“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well” -Virginia Woolf

I am notorious for eating out for most of my meals. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Some healthy and from Earth Fare or Whole Foods other times it’s the Chick-Fil-A drive thu. I do try to change up what I get at CFA. Sometimes because the backed-up drive thru and having to order before I can see a menu stresses me out to the point of just shouting out the first entree I can think of. Other times it’s because I’m afraid they will start to recognize me and my “usual”.

My lack of cooking skills has even gone as far as pretending to cook for someone, but it was really a meal from Earth Fare that I put into my own pots and pans to make it seem as though I’m a chef (still sorry for not giving you that “super secret” recipe you asked for). I thought I hated cooking. I thought I was bad at cooking.

Except for breakfast. I can make a mean breakfast sandwich. This perfection has come from the mere fact that it was the only thing I knew how to whip together.

I always thought I didn’t know how to cook and the only things I knew to make were ones that only needed to be microwaved in under 60 seconds. I don’t think we’ve ever used the oven in our house and I’m not even sure if it works. When I do eat at home it consists of snack foods and my parents compare it to how a child would eat. Normally healthy, but your basic banana and peanut butter, carrots and hummus, mixed nuts, etc. I love smoothies but never take the time to cut up fresh fruit. It’s always canned or in the freezer.

As a twenty-two year old, I can read. I can read and follow a recipe. Cooking isn’t hard to do if you’re following a recipe. The steps are laid out for you. And numbered. So if you can count and you can read, you can cook. I say that, exclusively, because I have a few friends who are actually fantastic at cooking. I’m not talking about making ramen noodles or following steps, but they actually take fresh food and create flavors and pairings I never would have thought of. That kind of cooking is not what we are really talking about today. Today is all about beginner cooking. Cooking 101. Cooking as in “I just figured out how to grill a chicken without it being raw on the inside or burning it”. Kudos to my higher level friends and please, take me under your wing.

Recently, I’ve been on an endeavor to eat more creatively. I’ve started to take the vegetable cans I’ve been saving for an apocalypse and actually cooking with them. I’ve been using the cutting board and spending time chopping my fresh vegetables instead of letting them go bad sitting in my refrigerator or just snacking on them with hummus or ranch. I’ve created real, healthy meals, people. This is big. And you know what I’ve discovered?

I love it.

There’s something special about listening to some music , drinking a glass of wine, and cooking dinner for yourself.

Or cooking for someone else. One of the most satisfying moments I’ve had recently has been to cook dinner for someone and watch them enjoy it. I made a point to write down what I had put together (so I could make it again if it was successful) and actually gave this recipe away. I didn’t have to call the guy at Earth Fare and ask him what was in my dinner, but I knew for myself and it was something I could be proud of.

Something else cooking helped me remember?

It’s so much better for you. Knowing what is going into your food dramatically has helped lower my A1C number (my blood sugar). I’ve created substitutions for myself so I’m not always using butter or drowning my food in various sauces. There are actual ingredients and spices you can use to find these flavors that are significantly better for you.

Of course, Chick-Fil-A sandwhiches with American Cheese and (extra) CFA sauce will always hold a special place in my heart. But my all day, slow cooked, sweet potato crock pot recipe or my stuffed avocado is taking a close second. It also creates leftovers for lunch the next day and less insulin to be measured in a syringe.

Growing into adulthood relies on the small successes. Cooking myself dinner is a victory.

Open Your Eyes You’re Alive

*PSA This post is long and very personal. It’s something I’ve always wanted to address but needed to wait for the right time. It’s gone through numerous drafts at different stages in my life and one day when I’m courageous enough (or had enough wine) will be published. It’s scattered thoughts and has just been added to, never re-read. I didn’t want to edit each section, as I wanted my raw thoughts just to come out. *

If you read my last post (or know me in the slightest), you know that I began training for a half marathon back in August. I was excited and nervous but mostly determined to run 13.1 miles and focus on overcoming the challenges associated with diabetes. Unfortunately, that half marathon did not happen due to two foot surgeries that I inevitably had to undergo later in December.

But this post isn’t really about that. A few weeks ago was National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. A week that usually goes by and the majority of us don’t think too much of. Ever since our pre-teen years, we have been warned of disorders such as anorexia and bulimia. We’ve been taught the signs and know the damage that they cause. But what if you know someone that eats whatever they want (pretty much constantly because they will always feel hunger) without ever secretly going to the bathroom afterwords, such as a bulimic would?

Okay, let me clarify that. They will not go to the bathroom afterwords to purge their food but inevitably they will end up going to the bathroom constantly to urinate. This is a sign you have never been taught in health classes and one that easily goes unnoticed.

This person will rapidly lose weight, as all the sugar they consume is excreted through urine or still in their blood stream. Their muscle mass will decrease even if they are working out. They will be extremely thirsty, tired, and frail. Not to mention, this weight loss happens very, very quickly.

Now, to stop beating around the bush, this is called “diabulemia”, an eating disorder you’ve probably never heard of. In a sense, it can seem like a dream, “What do you mean you can eat whatever you want, be as lazy as you want, and still lose weight?” In reality, it is a nightmare. And it is something I have continuously struggled with for a few years.

That’s actually the first time I’ve put that into words: that it’s ME who’s had this problem. But, fortunately, it has been me that has conquered it and to be honest, conquered it almost only by myself without saying the words out loud and without help. For a while, it was me ignoring that I was diagnosed with this disease and hoping that if I pretended it didn’t exist, then it wouldn’t. Then, it spiraled into something much more.

I’ve always been average. I’m average shoe size (9), height (5’4″) and now average weight (125 lbs). Now, some people would argue that I’m smaller than average, and if you can image that then you can imagine that only a few months ago or over a year ago when I was only a couple pounds over 100. It was the “dream diet” that I didn’t even have to think about that got me there. Some might not have ever noticed thanks to my many Comfort Colors large t-shirts, but those that saw me in less than a t-shirt down to my knees noticed. But let me tell you, both of the times I got to that point, I ended up in ICU fighting for my life.

I would like to take this chance to personally thank the one true friend I had come to me with concern. I wasn’t taking care of myself and she knew this. Diabetes isn’t a disease many people know how to handle, but that aside, this person knew how to flat out just be a good friend, and that was good enough. The letter you wrote me was the first and only time anyone (besides my very concerned parents, who flat out told me I “looked like I just came from a concentration camp”) expressed real worry. (You know who you are: that letter is still in my room and I thank God everyday for you and your friendship.)

Even though this friend and my parents saw a quick physical difference, no one knew the true reasons behind it. Yes, I wasn’t taking my diabetes seriously and I would less than frequently check my blood sugar or care enough to take insulin. But there was more to the story than just that: it was on purpose. I knew the consequences, I could feel them in every inch of my body. But as the story goes, you don’t think it will happen to you. You don’t think you’ll be holding onto your heart telling your parent that “this might be it, my heart and my body are going to stop any second if I don’t get back there” in the waiting room of the emergency room.

They say that about 1/3 of female diabetics engage in this activity in some way: manipulating their insulin amount. And it is the most dangerous thing you can do to yourself. When you’re faced with the task of constantly thinking about what you’re eating, the amount of carbohydrates, calculating how much insulin you need, what emotions you’re feeling, and the amount of exercise you’ll be undertaking later in the day to stay at a constant blood sugar level of between 75 and 130, it is no wonder that so many people go through this. It is all you’re thinking about.

I think that for me, it was being diagnosed so late. I never had to think about it and all of a sudden I was faced with college (and bolton) and having to think of all of these things 24/7. There’s never a second of the day I’m not thinking about it, you don’t have a choice.

But it has taken me until this point that even though I’m thinking about this continuously, it is my choice and it’s my life on the line. Diabetes affects your mentality, your kidneys, eyes, heart, nerves, feet, pregnancies, and life. I had so many medical professionals pushing this down my throat numerous times and for a long time, I brushed it off and didn’t think it would happen to me. But people die from this, every day.

I thank God everyday for another opportunity to realize that even though this is a disease, it is something that I can manage, and live a fulfilling life. It really is up to you and I encourage anyone reading this to take that into your own life. Everything you do is going to affect you later and that took me a long time to realize.

See ya on the farm

The countdown continues: four days until Bonnaroo. As I was making a list of things to do before we leave for TN, I had to make a decision. Should I wear my pump or pack vials and syringes? Technically, I should always be wearing my pump; it’s what my doctor wants anyway. There’s pros and cons to both. If I use vials and syringes, I don’t have to worry about tubing getting caught when we’re dancing and can wear my sundresses without a problem, but on the other hand, it’ll be so much harder to control my blood sugar. Being so active and dancing and walking around all day will make my blood sugar be a little lower, especially since I won’t be eating as much as I usually do at home. That’s definitely not something I want to deal with at a music festival. If I wear my pump, I know I’ll be so much safer, but have to consider having a lot of back up supplies in case my site gets pulled out and have to be strategic when I’m planning my outfits.

Really, I would be crazy to not wear my pump. The excuses I have not to are petty, and I know that. Planning for big events or vacations like this always make me nervous because I have to be more careful than usual. Since we are going to be camping, I’m going to have to make sure my insulin stays cool in our cooler the entire weekend and I’m going to have to make sure I pack more than enough supplies, snacks, and be sure to keep my medical ID bracelet on the entire time.

At the beginning of the summer, I went on Beach Week with a couple of the bars in Athens. I checked over and over again before we left to make sure I had everything, but sure enough I realized when we got there that I had left my new bottle of test strips in my car back in Athens. Thankfully, there were about 100 people there and one of them happened to also be diabetic. I didn’t know him until the trip, but I don’t know what I would’ve done if he hadn’t have been there. I don’t think I’ll be that lucky again if I forget something at Bonnaroo, but lesson learned. 

A Sweeter Kind of Easter Basket

I never noticed it before, but it seems like every holiday, grocery stores are filled with “Holiday Isles”. I have to admit, Easter candy is my favorite kind of candy. The hollow chocolate bunnies are my guilty pleasure. My mom used to buy herself and I each our own hollow bunny. This year, I didn’t receive one. My first Easter basket was from my parents. Of course there was some of your typical Easter candy: eggs filled with jelly beans, mini chocolates, etc. As my step mom passed out the baskets, she commented, “yours is the one with sugar-free candy, too”. Sure enough, this is how the most of my Easter went. Last year, I felt awkward around the holidays receiving “special” Easter baskets and Christmas stockings. Now, I realize that it’s awesome because I can indulge in my gifts just as much as everyone else and not feel guilty about it nor feel sick from my blood sugar sky-rocketing. And most of the time, they taste close to the same as the original versions. (On a side note, NEVER try the sugar-free ranch at Kroger though; that is one item I will gladly eat with real sugar.)

I snuck a couple pieces of “real” candy throughout the day, but the holidays always bring up questions from people. Diabetes is a complicated disease, and I think it’s safe to say that even most adults don’t really know what you “can” or “can’t” have. I can eat candy… and anyone who lives in Tri Delta with me knows that most nights I eat the dessert at dinner (sorry, Dad… and Dr. G). I try to avoid eating as many sweets as I used to, and I use fake sweeteners when possible. I avoid sodas and sugary drinks for the most part. On the other hand, when I do eat something sugary, I compensate by giving myself more insulin. Right now, my ratio is 1 unit of insulin per every 12 carbohydrates. I always explain it as this: think about a piece of bread. Generally speaking, that is going to be around 15 carbs. Desserts and candy add up quickly. If I don’t give myself insulin right away or don’t give myself enough, I feel sick. Desserts are hard, because I never really know how many carbs are going to be in it, so I generally don’t give myself enough insulin out of pure miscalculation. So while you’re indulging in an Easter sugar high, I’ll be satisfied eating my sugar-free Reese’s… and sneaking a couple pieces of the good stuff when my dad isn’t looking. 

My Diagnosis

April 26th will mark my two year “anniversary” of diabetes. Looking at pictures from senior year, I realize how unhealthy I was. Losing 20 pounds in a couple months isn’t a good look on anyone. I was eating almost all the time, anything I could get my hands on. On top of that, I was chugging water. I was going to the water fountain between and during every class. I began to notice a pattern. After I went to bed at night, I would wake up an hour and a half later. During that time, I would chug almost a half gallon of water and use the restroom. Then I would fill up a glass of water again and take it upstairs with me and fall asleep. An hour and a half later, the cycle continued. This lack of sleep and lack of sugar in my cells reflected me sleeping all of the time. If I wasn’t at work I was sleeping (yes, this means I slept in every single class at school). My teachers thought I didn’t care about my grades and my mom thought I was just exhausted from being so busy at work and school. In reality, I was very, very sick. Both my body and my personality were diminishing, and I felt miserable.

I’ve heard many diagnosis stories, and they all seem to have a common theme: “I felt sick, was drinking a lot of water, so decided to go to the doctor and check it out”. I should have done this. Everyone knows their own body, and I knew I was sick. Whether it was laziness, fear of going to the doctor by myself, or a little of both, I never saught help.

A month before graduating high school, I was eating my morning bowl of cereal and getting ready for work. A couple minutes into eating, my eyes became really puffy and I started to feel funny. I thought that I was starting to come down with something and decided to call out of work. Ten more minutes went by and I realized I was getting worse and wondered if it wasn’t actually the flu/ allergies/ etc., so I called my mom. Mom didn’t answer, so I called my dad. Dad didn’t answer. At this point my face was completely swollen and I was unrecognizable. Eventually my mom called me back, and I told her I thought I was having an allergic reaction to something. We concluded it was from soy milk. She told me not to worry, and that she would be home soon with some medicine and hung up.

Now, if you know my mom at all, you know that the people she works with influence her a lot. At the time, most of them were in the medical field and knew a thing or two about everything. My mom calls me back only a couple minutes after hanging up and frantically asked if my throat felt itchy or if it was going to close up. I told her “yes… I mean something feels funny” and began to pace around the house not really knowing what to do with myself. My mom hung up and called both 911 and my dad as she was driving home.

When she got home, she looked in panic when she saw my face. We laugh about it now. But I was very comparable to Shrek. You couldn’t see my eyes and my lips looked like I had just gotten injections. An ambulance was only seconds behind her, and we walked outside to meet them. They turned me right around inside and gave me a shot. Another man checked my blood sugar; it was almost 500. He politely asked me how long I had had diabetes.

“Diabetes? Can’t he take one look at my face and see that I’m having an allergic reaction?” was all that I could think. He asked me a couple more questions, ones that I don’t think my mom and I will ever remember because we were both in shock. They told me I was going to go with them to the hospital, and my mom, just as confused as I was, told them it was okay and that she could drive me there. They looked at us, realized we didn’t know what was going on, and said that that’s not how this was going to happen.

They carried me into the truck, and my dad arrived at the house. In “Tony-like” fashion, my dad came to the back, told me he was there, and hoped in the front of the truck. Still to this day, my dad says that riding in an ambulance was something he had always wanted to do and getting to honk the horn was probably a million times better than how I was feeling in the back. He jokingly reminds me “how cool” it was and I tell me that I missed out.

When we got to the hospital, I was still very concerned about how swollen my face was, I had completely forgotten about the diabetes topic. Well, the rest of the hospital staff was quite the opposite. My family and I kept reminding them why I was there and they kept ignoring that fact. Tests were done and blood was drawn. No one ever really came up to me and gave me a proper diagnosis. A nurse came in and taught me how to use a syringe and told me about carb-counting. My dad kept asking if this was important because we didn’t have any results yet and after all, I was just there for an allergic reaction to soy milk. In a nutshell, they told us that we should pay attention, because there was a 99% chance that I was going to leave the hospital with all of the supplies they were showing us.

It took me about an hour to give myself my first shot. My father cried and my mom was distraught. Four days later, I left the hospital with medical supplies and numerous binders of information I needed to learn. My doctor explained that I was sick and was never going to be cured, but this disease was now my responsibility to manage.

A couple days after I left the hospital, I lost my eye sight. Going from 20/20 vision to waking up one day not being able to tell if you’re looking in the mirror was terrifying.  This is normal for a new diabetic, as my blood sugars were constantly going up and down. I was doing a good job of tracking my blood sugar and carbs with pen and paper, but this was still to be expected. I had teachers read me my tests and some days, I just wouldn’t go to school.

The past two years have been full of ups and downs. I’ve left my doctor’s office crying because he struck fears into me that I could never fathom. Losing limbs, organs shutting down, permanently losing my eye-sight, or going into a coma could all be a reality if I didn’t start to realize that this disease “isn’t just going to go away”. Some days, I check my blood sugar out of habit. Other days, I ignore the disease all together. On those days, I feel sick and am putting myself in massive dangers.

It’s weird for non-diabetics to understand why we “celebrate” our anniversary. This year, I am celebrating because I am thankful for my health. I am lucky for getting diagnosed before it was too late. This year, I am celebrating my faith, because four days in a hospital helped me to regain it. This year I am celebrating my friends and family. I am so incredibly thankful to have a boyfriend who will sit on the couch with me just to feed me as many cookies as I need to bounce back from a low, and will remind me to reattach my pump when I forget. I am also so thankful for my parents who will do anything in their power to make sure I am healthy, and my friends who ask all the questions in the world because they want to make sure they understand.

“I have an entirely new sense of what’s important. Diabetes helped me put family first and made me appreciate life, not just as a whole, but in the minute by minute.  It’s a kind of appreciation that may only come when you know the chance of death is, if I may quote the Rolling Stones, ‘just a shot away.’”-Michael Aviad