I’m talking hypo vs hyper. Hypoglycaemia aka low blood sugars against hyperglycaemia, that which our type 1 breed know to mean there are high levels of sugar in the blood, which is not a good thing.
The magic formula for a diabetic is to manage the food we eat and the stuff we run around doing against carefully measured doses of insulin to avoid our sugars running either too high or too low. This is an impossible task for many many reasons, but there are things we learn over time – like the way our body reacts to exercise, or how much insulin we roughly need vs the grams of carbohydrates we’re ingesting, that help keep the good ship type 1 steady. The body of a non-diabetic has this down to a tee, and will keep your sugar levels walking a fine line no matter how many roast potatoes you’ve gone for, how many miles you’ve run or how many cocktails you’ve ‘accidentally’ quaffed when agreeing to go out for just one. Hiccup. But for type 1s, hypos and hypers are inevitable. Try as you might to keep our levels stable, sometimes it just won’t work out. Sometimes on a daily basis.
I’ve gone into some detail about the extent to which hypos are a big ol’ pain in the arse (an unfortunate place for a hyperlink. But then, who doesn’t love a bold arse?!), but it has to be said that in my mind, there are a couple of factors that make it… well, bearable. I’m taking bearable in the way that getting your teeth pulled might be bearable. Or entertaining in-laws at Christmas is bearable. It’s not the option of choice, but it’s happening, so deal with it swiftly and put the sorry experience behind you. Although I need to add the disclaimer here that hypos are pretty dangerous stuff. With the right tools in your armour you can fix them quickly. But if you find yourself on a delayed tube in the depths of the underground in the small hours, it can get pretty dramatic pretty quickly.
Granted, a hypo for the most part is a sure-fire piss-on-your-parade kinda experience, and not in any way bearable whatsoever. But a hypo will *generally* warn you it’s on its way. Most of the time, although see the train wreck that occurred when I got stranded at the side of the motorway because my car had broken down in the middle of a three hour tailback without any hypo-solving supplies.
Next, a hypo never lasts very long. A quick gobble of the nearest foodstuffs that you can stumble into while you’re having trouble remembering your own name (simple, right?) and you’re good as new, give or take five minutes. I’ve been known to fall into anything from the Nutella jar (yum) to a raw sugar cube because that’s all that was handy (not so yum). Most of my hypos occur in the night, so the stumble for food is also a stumble in the dark, and a stumble in the trying-to-be-quiet, and a stumble in the still half asleep, which lends itself to throwing up some rather random hypo-solving results. Par example, reaching for the cheese and onion McCoys at 3am because they were the nearest thing left me waking up feeling like I’d munched on a raw onion; a taste which didn’t really leave for the entiriety of the following day despite an assault on the Colgate, Listerine and Airwaves. But generally speaking, it’s possible to swiftly sort a hypo without the rest of the world so much as batting an eyelid. You’re either just having a munch at home (granted, possibly in the dark) or else you’re just having a between-meal snack. Hardly breaking news.
This final reason is slightly controversial, but I really don’t think I’m going to be alone in thinking this… I’m pretty sure there’s many a weight conscious Type 1 out there who, at times, secretly relishes in the get-out-of-jail-free card a hypo gives you when it comes to eating the sweet stuff. Albeit in a dizzy haze, and the fact that the whole crashing blood sugar levels thing kind of takes the enjoyment out of the moment. There’s no time for any of this ‘savouring every mouthful’ bollox; you’ve got to chow down, and fast. But damn, some days a hypo-fixing choccy biccie tastes so gooooood. My favourite from memory was when I was dashing about as Jen the journalist reporter, running back from an interview to the office at lightening speed to get the audio edited for the bulletins. Mid-dash I was struck down with the dreaded wobbly-legs syndrome. Stopping for a moment, I clocked the pale complexion in the shop window, and felt the onset of a cold sweat. That’s when you know you’re in trouble, hypo styleee. But like a god-sent gift from heaven – cue dramatic, epiphany-moment music – the shop window in question was that of a bakery. Cher-ching. Cue 30 seconds of caramel doughnut HEAVEN.
I can hear you judging. But when you spend most of your time trying NOT to overeat, and add the pinickty diet of a diabetic into the mix with all it’s carb-counting and ‘Sugar is the Devil’ chanting, if the only positive that comes from a shoddy hypo is that it lets the woman eat some damn cake, then I’m clinging on to it for all its worth.
BUT just as your starting to lose sympathy for this so-called diabetic ‘plight’ of ours that involves midnight feasts and forced doughnut-chomping… then, oh dear readers, cometh… The Hyper.
There is NOTHING fun to be said about being hyper. The word evokes pictures of 4-year-olds bouncing off walls, but the reality of having high blood sugar for a type 1 couldn’t be further from that giddy, over-excitable bundle of mayhem. A hyper is a slow burner. It creeps up on you quite steadily, and once it takes hold it takes a good hour at least to sort out, if not longer, if not all day and all night, knocking you sideways in the process.
It ravages through your body so that you feel like you’re existing in slow motion. Your limbs are heavy, your brain is clogged, there’s a rancid thick taste in your mouth and you quite frankly want to curl up in a ball and not move for a long time. It’s absolutely disgusting, and once you’re high, you’re in fact feeling incredibly low. Snacking because you’re hypo you can get away with, but it’s slightly less inconspicuous when you want to put your head on your keyboard at work and lay there for an hour or two with your tongue hanging out.
So what then, are all the numbers about? Weellll… us in the type 1 club will test our blood sugars a number of times a day to see what’s going on, and the resulting numbers give us an idea of how much insulin we may need, or whether we in fact need sugar instead. The ideal range is between 4 and 9 mmol/l. Anything below and we start talking gibberish, anything above and we’re on the highway to the danger zone (one for the Kenny Loggins fans). Sickly mouth, curl-up-in-a-ball syndrome starts for me at around 15, but everyone is different, which is just one of the plethora of reasons why having Type 1 is such a
ball ball ache.
The trick then, is a piece of cake (ohhh, a sugar pun you say? Nice). Simply avoid these horrendous swings from high to low and stay on an even keel between those lovely figures of 4 and 9. Ha. Ha. Ha. In fact, this is the major elusive nugget to amazing diabetes control, the golden snitch of the condition. Trouble is, every single thing we do every single minute of every single day affects those glorious numbers that we find ourselves slave to. And I mean EVERYTHING. Stress, exercise, work, food groups, alcohol, running for the bus, crying, having a latte instead of tea, laughing, being sick, being tired, being happy, being sad. Everyyyyyything.
And that, folks, is precisely where the game of life as a diabetic begins…