But last night something happened that caused me to give another thought to how having diabetes impacts my relationships with others. I’ve long tried my best to keep up the appearance of living as normally as possible. I do test and take an insulin bolus with my insulin pump (worn in plain sight) before a meal, and while trying to be subtle about it, I don’t go out of my way to hide it, either. But as everyone who has it knows, diabetes will all too frequently rear it’s ugly head at inconvenient times. You may have a wicked low one night that makes the next day an ordeal. You might be battling a high blood glucose that refuses to come down for hours. Most rational folks would take a day off, stay in bed and say they were too sick to do whatever they had planned on doing. But with diabetes those things happen so frequently (to me, at least) that it would be nearly impossible to plan anything or have a nearly normal life if we didn’t try to ‘soldier on’ when we felt like hell. So we do.
But last night a friend asked me to help with a small, time sensitive project. The problem was that I was in the middle of a fairly nasty low. I could only really concentrate of getting my blood glucose back up and then deal with the project later. Finally, the low won. I texted him that I was sick as hell and needed to take a break. It was true, as far as that goes, but for him it was probably a surprise (I was trying to work like normal) and from what he sent me later, it made him feel guilty.
I screwed up. I could have given him some warning, but with texts that is a little hard to do. My glucose deprived brain was without tact and sensitivity, but when the primitive brain goes into survival mode, all bets are off. I shouldn't have let it get that far, both my blood glucose or not warning my friend about what was happening.
What I would have preferred to do was start rehydrating - I was sweating like a marathon runner in August. I also was dying to take a long hot shower. Often when I go into insulin shock (another term for low blood glucose of the bad ‘lows’ as we call them) my body temperature dive into the low 90s. I’d hop into some warm flannel and curl up in bed if I had the chance. But I soldiered on. It is what we often do.
But the dilemma that diabetics face is this: as we try to lead an otherwise normal life, how do you let folks know that you’re in the middle of a rough patch? Most of the time it depends on how well you know the person. Have they seen what a wicked low looks like and how you deal with it? How well do they understand what a roller coaster diabetes can be? Have you had a chance to explain what those peaks and valleys feel like, or how they affect your ability to do things? Do they understand that one minute you are fine and 10 minutes later you look, feel and act like hell?
Last night as I was texting back and forth with my friend, the low hit. I started dealing with the low and kept trying to handle the task we were working on.
It made me realize yet again that diabetes is not something that only affects us. We have to try to coach others along as our relationships grow and their knowledge of what it is like to live with diabetes increases. At first it is enough for them to know we are diabetic and that there are certain things that we have to do. Over time, they will inevitably see us deal with more challenging moments, such as last night. While it is tempting to use those as teaching moments, we have to do it with as much sensitivity as our glucose deprive (or soaked) brains will allow. It is scary when we see somebody who is obviously ill and we don’t have the knowledge or skills to help them. That is what they are feeling. Normally a first responder will say something like “you are going to be fine, I’ll take care of you.” But sometimes in our abnormal diabetic routine, we have to take on that role: to be the authoritative comforter. I know we would rather let somebody else take charge and help us out, but in the long run, this is the way to go.
(Note: I had a low while writing this. Now THAT is a disclaimer!)