Friday, February 25, 2011

What I've Learned in Six Months

The day before yesterday marked six months since I was diagnosed with diabetes.  In a way, I can't believe it's already been six months; on the other hand, I've learned a lot in that short amount of time.  One thing is for sure: it's been six months of disbelief, anger, and heartache; reflection, self-assessment, and hard work.  I would be remiss to say that I haven't had any d-related joy or happiness, though, because it's a wonderful feeling to know you're getting your numbers (and, therefore, your health) on track.  The day-to-day victories over your blood glucose are hard-won and fulfilling, and the knowledge that you're leading a healthier life is the bright spot at the end of the tunnel.  To sum it up in 420 characters or less, here is my Facebook post from February 23rd:
Today marks six months since I was diagnosed...I can't believe it's been that long already & how much I've learned since then. My life has changed so much, but it's given me the chance to become the healthiest I've ever been, & I'm thankful for that. I'm also thankful for such an amazing husband, family, & friends...You have all been such an amazing support through it all, & I love you guys! ♥
I've learned a lot in the past six months, both about diabetes and about life in general.

1)  I'm a lot stronger than I thought I was.  When one of your biggest fears becomes reality, you learn a lot about what you can really handle...and for me, it was more than I expected.  I came across a quote that says, "You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have." and it's so true.  Diabetes doesn't give you a break--it's a 24/7, 365 & 366 on leap years kind of responsibility.  Sometimes I don't want to be strong...I'd rather just be normal!  But unfortunately, I don't have that option.  I just have to do the best I can to try and stay positive and motivated, and not let this disease take over my life.

2)  It isn't as bad as I initially thought it would be.  When I was first diagnosed, I thought finding out I had Type 1 instead of Type 2 would be the end of the world...but it wasn't!  The first month or two, I wore my incorrect Type 2 diagnosis as a badge of honor, telling anyone who asked that I was "just managing it with diet and exercise" (thank you very much).  Then my numbers kept creeping up, and I started on oral meds (Janumet).  I did feel the sting of failure then, because I couldn't claim the "diet and exercise only" treatment medal of honor anymore.  Fast-forward to a month later, and I chose to begin insulin therapy to gain better control of my still upward-trending numbers.  Not even two weeks after starting on insulin I got my pump, and the rest is history!  The pump has made my life so much easier, and a little more normal (whatever that is), which is huge for a PWD.   

3)  Life (and diabetes) is a rollercoaster, and sometimes we're just along for the ride.  Any PWD will tell you that this disease is unpredictable even in the best and most stable of conditions.  You could eat and do the exact same things two days (or even meals) in a row and get completely different results.  This can be difficult and very frustrating at times, because just when you think you have things under control, diabetes rears its ugly head again and you're in the 300s.  The days when you start low are often the most challenging because you find yourself chasing highs and lows for the rest of the day. 

Today is a prime example of this phenomenon for me.  I woke up at 68, corrected, and was at a respectable 106 before breakfast.  I bolused for my meal, then two hours later ended up at 209.  Breakfast was, admittedly, an unusual one for me since I normally only eat something light--this morning, my mom and I went out for breakfast and shared an omelet and some biscuits and gravy.  I ate a reasonable portion and set part of my bolus to be delivered over 30 minutes to cover the fat content of the meal, so I thought I would be in my normal range afterwards. I'm not sure if it was a rebound high, or if I underestimated the carb content of my meal, or if it was just because I'm not used to eating those types of foods for breakfast...or a combination of those factors that led to my post-meal high.  Either way, I did a partial correction since I still had insulin active in my system, and was at 176 before lunch.  I decided to eat a chef salad with a few crackers and some dressing since my BG was higher than normal, and bolused on the generous side for my meal.  Two hours later, I feel the familiar symptoms of a low, and sure enough, I'm at 68 again.  I ate a slice of strawberry cream cheese pound cake (20g of carbs, first ingredient: sugar), and 30 minutes later I'm sitting at 84 and hoping I'll stay there for a while.

I haven't started using my CGM (Continuous Glucose Monitor) yet, but I'm pretty sure today's BGs would look something like this:

4)  Blood glucose numbers should be just that: numbers.  As anyone who knows me personally or follows this blog knows, I'm a perfectionist through and through.  I had one "B" in high school, and graduated with a 4.0 from Texas Tech in August '09.  Some call it a type A personality; others, a control freak.  Call it what you may, that's who I am.  I don't like situations that I don't have some level of control over; I loathe last-minute plans.  So you give me a blood glucose meter and tell me what my range should be, and I'm all over it like white on rice.  The biggest challenge of my first few months with diabetes was trying to see those numbers as information for treatment rather than a grade.  No matter what I knew logically, those numbers were a measure of my self-worth.  If I had a "good" BG day, I owned my diabetes.  If I had a "bad" BG day, however, diabetes controlled my life.  I've had to work long and hard to change my way of thinking, because I knew it was flawed.  I would like to think that I now have a much healthier, more balanced way of managing my diabetes, but I know there's always room for improvement (and there's my perfectionist side coming out again!).  I found this sign the other day, and sooo wanted to buy it...But I didn't know where I'd put it:
Ahh, how great it will be when I truly start believing it, rather than just trying to move in that general direction!

5)  I'm not alone through all of this.  Even though my Dad has Type 2 and my sister is a fellow Type 1, I felt completely alone when I was first diagnosed.  It seemed like no one in the world around me had a clue what I was going through, so nothing anyone said really sunk in...after all, who were they (all normal and healthy) to tell me I would be fine?  It didn't seem fair that everyone else got to go along eating whatever they wanted, not giving a second thought to a food's carb content while I analyzed everything that went into my mouth.  I went through the "it's not fair" thing so much in the beginning that I could smell the corn dogs and funnel cake.  "How come I (the one who always ate healthy and tried to stay a healthy weight) ended up with diabetes when there were clearly so many people around me who lived much unhealthier lives than I did?"  "Why does everyone else get to have babies and not worry about how their body is going to affect their baby's health and wellbeing while I have to go through months of hard work just to get to a point where I can safely become pregnant?"  "Why do my friends get to stay home with their kids while I'll have to keep a full time job the rest of my life just so I'll have insurance to afford my medical care?"  It's not fair, not fair, NOT FAIR.  Then (as my perspective returned) I realized that while I had a chronic illness that wasn't going to go away, there were plenty of other people who were dealing with much worse things.  One of our friends just went through their little one having open heart surgery to correct a congenital abnormality, and another has a baby who has gone through lots of kidney issues.  All of it makes me see that each of us has something to deal with; a cross to bear, if you will; and in the end, it's all about how we deal with what we're given.  Life isn't perfect, we're not perfect, so why should we expect everything to be that way?

My husband, mom, family, and friends have all been an incredible support system during the past six months, and I am incredibly grateful for all the kind words, encouragement, and reality checks they've given me.  I try to do a lot on my own, but once I realized that's not always the best way, I've come to really appreciate and welcome help from others, even those without diabetes who have "no idea what I'm going through." =)

6) Diabetes doesn't have to control your life.  This was another tough one for me.  Being the perfectionist I am, things are often "all or nothing" in my mind.  With diabetes, I soon learned that it's all a balancing game, and that you can stay somewhere between obsession and neglect most of the time.  At first, my life revolved around managing my disease.  I was constantly thinking about it.  Now, especially after getting my insulin pump, I'm able to forget about it until it needs attention (which we all know is frequent enough).  Diabetes is still a huge part of my life, but it doesn't define who I am.  I'm more relaxed about the higher readings I get every now and then because I know that overall, I'm doing a good job.  One big lesson I've learned is that when I'm not so worried about my numbers, they're a lot better.  Go figure.  Since I've been on the pump and not stressed about my numbers so much, I've brought my overall average down to somewhere around 116-120.  Now if I can just continue that trend, I'll make my goal A1C (6% or less) in May...and hopefully get the go-ahead for pregnancy!

As with all chronic illnesses, diabetes is tough.  It's not only a physical disease, but an emotional and psychological one as well.  If you're not careful, it takes over your life one way or the other.  But with enough balance, humor, and support, I've learned that it is possible to not only live, but live well with diabetes.  As with most things in life, perspective is incredibly important when dealing with this disease.  Yes, it is a chronic illness, but thankfully it's now a treatable one.  And hopefully in the future, it will be a curable disease.  In the meanwhile, I'm going to just try to live the best I can with it.


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