Revisiting my new year’s resolution

I’m using the bonus hour that I acquired this morning when a low blood sugar woke me up to write this post. Last night I couldn’t fall asleep. I was pleased that my blood sugar was in the 80’s, having come up from a slight post-dinner low and stabilized at this most ‘normal’ of levels, but I had the nagging feeling that it wouldn’t last through the night.

See here is my big blood sugar-sleep dilemma: earlier in the week I’d had a bedtime snack close to bed and woken up with high blood sugar the next day. I was frustrated by this, but I had slept wonderfully. I find that the snack helps me fall asleep, but presents the challenge of usually requiring a little bit of insulin. Just the right amount though – too much and I’ll wake up low in the middle of the night (which is kind of dangerous you know), too little and I’ll wake up parched and drowsy the next morning (high bg).

So last night, I managed to avoid the bedtime snack. I’d brought up my low with a little bit of fruit right after dinner and then coasted. But being so close to 80 mg/dl made it hard to fall asleep and then I dropped over night.

Instead of sleeping this morning I’m doing research. I want to experiment with some of the food recommendations made by Adam Brown in this month’s issue of Diatribe. I think if I can find more foods that fill me up at dinner time without spiking my blood sugar, I’ll have less of a desire to snack later on.

There is always something great in Diatribe! I am amazed at how much I enjoy it and find useful diabetes wisdom every time I drop in. Check out the links above to see for yourself.

Finally, just in case you aren’t already in awe of sleep, I’ll leave you with this Radiolab podcast about its powers.

The Best Thing About Backpacking: Part 2

A light breeze was rustling the rainfly when we awoke the next morning, but the downpour was over and waves of sunlight rolled past, lighting up our little orange home. I flipped from side to side a couple of times on the hard ground, trying to keep myself from tumbling down the slope. More sleep being evasive, I was eager to start the water heating for the first cup of coffee in the woods – a unique pleasure that combines two of my favorite things into one. I sat up and put on my old pair of backpacking glasses, found my meter case safely stashed in a plastic bag, and checked my blood sugar. 160 mg/dl – a little high. This was, I thought, to be expected, since I was 137 when I went to bed and I’d cut my Lantus dose by half in preparation for the day of hiking. Better than fighting lows all day, I thought. I unzipped the soaked rainfly which now clung to the tent after its stick stake had crumbled and given way overnight. I managed to haul myself and my pack out from under it and stumble into the bramble patch that we’d appropriated in the night. Ahead of me, a few short oak trees canopied blueberry bushes and huge ferns. Further, at the border where the land turned steeper, big Balsam fir trees spread their evergreen branches into regal teepees. To the right, mountain after soft mountain, rolling in the Virginia way. Behind me, a taller peak with a bright green bald was dotted with what could have been nothing else but a herd of wild ponies.

Unbeknownst to us, we had set up our camp in paradise. I ran back to the tent and crawled into the deflated vestibule. “It’s so beautiful out here!” I shouted to my slowly stirring companions. “Really?” “Oh yeah?” I had already run back outside. The Navigator unzipped the trail side door of the tent, just in time to say hello to a pair of early morning hikers. Also unbeknownst, we had set up our camp at most 10 feet from the Appalachian Trail. In the night, in the rain, it had felt like we were far from the pedestrian thoroughfare. This was an accident of minor importance though. We set up our first breakfast on a small rock to enjoy the views of ponies and passersby. I took about half my normal dose of Novolog to go with a higher carb breakfast than usual and halved my morning Lantus dose (I’m on a split Lantus regimen right now) once again, to set myself up for a day with less lows.

From there the skies just got bluer, in every way. After we’d retrieved our wet clothes from the branches we’d decorated with them, we set off again, this time North on the AT, to begin our ‘loop.’ Within moments we stumbled upon this scene:

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Unlike my last eager venture to Grayson Highlands, I decided that this time I would allow the ponies to come to me if they wanted, but I would not approach them first. Luckily this worked out just fine. They were very friendly. They also seemed intrigued by my hiking poles (just another reason among the many to carry hiking poles).

Sometime later, we said goodbye to the ponies and continued on our way. Light clouds dappled the sky and the colors around us shone in response – bright greens, sunset oranges from the just-past blossoms of the wild, fire azalea bushes. It was slow going because we had to keep stopping to greet and photograph every pony in the area. We could probably provide a pony census to Virginia if it was ever needed. And just when we thought ponies had come to rule the Highlands’ ecosystem, we happened upon…

 

these lovely (and somewhat intimidating) ladies. They were lunching on a high mountain pasture, so we decided to as well. For the first few minutes of lunch I fed the low blood sugar that had crept over me as I gazed out over the 360 degree views in a partial daze. It seems like for those first few hours of backpacking I can’t ever eat enough to keep my blood sugar up. I slowly came back to our beautiful reality while Raindancer, who had quickly become comfortable with the herd, fell asleep for a 15-minute nap.

Somewhere before or after lunch the trail took us over a little stream and we stopped to refill our Nalgenes. Hiking/life in general with diabetes requires a lot of water. I recently learned (remember this for your next trivia night) that diabetes comes from the Latin for: “It has to flow” (I know that clinically this is not a good thing, but philosophically I really dig that slogan). So anyway we got out our Aquamira and engaged in the process of readying our water. In life, I’m not always patient with the process, but there’s something about the process of purifying water with Aquamira that I love. Maybe this is part of ‘the best thing’ about backpacking – engaging deeply with the process of getting where you want to go.

Sometime around 7 pm we made it to a crossroads, literally and figuratively. We needed more water, we had reached a large boulder that supposedly offered good views, and we were tired. We decided to set up camp and go in search of water, rumored to be just around the bend, after eating dinner. Prior to eating dinner though, we ascended the curved face of the boulder and were met with a literally breathtaking view. You hear people say things like, “she looked breathtaking,” or “wow, this sunset is breathtaking,” but if something is really breathtaking you can’t speak because you are gasping. And that’s how this view was – like, “Ahh!” So beautiful, so unexpected. The sea of clouds had parted and the mountains were everywhere. Although I’ve grown to love the Piedmont of NC, views like this remind me that there’s just nothing like having your breath seized by the mountains. Could this be the best thing about backpacking?

Minutes later, I had wondered if perhaps tearing into a tortilla bowl of beans, tofu, cheese, and avocado as you stretch your tired legs out on the bare ground was perhaps the best thing. There’s nothing like eating dinner in the woods when you’re really tired after a day of hiking. Also, here’s where I’ll make my plug for never going backpacking without hot sauce – it’s worth the weight. I carry mine in a small Tupperware given to me by none other than the Navigator, who understands my love of sauces. It’s very lightweight and a huge improvement over the whole glass bottle of Cholula I carried last time I was in Grayson Highlands.

The day was perfect – magical in every way, and so it shouldn’t have been a surprise to us that the night sky would have been perfectly clear, illuminated only by the pinpricks of a million tiny blazes of light. Why should we have been shocked that the ground flickered with the slow awakening of mountain fireflies, who move with more direction and purpose than the rapidly flitting lowlanders? And yet still, with stars above and around us, we stood mesmerized. I’m all about favorites, ultimates, zeniths, etc., and so I could say that if there was a thing that was best about backpacking, it had to be this mountain field under the cover of darkness – air the definition of fresh, a comforting silence filling the space in between the calls of katydids and click-click of bat wings.

But, I just can’t say that. In fact, no one of the miracles of the day could take the title of ‘best thing.’ To categorize our time would have been to leave out the process, the parts of sum; to forget that each moment was a combination of feeling connected to the Earth and to each other. Perhaps, if I want to answer my friend’s question, I’ll land on connection as the best thing about backpacking. It’s different every time, but it happens, somewhere in between bailing water out of the tent with your bandana, spotting a speckled salamander under an old log, and helping each other find the trail.

A quick acknowledgement and plug for the amazing blog of Hiking Bill. He provides in-depth descriptions of many hikes in the Southern Appalachians and includes helpful ‘hike planners’ at the end. 

You can find his description of the Pine Mtn/AT Loop that we used to plan our route here.

The Best Thing About Backpacking: Part 1

Last night, as we were standing in the kitchen, my roommate and friend asked me what it is about backpacking that I love so much – “You know, like what’s the best thing about it.” It was a good question; I had been talking about how usually, the day after a weekend of hiking and sleeping in the woods, I get back and feel elated for the first half of a day and then grumpy and disoriented for the second. It’s like I’m coming down from the extra endorphins my body makes when I’m frolicking in the mountains. I thought back over the past weekend, starting with the first moment, in order to answer her question.

It was around 9:40 pm this past Friday night when two of my dearest friends and I started our weekend hike. This is by far the latest I’ve ever started a backpacking trip, and I both do and don’t recommend it. I don’t recommend it because navigating in the dark, even with headlamps, is a little trickier, and I do because experiencing the woods at night and getting in touch with the feeling of the ground under your feet so quickly, immerses you immediately in the experience. We planned to hike about 2 miles, half of that headed South on the AT, before resting for the night. Along the way, as I was chatting with a friend I hadn’t seen in several months and who now I could only see via the narrow light of my headlamp, a moth flew down my throat. If you’ve ever been around anyone who this has happened to and you think their coughing seems a little excessive, as if they are just trying to be dramatic, I beg you to think again. This is one of those unique experiences of discomfort that can’t really be compared to anything else. In fact, I couldn’t shake the physio- or psychological trauma of swallowing that little bug until the next morning, its memory eclipsed by the pounding rainstorm we weathered overnight.

It was around 10:20 pm, perhaps five minutes after the swallowing and two minutes after one of my friends made a comment about how glad she was that it wasn’t raining, that the droplets began to lightly fall. At first it felt nice – even though we’d driven North and the air had cooled some from our sticky Triangle, NC climate, hiking had heated us up fast. After the light sprinkle turned steady though, we remembered that there was every chance that the campsites we were searching for weren’t going to be marked with neon signs. At that point we started looking for shelter. We had passed a couple of grassy clearings a few yards back, so we turned around. I headed down a narrow deer (or pony) trail to look for a spot, my friends following. We came to nothing, at least nothing good for sleeping, and I pivoted to head back to whence we’d came. Promptly, one of my friends who I’ll call ‘the Navigator’, alerted me that I was headed off in some random direction that was most certainly not the one we’d come from. This would happen at least 8 more times over the course of barely two days. No one would ever call me the Navigator, nor should they, which is one of the many reasons why I consider backpacking a team sport.

Back on the AT, another deer trail caught my eye, this time leading to a scrubby little oak tree, its branches spreading into an umbrella-like canopy. “Here’s a spot,” I shouted. My friends followed, but when they saw the tiny clearing surrounded by blackberry brambles, they looked skeptical. It was not the best spot ever, but the ground was flat-ish, the tree offered some protection but was not by any means taller than the rest, and it was now pouring. We quickly threw down the tarp and set up the tent, just to realize that the tent stakes were missing.

After finding some sufficiently dry sticks and jamming them into the ground to keep the rainfly off of the tent, we crawled inside. The Navigator was hastily bailing water from her side of the tent which had turned into a puddle over the past three minutes. We realized that the rainfly was sitting on the tent and causing water to pool up and drip inside, so the Navigator suggested that we tie a ‘sky hook’ to keep it off, which basically means tying a rope from the rainfly to a neighboring tree to create a canopy. While the Navigator bailed, my other friend, who I’ll call ‘Raindancer’ and I, leapt outside to tie the hook. At this point we were completely soaked and thoroughly scratched by the bramble we had pitched our tent in, but we reentered the tent victorious to find that Navigator had mostly dried the floor with her bandana.

That evening, as our bodies held the tent down, the long arms of Hurricane Cindy swept gales around us. The rain thumped down and the wind rattled our little tarpaulin home. I closed my eyes, smiled, and fell into an intermittent sleep.

Was the best thing about backpacking swallowing a bug? No, I thought. Was it getting lost down a deer trail within less than an hour of starting the trip? No, I thought. How about sleeping in damp socks, on a slight slope, in the pounding rain? Surely, this couldn’t be it. I’d have to keep retracing our tracks to figure it out.

To be continued…DSCN3619.JPG

Wild Adventures with Diabetes

Today diabetes took me on a walk. I’ve been a little resentful of diabetes lately. Sometimes it feels like my blood sugar controls every move I make. It decides what I will eat, if I’ll give myself a shot and how much insulin I will take, if I’ll exercise and for how long and how hard, and sometimes even how I feel about myself.

The last few weeks have been so busy and I’m longing for a little break, just a weekend away from everything, blood sugar included. But you know what, there really is no taking a vacation from diabetes. Checking my blood sugar less and loosening some restrictions in my diet might mean that diabetes takes up less of my time for a day or two, but pretty soon, not feeling as good as I could if I was sticking tighter to my ideal range doesn’t feel very luxurious at all.

So today, around 3 pm, when I was supposed to be working on my manuscript and doing other computer-based tasks, I checked my blood sugar and it was 180 mg/dl. I don’t like sitting when my blood sugar is over 150 – it agitates me to know that I could go on a walk or run to bring it down. It also agitates me when I think about how often blood sugar interrupts my plans. I’ve gotten better at choosing my plans over my perfect blood sugar in the past few years, but it’s a Sunday, and despite my agitation, I decided to let diabetes take the reins.

Immediately, driving off into the countryside around Chapel Hill, I was glad that I did. The sun was bright on budding green fields edged by thick stands of trees waving in the breeze. The trail I found was soft, dirt and gravel, easy on the feet. A muddy Piedmont creek ran alongside it. Towering strong-armed beech trees lined the path. And just when I was almost back to my car, I look up ahead on the trail and saw…

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My poor photography skills do not do her justice. Also, I was not going to get any closer.

a six foot long Black snake. I was mesmerized. My mind left diabetes and everything else behind, and as she slithered away I felt some real freedom from all of it for the first time in awhile.

 

Applying for Marketplace Health Insurance

Last Saturday I graduated with my Master’s of Public Health! I’m so excited for everything that’s ahead of me, except losing health insurance coverage on May 31st.

A friend and I who help each other get through life’s hurdles, sat down to apply for marketplace coverage together. She just turned 26 and has had to go off of her parents’ health insurance. As for me, my coverage as a student research assistant only extends to the end of May. Because having health insurance is vital for all people, but especially those living with diabetes, I wanted to share my experience with the process.

Website screening tool: First I went to www.healthcare.gov and clicked the big green button that says “SEE IF I CAN ENROLL.”

Turns out after entering all of my info that losing coverage was a ‘qualifying event,’ so I was eligible.

Creating an account: At some point I had to create an account – which I did. The security questions for this process were really funny to me – I would suggest writing your answers down somewhere because they weren’t the easiest to come up with.

What if I don’t know?!?: The hardest part of using the screening tool and applying was estimating my income. I’m at a point where my income is in flux – my hours at work and the way I get paid are changing. I’m also hoping to find full-time employment soon and know that if I do, my annual income will be different than what I’m able to estimate now. Dealing with that uncertainty is hard, but in keeping with all recent blog posts, it’s just a part of life. In this context, the instructions make it clear that it’s important to update your account frequently if your income changes. There is also flexibility with how much of the premium tax credits you can use if you qualify, which can help those whose income might change.

Premium tax credits: Based on my current income, I qualified for a substantial premium tax credit which I could apply towards my premium when selecting a plan. I didn’t realize this before beginning the process, but you don’t have to use your whole tax credit each month, rather you can choose to use only part of it and have the rest applied as a credit at the end of the year when you file taxes. On the flip side, if you use it all and then your income goes up, you may have to pay back in some of it on your taxes. It wasn’t super easy to decide how to use this information, so I just elected to use enough of my credit to make my premium manageable each month.

Selecting a plan: This step involved a lot of reading and deliberating. The website helps to point you in the right direction by allowing you to enter your preferred doctors and prescriptions to see if they are covered under various plans, along with the level of health care you plan to use. For us people with diabetes, that’s a really hard one to estimate. Additionally, I was frustrated that no matter how I wrote ‘test strips’ or with what brand name I used, I could not get the system to register them under preferred prescriptions. Hopefully others will have better luck with this. Ultimately I chose a plan banking on at least one type of test strip being affordable. I’ll report back on my experience with this once coverage starts.

More documents: It seems like there are always more documents. I have to prove that my health insurance coverage is ending, so I have to send in a document/letter to this effect by the end of the month. Oh and I have to pay for the first month, which I can’t fault them for. What I did like about the process is that you could begin the application and revisit it and then select a plan and confirm enrollment before having to send in the supplementary documents or payment. This way, I was able to move forward and secure coverage that will begin June 1st, even while gathering my other resources.

Overall experience: Applying for marketplace health insurance coverage is not easy per se, but it is doable. My personal suggestion (based on my typical approach to things) is to get the process started, create an account, do the eligibility screening, and then know that you can find the information you need and log back in once you have it to complete things. If your situation is not very clear cut, I think it’d be really helpful to have a navigator (i.e. real person) to help you through the process. At our school there is an insurance office above our student health clinic and I’m assuming this is the case at many universities. During open enrollment, volunteer navigators are available to walk you through the process, and although I don’t know if that is true at all times of the year, I suspect real-person assistance is available and would be helpful. If you have experiences with this, please leave a comment with your thoughts!

How to beat the springtime blues

Springtime blues? “What’s that about?” you ask. After about four years of consistently feeling miserable for about a week every April, I think I’ve finally realized that for me, something about springtime wreaks havoc on my diabetes management.

I find myself suddenly feeling sluggish, cloudy and hungry.

My blood sugar levels go up and stay up, like they’re stuck on a higher plateau.

Insulin just doesn’t bring me down like it typically does and because I’m running higher, my appetite increases and I just want to eat…carbs.

And then all of a sudden the insulin will bring me down like a ton of bricks and I’ll be arrested by an intense low blood sugar.

So…I have some hypotheses. It does make sense to me that the same inflammatory response caused by seasonal allergies would not be so great for T1 diabetes, which by its nature is an inflammation of the immune response. My friends with T1D have turned me on to some research to suggest that springtime is a hard season for many people with various autoimmune conditions.

Spring is also a time of new beginnings, change, waking up from winter and everything suddenly gets so busy. In this space of having so much to do and so little time to do it (and feeling like my head is full of pollen), my typically stress and diabetes management technique of daily concerted exercise hasn’t been as attainable. So I’m here to share – with no guilt – that this week I got a massage.

This was actually my second of two 30 minute massages with Monique Kennedy, who I recommend highly if you’re in the triangle area. Check out her practice: Exhale Massage Therapy – where you can book directly online.

And the name really says it all – exhaling (a topic I’m excited to write more about soon) and its partner inhaling are so hard to prioritize and yet so very beneficial. Since the massage and the reminder to breathe deeply, to prioritize resting and recharging, my blood sugars have been just a little bit more ‘normal.’

I’d love to hear other people’s experiences with autoimmune conditions and spring time and about massage as part of a healthy life!

Choices

On my first day of grad school, my pod alarmed in the middle of an orientation session and I had to rush home, still unsure if the bus I’d chosen was the right one to get me to my apartment. On the way, my iPhone 4 and I struggled with the spotty internet to email my advisor and let her know I wouldn’t be able to meet her – technical difficulties. That’s not really what I told her of course. I explained it all – because you can’t just explain a little bit of diabetes once you get going. It’s hard to just say “My blood sugar was low” or “My insulin pump malfunctioned.” I always feel like I sort of have to justify that statement with, “Oh and I have Type 1 diabetes. And I’m ok – I’ve just got to handle this.” The good-hearted people of the world want to know that you’re ok, which is touching. It can be really hard to give people who want to help and be there for you some reliable protocol to follow, because so much of diabetes is adapting to the moment. So much of it is being in-tune with your own body and responding in what might seem, to an outside audience, like a contradictory way from how you responded before. Sometimes I eat cake, sometimes I don’t. That doesn’t mean that in one situation I’m thinking about diabetes and in the other I’m not. It’s always there, presenting choices or at least weighing in on them.

This post is meandering because my thoughts are meandering right now. If there could be a central theme here, it’s choices and how they fit into our otherwise unpredictable lives. Diabetes reminds me that I make many choices in the day, from how I treat my body to how I communicate my identity, positionality and needs to others. It also reminds me that no matter how fixated we become on one choice or path or reality, our pod could always alarm right in the middle of it and we’d have to respond. This is another diabetes metaphor, but please don’t let that prohibit you from translating it to your own life if you are a person without diabetes (or not, maybe you don’t like metaphors). I’m just grappling with this – the contradiction between writing and reading our lives, both of which (I’m gently arguing), are quite necessary.