Type 1 Diabetes: Invisible or Visible?

I don’t think anyone has looked at me and thought “Yeah, that girl’s hella diabetic.” Even with the insulin pumps and continuous glucose monitors (CGM), whether or not someone has diabetes is not always visible upon first glance (unless their pump site is showing). We can check our blood glucose (BG) levels under tables in restaurants and excuse ourselves to the bathroom for an injection and honestly, pumps look enough like a cell phone that people just think I’m texting (I actually had a coworker tell me to stop texting when I was really just clicking in a bolus). What’s visible is the way diabetes has affected my everyday life and how I present myself to people. It has ingrained qualities in me that change who I am outwardly at work and in relationships with my friends and family members.

“Check your blood!” was something my parents would demand every time I showed any attitude growing up. If I was making rude comments or being emotional, this would be their go-to response (as if normal teenage girls didn’t get moody, only the diabetic ones did). They had a good reason though because when my blood glucose levels were hyper, I would be frustrated, tired, and a pain in the ass. It’s hard to explain how BG levels could make me feel this way but they do. The higher ones make me thirsty and leave me with a headache and diabetic or not, this does not make anyone their best self. My hyperglycemic moments have also lead me to characterize myself as someone who is forgetful. Because of those tired, hazy moods being high (still talking abut BG here) leaves me in, I forget things and become lethargic. I’m not stupid or careless, I can be lazy sometimes but I wouldn’t really describe myself as that, it’s just the diabetes that creates this visible projection on the world.

Hypoglycemia wasn’t a huge problem for me through the teenage years because I didn’t prioritize my diabetes and instead prioritized frozen yogurt and milk-teas. After getting my BG more in control and bringing by A1c down from 8.0 to 7.1 (go me!), I’ve seen and felt the ways that low blood glucose levels change how I act. One time, I was going for a run and barely made it a mile before my BG dropped so low that I had to sit on a curb and wait for my roommate to come pick me up. This roommate, bless her soul, picked me up and I just started crying. I was embarrassed and feeling degraded. I’ve realized that when my BG is low, I do get emotional and really hard on myself. I critique my body image. I am incredibly irritable. I am nobody that you want to be around. I can’t help it though. Learning how the roller coaster of BG’s can affect my mood have made me more readily prepared for how to handle being in social situations with hypos and hypers.

My BG visibly effects me throughout the day even now, when my A1c is the lowest it’s been in years. I go through an array of moods every hour; I’m tired because my BG is high after I just ate, then I’m emotional because I guess I gave myself too much insulin for that taco and now I’m low. I take care of my diabetes better now than in the past to reduce the mood swings. I obsess over my blood sugars before big social events because I can’t risk a high BG causing my eyes to droop and personality to falter and I’ll check excessively before a high activity day because I don’t want to risk dropping low. But this will happen anyway. I find it better to be honest and tell the people around me that I am a Type 1 Diabetic and I need to sit down and drink a juice before continuing on or that my BG is high and I just need some space to breathe for a couple minutes. For these reasons, I find diabetes to be quite visible. To strangers, I might just be your regular twenty-something who wears the same jean jacket every day and has a weird collection of big earrings but to the people who get to know me, my diabetes will never be invisible and I’m okay with that.