I ran my 3rd ever 5K today. It was something I signed up for on a semi-whim and then, as the date approached, I started to get really, really nervous. I am not, nor have I ever been, a runner or jogger. I find running really difficult—in fact, the entire time I do it it’s pretty much excruciating and I have to fight my rawest instinct which is screaming at me to stop.
But I am sick. I have a chronic illness and will have it for the rest of my life, which means there’s a some cards stacked against me, genetically – maybe not too many, maybe a lot. I won’t know until the time comes and I get hit with a complication, or I die from a low, or (fingers crossed!) neither happens. And so, in the two and a half years I’ve been living with diabetes, I have fought, on the regular, to make physical activity (a known way to stack cards in your favor, health-wise) a major part of my life. It’s never going to be a switch I can flip, unfortunately—I am cursed with a natural laziness and overall preference for physical comfort over physical challenges. But I try. And I try. And I try.
And, like it or not, there’s something about the challenge of a 5K that makes me “stick to it” more than any other physical activity I’ve yet found, so I keep plugging away. 3 5Ks in 2 and a half years may not be much to my fellow t1D marathon runners, but for me, it’s a goddamn accomplishment. When I first started jogging, I had grand dreams of working up to 10Ks, half marathons, etc. Hasn’t happened yet. Maybe someday, but for now I’ll keep chipping away at 5Ks.
It’s also really, really hard to exercise with Type 1 diabetes. Which is ironic, because exercise should, in the long run, help my Type 1 diabetes, and yet my type 1 is my greatest barrier to doing it. I’m not sure if the extreme difficulty of it is another “unique to my diabetes” thing—I know T1Ds who are, literally, world class athletes; however they got there they have my enduring respect.
The reason exercise is so hard with type 1 is because of the unpredictable effect it can have on your blood sugar. On the surface level, exercise burns through glucose, so it will lower your blood sugar. However, I’ve still not figured out a way to predict how much or how fast, which can often lead me to over- or under- prepare for exercise, based on what I think it’ll do to my blood sugar. If I eat too much before working out, I’ll be working out with high blood sugar, which is dangerous. If I eat too little, my blood sugar will crash, also dangerous. If I suspend my basal insulin too early, my sugar will go too high for the exercise to really touch it; if I suspend too late or not long enough, I’ll crash. Plus there’s the whole thing about how every.single.day with diabetes is different, so the thing that worked on, say, Tuesday has no guarantee to work on Wednesday.
And then there’s the fact that, while exercise generally lowers your blood sugar, it can also raise it. A lot of Type 1s experience blood sugar spikes after or during exercise. The adrenaline your body produces when you exercise can spike you sugar, or there can be other, more complicated processes at play.
But, then there’s also the longer term effect of exercise: an overall higher sensitivity to glucose, which can mean that, even 6, 8, or 12 hours later, you can be much more susceptible to blood sugar crashes.
So it’s a mess. Add to that the fact that, due to some scary lows during exercise in the first few months after my diagnosis, I have developed a very real, crippling, psychological fear of lows during exercise that I am working with my therapist on but that means I tend to over compensate in the “I’m gonna crash” direction (which necessarily means I later overcompensate in the “I’m spiking” direction)… honestly sometimes I think I deserve a medal for even attempting to exercise at all.
When I woke up for the 5K today, my blood sugar was about 180—I had messed with my basal insulin in the early morning so that my blood sugar would run high so I had a kind of cushion, and it (miraculously) did exactly what I wanted. I was hoping for 180; I thought that’d be a good number to start jogging at. However, to my despair, despite not taking any insulin, in the time it took me to get to the starting line, the originally compliant blood sugar began dipping.
I know that if I start exercising when my blood sugar is on a downward trend, it will crash. (It’s one of my few certainties with this damn disease: 99.9% of the time, it has worked that way for me.)
Part of me wanted to bail, because the irony of consuming calories in order to burn them is not lost on me, but god damn it I had been planning for this for a while, so instead of bailing I guzzled juice/checked my Dexcom incessantly (hoping that it had magically developed instant-read technology), which was probably very bizarre to the people around me.
And it actually (seemed to) work: according to Dexcom, I held steady around 180 for the first 2 miles, then dipped slowly into the 160s (without crashing!!) for the last 1.1 miles. And I actually got one of my best 5K times – 42 minutes, which I was so, ridiculously proud of. I did it! I goddamn did it.
I left on a mental (but not blood sugar!) high. I felt so accomplished.
Then I took a nap.
And when I woke up, my blood sugar was 309. So I took insulin and within about 45 minutes my blood sugar was 35, which I had to frantically correct with tons more juice.
So much for accomplishment.
I don’t actually know why that 309 business happened. Obviously it was some kind of delayed reaction to the overabundance of juice I had originally consumed – but I legitimately fear that if I hadn’t consumed said juice, I would have crashed during the race, which, as I mentioned, is a huge, terribly crippling, huge, huge fear of mine.
It was really hard not to feel like the dramatic swing (blood sugar swings are pretty damn bad for you) as well as the ridiculous amount of correction insulin and juice that I put in my body didn’t wipe out everything I accomplished during the race. Clearly it’s time to go back to the exercise physiologist (I worked with one when I was first diagnosed and had those scary lows) and/or my doctor to come up with new strategies. It’s just so frustrating that before, when I didn’t have diabetes, I was able to do this—exercise—without any of this nonsense, and I didn’t bother. And now I have diabetes and I know how important exercise is and it’s like I’ve been punished with a million more complicating factors if I want to do it.
I was almost crying, as I sat there shaking and twitching and waiting for the low to pass (that may have been physiological as much as mental though—lows really mess with you.) I just felt terrible. So, I did what we all do when we’re sad or bored or tired or happy or busy or literally anything: I grabbed my phone.
I was scrolling through instagram when, on the feed of a fellow Type 1 advocate, I found an extremely upsetting headline for this dumb article from Popsugar Food (if you’re unfamiliar, Popsugar Food is the poor man’s Buzzfeed Food—which I say as an insult to both). The article was about Starbucks’ famed “Unicorn Frappuccino” and, in an attempt, I’m sure, to be different from the 8,000 other articles articulating the exact same damn thing about the stupid drink (Headline: it has a lot of sugar!) Popsugar Food chose what I’m assuming was supposed to be a “funny” and “grabby” headline.
I can’t really explain the instant, focused rage I felt. The tears came later: the rage was first. Rage for the thoughtlessness of it, rage for how goddamn entitled it was. The goddamn privilege of the non diabetic, to so casually, so carelessly, toss out a joke like that. The privilege of the able body.
How dare they. How dare she. How dare they make light of a serious illness, how dare they use our hours, days, nights, years of suffering for a stupid headline. How dare they subtly and maliciously propagate a culture where it is acceptable to disrespect the ill, to shame the sick, to shame us. To perpetuate misleading and false information about the nature of this illness. It felt so personal. It felt like such a personal attack. It honestly felt like the author had observed my entire morning and responded with two words: Screw You.
I commented on the article and then I posted it on my instagram.
Then I saw, with relief, with such relief, that I was not the first to this rage party. The comments on the article are written with the fury of those who have known what it’s like to wake up in the middle of the night, shaking and sweating, unsure where you are or what’s happening to you. Or to wake up in the middle of the night, every night, to check on a child cursed with this horrible, horrible disease. The rage of those who have fought, sweat and tears and all, to stay alive or keep loved ones alive despite a disease that is unrelenting in its maliciousness.
Who have gotten back on that goddamn treadmill, again and again and again, despite a disproportionately enormous fear that it is going to leave you collapsed and unconscious.
Apparently between when the article was published and today, the backfire was loud enough (maybe not big enough, but loud enough) that Popsugar Food, like the cowardly bottom feeder that it is, quietly changed the title to something less controversial (boo hoo, you stupid assholes, did that damage your stupid clickthru rate???), without a) issuing any sort of apology and b) removing the line within the article that says the exact same thing.
This shady, half-assed, backhanded, spineless attempt to make a problem that they caused disappear is honestly more infuriating to me than if they had just left the original title up. I had to keep screaming, if only into the void.
So I found the article’s author on Twitter. Although rage was pushing me to just continue to scream at her, I actually exercised some restraint. See, I feel like companies are pretty fair game to rage at. I can call Popsugar Food “stupid assholes” as a sort of collective; but I do think there’s a bit more respect called for when you’re talking to a specific person.
I do not think the author of this article is a stupid asshole. Because I don’t know her, and I don’t know anything about her or what went into the writing of this article. Maybe she wrote the whole thing without the diabetes reference in it and her editor put it in. Or maybe, (and more likely), she’s a decent person who just made a mistake in judgment. This isn’t Kyle Jenner knowingly signing on and being paid millions of dollars for what was obviously a multi-month, or even year, process to create the world’s dumbest, most privileged ad ever. This is a woman writing an inconsequential 400 word clickbait article for a really inane website, one of probably dozens of articles that she churns out a day.
So instead of screaming or being outwardly disrespectful, I just tweeted her a picture of my instagram post – which raged against her company, who ultimately signed off on this article and is wholly responsible for anything in it.
But then I looked at her feed, and the first tweet, a pinned tweet, was her linking to a fundraising page which, according to her, was raising money for “body love”.
And I’ll be honest with you guys: that really made me mad. That’s pretty rich. How exactly am I supposed to love my body when your backhanded joke overtly reinforces a mentality that shames me for my illness? When it makes such light of the greatest physical challenge of my life? You know, the one that my body has? The body that I struggle to love on a daily basis despite its limitations. Unless your point is that only those without chronic illness, or without diabetes, are worthy of self-love and self-acceptance?
So I sent one more tweet. In responding to her raising money for “body love,” I said:
And she blocked me.
How brave of her.
Look, on the one hand, I get that it’s a little more personal to tweet directly at someone, instead of at a company. But on the other hand, it’s a public twitter profile, and also screw her I’m still really mad.
Especially because they left the line in the article. Like, I don’t understand on any level why they would do that. You’re just insulting and enraging the offended parties more, and it’s not like a line that’s 4 paragraphs down in an article is going to do anything to your clickthru rate. The entire point of sites like popsugar is to get eyes on the page: they could truly give a shit if we read anything they write as long as we click their links. So why is that goddamn line still in there?!
People make mistakes and people have lapses in judgment. That is forgivable and expected. Half of this blog is me embarrassingly recounting my own mistakes and then attempting to atone for them with writing and revelations. As I said, I don’t think this author is a bad person. But I do kind of think she’s a jerk for blocking me, instead of engaging with me in any kind of discourse. I dunno. Maybe my tweets came across too rage-y or threatening, whatever—social media sucks.
Change only comes when you demand it. I’m so sick of rolling my eyes and moving on when I read these offensive “diabetes joke” lines online, in print. Sorry Popsugar, but the coward’s move isn’t gonna do it for me today.
I want an apology for myself and for the millions more.