When I was diagnosed with diabetes, the first thing I learned was to inject. I practiced by poking saline into an orange. Then I learned about complications of high blood sugar. My doctor explained how dangerous excess glucose was to my body. He told me about blindness, amputations, kidney failure, etc. I remember that he tried to use child-friendly language to explain very frightening things, and he told me that if I didn’t care for myself (with the help of my parents), my future would be very dark and difficult.
As years went by, I was a normal kid with diabetes. Sometimes I would sneak candy and chocolate, just for the sake of fitting in with my friends. My high blood sugars were often met with looks of sorrow from my parents, and then there were my own feelings of guilt, shame, and fear. Every time a number that was out of range flashed on my screen, I imagined glimpses of my future with no legs or eyesight.
The older I got, and the more I began to understand how diabetes complications can happen, the less I worried about them. However, sometimes when my blood sugar is high, I still can’t shake those feelings of failure, despair, fear, and anger. But I work hard to avoid the the stress and shame that sometimes come with managing blood sugar. Here are my top 5 tips to combat the mental stress that can accompany high blood sugars.
1. Recognize that it is only a number
We need to be able to separate our belief that an “in-range” number is an epic achievement, and that a high or low is a failure. The number that shows on your glucose monitor is merely a starting point for your treatment at that moment. The best advice I have ever been given about high blood sugars involved only these four simple words: correct and move on.
2. Get moving
Moving your body will help lower your blood sugar. You can take a simple walk around the block, or engage in an intense weight resistance workout. Whatever works for you, do it. When my blood sugar is high I usually short of breath and nauseated. All of these symptoms tend to melt away when I take my dog for a walk.
Forgive yourself: You may have missed a bolus, forgotten to take your morning long-acting insulin, under counted carbohydrates, forgotten to connect your pump, or were just too burned out to care for days. No matter what the reason behind the number, you need to forgive yourself.
Forgive your family: your family and friends may freak out a bit at high blood sugar. Let them experience their fear. They’re allowed to worry, and freak out. Unfortunately, it is also up to you to kindly remind them that their reactions are not helpful in a time that is difficult.
4. Journal it
This one may be new to you! I track how I feel when my blood sugar is high, and what may have caused it to be high. After I have several experiences, I review my notes and try to learn how to recognize my symptoms at an earlier stage, rather than catching them at a level that has caused a general sickly feeling in my body. My high blood sugar journal can be a pain in the butt, and I will be the first to recognize that it’s hard to look back on a log of “failures.” However, let’s revisit #1 right now… Move on.
5. Talk about it
Talk to your friends, the diabetes online community, your social media accounts… shout it out loud that you are feeling glum because your body’s chemistry is off and it sucks. It’s a part of diabetes, and the more people that talk about their experiences with distress when blood sugars are high, the more we can come to terms with the feelings of shame or failure. There’s absolutely no shame in having a high blood glucose reading.