The Stress of It

So let’s talk about a subject everyone loves: stress. Pardon the sarcasm. The truth is no one likes stress. Like uninvited guests at dinner, stress can exhaust even the heartiest of souls, taxing you physically and emotionally, making even the most mundane tasks a Herculean effort.

When you have diabetes, stress occupies a couple of rooms in the house where we have to live. There is the conventional type of stress we associate with life events. There’s the stress of having diabetes itself, juggling diet and lifestyle issues while maintaining glucose control. And then there’s the third type of stress, one that bridges the first two types to create the super stress that can be so debilitating. Sometimes, life events collide with the everyday struggles of having diabetes and take on an advanced level of need for good control.

I think you’ll agree that sometimes trying to understand how glucose levels increase or decrease defies explanation. I remember a time last summer when my sugar ballooned to over 300. Instead of resorting to a bolus with my Omnipod®, I decided to go run eight miles. After completing my run I still felt the same, and checked my blood sugar. I was dismayed when my monitor showed it had increased by 30 points. Okay, so I don’t eat, burn glucose through exercise, and then this happens?! It just drove me crazy. And that was on a normal day.

But then I have a day when something big is happening (job interview, waiting for medical results, vacation travel), causing pressure to mount, and my whole diabetic battle plan goes awry. I eat little and even bolus, yet my glucose level remains high, then even a simple task will cause the glucose level to plummet. I spend my whole time on the proverbial seesaw of highs and lows, desperately seeking that comfortable middle ground that allows me to live like a normal human being. (Normal—cute thought). It’s a demoralizing, hopeless feeling.

But hope is a commodity we have to collect in times like this. I approach these days by keeping three basic things in mind:

  1. I keep perspective in the moment. These events are not every day; if they were, no one could withstand that level of stress. They are unique and temporary, and sometimes I have to simply acknowledge there is a wave I have to ride before I find my way back to normal.
  2. I stick to the plan. I’ve made the mistake on many occasions of over-bolusing to get my glucose level down immediately because I was too impatient to let the insulin work, then spending the next couple of hours eating and drinking to correct it. One bad turn does not deserve another: I have to be patient.
  3. I try to anticipate what stressors I will encounter, and plan my day accordingly. If the day includes a big event, I modify my diet to take in less carbs, or I drink water instead of sugary drinks, or I exercise beforehand. I try to resist the desire to go completely off-script to resolve things. If the script works, I just edit it a little.

Most importantly, I try not to lose hope. Having diabetes is tough. But I don’t let the stress of this lifestyle overwhelm my attempts at good control. I tell those uninvited guests that dinner is over. They can find their meal elsewhere.