It Happened To Me: I Have Type 1 Diabetes

I won’t try to wrap up my life with diabetes into a neat package, because this disease is anything but neat. What I’ve compiled, though, is a list of the things I hear constantly, some of them ignorant questions, some genuine, and the answers to those questions.

Jul 2, 2012 at 10:00am | Leave a comment

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Chandler Ping and me (Could we be any more awesome?)

I have Type 1 Diabetes.  This confuses some people because they don’t know there’s more than one “type” of diabetes.  Truth is, the two diseases are very different.  T2 can find its roots in lifestyle choices, while T1 isn’t as straightforward. It’s an... autoimmune disease?  That has no known cause?  T1 just happens.  It happened to me 24 days before I turned five, on October 6, 1989, and it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.

I won’t try to wrap up my life with diabetes into a neat package, because this disease is anything but neat.  What I’ve compiled, though, is a list of the things I hear constantly, some of them ignorant questions, some genuine, and the answers to those questions.  I don’t mind questions about the ‘betes.  I welcome them.  If people are just rude, that’s another story entirely. 

1. If you stop eating so much sugar, it’ll go away, right?

No.  No, it won’t.  Even though the spam messages in my inbox constantly try to convince me otherwise, there is no cure for T1.  Eating less sugar won’t cure it, putting cinnamon all over everything I eat won’t cure it, exercising for two hours a day seven days a week won’t cure it. . .nothing will “cure” this disease.  Also, no, it’s not because I ate too much sugar as a kid.  Nothing could have prevented my body from attacking its own cells, period. 

2. If you take too much insulin, will your blood sugar go up?

No, it’s actually the opposite. Too much insulin makes blood sugars go down, not up.  Insulin is used to process food eaten, so if you take too much, it’ll run out of things to process and just make you feel like crap.

3. Have you been drinking?

No, my blood sugar’s low.  My husband asked me recently, “What does having low blood sugar feel like?”  It’s a question that seems impossible to answer without repeating the question.  (“It feels like. . .my blood sugar is low.”) The more I thought about it, the more I realized:  extreme low blood sugar feels like the worst parts of being drunk.  High blood sugar?  Feels like the world’s worst hangover: lethargy, dry mouth, headache, and the sluggish brain of an all-night bender.  

4. Will your kids be diabetic?

Not necessarily.  There is a slightly elevated risk of T1 for any kids I might have, but it’s not a sure thing.  So the guy I liked years ago, who said he “couldn’t date me” because “that might lead to marriage and screwed up, diseased kids,” can suck it.  My kids will probably be screwed up, but it probably won’t be because of diabetes.

5. My grandma/uncle/cat had diabetes!  It killed them after they had their legs amputated!

I never really know what to say to these people, like the lady I spoke to when I worked in a library.  We were talking about diabetes as she checked out nutrition books for her T2 husband and she told me T1 had killed her mother.  I told her I, too, had T1, and she looked all pitying and said, “Oh, you should enjoy life to the fullest!  That disease is going to kill you soon.”  Not necessarily, but thank you!  Positivity!  

Can T1s have kidney/eye/circulation problems that lead to awful complications down the road?  Some do, but some don’t.  T1 isn’t a death sentence, so please don’t feel sorry for me.  I’m doing everything I can to keep my feet.

6. How do diabetics have sex?

I love this.  I’ve heard it more than once and now I just say “Like, specific positions?” I’m not sure if the question is related to the physical act of the sex, or if people wonder where I’d put my insulin pump.  (My pump’s name is Chandler Ping, and it unhooks.  Or I leave it on.  It’s not like my husband is surprised by it.  He knows it’s there.)  Sex is exercise, though, and sometimes it causes blood sugar drop. When this happens, my husband knows what’s going on so it’s comfortable.  If someone wasn’t OK with it, you probably shouldn’t have sex with them anyway.

7. You shouldn’t be eating that!

I’d like to think this comes from a place of caring and concern.  Sometimes it does, but mostly, it’s just bitchy.  If I’m eating something sweet, my cousin thinks it’s funny to say, “You shouldn’t be eating that!”  On Father’s Day, she was there for some reason, and when I presented the cheesecake I’d baked my step-dad, she said, “This isn’t sugar free, is it?  I remember as kids, having to eat all these sugar free desserts because of you.”  

The point isn’t to dump on her, but to say that, while I appreciate the concern (or “concern”), I’m an adult.  I know what I can and cannot and should and should not be eating.  My pump also allows me to eat some things off the diabetes beaten path.  Which brings me to. . .

8. You have a pump?  So that means you’re. . .cured and don’t have to test your blood anymore?

Well, no.  When I got my insulin pump back in 2000, I was on three plus daily shots, and my doctor decided it would be advantageous for me to get better control with a pump.  However, Chandler doesn’t do everything for me.  I get continuous insulin throughout the day (my basal rates), but whenever I eat, I have to take enough insulin to cover the carbs I eat (a bolus).  I have to do my blood sugar between 6 and 10 times a day to make sure that everything’s where it’s supposed to be.  

I don’t mind, though, because I’m working to avoid future complications.  So no, it’s not a cure.  It has helped me get in much better control, but it’s still work.

9. This must be so hard on your husband.

I can’t even get snarky about this, because it’s true.  Dennis is the most supportive person in my life, but it’s a lot for a spouse to take.  So many things can go wrong, and he has to be ready for them, and know what to do.  I credit him, though, for making me realize I wasn’t taking very good care of myself.  

He knew I was diabetic when we met, but I didn’t discuss it.  My disease, my business, right?  Then there was this one day that he sat me down and said, “If you don’t care enough about yourself to do what’s good for your health, then don’t.  Do it for me, because I want you around for a long time.”  I cried, but then I realized he wasn’t wrong.  Since then, I’ve realized I shouldn’t do it for someone else. . .I need to do it for me, and it feels really good.

10. Was it hard for you, having diabetes as a kid?

Another not-ignorant one.  The short answer is, not really.  I was diagnosed at four, so I’ve never really known anything else.  Yeah, I encountered jerks like the girl who told me if I didn’t get off the swing she wanted, she was going to “make fun of my diabetes,” and during elementary school, when there were birthday cupcakes, I had to scrape off the icing.  In elementary school?  Traumatic.  In the grand scheme?  Not so bad.  I also had a teacher in pre-school that, when I told her I had a low blood sugar, she told me to get a drink of water.  On the whole, though?  No, it wasn’t really too hard.  

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Yet another side effect of Type 1 Diabetes:  buff arms from lugging around all my diabetes supplies in my purse

It was harder for me as a teenager/young adult because I just wanted it gone, so I basically did the bare minimum to survive.  I did really stupid things, like not testing my blood sugar for days on end and, when my insulin pump malfunctioned the morning of a band competition trip, not telling anyone what had happened, figuring no one would care and I couldn’t do anything about it anyway.  

 Twelve hours later, insulin-less, we got back to school and I threw up in a janitor’s closet.  I legitimately thought I was going to die, and no one would know why.  Thankfully, blessedly, I ended up OK, but that scenario could have easily gone another way.

I hope this gives an idea of what T1 is, and how, sometimes, “innocent” questions come across as just being douchey.  T1s aren’t all running around sick and sad, but with this disease, those moments do pop up often.  It’s really easy to say to a T1, “Well, you were fine 10 minutes ago.  You’re faking.  You’re just using it for sympathy.”  No.  It really does ebb and flow rapidly and with no warning.  I’ll leave you with another of my favorite comments, one that always makes me laugh.

11. I could never give myself shots.

Yes, you could.  Believe me, I don’t do it because I love needles.  I do it to not die.