptible to depression and anxiety. And that's okay. It is something we have to talk about, and something we have to deal with. Much like our blood sugar levels. It's all part of the job.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

When Homework Hurts (More Than Usual)

Do any of us like homework? The answers will vary. Some of us do. Some don't. But no one likes doing homework when the material is thirty pages of reading about how diabetes is one of the primary causes of kidney failure.  Or an hour long documentary on retinopathy in which the narrator never specifies between type 1 and type 2.  Or that blindness and retina damage more than likely occur only when diabetes has been poorly managed/uncontrolled for an extended period of time. What a Debby Downer.

All diabetics encounter this problem at some point in their lives.  The commercials that ask, "Are you diabetic? If so enjoy your future with heart disease!"  The ignorant strangers who immediately counter you with "Oh! My grandpa died from that."  Do we get used to it? I guess. Do we like it? No. Would we like it to change? Yes. We're WAITING, everyone.

Now I'm not saying that we should be forever sheltered from the frightening statistics in our homework, especially those brave souls who decided to attend school and take classes specifically in the medical field.  What I am hoping for is more detail. More specification between type 1 and type 2.  More specification between the end result of adhering to your diabetes care and not adhering. And more consideration for those who don't have the means for this care. No disease or disorder should be thrown into the blame game.

I recently was doing some volunteer work, during which my old endocrinologist stated that there is no reason why a newly diagnosed baby girl couldn't live a healthy life until she was an old gray-haired lady, much like the doctors who diagnosed me told my parents.  She also said that complications more commonly result from type 2 diabetes, and that many of the complications we are seeing today are the result of the lack of advanced care there was when the elderly today were diagnosed.  And I thought, can someone tell my professors this?  Can someone inform the media???

I understand that I have to do my homework. I understand that when the topic of the week is end stage renal failure, diabetes will be mentioned.  But that doesn't change the way it makes me feel when I read it.