For a person with diabetes, memory is a tricky thing. Out of control blood sugar, levels interfere with not just memory but how we view the world. When blood sugar is high or conversely too low, a person living with diabetes will have distorted perceptions and feelings.
When blood sugar levels return to normal, reality tends to kick us right between the eyes.
What then? Every situation is different. Sometimes we have to apologize regarding our behavior, when high blood sugars (the stranger) comes along.
In the song “The Stranger,” Billy Joel talks about the stranger in ourselves and how we hide parts of ourselves to our partner, until one day our best behavior disappears, and our true self-emerges.
As human beings, our defense mechanism prevents us from being 100% honest with our self and others. We hide a portion of our personality. It is truly for the protection of our self and our relationships with others. Some things are best left unsaid.
So, when blood sugars go high, these defense mechanisms tend to fall apart. The voice that says, “don’t say that” or you will hurt the one you love goes away.
When the stranger comes along, and our thought process gets distorted, we start acting on impulse instead of maintaining our well thought-out behavior. There are ways to reduce the personal damage that occurs.
How the Stranger Almost Ruined My Relationship
Several years ago, I had just started dating a great woman. I had been thinking about seeing her for days. It was on a Saturday, and she was to come over in the early afternoon. My fasting blood sugar was 98 mg/dL that morning. At the time, it seemed my day was off to a beautiful start.
I had gone on the Internet for a while and lost track of time. I hadn’t eaten yet, and it was now 1 pm. Unknowingly, my blood glucose (BG) level had risen to 250mg/dL. I felt tired, and I was ravenous. I was angry with myself for not paying attention to my blood sugar levels. Feeling depressed and not wanting to talk to anyone, I called to confirm my date.
Before I got a chance to say anything, she told me that she was not going to get to my house until 8 or 9 pm. Instead of being grateful that I had more time to get myself together, I said that she had some nerve and the rest of the fight was a blur. By the end of it, our relationship was almost over. I hung up the phone and said, “What else could go wrong?” But I didn’t want to find out.
So, I gave myself a huge shot of insulin to compensate and ate something. Still confused and not realizing that my girlfriend may not be coming over I started to clean for her arrival but I didn’t have the energy to clean my apartment. Against my better judgment, I went back to sleep. The pain was over. I was lucky that I didn’t go into a hypoglycemic reaction.
It was 5 pm, and I had just woken back up and realized what I had done. I was still physically and mentally exhausted when I called my girlfriend back and informed her that my blood sugar was high and I wasn’t thinking clearly. We talked about how to reduce the emotional impact this situation had on both of us and how she could help me when I am in that state of mind.
Monitoring Blood Glucose: Rules to Live By
Here are the rules of engagement we came up with during that conversation:
Feel it! Check it! Tell it!
- If I feel sick or down, it is my responsibility to myself and my relationship to check my blood sugar.
- If it is out of normal range, it is my job to tell those around me and those in my relationship.
See it! Say it! Do it!
- When my girlfriend sees I am either acting out of the ordinary or seem sick, it’s her responsibility to let me know.
- It is my job to be gracious by not disregarding her observation.
- By checking my blood sugar and tell her the results I am showing her that her opinion is important to me.
If it’s high, let it fly! If it’s low, let it go!
- It is my significant other’s responsibility to be understanding and not take comments personally when I have high or low blood sugars. This responsibility falls in line with don’t sweat the small stuff.
It’s not your fault!
- Regardless of blood sugar levels, both of you need to keep in mind that if it is out of the normal range, it’s ok as long as actions are taken to move it back in range.
- There are about 100 various factors that play a role in one’s blood sugar levels, and only a few of them are capable of being managed.
- As long as you are managing the ones that are within your control, like monitoring the levels and adjusting as needed, you are doing well. (More on what is the proper management in later blogs!)
It’s your fault! (without this, the above won’t work)
- I put this one in for myself and now for you. It’s my fault if I am one of those people who choose not to get help, or don’t actively or refuse to take care of my diabetes management.
Eliot LeBow, LCSW, CDE, is a diabetes-focused psychotherapist. His private practice, located in New York City and is also available via Skype. LeBow, who has been living with type 1 diabetes since 1977, treats the many diverse cognitive, behavioral, and emotional needs of people living with type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
All the advice included in this blog is therapeutic in nature and should not be considered medical advice. Before making any changes to your diabetes maintenance program, please consult with your primary physician or endocrinologist.