Usually, the first thing someone does after finding out I have diabetes is to say something like “Oh, so you can’t eat sugar?” or “Really? But you’re so thin!” (this was said to me word-for-word once). These statements are followed by conversations of varying length and depth about how I didn’t get diabetes because I was overweight, or how I can eat anything, really, as long as I properly calculate and time my insulin doses. Sometimes I’m frustrated with the lack of understanding that most people seem to have about T1D, but the media quite honestly does a terrible job of differentiating between types 1 and 2 when discussing diabetes, and makes no effort to debunk any of the outdated myths that still abound.
Because if I could cure my diabetes with cinnamon, I would have done it a LONG time ago.
With the number of cases of types 1 and 2 set to rise in the coming years, I wanted to put something out there for all of the wonderful people who identify as type 3- a term I learned very recently that refers to all of the friends, family members, and people who support those of us with type 1. It’s so important for the people around us to understand what we have to do, especially those who are new to our lives. So, here it is- type 1 for the type 3.
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease- we didn’t ask for it, didn’t do anything to cause it, but we’re stuck with it. Our bodies don’t make insulin, which is a hormone we need to convert the glucose found in food into usable energy for our cells. Without insulin, glucose builds up in our bloodstream, and our cells start to die, so we have to take our own, through a pump or injections. Most people think that it’s sugar we need to be careful about, but sugar is a type of carbohydrate- and that’s the nutrient we need to keep track of to calculate our insulin doses. A long time ago, before we could produce artificial insulin, people with diabetes couldn’t eat much with carbohydrates; this is where the “diabetics can’t eat sugar” myth comes from.
The bodies of people without diabetes are able to regulate the amount of glucose in the blood stream (we just refer to this as “blood sugar”), but the bodies of people with type 1 cannot do this automatically. We have to test our blood sugar several times a day (I test mine upwards of 10 times some days) in order to make the most informed decisions about our insulin doses. Many people ask whether pricking our fingers hurts. Most people say that it usually doesn’t- there’s always that one time when you just go “OW! That wasn’t supposed to hurt!” though.
When our blood sugars are low (below 80 mg/dL for people who measure in the United States), we need something to eat- fast. This is a good time to grab something sugary! Otherwise, we may get shaky, dizzy, start acting erratically, or, in extreme cases, lose consciousness. Many people compare having a low blood sugar to being intoxicated. High blood sugars (this varies from person to person, but above 140 mg/dL is a good benchmark) are less pronounced in their symptoms, but can cause a lot of problems in the long run. This is why we do our best to maintain good control of our blood sugars!
Some things we’d like others to know:
-Don’t ask us whether we’re allowed to eat something. We’ve been doing this for years, and we know what’s best for our bodies. Trust us, we got this! 🙂
-Conversely, don’t bug us about choosing not to eat/drink something. Everyone is affected by foods differently. I was once told that I “wasn’t trying hard enough” at managing my blood sugars when I chose to pass on going out to eat. When French fries send my blood sugar up to 500 in the middle of the night, I think I am entirely justified in refusing whatever food I know will require overzealous blood sugar monitoring for the next twelve hours. Once again, trust that we know our bodies!
-Don’t say things like “I could never give myself shots!” You’d be surprised what you could do if it meant, you know, staying alive. We don’t love having to do it, but we don’t have a choice.
-Ask questions! I don’t know about others with T1D, but I actually love answering questions people have. I can go on forever. If you want to know something or don’t understand, ask! It shows a lot more support than making an incorrect assumption.
I realize that this post isn’t an all-inclusive guide to diabetes, but if I tried to do that, I’d be writing an encyclopedia. For all the type 3s reading this, thank you! Your support is invaluable to us, and we appreciate you putting up with our test strips all over the place, and our demands for DIET coke. The world needs more people like you!