Grieving with T1D

KRISTEN LEWIS, CDN ALUMNA

The past year has been one of the most difficult of my life. Between car troubles, a stay in the ICU with DKA and my grandma's death I felt like I was drowning. The thing (or should I say person) that kept me afloat happened to be a boy. Someone with whom I shared my heart, my fears, my hopes and my home. Somehow he made it okay, holding me on nights when I cried for the grandma I would never see again or the hospital bill that seemed insurmountable. He tested my sugar when I was asleep and I felt safe knowing the beep of my Dexcom had two potential champions ready to save the day. That was, until he left.

Diabetes prefers routine. Wake up, test blood sugar, correct if needed, bolus for food, and go to work. Throughout the day it’s a careful balancing act. Count carbohydrates correctly. Answer the annoying ding of the Dexcom and fix whatever high or low you’re facing. Make good choices.

Following the break-up I spent days unable to eat and sleep. My friends and family understood. They'd dealt with heartbreak. My diabetes didn't. If I did eat it was a handful of chips or something easily accessible and devoid of any nutrients. From time to time I'd take a sip of the glass of water by my bed or drag myself to the fridge to drink a diet soda. Between the dehydration and the lack of eating (or at times eating the worst food), my blood sugar stayed high. It wasn't dangerously high, but when I finally awoke and lost the little food I had in my system I was sure I was back in DKA.

I went to the emergency room and was hydrated with three bags of fluid. "Oh, honey," the nurse said patting my arm. "We've all been there. Breaking up is hard. You'll get through it."

But she didn't understand. No one did. Breaking up is hard, but it felt impossible with diabetes as a looming shadow perpetually following me around. Most people don't end up in the emergency room for assuming they had DKA caused by heartbreak.

During the next few weeks I struggled. My blood sugar was all over the place. Every day I'd come home and take care of my pets, but I resented that there was something inside of me that demanded I take care of myself. It wasn't fair. I'm sure that's a mantra that many people with type 1 diabetes find themselves thinking when times get tough. The truth is it isn't fair, but it's the hand we've been dealt.

Ultimately I started to get back on track. I knew I didn't want to end up back in the ER with yet another medical bill, and I knew that I had been capable of taking care of my diabetes before him and I could do it again somehow. It didn't make it easier, but every day I took baby steps... wake up, test blood sugar, correct if needed, bolus for food, and go to work. As the weeks went on, I added in exercise and then started to add things in for myself that diabetes didn't have to be considered (or at least not considered as a leading player) for. I started to volunteer. I began to write again which has brought me to this post.

Diabetes isn't fair, and grieving with it feels like a cruel joke. How can I be expected to do so much to tend to this disease when I can't even get out of bed? The truth is I don't have an answer besides ask for help. Get a body pillow. Or a punching bag. My friends and family have surrounded me in the past two months. They've kept my mind busy so that it couldn't wander to all the what-if's after a break-up... What if I had cooked more? What if I had been more affectionate? For those of my family not nearby, they lended an ear for my often repetitive rants. Between nights at the movies with my friend and her kid (which allowed me to see all the kiddie films) and days hiking in a beautiful park, I have slowly started to heal. I've realized that this break up was actually a blessing in disguise, but I try not to think about the future grief that will inevitably happen in my life. It happens to everyone. Hopefully next time I'll be able to cope, but if not at least I have a support system in place to give me a nudge when I can't seem to answer diabetes' call.   

Editor's note: Lexicon is a CDN Corporate Member and is dedicated to bringing awareness to the relationship between T1D and mental health. Watch CDN's Mental Health and T1D Facebook Live event, which was made possible by funding from Lexicon.