What’s Your Wild Card?

Yesterday, I spoke at a conference called TCOYD: Taking Control of Your Diabetes. It’s a great conference devoted to helping people who live with diabetes do it better. I gave two talks: one about “Emotions: The Wild Cards in Diabetes” and another on “Dealing with Diabetes Related Stress, Burnout, and Other Emotional Issues.”


These topics are generally well-received because people who live with diabetes understand that emotions, stress, other life issues can make diabetes more unpredictable than it normally is. The hormonal fluctuations that come with stressful events can lead to changes that often make blood glucose levels go up (but can sometimes make them go down). Understanding may only come after an experience, when you look at your meter, see that it reads 305, and say, “Oh my, I guess that meeting was more stressful than I thought.”

During my first presentation, I asked the members of the audience to identify their own “wild cards.” They each received a 3×5 card on which to write down this information and come up with a plan to deal with the issue in a positive way. Our usual methods of coping are often the ones we’d prefer not to admit to, such as overeating, smoking, drinking, watching TV, or raging at others when they look at us the wrong way. These behaviors are human, and some may actually make us feel better briefly, but they don’t always line up with how we want to behave or with how a person might like to care for his diabetes.

For example, here’s a potential situation: A person experiences stress (which can cause blood glucose levels to be erratic) and does something to make himself feel better (like overeat, which also affects blood glucose), so his blood glucose levels end up experiencing a double whammy. This is also something he’s not likely to be proud of, so maybe he stops checking his blood glucose levels because he knows he won’t like the results and don’t want his health-care provider to judge him. This, in turn, can lead to more stress, guilt, and shame, further compounding his struggle to live well with diabetes. How can he address this vicious cycle?

The second presentation I did yesterday was on the stress of living with diabetes and its interaction with other life stresses and depression. For this presentation, I had a solid hour of slides and planned to cover all the potential interactions in addition to the ways people might do a better job of managing this complex issue. But I changed my mind right before the talk began; I’m not sure why, but I’m glad I did. Instead, I simply asked the audience why they came to this session and then I listened to this wonderful group tell me about the combinations of issues they had in their lives.

A couple told me about how they had each struggled to control their blood glucose since the loss of their daughter three months ago. One woman talked about her loneliness since her husband’s death and how hard it is to be interested in any food preparation since she has no appetite anyway. Another young woman said that she struggles to balance caring for her children, dealing with a husband who is out of work, and helping a mother who has complications with her own diabetes in addition to holding a job and managing her own diabetes. These are just a few examples of the voices that were looking for some compassion for the combination of issues that made their lives and their diabetes more challenging. In addition, it was clear that none of them were offering these issues as excuses to avoid doing what they knew would be good for their diabetes control. All had come to the conference to look for a better way; they wanted someone to understand that their lives were just not easy, but they also wanted support and information to help them improve on what they were already doing.

I write this blog today to ask you, what is your wild card? What stressors do you carry with you? And is there anything you want to say about this interaction? Finding your voice about these issues and owning them is the first step in beginning to do something different that can help you improve your reaction to stress and your diabetes control. So take the time now to identify your wild card, talk or write about it, and then start looking for some fresh ideas for how you might address it in a new way.

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  • Ephrenia

    I know that when MY blood sugar gets low I can become very irrational and angry over issues which normally wouldn’t bother me that much. It is possible that can be affecting your husband, too.

    As for the starch vs sizing debate… stick with the sizing. It could very well be something he doesn’t overtly notice that bothers him, different scent, different feel, whatever. Perhaps the blood sugar issue exacerbated how he reacted to it, but its a hard call. For some reason, when there’s a major medical issue involved, we tend to want to blame everything on that issue and often miss other things. (I speak from experience on this. I have a child with bipolar disorder and often had trouble determining what was “kid” or later “teen” moodiness and what was illness based.)

  • Kim

    My husband has been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. He is a very intelligent man, can be very emotional, is passionate about life issues. There are times when he will just get in a “mood” that is completely unpredictable, comes out of no where and the things he says can be pretty irrational. I don’t necessarily argue with him, but it becomes an argument because I’m trying to reason with him about whatever is bothering him and his complaint/problem is really very unreasonable. For instance, he flew off the handle a while ago because I bought spray starch rather than sizing to iron his shirts with. I’m wondering if this type of mood swing and irrational behavior is related to his low blood sugar level. He tends to forget to eat and when he finally does, it’s at the point where he has the shakes. Any help/information would be appreciated as I have my own issues with depression/menopause, etc.

  • Umashankar Mukherjee

    I am 51.Live in India.I am diabetic for quite a few years but Because of errectile dyfunction,i am having very sad life.my wife complains always.what shall I do?

  • whatever1

    I found your blog/article as I was searching for articles on Diabetes and Erratic Behavior in Adults. My husband has Type 2 Diabetes and last night his sugar, normally in the 120-130 range, was at 310. He had also consumed several alcoholic drinks. I encouraged him to take one of his Glucophage pills and he did so, saying it had been some days since he had taken one. I thought this might account for the spike in his sugar.
    However, my question is this: after taking his meds, he began needling me with words about a certain situation that occured quite some time ago in our marriage and it turned into a full blown argument in which he said some awful things, but things I had heard before (i.e., this is an “old argument” for us). Nevertheless, I did not sleep well. This morning when he awoke, I brought it up and he said he remembered nothing of it. We watched tv, he said, talked, then he went to sleep. Is it possible for a spike in his sugar to result in memory loss or “blocking”?

  • p2

    What is the answer for “whatever1”? I have a similar situation with my spouse. Is it her diabetes?