My Type 1 Life: Low Blood Sugars Suck

If you’ve seen The Office, you’ve probably seen that episode where Stanley tells Michael he took an extra insulin shot for cake and so they better have cake during whatever party it is they’re planning. Then someone (I think Oscar) asks Stanley why he can’t just have an apple, to which Stanley replies, "MIND YA BUSINESS!"

Well I’ve probably lived that scenario at least 3 times in my life. Now, this scenario in the show is funny, but it’s so true! You see, insulin is administered based on what you are about to consume (or in some cases to correct a high blood sugar). And so if Stanley gave himself 5 units of insulin for cake, he should probably consume the slice of cake, or at least something that has the carbs equivalent to the 5 units of insulin. Why? Because if he doesn’t, it’s pretty much guaranteed that he’ll suffer a low blood sugar.

Many of you may be familiar with what a low blood sugar, also known as hypoglycemia, is because you may know someone that has experienced it, or you may have had an episode of it yourself. And if you’ve ever experienced a low blood sugar first-hand, you know, it ain’t no joke.

The Diabetic Journey, a key source for myself and tens of thousands of other Diabetics around the world, has a beautifully written blog post about “What a Blood Sugar Feels Like.” In the post, the roller coaster of emotions are explained as the person is experiencing a low. Some of these feelings include fear, adrenaline, confusion, hunger, desperation, anger, and at least a thousand more things. Thankfully, not all low blood sugar experiences are terrible. Most aren’t significant enough to note (or I may just be used to them by now, I’m not sure).

But when those scary, abrupt, and intense lows hit, they can be a doozy.

I’ve experienced a low blood sugar in a myriad of settings. Here’s a brief list of the most significant:

  • An hour before I have to get up for work

  • During a college mid-term

  • During a job interview

  • On a first date

  • Right after Thanksgiving dinner

  • During an argument

  • At a doctor’s appointment

  • At a lecture talking about how to avoid low blood sugars

I’ve honestly had low blood sugar experiences at the most inconvenient and ironic times. And as a Type 1, it’s important to practice self-care at these times. If you’re experiencing a low in the middle of a meeting, you have the right to excuse yourself to drink a glass of orange juice, a handful of glucose tablets, or whatever it is that you need. Low blood sugars need to be treated.

In early January, Joey and I went to San Francisco to just enjoy a winter day away from the norm. I was having a blast, and I loved my outfit, which was a warm turtleneck and leather jacket. It was cold in the city, so I felt perfectly comfy, whereas other days, this clothing combination would have me sweating. But as we’re walking down Union Square, watching all the kids on the ice rink, I started to feel just a drop of cold sweat start to form on the small of my back. I thought, “hmm, I guess we’ve been walking pretty quickly. I’m just sweating because I’m out of shape.”

Fast forward just 1 minute, and my whole back is soaked, my forehead is dripping, I’m feeling lightheaded, and I need to eat something now. Ironically, this happened while on our way to the restaurant where we were planning to have dinner. But I couldn’t walk those last 2 blocks without getting my blood sugar back to normal. I felt like I was going to pass out, and that would be terrible because I had forgotten my Glucagon Kit.

In extreme cases of hypoglycemia, Diabetics must inject or be injected with Glucagon. Glucagon is an emergency shot that helps raise the concentration of glucose in the bloodstream. Many times, this shot is administered when a person has become unconscious or is physically unable to orally ingest sugar or carbs to correct the low. Thankfully, I’ve never had to rely on my Glucagon Kit.

And I didn’t have to this time around either. Joey and I went into a café right on Union Square where I was able to buy a pastry that I think was called a “girasol”, or sunflower. I ate that up as if someone were trying to take it out of grip. I was sitting on the steps to the side of Union Square facing Maiden Lane. I was trying to focus on the Gucci dresses in the window because if there’s anything you need during a low, it’s a distraction to keep you from thinking that you’re going to die. And what better way to distract myself than with the sight of a beautiful designer dress. Other times, I ask Joey to have a normal conversation with me. Other times I need complete and utter silence. It just depends on the intensity of the low really.

Anyway, Joey snapped some photos (as you can see) because I wanted to somehow document this pretty common occurrence in my life. It’s not cute or glam or “Instagram” worthy. It’s my life with Type 1 Diabetes. And I knew I wanted to share it on the blog.

After this dazed photo shoot, I asked Joey to please get me a soda or something because I just kept feeling worse and worse. The cafés on Union Square didn’t sell any, so he had to run to the closest convenient store for one.

As I sat there, for what felt like an hour but was probably under 10 minutes, I was approached with the strangest looks and glances. I’m used to it by now. At this point in my life and at this point with my Diabetes, I am comfortable enough to look like crap because you know what lady looking at me like I’m on drugs, I’m actually fighting for my life. And even though some guy who looks like a hotter version of Maluma is walking towards me right now, I’m still going to stuff this pastry into my mouth and leave the crumbs on my clothes and face because I am trying not to pass out (from the hypoglycemia and not his hotness).

Living with Diabetes is a whole other beast. Experiencing a low blood sugar is a freaking fantastic beast from the mind of JK Rowling herself.

Once Joey was back, now sweating as much as I was from rushing, I chugged maybe less than half the soda. I waited a few minutes and finally, I started to feel better. How do I know I’m getting back to normal? Well, I start getting the chills and feeling very cold. My ears become unplugged and now I’m just so very sleepy. It’s not great, but it’s better than thinking you’re about to die.

After about 15 minutes, Joey and I got up and started walking slowly down Maiden Lane, as if nothing happened, but still trying to compose ourselves, wiping sweat from our worried foreheads.

Hypoglycemia is common among Diabetics. But it’s important to note that if they are happening frequently, your doctor should know about it. They may be able to determine the correct prescription and tolerance that your body needs at certain times of the day or during specific events (like gym time for example).

And I really hope that we can continue to learn and educate each other about Type 1 Diabetes. Although we’re hopeful for a cure soon, we should still try to help better each other’s lives as best we can.

If you have any questions for me, feel free to send a message, email or DM! I’m not a medical professional, so always consult your doctor, but I’m available to chat and share my experiences!

Thanks for reading!

-The B of V

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