A different kind of auto-immune attack

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I had an awful diabetic day today, one where my blood sugars veered out of control at around 11 this morning and, to this very moment, have not returned to normal. It started with breakfast: a low-fat, plain greek yogurt with a spoonful of honey and walnuts — a slightly sweeter variation of the same breakfast I’ve eaten for the past five years. I gave myself extra insulin to make up for it, was fine for a bit (thanks Symlin) — and then went to 270 and could not get it back down. Then came lunch — which I ate only part of, knowing it would only send me higher, and sure enough, several hours later I was at 320, the highest I’ve been, literally, in months. I was in an all-day workshop, so I couldn’t get up and move around to see if I could lower it through exercise. And as I looked at the other participants, all happily snacking on homemade coffee cake provided by the teacher (of which I didn’t have any) I was struck by an intense wave of frustration and anger at the fact that while other people eat cake without a second thought, I have to deal with this fucking disease —  every second of every minute of every day of my life. Making things even worse: today, at least, I hadn’t actually done anything wrong.

But maybe I had — and that’s where the title of this post comes in. Diabetes is a horrible disease on its own, but when you’re a self-hating perfectionist, which I’ll admit I am, it becomes even worse. Every time I see a bad number on my monitor, I can find a way to blame myself. For example, today: why did I decide that I would have honey with my yogurt instead of Splenda? Why did I not wake up early, before the workshop, and go to the gym to exercise so that my sedentary day wouldn’t totally screw me up? Why did I not go to kickboxing class last night, which might have helped me today? Why did I eat the tortilla in my sandwich, if I knew that my blood sugar was high?

I can answer all these questions. I ate the honey because I’ve eaten the same breakfast every day for the past half decade, and felt like something a little different. I didn’t exercise this morning because I woke up an hour before the workshop — and besides, I exercised five times this week and didn’t really want to go use the rowing machine at 8:30 on a Saturday morning. I ate the tortilla because I was hungry, and didn’t have a chance to go buy something else for lunch. And while it’s true that I didn’t go to the kickboxing class, I substituted the climbing gym instead — not to mention the fact that over the past six days, I have gone climbing twice, kickboxed twice, ridden my bicycle 15 miles in the hills and gone to a yoga class. And you know what? All these explanations don’t make a difference.  When I look at my glucometer — which I just did, and I’m at 160 (the lowest all day) — I fucking hate myself.

I’m sure I’ll address my own psychological issues more at later points in this blog, but I bring them up now because of this auto-immune idea. As we all know, Type 1 diabetes is caused when part of your immune system turns against itself. But it occurred to me tonight that living with  diabetes can cause a different kind of auto-immune assault — a psychological one, where instead of your T-cells attacking your islets, your mind attacks your self. Whenever I see a bad blood sugar reading, I immediately assume it’s my fault — and  label something I did, even if it’s as simple as eating lunch because I was hungry, as reprehensible and wrong.   It doesn’t matter that this is irrational. Since I have nowhere external to direct it (who am I going to blame? The evil spirit Diabetes?), I turn this anger toward myself.

Like an auto-immune attack, this self-hatred is completely counter-productive; in fact, it probably hurts me, psychologically for sure, and potentially physically as well. And yet, just as I couldn’t control the destruction of my beta cells, there are times — like tonight — when I find it impossible  to stop.

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Sydney HockerLos Angeles Times runs series about diabetes: what does it mean to be "in control"? | A Sweet Lifelaura l.Scott Richard Recent comment authors
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Sydney Hocker
Sydney Hocker

Hey, thanks for opening up like this. I feel the exact same way. I was talking to my friends mom once, who was curious why I struggle so much with diabetes, and said it was “just a physical disease.” Which it is, I guess. But I feel like my immune system is attacking my brain, too. I make it mental. And it’s so unfortunate, because I don’t think my disease will ever become “just physical.” My blood sugars get so high, and I don’t know how to deal with it. It’s not like I can just take my correction and… Read more »

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[…] thanks to our never-ending quest to achieve “control.” Earlier this weekend I wrote a post about my own issues with control — about how I am constantly fending off an auto-immune […]

laura l.
laura l.

thanks for this vulnerable and true post.  you’ve really hit the nail on the head.  i feel like this all the time!  deep down, there is a rational part of me that knows that sometimes, despite my best efforts, i can’t prevent a high (or low!) blood sugar.  but it’s really hard to listen to that when my sugar is 320.  and for what?  eating cereal?  or honey?  it’s so ridiculous that we sit there and berate ourselves for eating something that anyone else would think is totally healthy… oh diabetes! you are so right– the mental piece is just… Read more »

Scott Richard

Look, these days happen.  I am going to blog about my pump malfunctioning last week soon.  I was a total mess.  And yes, I am a perfectionist like you.  If I don’t see 90 on the meter every time I get pissed.  You also have to realize that when you see 270, your body (mind) creates additional hormones that make it more difficult to lower you blood sugar.  When I started to drink coffee, I never had to take insulin, now I have to cause if I don’t I balloon to 250 on one cup!  FRUSTRATING.  I hear ya and… Read more »

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