I recently had a student reach out to me for insight on a research project titled ‘Positive and Negative Social Impacts of Insulin Pumping.’ I really, really loved these questions. I was never asked how diabetes made me feel after my diagnosis. I got a pump because I felt like it was my last chance to gain some control over my blood sugars. I never really thought about how a pump would make me feel.
Did you ever feel excluded or underestimated because of diabetes? Was this also impacted based on the treatment you use?
Being diagnosed with type 1 at the age of 17, I had lived all of my life to that point without diabetes. Naturally, I felt very conscious of ‘introducing’ and managing my new condition around others.
Diabetes also felt extremely isolating. I didn’t know a single other person with type 1. Management tasks like checking blood sugar levels and calculating insulin doses were largely invisible to those around me. It was difficult to lean on my loved ones for support, as I didn’t feel that they would be able to completely understand the complex nature of this condition.
To answer your question, I don’t think that these feelings would be any different with either pens or a pump. It’s the diabetes itself!
Did the insulin pump change your lifestyle or encourage you to start new habits?
The insulin pump definitely motivated me to start counting carbohydrates, rather than guessing my insulin doses. I started paying more attention to my diabetes and learned how to better respond to many of the different factors that affected blood sugars. And, of course, it offered an element of convenience in my insulin dosing over needles. The variance in my blood sugars improved a lot within a few months of pump therapy.
I also found that the insulin pump produced more low blood sugars during exercise than injections ever did. Having rapid acting insulin as my basal, rather than a long acting insulin used with injections, made it easier to go low while I was on my feet at work or doing housework at home. Physical activity with a pump requires a lot more planning, which for me is a little discouraging if I feel like going for a spontaneous afternoon walk around the block.
Has diabetes inspired or motivated you to join different groups? Has it, generally speaking of social impacts, improved your life?
Absolutely! Although, I don’t think I would have been keen on meeting other people with diabetes in the initial years after my diagnosis.
I began using Twitter with more of a diabetes focus when I started my blog in 2015, which connected me to a vibrant online community of people with diabetes from all over the world. This community was so valuable to me, and eventually motivated me get out and meet other people with diabetes.
Diabetes has given me a lot of confidence in regards to being more open about my condition, and I’d like to think that this confidence has extended beyond just my diabetes. Peer support has definitely improved my mental wellbeing. Diabetes is such an isolating condition to live with, and having peers to talk to and laugh with are a constant reminder that I am not alone in this.
How flexible are you with the insulin pump?
The pump will give you more flexibility if you’re prepared to put the hard work in.
For me, the pump has offered me the most flexibility in being able to customise basal insulin to the time of day. For example, being able to deliver a higher rate of basal insulin in the early hours in the morning to combat what is known as dawn phenomenon – a surge of hormones that triggers the liver to dump additional glucose into the bloodstream.
But again, the pump is only as smart as the person pressing the buttons. In this example, I’ve had to make the commitment to monitoring my blood sugars, identifying trends and making adjustments to my basal rates accordingly.
Does the changing of the cannula take a lot of time and patience?
It was definitely a learning curve in the beginning. I had to make sure that I didn’t pick an overused spot on the stomach that could bruise or bleed, that the cannula didn’t kink on the way in, and that there weren’t any air bubbles in my pump line that could impair insulin delivery. Site changes did create a little anxiety in the beginning. If it wasn’t successful and I wasn’t getting my insulin, my blood sugar would go high pretty quickly and I could be in Diabetic Ketoacidosis within a few hours.
Today, it’s just another ‘chore’ that I have to stop and get around to doing every three days.
Any additional positive or negative impacts of the treatment on the social aspect?
I’m pretty neutral on this. The pump does make things more convenient in social settings and when I’m on the go. It’s worth noting that lots of people dislike needles, so the pump is a big help there. But there’s also a lot of maintenance you need to keep on top of and more consumables you need to keep handy, so it depends on how you look at it!
I feel it’s the nature of diabetes as a whole, rather than a particular insulin therapy, that may have an influence on social aspects of life. I feel its more important that people with diabetes receive adequate support to accept their condition and live well with diabetes – from their healthcare professionals, peers, loved ones and even mental health professionals.