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Diabetes affects so many systems in the body and so many things can affect your blood sugar control that surprises can happen unexpectedly in the life of a diabetic.
“Diabetes and the Unexpected” is the theme for today’s post, the first of the Diabetes Blog Week challenge. Every day this week, 60+ diabetes bloggers will participate in this event, which means there will be a ton of different perspectives on each topic.
The organizing blog, “Bittersweet Diabetes,” assigns a daily topic, and all the participants use that topic as their jumping-off point for their post that day. You can go to the organizer’s page and see all the topics and the posts on each topic (updated daily throughout this week). This is my first year participating and I’m excited to begin!
Inexplicable, Unexpectedly High Blood Sugars
A couple years ago, I was experiencing inexplicably high blood sugars and was getting quite distressed by it. Before my sugars started climbing, I’d been doing pretty well. My fasting morning glucose levels had been staying in the 90-120 range, but one day, I tested in the 140s.
At first, I didn’t think it was too big a deal; I know that spikes happen for a variety of reasons. I just watched my diet more closely and gave myself an extra unit of insulin that evening. But my morning sugars kept testing higher and higher for the next couple of days.
I remember complaining to my husband about this and trying to figure out what I was doing wrong, but neither my diet, medication, or activity levels seemed to be the issue. I finally broke down in tears. “I don’t know what’s wrong!” I wailed. “I’m doing everything right and my numbers are still so high!”
My husband comforted me but didn’t have any other insight for me. I was about to call the doctor and schedule a visit to investigate what had changed, but then something else happened. The night I had my breakdown, I noticed that my throat was a little sore. The next morning, I woke up with a full-blown head cold…and my sugars tested in the normal range again.
Illness Causes Stress, which Elevate Sugars
It turns out that sickness and injury can affect your blood sugars. When your body is fighting off an infection (like a cold), it is under stress. Stress releases the hormones cortisol and adrenaline, which make your cells more insulin resistant. A resistance to insulin is one reason why glucose levels go up when you’re sick. Another reason is that illness also triggers the liver to release extra glucose to give the body the energy it needs to heal.
So that was quite a surprising thing to learn: that no matter what I did, if my body was getting sick or fighting off a cold, my blood sugars would go up.
It’s still somewhat strange to me that my glucose will level out and normalize once the cold takes hold. I still haven’t found an adequate explanation of why that happens.
Some Tips for Dealing with Diabetes Surprises
With diabetes, you learn to adjust to a lot of new things, one of those being the surprises that can happen. There’s still so much doctors don’t even know yet about this disease process and how it affects all the systems of the body. It’s a complex condition, affected by so many different variables. As diabetics, we need to learn to come to terms with the unexpected when it happens. Here are some of my suggestions for dealing with surprises:
1. Breathe. I learned, from that experience along with others, that sometimes I just need to take a deep breath and relax. The more upset I become about what’s going on with my blood sugars, the more stress hormones get released into my system, which of course lowers my insulin sensitivity and increases my sugar levels even more.
2. Watch your diet & activity levels. It’s easy sometimes to lapse and let life overrun all of your good intentions to eat properly and get enough exercise. If you start seeing your sugars go up, assess whether you can adjust your diet and activity levels and see if that helps.
3. Don’t Blame Yourself. Do what you can do to adjust your diet, meds, or exercise, but also know that you don’t always have full control of all the variables that affect your sugars. Give yourself permission to relax a bit and release any feelings of self-blame you may be carrying around. That stuff gets heavy; put it down!
4. Consult your diabetes medical professional/team. If nothing seems to help, and your sugars remain high for three or four days for no discernible reason, it might be time to call your doctor and discuss the situation with him or her. You want to make sure there’s nothing more you should be doing. And if you do develop a cold or need to recover from any kind of injury or illness, be sure to ask your doctor if you should adjust any of your diabetes self-management practices.
5. Improve your emotional resilience. Other than that, the best thing you can do during diabetes surprises is learn to go with the flow. You can actually practice having more emotional resilience, which is the capacity to bounce back from negativity. Here are some activities that can enhance your emotional resilience, if practiced regularly:
a) Deep breathing,
b) Practicing yoga and/or meditation,
c) Engaging in self-care practices,
d) Learning mantras or saying affirmations that induce feelings of serenity and acceptance,
e) Doing some visualization exercises
The more you practice, the more you expand your ability to go with the flow, and the surprises become just bumps in the road, rather than black holes that can swallow you up.
Don’t Hesitate to Reach Out for Help & Support
If you’re finding it difficult to manage your emotional response to your condition, know that you are not alone and that there are resources out there to help you. You needn’t feel ashamed if you choose to reach out for professional mental health support. In fact, it can be a sign of strength, rather than weakness, to admit when you need some help. And taking the steps of actually seeking out and accepting that help are signs of intelligence and rationality.
Sometimes, what we need isn’t professional therapy…a lot of good can come from just connecting with others who understand what you’re going through. There are numerous groups and an enormous online community (do a search for #DOC, which I just found out stands for “diabetes online community”). We’re on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and a variety of forums run through diabetes-focused sites, such as www.DiabetesDaily.com.
Join some groups, ask questions, request advice, share your own thoughts and experiences, and develop some relationships in these groups. Then you will have a solid resource going forward to help you weather all the unexpected surprises that diabetes can (and will) throw in your path.