The Reality of a Millennial's Life With Type 1 Diabetes
When people meet me, they may miss out on one of the biggest parts of my life: Type 1 Diabetes. Why is that? Type 1 Diabetes is an invisible, auto-immune, chronic illness with no cure. So, it usually comes as a shock to people when I whip out my insulin pump and blood glucose meter or if my continuous glucose monitor makes a quick appearance.
I've received a lot of feedback from my readers to explain what my daily life with T1D looks like and how I manage battling a chronic illness everyday, so here is everything you need to know!
what it is and what it isn't
Before we dive into my everyday reality, let's break down what Type 1 Diabetes is and what it is most definitely not.
what it is
- an incurable, invisible, auto-immune, chronic illness of which your body is incapable of producing insulin, a vital hormone that breaks down sugar in your blood
- People with T1D are insulin dependent (meaning they need to multiple, daily injections to survive)
- A disease of which 1.25 millions Americans suffer from
- Requires daily, 24/7 management
what it isn't
- It is not Type 2 Diabetes, the most commonly known type of diabetes
- It is not caused by poor diet and lack of exercise
- It is not cured by insulin or healthy eating
- It is not diagnosed at birth (you can be diagnosed at any age)
There are a few tools that help me manage my Type 1 Diabetes 24/7. My insulin pump, my blood glucose meter, and my continuous glucose monitor.
My insulin pump is attached to me 24/7. The pump itself is a small black device that's connected to my body via a clear tube. I have to inject a new pump site into my body about every 3 days. My pump is always delivering insulin, at different rates decided by my doctor, and then I also deliver insulin when I eat. Before I had an insulin pump, I used to deliver insulin manually by injection about 4 times daily (one long lasting insulin shot, known as basal, and a few fast-acting insulin shots, known as bolus, for any time I ate.)
My blood glucose meter is a small device that allows me to test my blood sugar. I insert a test strip into the device, prick my finger, and then place a small sample of blood to be tested. It takes 5 seconds for the meter to tell me my sugar! If you get close enough to my finger tips you can see many prick scars. I've roughly had about 32,850 pricks since I was diagnosed.
My continuous glucose monitor is a bluetooth device that gives me visibility to my blood sugar 24/7. I wear a transmitter on the back of my arm that communicates via bluetooth to the app on my iPhone. The app shows me my blood sugar in real time and gives me arrows indicating if I am steady, rising or dropping or rapidly rising or dropping. I replace my transmitter site every 7 days and alternate between arms. The monitor I use is called Dexcom and I use the G5 model!
This is probably the biggest topic that I get asked on! To clear all the confusion, here's what I have to do.
I have to give myself insulin every time I eat. How much insulin I give depends on how many carbohydrates I am eating (not calories!) This can be difficult, especially when I'm eating away from home, since I have to self-calculate how many carbohydrates are in the dish in front of me. When it comes to carb counting, practice truly makes perfect! But, there are also tools like Calorie King or the My Fitness Pal App that can help.
I then use my insulin pump to deliver insulin into my body. Luckily, technology is my friend here! All I need to do is enter my blood sugar and how many carbohydrates I'm eating. The pump auto-calculates how much insulin to give me based on the ratios my doctor has given me. Sometimes, I'll adjust the amount depending on a few different factors, one of them being exercise. A lot of different things can affect your blood sugar, so it's important to take those things into account when delivering insulin.
Once I deliver insulin, I have to wait about 10 minutes until I can start eating. This allows time for the insulin to be completely delivered before I devour my meal. It then takes about 2 hours for your body to process the food and insulin. If my blood sugar is still too high after the 2 hours, I can give myself more insulin to correct it.
When it comes to my T1D, sometimes I wish I was a man because men always have pockets! The mystery of finding a place to put your insulin pump can be a struggle. But, something I will never let T1D interrupt is my love for fashion. Over almost 10 years, I've found that there's about 4 ways you can disguise an insulin pump.
The Traditional/Classic - Wear it right on your hip! This is a great option for when I'm wearing a pair of pants or shorts and sometimes skirts.
The Risqué - Use an insulin pump garter. YES, they do exist! You can order a nude colored garter from Medtronic Diabetes that has a pocket for your insulin pump. This is great for any body-con dresses or other types of dresses that are just snug enough where your pump bulges through the fabric (avoid this at all costs!)
The Alternative Hip - Clip the pump to your (sorry if it's TMI) undies. This is usually the case whenever I wear loose dresses or skirts! Caution tip: be careful when you take your pump out to use it to make sure you aren't flashing anyone!
The Upper Department - That's right. Sometimes I have to clip my pump to my bra! Girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do. I've only had to use this one a handful of times, one of them being senior year prom! If the risqué fails, this is my second option.
The other fashion struggle I face are handbags. Handbags are a pain because I always need to carry with me the following: blood glucose meter, glucose tablets and juice boxes (for when my blood sugar drops), and my emergency Glucagon pen (for if I ever go unconscious from low blood sugar). Plus, add in my wallet, phone, chapstick, and every other small item a woman fits into her purse.
First and foremost, I had to say goodbye to mini clutches and teeny tiny crossbody bags. My favorite bags to carry are Myabetic (a whole handbag line designed for people with T1D), Longchamp, Pixie Mood, or other medium sized cross-bodies. You'd be surprise how difficult it can be to find a handbag that matches your style, current trends, and casual or elegant outfits.
My journey with T1D and fitness has been an interesting one. When I was first diagnosed I was only 13 years old and I was a sports fanatic. I worked really closely with my team of doctors, family, and coaches to make sure I was always safe. Our high school sports trainer always had my supplies with her on the sidelines and they could also see my continuous monitor! So the minute I started reaching a dangerous slope, they could take me off the field or court.
Cardio has a tendency to lower your blood sugar and weight lifting or other resistance workouts have a tendency to raise your blood sugar. Add adrenaline to the mix and, honestly, it can be a little unpredictable.
Now-a-days I stay fit by doing hot barre, shorter cardio workouts (treadmill runs) and yoga. Whenever I go workout, I always have my management tools with me along with Gatorade, juice boxes, glucose tablets and more. I am always checking my Dexcom app to see how my blood sugar is responding. Often times, I'll require a snack mid workout (or every 30 minutes) that has about 30 grams of carbohydrates. It's so important to be in tune with your body to avoid any horrible sugars.
This can cause a lot of anxiety and stress. The last thing you want to think about when working out is all of the little details. Unfortunately, it's something that I can't sacrifice. But, like anything else, practice makes perfect!
Let's make this clear: just because you have Type 1 Diabetes doesn't mean you can't indulge in a little fun...just as long as you drink safely. Just like most other women my age, I love a nice glass of rosé!
When it comes to choice of beverage, it's safer to stick to beers and wines. These drinks have carbohydrates in them. You can indulge in spirts of other sorts, but I usually always combine a carbohydrate mixer for example, ginger ale, cranberry juice, etc. Plus, I'll have a snack with them! The reason spirits are more dangerous is because they don't have carbs, but tricks your liver into thinking it does. So your body starts processing the beverage as if it has sugars, and then lowers your sugar even more! Crazy, right?! This is why a mixer with carbohydrates is very important.
You're probably thinking, "this is a lot to remember when you're trying to have a good time". Being comfortable with drinking and Type 1 Diabetes took me a while. I was scared of going too low and it hampered my mood when trying to have a good time. But like everything else, with time I learned what works best for my body.
**For anyone who is T1D reading this - it is to be well noted that you should never deliver insulin for alcohol. The reason for this is that alcohol actually lowers your blood sugar, so even if my blood sugar is a little bit higher, I know it will drop later. BUT, that being said, always consult with your doctor! This is just my personal experience.
Last but not least, emotional health. Battling Type 1 Diabetes is no easy task. I have had some terrifying moments with this illness that have left a huge mark on me. I am constantly thinking about my numbers which, sometimes, drives me crazy. I also get anxious about going too high or low at times. The blood sugar rollercoaster can be a bit draining.
It's hard to think of a moment when I'm not thinking about my Type 1 Diabetes. It's more inate to me now, but it's still in the back of my mind. Everywhere I go, I have to think about how I'm packing my supplies, how I'm wearing my insulin pump, making sure my blood sugar is okay, etc.
The very worst feeling, however, is knowing that there is no cure. This is something that weighs heavily on me, knowing that no matter how great I am at managing it's not going away. This is the same feeling those close to me feel about my diabetes.
Honestly, this community and my strong support system filled with family and friends have helped encourage me to stay positive and believe in the reality of a cure in my lifetime. I hope I can make some of you feel more hopeful too!
I've attempted to answer some of my most frequently asked questions, but I'm sure there are plenty more! Comment below with questions and I will answer :)
Also, my sweet sister is running the TCS New York City Marathon with Team JDRF this November! She is raising money to find a cure for Type 1 Diabetes. A donation of any amount is greatly appreciated! You can donate here.
Stamped on 9/3/2018 by The Letter Bea