25 December 2014

Happy Vlogmas!

Ft. Muppets, movies, miniature houses and one very fluffy minion...

Merry christmas! 

20 December 2014

High there: All I want for Christmas…

Thankfully I have my own Rudolph
to keep me upbeat through D storms
...is Blue. Quite a snappy summation of my current thoughts on Pump vs injections! I have been meaning to do an update, and after a few enquiries on my blog/twitter as to how I am faring, here it is...

When I made the switch back to injections in October, I knew it was not going to be the easiest ride. There are many reasons I went onto the insulin pump at the age of 11, but not one of them was due to lack of trying. On the contrary, it was that - four years and three injection regimes later - nothing else had really worked. 

The insulin pump is by no means a magic fix, or a cure, but it works best for me… until this year, when a decade of continuous penetration, by what must be close to a thousand small tubes, finally caught up with me. So the decision was made to switch back to "the old ways", lantus and novorapid. Multiple Daily Injections. Goodbye Blue - for the time being.

I did an update post after about two weeks on MDI, and it has now been around two months. So how are things faring now? Suffice to say, I have had Diabet-ter days. I have worn the pump since then - for around a week approximately a fortnight ago. I reached a point where I was quite simply worn out from the shots, the feeling of sporadic control, along with persistently elevated sugars. However, I had also had two nights where my blood sugar had plummeted to 2.1, and that honestly scared me. Realising that, in being this low, I also had no control over what insulin was still in my system.

Back To Blue 

That morning I reconnected Blue, and instantly my reading stabilised. They were by no means perfect, but I felt such a sense of calm and relief! Then halfway into the second day, something wasn't quite right. Whenever I put a bolus through, I could feel a sharp pain round the site. I glanced down, and could see discolouring round the tube and a trace of blood. 

My first Christmas with the
 pump was a happy one indeed
I continued on for another half a day or so with a degree of denial. My sugars were still good, and I was determined to make this work! 

During the night, however, the pain had become constant, and hard to ignore. My blood sugar had also gone up to high teens, which sent small alarm bells ringing. I glanced down again - the tube is almost completely red. Out comes set numero uno, along with enough blood to send Twilight vampires into a feeding frenzy - long story short, it took ten minutes of constant pressure before the blood flow would start to ease! Two weeks on, the bruise is still here. 

I tried again with another set, and a similar tale unfolded. Within a week (and three sets later) Blue was back in the box and the pens were out. The site area that had finally started to look a bit better, now resembled a three year old's art work. Lovely grey and purple splotches, with the occasional mini red dot. 

I moved back to injections with reluctance - I wanted to to be back on the pump for Christmas - but argued that I could "make it work". Well, that hasn't exactly been the case… 

High There

At the risk of making this a TMI post, the past couple of months has seen a positive development in terms of my health - after 2 1/2 years of amenorrhea (a dangerous side effect of undernourishment) my period finally came back. This is something have worried about for a long time; most of all I feared I that I might no longer be able to have children. So I should have been overjoyed... except for the small diabetes issue. The fact that my body was suddenly filled with all these hormones, which aren't exactly great for blood sugar predictability. 

The past week has seen my blood sugars the most out of control, in as long as I can remember, For about a week now, I have not had a single figure reading. Since around Monday, I think my lowest reading has been 15. In recent years, my underlying blood sugar has been very good. As a lot of my eating disorder was centred on trying to maintain 'perfect' control, my blood sugars were almost abnormally stable. My hba1c was often around 5-6 (55 in 'new money'). 

21.7… what a pleasure to see you
How do I feel? Exhausted. Thirsty. Apathetic. Cross with myself, although I know I am doing all I can. This is the thing with diabetes, it is so easy to fall into self-blame, but the nature of the condition is that it throws curveballs second to none.

I have had to really face up to my increasing insulin fears (which I talk about here) and am currently giving nearly double the daily insulin I was only a few months back. I have had moments where I panic, but I am pumping in (ironically sans pump) this extra insulin, giving bigger doses than i have in years, in the hopes it will make the reading budge. It barely seems to be touching the sides. When I saw my diabetes team on Wednesday, they said it could very well be hormones, and that it should settle down after this initial stage - they said that my body will be confused with this sudden reintroduction of hormones, so it will be unpredictable.

For me - Little Miss Perfectionist - this is very difficult to accept. It is posed a huge challenge on the recovery front, and I am not perfect. I still have that raging battle where my head sees carb avoidance as the 'only way' to solve this, and I have become more anxious around food  - I am thankful to be home, where my family can offer support, because I have come too far to allow myself to be thrown back into that awful place I was in 2 years ago. 

It's not Christmas without the Santa Plate!
In the past week, I suppose I can discern one (very small) silver lining - eating despite the reading. Before, if I tested and my blood sugar was just slightly in double figures, I would have been inclined to wait. Now? Reality is, an extra halfway is likely to do nothing! A reading of 11 would once have made me so anxious, but now I would honestly be overjoyed to see that! I hope, when things have settled, I will consequently have a better perspective on it all. Nuts have continued to be a trusty ally, and eggs. I actually saw a tweet the other day on eggs being a diabetic's  best friend, and it made me smile. 

I want my family to have an amazing christmas too, as we have had a difficult year and I also feel in myself a responsibility to make up for the frustrations my eating disorder caused in previous holidays. However, I want to have a lovely Christmas for myself, too. Somehow I always forget to factor myself into these things! But as I have been reminded by quite a few people, how I feel means something too. 

Maybe this feeds into my perfectionism too - I am building up this day, as I have done in the past, and the trouble with expectations is that you inevitably fall short of them. I think it is much better to go into it, just thinking of what actually matters - being with my family, having found quirky, original and thoughtful gifts, enjoying the meal and accepting that diabetes might not like it, but it is not the end of the world. 

I am sorely tempted to put the pump on Christmas Eve, to try and ensure a day where I feel up to more than lying on my bed, completely wiped out, and can also engage with life! I am battling to stay upbeat, and do little things - having friends round for dinner last night, I did feel more animated than I had all week. Sometimes you need to push yourself to go and do things, rather than stay isolated - that only causes you to dwell and overthink, which is never good. 

...but sometimes the unpredictable things work out
in your favour - like last year's (£5…) scratch card win! 
Hyperglycemia is horrible, no two ways about it. I feel better than I did a few days ago, but that in itself is a slight cause for concern - it is as if my body has become accustomed to it? I am worried than when I actually get it back in range, I will feel like I am having a constant hypo! Mum and I both feel the lantus is simply not a good fit for me, and that is true - as I opened, there's a reason I went onto the pump. I do split dosing, with a 1:3 ratio (6:12) evening:morning. Novorapid… I've lost count. It must be around 20, if not more, and this is considering I am not eating a lot of carbs, in the grand scheme of things. I hope an appointment with the diabetes dietician on monday might enlighten me more. I might also possibly give the sure-T sets a go.

As far as vacations go, this 'pump-holiday' hasn't been the most enjoyable, reading, or fulfilling. I want Blue back, but I also don't want to completely ruin my sites again. Recent blood tests showed my platelet count is low, which means I bruise very easily… how convenient! I was told by my doctor this could be linked to my menstrual cycle coming back though. It is a real mixed bag! I feel there are so many things that are working against each other, and I am a bit caught in the middle. However, I refuse to be trapped.

If anyone has any advice they could offer me, whether on injections, hyperglycemia in general, or even pump site solutions, I am all ears! In the mean time, I will try to go nuts (literally) for Christmas, and enjoy it regardless of circumstance. Nothing is ever perfect, but that doesn't mean it isn't worth experiencing. What is more, if all good things are a certainty, how can we ever truly appreciate them when they come? 


15 December 2014

Every time a bell rings…

I am, unashamedly, a Tinselphile. I see an angel, and I believe in a bell ringing. From as long as I can remember, Christmas had me completely enchanted. Maybe it is the literature student in me, but I loved the integral concept of trust and belief in this particular holiday.

When I was younger, I would write to Santa in summer - now that is one cool pen pal. I also made an Elf house because, as I pointed out to my dad, "why do they not get anything when they do so much work?" This cardboard creation featured doll house furniture, gifts, and a grape on a platter for their fruitarian Christmas feast. The letter "Badger McDuff" (The Elf Chief) left me was enough to say they most appreciated this gesture.  

The commercialisation of Christmas does drive me slightly crazy at times - snow-topped merchandise in September?

...even then, it is still a bit premature to buy your witch-wig. We are at risk of burning out the christmas candle, before the day itself! 

However, I all-too-happily acknowledge that my heart melts at the sight of Monty the penguin, while the magic of Bing Crosby's crooning never gets old… More than that, ultimately it has so many good qualities. It brings people together, it brings you back to the things that matter. The little simplicities. 

Driving Home for Christmas takes on a whole new meaning when you are a student. I spent a good fortnight, prior to the end of first term, waiting in anticipation for the journey back to my beloved Bath (the place, not the tub - that being said christmas bath bombs are rather amazing). 

Mostly, though, it was coming back to my family and truly embracing the sparkle this season brings. My parents had already provided me with a snapshot preview of Christmas 2014, sending me a "the snowman" chocolate advent, along with this photo of my very own snow dog… The resemblance to Max from The Grinch is uncanny, and Millie likewise seems to have rejected the red nose. 

At uni, we managed a few festive activities, namely my purchase of M&S Mulled Rose that certainly fulfilled the Magic and Sparkle brief! If you have no tried this, I promise you it is worth it. On that sparkling note, I will also vouch for their "chestnuts about christmas sandwich" - I am a diehard "sandwiches = meat" girl, so this is saying something. You will not be disappointed.

I am not the biggest fan of normal mulled wine; it is one of those things that I will myself to like, but always find it simply too rich. Mulled rose is the ingenious solution to this, and shot glasses were perfect for samples!

Heated in the microwave for 30 seconds in a mug, all my flat tried and concurred it was heavenly. It is quite sweet, but when you heat it the taste mellows and is the perfect nightcap/essay saviour… both during and after! Although I do advocate moderation, in the case of the former. 

Christmas Markets

Another gem of this season. I am lucky to live in two places that have gorgeous markets. Exeter's is lovely, but quite underrated; the number of trips within the University, to go and see the one in Bath, amazed me! With the cathedral as a backdrop, it is really quite enchanting. Last year I went as far as to claim it was better than the infamous Bath one. You have your roasted nuts, knitwear, mulled wine and craft items, what more could you want?

However, this year I am definitely reevaluating that, after visiting Bath's on its closing day. I had seen it briefly on a trip back home the previous Saturday, and was thoroughly underwhelmed; you, quite literally, couldn't see the wood from the trees. Instead, a thousand and one branching arms practically threw you to the ground. I do think that the idealistic view of seeing it at night, can override the pragmatism of visiting in the less swamped daylight. When we did this on Sunday, I was reminded just how wonderful it is!

They sold MULLED tea!
Quotes and drink coasters = Sophie in a square

After taking the lead of "Babushka" in our alternative Year 2 Nativity, I have a bit of a love affair with Russian Dolls. As for the dog bakery… my whole family went barking mad with excitement.

Sorry Monica, Cinnamon almonds are the real "little drops of heaven"

My eternal love for "pretty things" (and newfound Etsy obsession), combined with my festive fanaticism, makes Christmas Markets hallowed ground for me. On my bucket list is to visit Europe and see some of the truly traditional markets, such as Germany, Austria and Strasbourg. A girl can dream! 

The Tree 

Possibly the most imminent source of Christmas excitement, upon returning home this year, was getting the tree! Long gone are our Homebase days… 2014 saw us pay a visit to a farm only a few minutes from our house, in the village of Newton St. Loe. 

The baby animals were so cute - it's Wilbur! They *almost* gave Millie a run for her money. Going to farms always makes me feel a bit like Sophie from the Dick King Smith books. If you've never read them, she is essentially Luna Lovegood, fused with Merry and Pippin from Lord of the Rings… 

A farm shop lunch was then in order, featuring an eclectic teaser that I wanted to smuggle back home… along with a baby pig. 

After this lovely interlude, it was back to business. Now Tree Decorating… there's different views, isn't there? Do you go for style, sentimentality, or try to strike a balance between both? In our family, we go for the latter.

Merry Christmas from Messrs Mickey, Minnie and Millie mouse.

We may have a subtle Disney theme going on…

I am the one in our family who champions personality over a pristine finish. What is Christmas without those cute animal decorations? However, mum and sister do have their moments…

My sister got this particular bauble during her year abroad in Mississippi, while the angel has belonged to my mum since she was small. She gets a fair few jokes at her expense, namely the slightly Damien eyes, but it wouldn't be Christmas without her.

The angels that surround her on the tree, including my favourite bell-ringing one, were all bought at Bath Christmas Market a few years ago now, but are perfect for the top of the tree.

I'll go with rustic. My mum and dad did say it was the "best" tree we've ever had, which might just be a sympathetic statement. No doubt my sister would have given it a more artistic finish! But I like it. Along with the stuffed toys that line our staircase, and the giant Rudolph sitting on the sofa, for me it has a thousand times more magic and sparkle than any 'designer' tree, however beautiful.

It has a story, and you are never too old for stories.


9 December 2014

Little Red Sapling (Poem)

The inspiration for my poem, taken on The University of Exeter's Streatham Campus

How do you cling to beauty,
When the rain tries to 
Wash it out of you?
Sometimes it seeks to drown, too,
Salted tears will tear down from
The sky that does not want you. 

You red is too foreign here -
It has no place among the throng
Of earthen autumn eyes.
Those bodies stood like sentinels.
A uniformity disturbed
By tinted rose acrylic. 

They save this for the fallen -
The sleeves they shed when 
White winds turn, which no
Life spring can save.  

You mock their mourning
In your technicolor coat. 
You place it too high and desert
The ground soil for the sky. 
You are wings with no 
Body to hold. 

To them you are a sapling,
And they weave you a crown
From dried daises - 
Deriding your difference.
In this chain of choked dreams, 
They make you a pariah.
You and your sordid religion. 

Yet no crown hides the 
Crimson coat. 
You haunt
         and hurt
      and never hide
                         in heretic hues.

They cannot wash it out of you,
Who clings to beauty. The sky 
cannot drown out your skin. 

8 December 2014

Remembrance Day: Commemoration or Capitalisation?

Remembrance. Honouring the fallen; the people who gave their lives for this country. It is always a humbling time of year, heavily wrapped in emotion, also celebration.
However, two labels I would never attach to such an occasion? Capitalisation and correctness. The former is more criminal to me than the latter, yet both have become embedded in the remembrance commemorations of recent years. Poppy pressure and Cenotaph Politics are ever more palpable.
A few years ago, John Snow caused outrage on TV when he refused to wear a poppy. He sighted his opposition to the “poppy fascism” that saw the pressure for people on television to wear a poppy. Snow himself had nothing against the Poppy Appeal; on the contrary, he asserts his support for it and donates to the Royal British Legion. What is more, he turned it on its head and said that, by people telling him that he “must” wear the symbol – a public display of his support – is going against the very concept free will that our troops died fighting for.
Using the current two prime-time weekend TV shows, Strictly Come Dancing and X Factor, as examples, you can see this “Poppy fascism” in the flesh. Poppies adorn the costumes of every participant; in recent years, they have even been tailored to ‘match’ the costume. Poppies in hair, custom made in satins and silks, X Factor bringing a diamanté finish that overshadows the red… evidently moral and fashion statement are now one and the same.
I struggle to believe that every person on TV brings his or her own poppy. Just by looking at the majority of them, it is clear they are fresh from the box, very far removed from the slightly crumpled appearance of mine when it has been pinned onto each day’s given shirt or dress. I cannot say with full conviction that each person who is given a poppy places money in the box. Even if they do… would they think about it if a backstage assistant did not pin it to their chest?
On an anecdotal level, I recall an incident during my senior school years, when I was on the school’s leadership team. We were giving a special Assembly for Remembrance Day, and just before we were about to walk into the hall, one of the Deputy Head Girls turned to me and said: “could you give me your poppy? It looks worse if I am not wearing one.”
Ukip poppy
I was in a state of shock after hearing this. I remember it to this day, because I was utterly bewildered that someone could say this. It epitomised one of the inherent wrongs in today’s society; the superficiality and show that is rife. That same year, I overheard another student at my school say to her friend “perfect, I don’t have to buy one now”. She had spotted a poppy on the floor, and picked it up to wear.
To the outside world, she is someone ‘supporting’ our Armed Forces; Jon Snow is disrespectful and subsequently criticised by society. The irony here is farcical.
Maybe I am simply being cynical. I would never for a moment claim that every person on TV – including the two shows aforementioned – would not genuinely choose to wear a poppy. I am sure that the various charity singles released by shows such as X Factor, have been produced with good intentions; they have also raised a considerable amount of money, which can never be belittled. However, in a similar vein to the “No Make-Up Selfie” campaign, what started with good intentions can become slightly unsavoury, when enacted. I was a supporter of the latter campaign; my view was, if it raises money, any criticism of it is just pointless knit-picking; what is condemning it actually doing to fight Cancer?
On the other hand, what the aforesaid personal and societal examples show, is that the Poppy Appeal is not necessarily gaining anything from these capitalising actions.
Politics has also become synonymous with a degree of exploitation. I want to stress that this is not universal. I do feel that the politicians in power have a genuine respect and gratitude for our fallen soldiers. However, there are instances where politically neutral charity has become embroiled in party strategy.
Last year, there was controversy when UKIP placed a party sticker in the centre of their Poppy Wreath; it upended the concept of neutrality and universality of the war. Nonetheless, it is not necessarily the politicians, but the media who propagate their own beliefs. Earlier this year, there was an incident where the leaders of the three main parties laid wreaths at the cenotaph, to mark the centenary of the Great War outbreak, and only David Cameron was given the opportunity to attach a personalised message to this; however, this true version of the story only came after the more right-leaning British Newspapers condemned “crass and insensitive” Ed Miliband for writing merely ‘from the Leader of the Opposition’, in “childish handwriting”. It later emerged, after identifying the handwriting on the wreaths of Nick Clegg and Alex Salmond to be the same, that the Labour Leader had never been granted the chance to write his own message. The media, in this instance, politicised what should remain above such things.
Poppy politics
When I think of remembrance, I do think of the poppy. I will not do a Jon Snow and make a stand by not wearing one; to me, it matters that I do. Just as I took a selfie and donated to Cancer Research, I will buy a poppy and place my money in the tin. At other times in the year, I may see a collection tin in a café, supermarket, or even on the high street, and donate to various other causes; I do not need or expect a golden star for it. Yet society today demands publicity. From social media to selfies, people choose propagate their lives and prove their actions; what once remained private is no longer considered real enough.
The poppy is powerful because of the history behind it. You look and you see the Flanders fields red; the bloodshed and the lives sacrificed to give us freedom. Now we live in a society where you can only face public life, respectfully, pinned with a poppy; a culture that tries to marry the sacrifice of our soldiers with the sparkle of the studio lights on a Saturday night show… shows that, moreover, revel in sob stories – the tragedy that is having a cold on Movie week.
In both enforcing remembrance to maintain a status quo, and politicising it by scrutinising the actions of public figures, we run the risk of losing the very thing we endeavour to commemorate.
One of the most recognised of war poems, by John McRae, concludes “If ye break faith with us who die/ we shall not sleep, though poppies grow/ in Flanders fields”. The poppy is a, emblem; the wreaths by politicians a show respect, and November the month in which we symbolically choose to remember. Yet none of these things are needed. Remembrance is, quite simply, that – the act of truly acknowledging and understanding, lest we forget.

The original article, published in Exeposé, can be found here.  

1 December 2014

The Carb Conundrum

...as much as I love iced lotus tea, happy hour also exists.
Let's talk carbohydrates… or rather, a lack thereof. For both the diabetic and wider society, 'carb avoidance' can often be viewed as an inevitable consequence of the condition. I know it has been for me, and for dozens of others I have spoken to through blogging alone. 

The comorbidity of diabetes and eating disorders is finally being spotlighted more (see DWED), but still nowhere near enough. Diabetes is a 'food illness'. Compounded with the emotional toll, the exacerbation of perfectionism that blood sugar unpredictability throws… it makes sense.

In wanted to use this post to spotlight this issue, particularly as it has had such a personal impact on me. I hope that far more awareness will be raised in the future, but this cannot happen if there is no existing discussion. Only then can both the media and healthcare profession recognise and subsequently respond to it.

Widening the discussion

When eating disorders and diabetes are discussed, one of the most common terms to crop up is 'diabulima'; for people who may not be familiar with this, it is where a diabetic deliberately restricts insulin, provoking weight loss as glucose cannot be properly processed.

It is a serious issue, and one that does need recognition. The consequent high blood sugar cause horrific side effects, and the risk of Diabetic Ketoacidosis makes it potentially life-threatening. However,  I do think it has created somewhat of a stereotype; that, for a diabetic to have an eating disorder, they must be restricting insulin.

I have never personally struggled with Diabulimia. I have had (and admittedly still have ) an "insulin fear", but never to the point where I gave significantly less insulin than my body needed. Yet, it was because I never exhibited the hyperglaecemia 'red alert' to insulin restriction, that my eating disorder went by unacknowledged for so long. I am not laying blame with anyone; ultimately, my recovery only truly began when I committed to it. However, it shows a lack of awareness, among the medical profession, of wider eating disorders in type one diabetic patients. 

What warning sign was there? The clear absence of our friend Mr Carbohydrate.

The Conundrum

One lovely mum & waitrose trip later...
We need carbohydrates to live. Simple. It is our body's most preferred source of energy, and is integral to survival. Yet for as long as I can remember, carbohydrates for me have been viewed in terms of "good" and "bad", similar to the traffic light system on food packaging. Interestingly enough, carbohydrates never feature there… but they do in the mind of the diabetic. 

From the age of seven, a plate of food is a number, or a simple apple in hand. I vividly recall going to the school dining hall in Year Two - seven years old - and having exactly 10 chips counted out on my plate. No less, but never one more. For years Easter Eggs were never bought, nor chocolate advents. This year, when my mum gave me a beautiful picture advent calendar, I admittedly (and perhaps selfishly) felt a slight twinge of disappointment; for me, having a chocolate advent symbolises both standing up to diabetes, but also to the eating disorder that first reared its ugly head - with help from the former.

Carbs were by no means 'banned'. As a diabetic, I have eaten cake, pizza, pasta, the works. For many years I was far less rigid in my views then I became. But the scripts from my childhood continued to grow and grow, the plot becoming ever-more complex until various other things capitulated it into something altogether more damaging.

The simple crux of the issue is that carbohydrates have to be counted.

Everything adds up, from baked beans to curry sauces, breaded fish and meat. They have a carb count, so they consequently count… Except they don't; at least, according to a 'normal' perception they don't. There is also the niggling issue of "blood sugar guilt". For me, it is still so hard to separate post-meal blood sugar highs from agonising guilt over what I could have eaten to cause this. Being a perfectionist, I do worry over having 'perfect' blood sugar control. It  is something I still wrestle with daily, although am learning to contend with much better than before.

Nearly headless Nick = post-meal high blood sugar

Words Matter

Well there is the media for starters, and misconceptions it creates. The propagation of "evil carbs" and confusing of type 1/ type 2 management has seen me faced all-too-often with the "oh you can't eat x/y" by friends/acquaintances, not to mention the delightful Mail Online...

So let's get this straight… you really think that you can make this judgement call better than me? If so, I doff my clearly hapless cap off to you. Nonetheless, I am slightly sceptical that your AQA Textbook trumps my 13 years living with this illness - no offence.

Photo credit: tumblr.com

The prevalence of diagnosis in childhood, when you are so impressionable, does increase the need for food discussion to be handled with such sensitivity. I recognise what a challenge this presents to healthcare professionals, but a few personal instances were, in my eyes, things that could so easily have been left unsaid, or phrased differently.

Seven-years-old, I see a dietician who pronounces grapes to be "little pockets of glucose". Bananas were the "forbidden fruit" and a multitude of other things given devil horns.

A remark made when I was 14/15 - although perhaps with innocent intentions - has left an indelible imprint. Going through puberty, your insulin requirements inevitably increase. Nevertheless, a routine appointment saw my consultant at the time remark that I should really "watch how much insulin [I was] giving", because apparently the rate of my height increase was starting to be outstripped by my weight. I was a teenage girl, well within a healthy BMI. What is more, at the age of 11 I had been seriously underweight, very ill after being on levemir insulin for just 6 months. It made me completely lose my appetite, and become a shadow of myself. It makes that remark, a mere 3 years later, all the more irreconcilable.

A much healthier 15 year old
The girl on the left did not give a second thought to daily insulin totals, but very soon she would. She didn't know what a saturated fat was, although at the age of 17 (when she had been in the deep throes of carb restriction/purging for 6 months) a comment on "high cholesterol" levels would begin to change that. Words matter. I realise life doesn't come with a trigger warning, but this is such a sensitive issue and needs to be treated as such.

I am fortunate now that I have an incredible team in the Young Adults Clinic, particularly my DSN (specialist nurse). This summer I finally opened up to her about the 'incident' 6 years ago. She emphatically reassured me that I need never strait-jacket insulin doses to fit a generic formula. Diabetes is not a one size fits all; insulin is their to respond to your body, not vice versa. A bit like clothes... there at your service!

Finally being told this by someone on my diabetes team was very cathartic - it helped to put the fears of a young teenage me to bed. However, they still haven't gone to sleep. They do keep me up at night, and leave me quite exhausted at time. What I do is carry on with my day, each and every day, and as long as I do that I trust they all eventually rest far far away from my conscious mind.

The Tip of the Iceburg

For nearly a decade I maintained a healthy weight and did eat relatively freely. Diabetes is not the entire centre of my struggles - eating disorders are complex conditions. A lot of other things tie into it that, even now, I do not understand all of. Nonetheless, the toll of the relents blood sugar yoyo was the biggest catalyst.

It precipitated the day I woke up and had one weetabix instead of two. It was a case of very high blood sugar that first pushed me down the slippery slope of purging after meals; a compulsion that, to this day, I am amazed I managed to stop. My intention was blood sugar stability. However, it unearthed a monster a thousand times more destructive than any sporadic episode of hyperglaecmia (despite what perfectionism tells me, I have never had bad control).

I think my 16th Birthday (left) was the last time I 'freely' ate cake. I look so happy here, and although 19 and 20 did involve cake, I will admit that it still provoked anxiety over the 'insulin estimation game'. Suffice to say, it was still a big improvement on 18's Apple-gate…! 

I hope that, by my 21st, I will be able to eat cake without fear of consequence.

Some statistics place the likelihood of diabetics developing an eating disorder, as up to 50% higher than non-diabetics. Nonetheless growing up, I can recall being offered guidance on drinking, travel, even teen pregnancy… never eating disorders. I had a review with a dietician maybe 2 or 3 times? Incidentally, around a year ago I found a copy of a weeklong food diary I kept for a dietician. I thought it predated the real 'start' of my eating disorder… the content forced me to reassess that. The dietician's response at the time? No comment. Again words - or here a lack of them - matter.

Perhaps the one silver lining of this past three years is that, in casting back to my relationship with food prior to it, I have discovered that was it was far more restricted than it needed to be. Yes, I had the odd milkshake, ate puddings and didn't know what a saturated fat was (credit to the doctor who warned me of my 'high cholesterol' when I was in the early throes of my eating disorder…), but it wasn't normal. So while I want to get back to 4+ years ago, I also want to move forward.

The last two years have been filled with ups and downs, and still are. Neither diabetes or recovery can be tied in a perfect little bow. Right now? A more tyrannical diabetes of late has seen the bow unravel a bit more than I would like, but I am getting there. Coming to terms with that insulin number going up, just like a scale, is hard. But I am doing it. Since moving back to injections almost two months ago, I have also encountered a quite unnerving increase in insulin requirements. That there is no clear reason for this does scare me, but I am responding and am giving more insulin then I have in a good three years.

These photos alone serve as a wonderful case in point to the wonders of Mr Carbohydrate. The 18 year old girl on the left was starved, cold, exhausted - effectively a prisoner. The girl on the right (summer 2013) was eating three meals and three snacks a day, more carbs than ever before in her life, and doing that meant she was able to walk the beautiful ball of fluff in her arms. Currently I am closer to the right photo, but my aim is to get fully back to it and this time to keep going.

Having something engrained into your head for 7 years is very hard to remove. Apart from feeling inherently 'wrong', I mostly fear blood sugar fluctuations from larger insulin doses. There is also the small part of my head still niggled by the eating disorder, which associates insulin with weight gain - however, not only is this untrue but, even if it was, the simple fact that I actually need to gain weight right now makes the fear unfounded!

The Answer?

For me it lies in rewriting the scripts - questioning things and realising that they do not have to be as they are. Taking the You don't know until you try road. It is far from a clear solution, and nor is it a prevention - at least not for me. But I future attitudes could be less rigid. Quite simply, let grapes be grapes. If nothing else, please take it on good authority - not the 'rulebook' written by self-righteous monkeys - that a banana won't kill you! 

Yes this is ridiculously cheesy, but for people
who know me it won't seem out of the ordinary…!

No seven year old should have to think she can never eat pizza again. No ten year old should be turning over the back of the desserts in the chilled section of a supermarket, to check if the carb count is "acceptable". No twenty year old should do that, either. Yet I know a twenty year old who still does it subconsciously. Who has come a long way in addressing these issues, but is in the ongoing - and quite foreign - process of penning her own rulebook. One she intends to have refreshingly few rules at that.

My milkshake brings diabetes to the yard,
and he's like "this cannot be yours"
But I swear, in that moment I didn't care… 
The simple truth is, I am tired of fearing carbs. Some of it has been founded, particularly with diabetes having been such a tyrant in recent months, my trust in carbs and counting has collapsed somewhat. Yet I know a lot of it is psychological, too. I need to rebuild that trust, but renovate it too - so many of those 'diabetes rules' I swore by don't need to exist for me to live a healthy life.

I have a subconscious bucket list, which I have made inroads with, but still have a lot to tick off. Among them are Christmas drinks, burger and chips,  simply going to a restaurant/cafe and not worrying about carbohydrates/insulin doses - picking what I genuinely want. Others are as seemingly trivial as a jacket potato and beans! This might seem bizarre, but for decade-old "diabetes rules" it was a no-fly zone.

I think my recovery "take a leap of faith" mantra could definitely help. If I eat a pizza and my blood sugar goes high? It is one reading. If I want a cosmo over a diet coke, why can't I? The banana didn't kill me! Perfect control is futile, but so will life be if you live it imprisoned by a number on a screen - or scale for that matter.

With type one diabetes, the number needs to be counted, but it does not need to count for anything.

Insulin is the medicine. Carbohydrates are not the enemy. 

16 November 2014

Vlog: Dear Megan Trainor

So you think I'm "strong"? Me and the millions of other people who struggle with what is a potentially life-threatening and serious ILLNESS? 

I already took issue with the song All About the Bass, for its inverted 'skinny shaming' - despite seemingly being a refreshing embrace of the true woman, in my eyes it is no more acceptable than 'fat shaming'. It still promotes the outdated notion that a woman has to have a certain body type, before she can be accepted by a man… am I missing something? 

However, this video was prompted by Trainor's most recent comments, namely "I was anorexic for a good few hours" and possibly worse "I was not strong enough to have an eating disorder".

My main concern was not even that it projects the overwhelming ignorance surrounding Eating Disorders, in our society - as bad as it is. More than that, it is how people who are battling with this serious  illness may respond; 'strength' is the most toxic illusion of this disorder, and the thought that it could lead people to question recovery terrifies me. 

An eating disorder is never a sign of strength, but choosing to fight for a healthy and fulfilled life without it?  That is one of the strongest decisions you can ever make.


14 November 2014

My D

#WearBlue to show your support
for World Diabetes Day!
For World Diabetes Awareness Day, my original idea for a post was a quote compilation. For anyone who has ever see one of my social media accounts (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook etc...) it will become quickly apparent that I have a slight love for literary lines of wisdom.

However, some soul-searching (largely catalysed by reading some truly inspiring D-blogs recently), has left me with the conclusion that maybe the best words are my own.

Much of my blogging is dedicated to writing about personal experience; this can be a scary thing, laying your soul bare as it were, but that is what I choose to do in the hopes that it can possibly change one misconception, or offer comfort to others in my situation. Words are such a powerful thing, but upon reflection I realise that, perhaps, I am holding too much in store by the words of others.

Robert  Frost, for all his wit and general wonderfulness, has not experienced giving injections multiple times a day. Stephen Chbosky, though a continuous source of comfort to me through his searingly honest and provoking outlook on life, has not lived through the day-to-day roller coaster of a chronic illness, with all the infuriation, paranoia and fear is brings. 

My Instagram Post for #showmeyourpump
No person, let alone any writer, will have felt quite the same emotion I did this morning - waking up to "wear Blue for Diabetes Day", knowing that the Blue i most want to wear is the insulin pump that now lies unused in a bottom drawer, hidden beneath the still quite foreign presence of needle boxes and a lantus guide sheet. 

To be fair, the lantus pen is blue… it's just not my blue. It isn't my D. 

It's strange, describing an illness as "mine" in a way that almost sounds sentimental! But that's the thing… it is a love-hate relationship, at least for me. I would say 75% of the time I utterly hate it - this percentage is significantly higher right now than in other periods of my life. 24.9% of the time I tolerate it, not necessarily noticing it and how it affects everyday life. I find that distractions are brilliant, whether it be sitting with my flatmates and laughing every few seconds over the very special cinematic feat that is Breaking Dawn, or sitting in the office watching an equally hilarious youtube clips Dogs & Socks; that canine star could give Kristen Stewart a few lessons on expressing emotion… He looked so happy with his socks - Dobby would be proud. When I engage with life, even in the smallest little ways, I can escape the 'D bubble' that all too often threatens to swallow me up.

That leaves the fractional 0.1%. The moments - minute though they may be - where this strange fondness sets in. I will never truly feel thankful for diabetes; however I can, at times, discern those small silver linings. 

I said I wasn't going to use quotes, but as this is from my dad I don't feel it counts! Yesterday, I got my Poetry Presentation mark for Creative Writing back. Incidentally, the overarching theme for my poems is 'chronic illness'; as I have been writing more on my diabetes recently, I figured it would be a logical approach to go. Well, I got it back… 80! My highest ever mark at Uni. This was the presentation I gave a week after my whirlwind 24 hour hospital experience. I remember being so nervous, and coming away from it feeling I had rambled, missed key points and overall let myself down. Evidently that was not the case. So I rang dad to tell him, and something he said towards the end stuck with me:

"I just hope life starts dealing you an easier hand, 
because this shows how talented and strong you are"

Picture of Dad and I in Vietnam this Summer
Sorry Stephen and Robert, Papa Harrison has outdone you! I also think of all the wonderful messages I have received through this blog and student media; today one 3rd year Nursing Student told me that my posts actually helped her in her midterm exam on Diabetes! I do struggle to believe it; I often attribute any 'achievements' to luck, but all 'failings' to me. However, this is a mindset I am endeavouring to change. 

Diabetes has made me stronger - I haven't had a say in it. Seven year old me needed to give injections to live. Student me has to think about all these extra things, simply to be at University! It has made me value things in a way I may not have, had I been given an easier paper round. It helps me (at times!) have a more objective view; I am able to place things in perspective, realising that in the grand scheme of things a lost sock or spilt milk (real incident the other day - not fun) are not going to catalyse Armageddon. 

Nonetheless, you can only sugar-coat (no pun intended) so much; you can't rose-tint a fractured window enough to make it whole. Diabetes has exacerbated my inherent perfectionism. I admit that my tendency to want to control situations, in conjunction with fixating on seemingly trivial things at times, does stem from the infuriating nature of Diabetes to throw these sporadic curveballs time and time again. For anyone who has seen me (try to) play rounders, you'll know this is an uphill struggle…

photo credit: Instagram @typeone_life 
But I try and, if it fails, try again. Always keep trying in the hopes something will click. Yes, I have days where I simply want to throw in the towel. I have moments where I look at the insulin pen and cry - I will not feel ashamed of this. I look around my room and see stray testing strips, needle wrappers, upon having tested and seeing a reading in high teens; all I see is clutter, constant reminders of the illness that is both internal and all around me. It is a seemingly bottomless pit, yet I simply do not have the energy to try and tidy it all in that moment. I realise I have to accept this temporary state of fogginess, unable to discern quite what lies ahead.

That is often what diabetes is; a waiting game. It requires patience, time, perseverance, patience again. But most of all - forgiveness. The ability to forgive yourself, forgive the illness too. You cannot live with it through a reciprocal blame game. No one is at fault; least of all, you. 

I am still trying to convince myself of this. Yet, as is often the case with life, it is much harder to believe in your own words, than the words of others. So the probability is that i will say all of this, but still feel inevitable guilt within the next 24 hours. I felt it only this morning, waking up to a BG of 15 and internally kicking myself asking "what could I have done?" My main concern is when the "carb guilt" emerges, currently in the process of rebuilding my trust with carbohydrates and insulin, the recent hurdle in my diabetes having, admittedly, undermined much of the progress i made this summer on that front. But I am keeping on, motoring on like The Little Engine That Could - because i can.

photo credit: cylingabout.com

We all can. We are not predetermined numbers and letters - our lives are not here to be written by anyone else's hand.  

As you resolutely attach your insulin pump, or hold the injection pen, you are also lifting up that pen to paper - trusting it is possible to fill those pages with more than a diagnosis. 

Never stop writing. 

7 November 2014

PC goes DC: Diabetes and the art of social preciseness

Politically correct. Socially precise. Culturally aware.

All of these are almost scared, in our day and age. Society wants to maintain a status quo, and lives in fear of offending any particular group. Now, this does drive me crazy…! I am very much a person who believes you make what you want of yourself in this world; no, life isn't fair. When I was diagnosed at the age of seven me and my family decided that I would be the girl with diabetes - not 'the diabetic'. I told myself I never wanted to be a victim, or a sad story. I never wanted to "play the diabetic card" and, to all intents and purposes, I haven't. 

However, since switching back to injections, I have encountered a few instances where I have been made to feel both uncomfortable, and in rare moments aware of my own 'otherness', to steal a Literary Criticism phrase. For the first time, I've become aware of a certain "diabetes correctness", which sees a stigma attached to things society deems unsavoury, namely the issue of needles. Yet this is my medicine - it should not be shrouded in shame, or buried away, yet only by addressing it can it ever change. 

1) Injection étiquette: 

photo credit: books worth reading
To inject in public or to not inject in public? It's been 10 years since i've encountered this quite tricky situation. Back then, I would on occasion give my injection shot at the table with meals. Always discreetly, but my family never minded seeing it; it was a given to them, after all, wasn't it keeping me alive? 

I understand that people feel uncomfortable around needles. I recall my grandma once becoming anxious over seeing it. It is a common phobia. Going into this, I told my flatmates that I would do my shots in my room, although most of them don't mind I know that it can make people antsy, especially when eating! Nonetheless, I did my first 'public' shot in Costa with a friend, who said she of course she didn't mind and could easily look away if she did. It felt quite alien though, and I was extremely self-conscious. 

Since then, I've been able to do it at restaurants with my family, not usher myself away to a toilet. When I saw my sister for the first time, now on injections, I found myself asking her "is it okay if I…?" I didn't need to finish, her expression was an "of course", almost shocked I even felt the need to ask. That's the thing though - I do, because there is not universal understanding by any stretch of the imagination!

There was an incident on the train the other weekend, where I needed to correct a high blood sugar. We were in the toilet had a queue, and I was starting to feel nauseous so knew I needed to put the insulin in ASAP. I got the pen out, and even went to the effort of placing my cardigan over my hand as I attached the needle cap and gave the shot in my stomach. After taking the needle out, I went to reapply the safety cap, only to notice the man in the seat across the aisle from me (thankfully I had no one right next to me) shoot me a disdainful look. It was clear as day to see, so I simply said "Sorry, I'm a diabetic", and he continued to glare, before turning away….

Being me, my inclination was to rattle of an essay-long apology, but I refrained. For the resilient and determined part of me equally wanted to respond: "Could you kindly put away that sandwich you are eating then, and perhaps the bottle of water too? Wait… while we're at it, could you simply stop breathing?"

In taking offence to me giving this shot of insulin, you are essentially doing the same thing. I need it to live - end of. 

photo credit: pinterest
If you saw someone walk round with an oxygen task, would you ask them to take it off? I think of TFIOS, where you see Hazel at one point asked about her oxygen - the idea of asking her to take it off would be unfounded. I would never try to compare myself to someone with cancer; I cannot even begin to imagine the hell that person is in, but a life lesson I have also learnt is that discounting your own struggles does not make them any easier. 

Yet we live in a society that runs away from pain; fears witnessing it in the flesh. The simple matter is, physical evidences of human vulnerabilities make many uncomfortable. People fear what they cannot change. People fear mortality, so these things - the oxygen tanks, the tubes, and injections included - remind our race - for all its advancement and superiority - that there are some things we simply cannot control. 

What they can change, however, are their attitudes. It is such a small, but important, act of compassion - in my instance simply turning away, as opposed to turning your mind inwards and consequently projecting a hostile demeanour. 

2. Oh, so you're diabetic? 

photo credit: tumblr

…aaand this is the point in time where I risk stumbling down hypocrisy lane! As I have maintained in this post - and life - already, the "diabetes card" is one I never wish to pull out; use to my advantage. Despite sitting exams where blood sugars have been high to the point of drinking a whole litre of water in one 30 minute Spanish Listening, nearly throwing up onstage during my GCSE drama practical, not to mention the 2.2 in my AS History… not once did I stop, ask for mitigations. Real life won't give me extra time, was my outlook. 

Nonetheless, there have again been instances recently, where the attitudes of people have offended and made me feel uncomfortable.

Case A: last night. I went with my flat to The Old Firehouse in Exeter (aka The Leaky Cauldron aka the place that does amazing Pizza) for Bonfire Night. I maintained that, as it had the word 'fire' in, it fulfilled the brief perfectly! 

...but nothing will stop my love for Firehouse!
After placing our order, I went to the toilets to give my shot(s - first day on split dosing, meaning 2 lantus shots every 12 hours, one of which was due then). Blood sugar was a frustrating 15, so I gave a correction dose and some extra to cover a slice of pizza - stuff you diabetes it's too good to miss out on! 

One day, when me and blue are reunited, I have my
sights set on having a proper go at this pizza!
Just as I put the 2nd (novorapid) shot in, there was a loud knock on the bathroom door. I called "just a minute!" and seconds later the lights went completely out. I momentarily panicked, as I could literally not see a thing. Once I took the needle out, i then had to scramble on my hands and knees trying to find the injection case, which I had placed on top of my bag, and then attach the needle cap without poking said needle into my hand. Meanwhile, I did call out for someone to please switch the light back on (feeling quite mortified as I did).

When I finally walk out, this woman is just standing there glaring. I say "I'm sorry, I'm diabetic and had to give my insulin". Her response? "I just need to use the bathroom" in the most haughty voice, and I felt about as big as the needle I had just had to jab into myself in pitch-blackness.

Of course, until i told her she had no reason to know I was diabetic, but once I did? I was truly shocked she responded in the way she did. At best a "sorry" would have been nice, but as worse I was expecting a "oh don't worry", upon realising why I took a fraction longer. 

photo credit: Starbucks UK
Case B: Starbucks today… the reason for my first ever customer complaint email! I would never have anticipated it to be my beloved Starbys, which I always assert is far superior to Costa… funnily enough that was how I opened my email! The situation was this - so it's now all about the Red Cups. Each year, this fills me with the upmost excitement, one of the first signs of Christmas dawning. 

I asked the barista if the "buy one get one free" promotion was on, which it was. So I proceeded with my plan to buy my flatmate a Toffee Nut latte to take back, and to get myself a cappuccino. With blood sugars right now, I am unsure about how to manage the christmas drinks and insulin; hopefully soon they will calm down enough to try the Toffee Nut, the one that most appeals. I did say to her "I know the cappuccino isn't festive" and explained how I was a diabetic

Well… no. She said it "wasn't valid". I then said how, technically, they would be making a saving as I would pay for the latte, meaning that the free drink would be a (cheaper) cappuccino.

Still no. She was adamant - I understand the "rules", but my flatmate worked at Starbucks and said she would simply have put two of the christmas drinks through, and not added the syrup stuff to mine! 

I ended up ordering just my cappuccino, but her overall demeanour continued to be hostile, and I felt I was being such an imposition. To top it all off, I didn't even finish my drink as the coffee was so incredibly bitter; worst Starbucks experience of my life! Costa, you might just edge it - especially now i've gotten my act together and stopped ordering "skinny" - the blue milk is called whole for a reason people, it completes the coffee!  Costa Christmas cups are also significantly snazzier, it has to be said. 

Suffice to say, it took an emergency trip to John Lewis - a visit to Monty's Grotto, to be precise… (I promise I am 20 years old) - to recapture a somewhat dampened festive spirit, which today's downpour did not help! 

… just in case you've been living under a rock today!

These are just snapshots, and maybe i am being oversensitive and the very "victim player" that I feel is wrong in society. However, as I have stressed this isn't my nature. I simply feel that certain things could be accounted for. For me it is the looks, the overall demeanour. Like airport security when we travelled to Asia this summer - one incident left me feeling quite ruffled and ashamed. It made me feel 'other'. 

I spend my life trying to be as 'normal' as possible; is it too much to expect others to, not so much help with that, but not hinder it? I will not wave my injection pen around and turn a blood sugar prick into a scene from from a horror movie. I will not parade myself; so please don't make me feel like an animal in the zoo.  

I'm simply someone who is doing what she needs to do, in order to try and live her life like the next person. I am not an injection pen; I am not the scars on my stomach or the shots I give - the things assumption might have you define me by. 

photo credit: pinterest

Yes, I am pancreatically challenged, but that does not depersonalise me. I'm still human. Still, with no labels, simply Sophie. 
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