Having diabetes can be hard. Constantly monitoring BG (blood glucose) levels, giving insulin injections or managing your pump, and counting carbs can all be tough. So, how do we manage a social life while having so much already on our mind? It’s not always easy but, as a Type 1 diabetic for 20 years, I am here to tell you that it is more than possible!
The main thing to remember when out with friends, on a date, or at a social event is that your diabetes comes first. In high school, I wanted to hide my diabetes. I would be out at a restaurant with a group of friends and eat without giving myself insulin. This led to my blood sugar skyrocketing and me feeling sluggish and inattentive. Regardless of how I was feeling, I still kept on as if everything were fine and normal. I always told others I was a diabetic or it would become evident when they would see me checking my blood sugar, but I didn’t want to call attention to myself by taking out my insulin pens and needles. Being a teenager can be hard enough and throwing a chronic illness on top of it made me feel so isolated and “different.”
Many lessons have been learned and I want to share them with you. Don’t do what I did. I know the temptation of ignoring your diabetes, especially around others, can be there but it is NOT worth it. No matter where we are in life there will be something we can blame to justify why we are not taking care of ourselves. As a child and teenager, we may feel self-conscious about having this illness. As young adults, we may not want to deal with the responsibility of closely monitoring our levels. As life goes on, we become busy with work, taking care of the kids, and life in general. If we put our diabetes on the back burner though, our health is put on the line and, consequently, this can be fatal. On another note, we may want to hide our diabetes from others. We may want to hide because we don’t want to answer questions or deal with the stares. Or the energy it takes to figure out how many carbs we’re eating or how activity will affect our BG is too much to handle so we skip out on fun opportunities. Although we shouldn’t put energy into worrying what others think about us, I know that many of us go through a time where diabetes seems like this huge embarrassing pimple that just won’t go away.
All of these things can cause us to avoid having a rich and loving social life, but don’t let diabetes stop you! Take it from me, someone who has avoided social situations time and time again, and go to the event. Your avoidance will only perpetuate the angry feelings you may have against your diabetes and the sense that you can’t enjoy yourself because you’re diabetic. It may take some trial and error and you may get frustrated, but with time you’ll be able to manage your BGs all while enjoying yourself. The more accepting you are of your diabetes, the more comfortable you can be in following a routine to protect your health. The more “normal” it feels to you, the more familiar others will become with your diabetes. What helped me was that once I was more public about my diabetes, people around me were more curious than anything. They wanted to know how I pricked my finger and how I decided how much insulin to take. The less I hid my diabetes, the more vocal I became about it too. I accepted my diabetes for what it is and saw it as an opportunity to educate others about my illness. Now, I love being asked about my devices even though many people often confuse them with nicotine patches or cancer treatment. I am constantly trying to explain to others that Type 1 diabetes is not simply needing insulin; that it is a lifelong journey in controlling BG levels and finding out what tactics and methods work best for me.
The bottom line is to never ignore your diabetes. But also, don’t hide it or let it control your life. Being social and managing diabetes is 100% possible. We mustn’t forget that taking care of ourselves should always be priority. If out drinking, it’s important to know that alcohol lowers our blood sugar because our liver is too busy filtering the alcohol to release glucose into the blood stream. If drinking something with soda, juice, or a premade mix I recommend you still give yourself insulin to cover the high amount of sugar. My drink of choice is vodka and soda water with lime which is zero to low carbs. This could, and almost always does, cause me to go low if I don’t prepare accordingly. Never, ever drink alcohol on an empty stomach! It’s important that at least one person that you’re with knows that you are diabetic so that they know if you lose consciousness that it is most likely from hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) not from drunkenness, and they must alert paramedics. This is also why it’s important to have a medical ID. They come in so many different styles now that it’s easy to find one to fit your style. Most diabetics bring glucagon with them, which is injectable emergency glucose that can be administered if you have passed out. Ideally, we would never find ourselves in a situation where help needs to be called but we need to prepare for these situations as they are possible for us. I always have my checking case, emergency glucose, and monitor for my pump when I go anywhere. Depending on if you use a pump or MDI (multiple daily injections) and have a CGM (continuous glucose monitor) or not, what you bring with you could be different. It is always important to carry something with sugar in it just in case. Alcohol can make diabetes tricky, but as long as you are prepared you can still have a great time and indulge in a few drinks! As always, talk to your healthcare provider before drinking alcohol.
Managing a social life with diabetes can be a challenge but one that we certainly can overcome. We must remember to put our health first and to not ignore our diabetes. It’s imperative that others around us know that we are diabetic. As diabetics, we deal with enough stress without the added anxiety of worrying how we look to others. Remember that your diabetes does not define you and that it is nothing to be ashamed of. Go out and have a social life and flaunt your diabetes while you’re at it!
As a Type 1 diabetic for 20 years, I’ve used my diabetes diagnosis as a way to teach others about this disease! I want to become a health educator in the future and am doing all that I can, now, through my instagram @diabetic___dani. The online diabetes community has taught me SO much and I want to help not only other diabetics, but also non-diabetics that might not know much about diabetes.