My Diabetes Glass is Half-Full: The Power of a Positive Attitude


 2022-06-24

A very rough day.

Not long ago, I had a day with type 1 that challenged my sanity. 

I awoke with a “dawn phenomenon” high—a blood sugar reading of 9.4 mmol/L170 mg/dL. Naturally, I reached for my insulin pump and bolused a correction dose. I took my normal calculated correction dose—which usually works. Not today!  

It seems I was more sensitive to insulin than usual that day.  My blood sugar plunged. Before long, the alarms on my continuous glucose monitor (CGM) were going off: I was going down fast. I had a brief moment of panic, then I reached for apple juice to bring the numbers back up. BAM! The glucose took off like a rocket!  

The rest of the day went like that. I seriously lost confidence in my ability to control this crazy disease. By the end of the day, I thought: “Enough! I can’t take anymore!”  

The Diabetes Community: Complaints

The next day, I looked online and visited websites where folks with diabetes could vent.  I read about the trials and tribulations of my fellow type 1s. They had lots to complain about! I spent an hour reading about their issues. I heard their suffering.

Did all this griping make me feel any better? Was I in a better place psychologically? Could I now gather my strength to go back to the diabetes battle?  Not really. 

Reading others’ gripes is not great for working toward a positive attitude. 

Looking on the bright side

There could be a better way to face diabetes.  We can choose to look at the glass as half full…rather than half empty. 

This is easier said than done. We all need to vent! But what happens when we tend to wallow in our misery? Perhaps that’s part of the human condition. But once the wallowing is over, isn’t it really wiser to look on the bright side?

In living with diabetes, it seems critical—because the longer you spend wallowing, the more likely you’re not looking for solutions, experimenting, taking notes, and improving your understanding of your diabetes.

Can we look on the bright side and acknowledge those frustrating parts of diabetes? I think so. I believe that with enough reasonable thinking, we can opt for a more positive approach to our diabetes.

Let’s explore this further…

Diabetes Before 1921

Imagine, if you will, that you have just ushered in the new year: 1920. All is well in the world. No more Spanish flu and the stock market is high!

You have noticed, however, that recently you’ve been urinating like crazy, are always thirsty, and feeling lousy. You head over to the doctor. You pee in a cup. Your doctor shows you the sample. It looks cloudy and smells sweet.  

The doc looks very somber. You later learn that you have diabetes. You wonder what that is. You find out that it is a death sentence. You have perhaps a year at most to live.

The thought of a world before insulin gives me pause to be grateful that I am living in the 21st century.

My glass is half full.

Finger Sticks

Do you ever get tired of sticking a needle in your fingertips to check your blood sugar? I do!  They say that we folks with type 1 eventually get so used to needles we barely notice. Not me. Whether I’m taking insulin via multiple daily injections (MDI), inserting a new sensor, or attaching an infusion set, the feeling of the needle will never be something I enjoy.

But there’s a difference between finger sticks to check my blood sugar and other uses of needles. The finger pricks always hurt! My favorite finger where I prick looks like a pin cushion!

Is this worth a complaint? To many of us type 1s, yes. But a quick look at history makes us grateful for the ouch when we prick our fingers.

In the 60s, checking your blood sugar wasn’t really possible—instead, you had to pee in a cup and use a dipstick to see what the color was. The color indicated a wide range of what your blood sugar had been a few hours ago! Easier and more pleasant than the finger prick? Not necessarily. There had to be a bathroom nearby, and it was hardly a very appetizing way to see if you were high. Imagine having to do this during a meal!

Worse, dipsticks could not test for lows. Also, the shade of the color on the dipstick was often ambiguous. The measures were rough at best. How many times a day could you pee in a cup?

Back to the finger stick. It’s incredibly accurate. It’s easy. It can be done frequently and in public. No smelly urine!

My glass is half full.

CGMs: Complain, complain, complain!

In my exchanges with others online, I often hear negative comments about CGMs. Most folks with type 1 who use CGMs would likely agree with the kinds of complaints I hear:

  • “My Dexcom takes two hours to warm up.”  

So true, and I for one feel quite insecure during the warmup. I refer to it as flying by the seat of my pants. I run to prick my finger every 15 minutes to be sure I’m not low or high.

  • “My CGM hurts when I install it and I have to use a new one.”  

Yes indeed, this happens with more frequency than I would like. I sometimes get “bleeders,” where I try to put the CGM over prior infusion sites. Not fun!

  • “My Dexcom is just not that accurate.”  

Point well taken. The CGM companies boast that the FDA requires compliance within 20% of a glucose reading done in the lab. That is usually the case. Sometimes it’s not. The issue is, if you can’t trust your CGM, what can you trust? I so agree with many of the shortcomings of CGMs.  

However, how wonderful those little CGMs really are! In my case, I send the CGM data to my smartphone, and from my smartphone to my smartwatch. Then I set my watch to always show me my number when I turn my wrist. Talk about diabetes technology progress!

My glass is half full.

Pumps: More issues!

Some folks with type 1 have tried the pump and gone back to multiple daily injections.   

Why?  

Pumps aren’t perfect—they’re just another way of delivering insulin.

  • Security: People with type 1 diabetes need to be sure that when they take insulin it reaches the bloodstream. Pumps simply don’t measure up. Pumps can have blockages or inflammation at infusion sites. Pumps can have twisted tubes. Pumps can have internal technical problems. So, if someone with type 1 really wants to be sure of getting insulin into the body, nothing is as sure as a good old-fashioned needle.
  • Control:  Several pumps boast closed-loop “automated insulin delivery”. Some advertise that using a closed-loop pump is like an artificial pancreas. But we type 1s know better. Even with basal shutoff options, we are still years away from the perfect closed loop.

The pump is a blessing. It has its flaws. It will no doubt continue to have its drawbacks for a few more years as this technology continues to develop. Although I run my pump on full manual mode, which requires constant attention, I am happy to push a few buttons to add boluses.

My glass is half full!

MDIs: Needles Galore!

For those who distrust the pump, multiple daily injections are the obvious choice. No panacea here…the MDI approach can be annoying!

When we go out, we need to remember to take insulin pens, needles, and alcohol swabs. We must have it with us at all times: if the paraphernalia gets lost, we’re in deep trouble. We also have to find a private place to inject. Many folks don’t find the view of someone injecting insulin appealing, so we are not forced to find bathrooms and other retreats.  

Again, if we go back in time, people with type 1 in the early days had to use long, thick needles.  Syringes were made of glass, and required daily boiling to be sterile, and the needles needed sharpening to spare your skin. Today we have ultra-fine disposable syringes and pen needles! The last time I injected insulin, I did not feel it at all. Insulin pens are a dream, and so are the micro-thin needles.

My glass is half full.

Diabetes: Getting the disease in perspective.

When my fellow diabetes sufferers complain about how frustrating the disease is, I completely agree. Over the course of a day, I sometimes have to spend crazy amounts of time treating the disease. 

Diabetes is like having a baby: It keeps us up at night, requires constant nurturing, sounds the alarm when all is not well and worries us.

Yes, the disease is a pain in the you-know-what. It’s always annoying. It’s often irrational. It’s a grind. It can create burnout. It has a hundred ways of driving us crazy.

But truth to tell, we are all lucky. Type 1 is no longer an automatic death sentence. Type 1 gives us better odds than so many dread diseases. We have the power within us to fight back against the disease. This is often not the case with other illnesses.

I smile as I face the battle today. I feel empowered to do my best. I feel lucky that the year is 2022, with so many advances that make our lives better.

My glass is half full.

WRITTEN BY David Bernstein, POSTED , UPDATED 06/24/22

David Bernstein was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at 68 years old—after being misdiagnosed with type 2 at 65. With a Ph.D. in French language and literature, he was a professor in the Oregon state system before turning to high school teaching, which became his true passion. Today he spends his time on music, art, and movies. He has been married for 52 years. He has two children and three grandchildren. Type 1 diabetes has been a part of his life for over 10 years. David does his best to enjoy every day and never let the disease control his life—the glass is always half full!