How's Your Blood Sugar?

This was originally posted to my blog, Diabetes Odyssey.

My entire life this question has incited a deep festering volcanic eruption of rage within me. Any non-diabetic reading this is probably confused as to why such an innocent question could result in so much anger.

Well, it’s probably because nine times out of ten the question is rooted in suspicions based upon mood, attitude, and behavior. I’m being upset, snappy, snarky, or otherwise in a bad mood, so oh, my blood sugar must be high.

Yeah, because it absolutely couldn’t be for any other normal reason, right?

I’m acting loopy, lethargic, stumbling, slow to react, weepy, etc. My blood sugar must be low.

Yeah, because it couldn’t be that I’m wasted or high, right? Ok, ok, you got me on this one, it’s much more likely that I’m low…

Growing up I was always high. It’s no secret. I’m open about my past behavior of being rebellious and not even trying to take care of myself. So it was a regular assumption to everyone who knew me that I was high. This only proved to send me deeper into hopelessness and depression and self-loathing. And whenever someone asked me what my BG was or how my BG’s were doing I responded by exploding in anger because the only way I knew how to take the question was that the person was being accusatory and pointing out my failure.

Blood sugar numbers are usually instinctively kept close to the chest by the diabetic. In my own personal experience this is caused by the fact that most type 1’s are diagnosed in childhood and most parents, fearing for their child’s health and well being, become over protective and almost militaristic in the control of blood sugar numbers. Many children become paranoid when their BG is too high or too low and feel immense guilt and shame over their numbers.

But the fact is it is impossible for a type 1 diabetic to have perfect numbers all the time. If we did then we wouldn’t be diabetic!

Any non-diabetic never knows what their BG is at any given time. A diabetic must check many times a day and keep a log of it. It’s almost like taking your deepest most sensitive secret and hanging it out for the whole world to see 4 to 8 times a day.

And the shame can potentially be the heaviest burden you’ve ever had to carry…every single day of your life.

And the sad thing is, none of it is your fault! You didn’t do this to yourself! You didn’t ask for it! You have no reason to feel guilty!

But you do…

I thought I was over my reactions of anger when asked how my BG is. I thought, because I’ve been doing good at bringing my BG down now days, that I was actually proud and wanted and hoped to be asked what my BG is at any given time.

I was wrong.

Just a few days ago I was feeling down because, once again, my BG’s have been outrageously high for no known reason. It’s like my insulin just didn’t want to work (despite taking 2k mg of Metformin a day on top of injecting tons of insulin). Or more accurately, my body didn’t want to use the insulin. I just wanted to curl up in a corner and hide from myself and the world.

I checked my BG that evening, it was very high. As I was walking past my hubby he heard my pump administering insulin, so nonchalantly and very innocently (pure curiosity and caring of his wife) he asked me “How’s your blood sugar?”

I promptly snapped, “None of your business, if I want you to know I’ll tell you!” Or something of the like.

I was instantly surprised at myself, and brought to the reality of my attitude by the utter look of hurt and confusion on my husbands face. It had been a very long time since I had reacted in such a way to that question.

“It’s high, really high.” I said in shame and frustration. “I’m dealing with it.” I turned and walked away in self-defeat…

Or more accurately, defeated by diabetes…again.

BTW, current BG is:

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When I was first diagnosed, I was 30 years old and married. My wife immediately picked up on the connection between my moods and low blood glucose. She was perceptive that way and I know her inquiries in those situations were merely motivated by a sincere caring interest.

For me, however, that “Are you low?” question contained a boatload of unintended inferences that I reflexively interpreted and connected to the circumstance. I was hearing, “Are you low again?” Or, your stance in the issue at hand is more about your blood sugar level than it is about your true feelings. It made me feel infantile, like a full-fledged adult that lost his agency to deal with the real world.

I felt patronized, ashamed that diabetes was bending me to its will, angry that I was caught unaware, yet again, by this stalking diabetes. It painfully reminded me that I am not in control and I’m now someone that needs to be dealt with carefully because, you know, “He’s not playing with a full deck these days!”

It was a lose-lose proposition for my wife. I hated the question; I hated my new diabetic reality. And in my low BG impairment often lashed out at the question.

I don’t like to admit it but I think my diabetes demanded leaps of maturity that I was not ready to give it. I needed time to work through these issues. Unfortunately my marriage failed, in part due the distress of my diabetes. There were other significant contributing factors and I can’t blame diabetes for everything.

Are you low? That question still haunts me and reminds me of that painful time in my life. Now, with modern technology like my CGM, I am not rudely surprised by hypoglycemia. And I never snap at the messenger anymore, especially if its my dog, Norm, asking that troublesome question. I just melt when I see my dog’s loving eyes and concern when he raises a hypo-alert. I only see love and loyalty now. I think I could now extend that benefit of the doubt to a human, too.

I wish I could revisit those years after my diagnosis. I would do things differently. But I needed that long slow instruction by life that my blood sugar was not a judgement on my worth as a human being. It just needed to be dealt with and then move on. I needed to learn to accept my new painful vulnerability and that leads to strength and self-confidence – a paradox, indeed.

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I do think that there can be a significant layer of guilt/shame for those of you diagnosed as children compared to those of us diagnosed as adults. I was in my early 20’s living away from home and I never had any interactions with my parents in terms of blood sugar. There is no doubt that as a child or teenager I would have hidden things from my parents and lied about numbers and food.

Our poor spouses do sometimes get the brunt of our diabetes-driven b*tchy moments.

Very good post and I hope you’ve recovered from feeling defeated. Diabetes sure does like to win and kick us when we’re down.

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I feel as though I am constantly reminding people that I get “real people” illnesses. I ate some funky mexican casserole (totally delicious) about a year ago and ended up very, very sick. Immediately, people were asking the blood sugar questions. Nope, this has nothing to do with being high or low. I have food poisoning like a normal person. If I have to call off work, people automatically assume it’s my diabetes. Nope, it’s usually something not diabetic. I had strep throat last year (wow, last year was a bad year for me). Nothing to do with BGs, but whenever I say I’m sick, it MUST be my numbers. If I don’t sleep well at night, and am tired, I must have been up with low/high numbers all night. No, sometimes I just can’t sleep, just like a “real” person.

These cases are about the only time that I really feel as though everyone is only seeing my diabetes. Sometimes I feel like I’m not a real person, therefore, I don’t get real illnesses.

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I’ll tell you a secret. T2s get that same question, all the time. And it’s just as smothering and just as much of a trigger.

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I’m sure. I only pin-pointed type 1’s in this post because I was mostly talking from my own experience.

And, sadly, most of the type 2’s I know personally (and I do know quite a few) hardly ever (like, only when they don’t feel well) actually check their blood sugar. I personally think it is just as important for a type 2 to check their BG at least twice a day, but at least three of the type 2’s I know were never even prescribed a meter by their doctor or told to check their BG at all!

I blows my mind.

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I couldn’t agree more. Excess blood sugar is equally damaging no matter what it says on the chart under “type”. Heart attack, stroke, kidney failure and all the rest do not discriminate on the basis of “type”. If you have diabetes, not checking your blood sugar is just . . . . nuts.

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