Imagine waking up in the middle of the night to complete strangers watching over you. You’re dazed and confused and have no idea what’s going on. As you become more familiar with your surroundings and start waking up, you realize what’s happening- you’ve had another hypoglycemic seizure. The “strangers” are paramedics who are checking your vitals and blood sugar constantly to make sure that you are stable. They urge your parents to let you come to the hospital to get tests done, but you know everything is fine because this is the norm for you. You can predict what’s going to happen next: you get into the back of the ambulance and the paramedics will start asking you a bunch of questions that you can’t answer because you have short-term memory loss (what year is it, what’s your address, what day is it?), you’re taken to your own room in the ER where the nurses will force you to eat even though you feel like you’re about to explode from all the sugar you’ve taken in the past few hours; all you want to do is sleep, but the doctors won’t let you because they need to keep checking your blood sugar, and finally, after a few hours, they let you go home around dawn. Imagine going through this scenario month after month for many years of your life. Time and time again, your blood sugar drops in your sleep and because you have hypoglycemic unawareness, causing your body to go into a hypoglycemic seizure. Not only that, but this becomes such a constant source of anxiety in your life that you don’t feel safe going to bed with a blood sugar of under 200.
In December of 2013, I said enough is enough. I had passed out at Bath and Body Works at the mall and vowed to myself that day that I would never have a severe hypoglycemic reaction again, and I am proud to say that I have stuck to that promise. This is the part of diabetes that a normal person does not see. Non-diabetics see someone who simply pricks their finger, has some juice, and punches a bunch of numbers into their insulin pump. They don’t see the mental distress that diabetes causes diabetics, as well as the crippling anxiety and PTSD that takes over their mind when they go low or high. After having so many hypoglycemic seizures throughout my life, I truly believed that I would never get my A1C to a healthy range, be able to live on my own, or ever get a full night’s rest without having to wake up and check my blood sugar. That day at the mall is a day that I will never forget, as it was the day that marked the transition from letting diabetes control me to letting me control IT.
As it normally goes with diabetes, managing the disease is all about noticing patterns and adjusting insulin dosage based on the data that you see. As uncomfortable as it was having to change my basal rates and play around with insulin dosages, I knew that it had to be done if it meant that I would get my blood sugars in range for a longer amount of time. In June of 2018, I had an appointment with my endocrinologist, and she told me something that I never in a million years thought I would hear her say: “You have some of the straightest lines that I’ve ever seen.” She was referring to my graph of average blood sugar levels throughout the day and essentially told me that my blood sugars had the least amount of variation that she had ever seen on a patient. The amount of pride and pure joy that came over me when she said that confirmed to me that my hard work was paying off, and that was exactly what I needed to hear to validate my hard work in getting my blood sugars under more control, specifically at night. Since then, I have been able to maintain my blood sugars and A1C levels and have never felt better.
In 2020, I started using the Tandem t:slim X2 pump, which has the Basal-IQ feature. This feature automatically suspends insulin delivery if it predicts you will go below 80 within 30 minutes, or if the Dexcom shows a reading of 70 or below. This was what I had been waiting for my entire life. I still had to wake up in the middle of the night to check my blood sugar in case I was high, but knowing that my pump would vibrate to let me know if I was low put me at so much ease. Then, in 2020, Tandem came out with a new feature called Control-IQ. With this setting, the pump will increase your basal rate if it predicts you will go above 160 and will give a correction if it predicts you’ll go past 180. On the other hand, it will decrease your basal rate if it predicts you will go below 112 and then stops your basal rate if it predicts you’ll go below 70. I downloaded this feature in 2021 and I can honestly say that this has truly changed my life. Not only do I feel safe going to bed every night, but I am now able to get a full night’s rest without having to wake up at all to check my blood sugar. It is incredible waking up knowing that my blood sugar will be in range because my pump did the work on its own.
To whoever is reading this post and is struggling with diabetes management, I am here to tell you that it IS possible to dominate your diabetes and not have it be the other way around. If you want to take control of your management, you must be willing to take risks and step outside of your comfort zone to see what works and doesn’t work. I am a strong believer in that everything happens for a reason, and as traumatic as my teen years were with the hypoglycemic seizures I had, I know without a doubt that I wouldn’t be as health-conscious as I am today and that my diabetes management wouldn’t be nearly as under control. Diabetes teaches us many lessons throughout life, and as hard as it can be, it teaches us to appreciate and value life more so than others. If there’s anything I want you to take away from this, it’s to remember that each blood sugar reading gives you insight as to what you can do to improve your management, be it high, low, or in range. It is never too late to take control of your health, and I promise you that your body and mind will thank you (:
Hi! My name is Alexa Valavicius and I have had Type 1 Diabetes since the age of 4. This September will mark 22 years of being diabetic. I have been using an insulin pump since I was 9 years old and am currently on the Tandem t:slim X2 pump. I work full-time as a 7th grade Spanish teacher and am also a NASM Certified Personal Trainer. In my free time, I love to weight train, spend time with my friends, and try new things! If you want to follow my diabetes journey, you can follow me on Instagram @t1dqween.