Monday, May 11, 2015

T1 & T2 are not the same- Differentiating Diabetes

  Living life with T1D is filled of many ups and downs,  physically and emotionally. Fortunately, the good times more than out weigh those difficult moments. The physical aspect of dealing with highs & lows and enduring finger pricks & injections becomes routine. But the emotional turmoil never goes away. I cannot tell you how many times people have come up and told me " you are too skinny to have Diabetes". This statement hurt my heart and builds up the anger inside me because it is so wrong. My size does not in anyway determine if I have Type 1 Diabetes. It is is not the general publics fault, they do not know any better and have not been properly educated on the different types of Diabetes that exist. 
            A dear friend of mine was given an assignment to interview a person who is part of a unique group who lives life differently than the general population for her diverse counseling class. She then asked if I was willing to be her her subject and I immediately agreed because I knew this would be a rare opportunity to share the truth about Type 1 Diabetes. Before beginning the interview and accompanying paper, she submitted a proposal to her professor and was alarmed to receive a concerned response stating that he was not sure that this topic would be appropriate and diverse enough to fit the assignment's purpose. This response just fueled my friend's fire to show this professor just how unique a T1D's life is and clear up any misconceptions he may have concerning Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes. The following is her completed essay. 
            For this assignment, I conducted an interview with a 21-year old female college student suffering from Type I Diabetes.  I was interested in getting rid of the stereotypes I personally held when it came to this disease.  I also chose this individual, since I felt that her physical and health status differed to that of the majority of the population.  We hear the name of this disease often, but what is it really like?  I was very interested in seeing how her story could change my views of individuals with this disease.
            Before the interview, I held the preconception that all individuals with Diabetes were overweight.  I was surprised to hear that this particular individual had a BMI in the category of underweight.  You see, she reminded me that there are two types of diabetes.  Unfortunately, many people forget that.  I was really shocked when I heard her describe the differences between the two.  I never thought that having Type I Diabetes could lead to such drastic life changes, compared to Type II Diabetes.  She explained to me how her pancreas neglected to produce insulin on its own.  In a normal/healthy individual, the pancreas will produce insulin whenever carbohydrates or sugar is consumed.  This insulin helps your body to absorb those sugars, ultimately creating energy.  With her type, she needs an insulin pump attached to her body.  In Type II Diabetes, the pancreas produces the insulin; however, the body has trouble figuring out what to do with it.  (Yes, more individuals with Type II are overweight (she said), but healthy diets/lifestyle changes can manage symptoms and also maintain a healthy weight).
            My interviewee was not afraid to tell me that her pancreas was “useless and dead.”  Her pancreas was on the outside of her body for everyone to see.  In other words, her insulin pump is her energizer battery charged pancreas.  I felt uneasy when listening to someone talk, that way, about an organ that is so precious to many.  It really opened my eyes to a world where everyone can see that something is wrong with you.  It also made me think about how I would become sick of people asking me questions about what “that device” is.      
            What I was extremely curious about was what a typical day was like for an individual with Type I Diabetes.  My jaw dropped when I heard about what she has to endure everyday.  She wakes up each day, and the first thing she does is test her blood sugar.  If her levels are too high, then she must give a correction of insulin using her pump.  If her levels are too low, she must calculate the carbs she must eat for breakfast in order to get to a healthy level.  She still has to give an insulin shot in order to regulate the carbs she would eat for breakfast.  2 hours after breakfast, she has to go through the same process.  For lunch, she has to check her blood sugar before eating, and give insulin based on her recorded levels.  2 hours after lunch, she has to go through the same process she went through after breakfast. The same procedures also occur 2 hours after dinner. Bedtime is complicated. If she has a blood sugar below 100 at bedtime, she HAS to eat 15 measured carbohydrates.  Regardless, she still has to wake up at 2 am to check her sugar levels.  So basically, she has to prick her finger 8-10 times per day.  Her insulin pump is attached to her waist.  The long needle device can go through her front side, or lower back.  That needle can stay in for 3 days, and then it must be replaced.  Hearing all of this was quite overwhelming.  My lower stomach and back area stung for her.  Thinking of having to place a needle in that sensitive area, and keep it there 24-7 was unbelievable.  She must eat, sleep, drive, and exercise with that pump, attached to her body through a needle.  Hearing about this part of her life has been quite astonishing to me. 
            After listening to her schedule, I asked something that I was yearning to know.  I felt that her daily schedule was so structured.  I wondered if adhering to this orderly schedule meant no side affects or pain?  At that moment, she shook her head.  She said, “everything affects me.”  The feeling of having a low blood sugar is like having the flu.  She gets shaky, weak, and begins to slur her words.  She told me the most difficult part is eating during a low blood sugar.  Since she is low, she wants to consume sugar quickly so that she will feel normal again.  However, she MUST eat slow to prevent getting a dangerously high blood sugar.  She told me that she once had a blood sugar level of 45, and after eating, she spiked to 350.  350, is a very high blood glucose level.  When she is “high,” she mentions that it is an out of body experience.  She becomes nauseous, jittery, and does not feel present.  The way to naturally lower such a high level is to just start drinking lots of water to get rid of the sugar.  These highs occur 2-3 times per day, and lows 1-2 times each day.   
            I was curious about a crazy or unusual experience this individual could recall while having this disease.  She was only diagnosed when she was 17, so some experiences are still new.  She once traveled to Wisconsin to visit a good friend.  When she arrived there, her insulin pump basically malfunctioned.  It started beeping, (a piercing sound), and would not stop!  Even worse, the pump would not release the needed insulin into her body.  Being out of state, this was quite a scary experience for her.  Insulin pumps are complicated, since it is an actual device specifically designed for Type I diabetics.  My interviewee ended up having to give herself manual shots of insulin for the entire trip.  That is, before and after each meal.  Since those needles are longer than the finger pokers, this means for a more painful injection experience.  This made me a lot less picky when I travel anywhere.  I would always be focused on forgetting something.  However, nothing that I forget could ever compare to having an insulin pump malfunction.  Appreciating things that you don’t realize you have is a major lesson that I learned.   
            I asked my interviewee about the most frustrating part of this illness.  She told me that people’s overall lack of understanding is what frustrates her the most.  She affirmed that many people can show empathy, and she does appreciate their effort.  But she told me that no one really knows unless they have to live with the disease each day.  I thought this was an interesting response since even empathy wasn’t enough to console an individual struggling with this disease.  I was astounded that having that extra attention and support from others just wasn’t sufficient for her.  I, and probably many others, love attention! It was intriguing how I was able to speak with an individual who has a great desire to only blend in with society, or to be seen as average.  It also made me adjust my own thoughts pertaining to the subject of attention.  My interviewee also despises when people make the comment, “I could never give myself shots like that each day!”  This response always makes her blood boil, since she feels that anyone would do it if it meant saving your life.  Everyone would do it if they had to.  Her response to this question made me more aware of any future response I may make, accidentally, to someone that has a problem that I don’t have.  For instance, saying things like “I could never keep my arm in a cast for 6 weeks, or I could never work a minimum wage job while having kids.”  Some of these comments are automatically made when looking in on another’s situation.  My interviewee’s experience made me more accepting of the fact that sometimes you just have to do what you have to do!   
            She also hates when people will question her when she eats sugar.  “Aren’t you not supposed to eat sugar…you’re a diabetic.” She cringes when people ask her that, because she can eat sugar.  In fact, she can eat whatever she wants in moderation.  This story really fixed the preconception I had about diabetics being unable to have sugar.  Also, if I ever come across an individual with an illness that I am not familiar with, I will try to ask them to tell me more about it instead of starting with a question based on a stereotype or preconception.
            In conducting this interview, I learned a lot about myself.  There are several habits that I am now working to eliminate, especially after speaking with this individual.  For example, I am choosing to end all complaining about pains that may only be temporary.  Although I have health issues of my own, there are others who have it worse.  I also learned to focus on what good things I do have, rather than any negatives.  My interviewee told me that no one is immune to Diabetes.  She was diagnosed at 17, and could not express enough gratitude about having a normal childhood at least.  That was inspiring to see.
            I also learned a lot about others.  One major lesson I take away, is never judging a book by its cover.  I used to see diabetes as an illness that is easy to manage.  The insulin pump was the solution.  Yet, there is so much more involved in this disease.  You can go online and read about any kind of illness.  Yet, I learned that not everyone will experience the disease in the same way that it is defined.    
            Overall, I really learned a lot about Diabetes through this interview.  Conducting this session has increased my interest in this health problem as well.  I want to specialize in many areas when I become a licensed counselor.  This interview contributes to my future, since I would now like to add a new specialization to my career goal list. That is, counseling those individuals diagnosed with chronic diseases.  When I begin to work towards continuing education, I will be sure to attend as many classes as I can, pertaining to this topic. 
           This paper was amazing for me to read because it was so accurate. It showed me just how much my friend cares for me and that she is committed to helping rid our society of Type 1 Diabetes misconceptions. The best part was the professor's the response to this essay. 
          Great paper!  To be honest, when you sent me the email about this subject, I wasn’t quite sure about it and whether it would be outside of your comfort zone.  My reaction shows my ignorance of the disease, I think, for I had no idea of all that was involved.  I’m really glad you did the interview and I learned a lot.  Good reflection, too.
         The professor's response to this essay clearly shows a major problem in our society when it comes to Diabetes education. In our society when someone mentions the word 'Diabetes', 9 times out of 10 they are referring to Type 2 Diabetes. So people with Type 1 Diabetes are often automatically placed in this category. This is not a put down to Type 2 Diabetes. The two diseases are completely independent of each other and both deserve to have their own identities. People with these two diseases have their own set of concerns they must deal with and also have a completely different ways of treating their symptoms. One disease is not better or worse than the other, they are just different. We still have a long way to go in teaching our society about the specifics about Type 1 Diabetes, but I know by working together we can educate the world!!!! 
       Please share this article and help us make a difference for all those with Type 1 Diabetes because living with these stereotypes make the disease even more difficult to handle. 

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