The holidays are always a tough time for someone with Type 1 diabetes. I’m constantly surrounded by holiday treats and carb-heavy foods. Holiday parties tend to be the worst culprit.
This could be why I’ve been a bit anti-social lately. I don’t want to be tempted. This past year, managing my blood sugar levels became increasingly more difficult. Maybe it’s because I’m older and my body is less resilient? Maybe it’s because I “cheat” more than I used to? Maybe it’s because I’ve had this disease longer, and it’s starting to take its toll on my mental and physical health?
Maybe all of the above? I recently took out a life insurance policy. That felt weird. And although I do my best, I know there is no guarantee with this disease, and in case anything terrible should happen as a result, I want my loved ones to be taken care of. But in the meantime, I’m still rooting for me.
I’ve started paying more attention to my diet and exercise. I’ve cut out certain foods that for some reason make my blood sugar skyrocket even with an increased temporary basal rate. This includes oatmeal, crackers and bread. Seems basic, right? I’m hungrier so have been trying to increase my protein intake and make sure my muscles can recharge.
I just had my annual lab work done so I will check in with my doctor this week and see what my A1C is (average blood sugar levels over the past three months). Some weeks, my body is just more resistant to the insulin, and there is nothing I can do but manage as best as I can. The DC metro decided to shut down my station for two weeks, so my commute and sleep schedule has not been optimal lately. Every little bit helps.
In addition to monitoring my diet, for the first time in eight years, I decided to test my limits with diabetes. I don’t tend to be too physically adventurous. There are so many things to account for just going on a day-hike, so sometimes, I would rather avoid the trouble. But in the past two months, I’ve been invited to partake in activities I would normally avoid. And I decided maybe it was time to stop letting the fear of “what I couldn’t control” control me.
I mean, after all, I have a waterproof pod that administers insulin. I have an app on my phone that monitors my blood sugar levels 24/7. And I always carry a candy bar with me for the occasional, unexpected “lows.”
Maybe the following activities don’t seem all that “adventurous” for the average person? And before I had diabetes, I jumped at the chance. But when you have a body that needs medicine to survive (and yet that medicine could also kill you if taken in large doses), certain precautions are required before “jumping” at the chance.
I used to run cross-country in high school. This included running 5K’s (3.10 miles) all the time. And when I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, I didn’t stop running. But I did stop running in races.
I signed up for this 5K to support a colleague’s son and give something back to the community. I knew I would have friends there with me. And although I don’t bring many supplies on my personal runs around the neighborhood, I wanted to be prepared. The race was going to take place downtown, about seven miles from my home. So, if something went wrong, there was no way I could just stop at home to fix it.
Whenever traveling with diabetes, I usually carry the following items:
- My phone to monitor my blood sugar levels or I could use my smaller continuous glucose monitor (CGM) receiver
- My personal diabetes manager (PDM) to administer or cease insulin from my pod
- A snack in case I have a low blood sugar episode
- My glucometer, lancet device and test strips in case my CGM stops working
- An insulin vial and syringe in case my pod stops working
- My ID and medical card
Check, check and check. Okay, where was I supposed to carry all of this? I could bring a Ziploc bag to check items at the race tent, but this wouldn’t help me much during the race. Or I could leave some items with my colleague, who offered to carry supplies while I raced. I didn’t want to run with too much weight, so I decided I would carry my CGM receiver with me on the run and leave everything with my colleague.
I drank some Gatorade before I left my apartment to ensure my blood sugar wouldn’t drop and so I was properly hydrated. I ate three scrambled eggs for breakfast so I didn’t have to take any insulin for carbohydrates and yet still have something in my stomach prior to the race. When I arrived downtown, my blood sugar was 188 mg/dl (normal blood sugar ranges from 80-120 mg/dl). A little high pre-race (especially since adrenaline-heavy activities tend to make my blood sugar rise), but I didn’t want to jinx it, so I let it be and suspended insulin for the next two hours.
I considered carrying my phone with me and hiding my CGM receiver in my bra as a back-up, but I opted for as little weight as possible, so I left my phone with my colleague and carried the CGM receiver to the start line. I was warming up with my friend and turned on the receiver to see where my blood sugar was.
Except the screen was black. I tried again and nothing. And then I realized I had forgotten to charge the receiver before I left. The battery was dead. I kind of laughed at myself. For all the prep I had put into this “adventurous” feat, here I was about to start a 5k race with no supplies, no back-up plan and no idea where my blood sugar was. But my friend reassured me.
“I’ll keep an eye on you,” she said. “You’ll be fine. Just let me know if you’re feeling off or need to stop.” I nodded my head. What else could I do? I could not run, but I’d made a commitment to my colleagues, and more importantly, I’d made a commitment to myself. I was going to do this.
A little over three miles later, I crossed the finish line (in some pain – apparently, I was not in the best shape to run a 5K). Once I accessed my supplies from my colleague, I checked my blood sugar. It had stayed stable around 200 mg/dl. I gave myself a correction dose and then filled up on water and a banana. Even though my blood sugar was high, the after-effects of exercise can make it drop in the hours post-workout, so I needed to eat something to ensure it remained stable.
I survived my first 5K with Type 1 diabetes. It wasn’t my best time. And I wished I had been in better shape. But I proved to myself that even when I plan (and all those plans fail), I can still win. Because I trust myself. Sometimes, I just have to trust my body to tell me when something is wrong, similar to when it warned me at 21 that I had an incurable chronic condition.
This was the start of being adventurous with diabetes. Little did I know that over the next three weeks, I would also survive whitewater rafting and zip lining. More to come in a subsequent post.