This is a gentle message for those who are not afflicted with this thing called diabetes, and also a firm call to ourselves: Let go of the guilt.
I’m on vacation with my kids on Long Beach. This morning, I went for a run, the only natural thing to do when there’s a beachside running path.
Just four short months ago, I would simply pull on my sneakers, turn up my earbuds, and take off for as long a run as I felt like.
Life was much more spontaneous pre-diabetes.
Every once in awhile, I still do stupid things like that.
Like this morning, when I ran without a care in the world, completely caught up in the beauty of the ocean crashing in under an overcast sky, keeping pace to Ben Rector, watching the diverse people fishing off Belmont Pier, and pretending I didn’t have a condition that could cause a hypoglycemic episode more than two miles from my airbnb rental.
Being a diabetic is hard.
I was fortunate this morning and came in at a solid 98 mg/dL when I got back. But I’ve had runs, hikes, and regular old grocery shopping trips where I wasn’t so lucky.
There’s no real way to describe the experience of slamming into a sudden low.
And in a cruel twist, when your blood sugar bottoms out, you lose your critical thinking ability. The brain kicks into an outdated caveman survival mode and every. single. thought. takes a monumental effort and generally only results in staring into the fridge in a near-catatonic state of confusion and dull panic for a solid five minutes while you’re blood sugar continues to drop.
And then you eventually eat everything in it and move on to the pantry.
Yes, you can manage your lifestyle to prevent lows as much as possible and manage them effectively.
I maintain a very strict diet and exercise regularly. And I still have unpredictable lows and make mistakes like missing a meal every so often.
Diabetes is not an exact science. Stress impacts blood sugar. Illness impacts blood sugar. Heck, the weather probably impacts blood sugar.
And then there’s this poorly named phase called a “honeymoon” period.
The pancreas doesn’t just up and die overnight in most cases. It can go into the light slowly and perk back up to kick out some natural insulin on a random second wind.
Those double dose of insulin days aren’t so great, especially when they coincide with a workout that was already going to test your blood sugar limits.
I don’t run with glucose tablets. They’re kinda bulky and I’m too vain to wear a fanny pack. I should get creative and find a way to hide one in that little pocket in my running shorts without it getting super gross.
The more I exercise with diabetes, the better I get at predicting lows and sensing the symptoms, which is important since I almost always workout alone.
It’s tricky since a hypo episode feels very much like a tough workout…racing heart, wave of heat, cold sweat, a little light headed. Bringing a glucometer, lancing device, and test strips along with a glucose tablet would just be overkill, so you have to trust your gut on whether you’re just killing your workout or about to pass out.
Getting back to the lesson from my morning run…
The next time you find yourself judging a “lazy” or “cheating” Type 1 diabetic for cramming down a hamburger with an extra large chocolate milkshake, remember that taking the easy way out for them today means feeling awful (emotionally and physically) for eating something you take for granted.
Their so-called cheat day, in fact their every day, includes at least three painful finger pokes, four or more injections, or wearing one or more invasive devices on their body…just to stay alive.
A slack-off day for a Type 1 diabetic is the equivalent of one of your hard days.
If you have a diabetic loved one: Have empathy. Be supportive. And maybe don’t pick a bakery for lunch dates.
If you are a diabetic: Health starts with loving yourself. Guilt over that binge day (or year) that got away from you doesn’t help.