Hypoglycemia and Fear
What to do when diabetic blood sugar is low
March 2014 — I have written about hypoglycemia (a fancy word for low blood sugar) and fear more times than I can count. I would think that after expressing my feelings about lows so many times, that I would be out of feelings to express.
But there are some lows that bring with them a primal terror that can't be rationally dealt with. And those lows … they are the ones that rattle me deep inside.
Early in 2009 I wrote a blog post about what to do when diabetic blood sugar is low, the miserable period of time between eating something and feeling better, and the crazy stuff that buzzed through my mind.
"What if it's not enough?"
That was the killer question, no pun intended. That question created all sorts of panic and irrational fear. I could almost feel the emotions clawing their way up from my primitive reptilian brain, paralyzing all logic and rational action along the way.
"Eat everything you see, don't stop until you feel better. And then only if you're sure you really feel better."
Makes perfect sense during the brain fog of a low blood sugar — in fact it's one of the only messages that seems to come through loud and clear. Of course, after the situation passes and I'm able to think clearly again I can see that eating my way through a low isn't the smartest thing to do. But it's nearly impossible to remain calm in the middle of the crisis. Though maybe we're just not appropriately trained for it? Do you know what to do when diabetic blood sugar is low?
Remember the Helicopter
In the blog post I mentioned above, a Marine veteran commented about a training exercise where he was strapped into a mock helicopter, blindfolded, dropped twenty feet into a pool of water, then flipped upside down. He had to learn to just wait a moment before reacting, and he had to know that staying calm was the key to surviving the exercise.
It made me think that remaining calm in crisis situations is nothing new.
There are entire fields of work and life where knowing how to remain calm in high-stress situations is what it's all about. I'm thinking of groups like the Armed Forces, the Secret Service, police, fire, ambulance, first responders, etc. These amazing people are trained to keep it together where the average person would mentally fall apart.
They are trained to stay in the zone when all of their reptilian brain instincts are telling them to do just the opposite. Through their training they are able to maintain rational thought and precise action through situations more intense than we can imagine.
We need that part of their training! In some ways, what we experience with low blood sugars isn't much different than what the underwater, upside down, blindfolded Marine experienced. Which was exactly his point. Learn to stay calm, learn to trust your instruments, learn to follow your training, and you'll be fine. You'll know what to do when diabetic blood sugar is low.
On Our Own?
But we don't have drill sergeants or tried and true training regimens to build that discipline. We are trying to emulate the crisis training of Marines with half-baked ideas of our own and pure self-discipline. I realized this during a late-night low as hypoglycemia and fear trapped me in the vortex of ‘more milk, more cereal' until the roof of my mouth was so raw I was sure I'd scraped through to my nostrils with Fruit Loops.
"Remember the helicopter" is a great mantra, and one that I use as often as I can. While I have more opportunities than I'd like to practice treating my lows rationally, it seems I need more than just a mantra and practice. Maybe we've figured out what to do when diabetic blood sugar is low — stay calm.
Maybe I need my own diabetes drill sergeant...
dLife's Viewpoints columnists are not all medical experts, but everyday people living with diabetes and sharing their personal experiences, most often at a set point in time. While their method of diabetes management may work for them, everyone is different. Please consult with your diabetes care team before acting on anything you read here to find out what will work best for you.
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Lows are really nothing new to me. In the past (almost) 22 years, I've experienced every variety of low blood sugar. Two seizures, multiple black outs, the "I'm fine" at 32, the nauseating 85, and everything in between. That certainly doesn't mean that I'm used to them or that each low doesn't feel like a new and treacherous journey. They still scare me. They still annoy me. And they still overrun my life at times. Since I've hit the gym and the calorie counting on an aggressive...