When I was younger, I didn’t know a lot of people with Type 1 diabetes. Sure, there was my classmate in kindergarten, a young boy I taught sailing to when I worked at a summer camp, a good friend’s younger sister, and my mom’s close friend, whom I’ll call “Leanne”.
Leanne was someone I’d always admired; she was funny, independent, feisty, and yes, a Type 1 diabetic.
When I got diagnosed some almost 28 years ago, my mom suddenly viewed me as the authority on all things diabetes, at least once she got over calling me several times a day to make sure my blood sugar was okay, my carb counting was on point, and that I wasn’t passed out on the floor of my apartment. Yes, those first few months were pretty entertaining. I’ve written about my parents’ reaction previously
One day, as I was sitting eating a leisurely lunch with my mom, who’d indulged my vegetarian ways by joining me at a new vegan place that had just opened up, she asked, with perhaps a hint of judgement to her tone, “Why does Leanne eat so fast? I’ve never seen anything like it! When she says she’s low, she inhales her food. Is that really necessary?”
Hmmmm. How to answer this without throwing that judgement back at my beloved and usually empathetic mother. “Well,” I started cautiously, “When you’re low, you kinda DO want to eat everything in sight. Immediately.”
“Yes, but surely she doesn’t have to drink her juice in one large, loud gulp, does she? That happened the other day. She said she was low, took a juice box out of her purse, and drank it so quickly.. I was afraid she was going to choke on it!”
“Actually, yeah, that’s pretty much the way it is, mom. She probably does feel like she has to down that sweet and sugary fluid as quickly as possible.”
My mom sat quietly, thinking of how she likely hadn’t come off as all that compassionate when Leanne’s sugar had dropped into the danger zone.
“What does it feel like?” My mom asked.
I tried to think of how to answer this without freaking out my mom, who I had finally trained to call no more than three times a day. Any graphic description would likely escalate into many more phone calls. Many. Many. Many More. Phone Calls.
I tested a few answers in my head, before opening my mouth.
“Like you can’t think straight. Like you’re shaky and standing on the edge of a cliff. Like you’re head isn’t attached to your body. Like you’re about to go on stage and there are a million people waiting for you to sing your solo and you can’t remember the words, Like you are trying to remember if you brought any snacks with you, preferably something with chocolate.”
All of those descriptions would terrify her.
“You feel like shit,” I said. Keep it simple.
That conversation came to me last night when I was sitting at our dining room table, inhaling a yoghurt, then a glass of juice, and then an apple, all while my husband looked on from the kitchen, wondering if there was anything else I could eat, so that I could finally get back in bed.
My Dexcom app on my iPhone yelled at me, and I yelled back. “I know, I know! I’m low. Shut up!”
So yes, my low blood sugar indeed feels: “Like you can’t think straight. Like you’re shaky and standing on the edge of a cliff. Like your head isn’t attached to your body. Like you’re about to go on stage and there are a million people waiting for you to sing your solo and you can’t remember the words (or you don’t really sing in public.) Like you are trying to remember if you brought any snacks with you, preferably something with chocolate.”
After the yoghurt, apple, and juice, there was a bite of chocolate. And it was followed by the inevitable rebound. Diabetes isn’t always predictable, except when it is.
(Please remember, I’m not a doctor or an educator. Just a person who has had type 1 diabetes for the past 27 years. Please follow me on instagram at @grownupdiabetes.)