What does a low sugar “feel” like?

There are questions I get asked from time to time, usually after a hypoglycemic reaction.  Can’t you feel it? Why didn’t you stop it? Oh and my favorite didn’t you eat? I’ve heard them all at one time or other. Actually I’ve heard all of these more than once. To a diabetic they are “duh” questions, the simple answer of duh is the appropriate response. To those who do not have to fight or control these incidents it can be a mystery as to how or even why we feel what we do when the sugar level goes rooting around in the basement. I hope to help some of you understand that we don’t want such drama in our lives. There is plenty there already.

First, can’t you feel it? Simple answer is yes. I can feel the tired, confused mental state coming before I go into zombie mode. I don’t know what else to call it. I can hear but my mind does function well with a low blood sugar. I did some checking and 15% of your blood flow goes to your brain and about 20% of your bodies resources get hogged by it. So stop and think about that for a second. Your brain is like any other muscle in your body except it used much more of, well, everything. You use it or loose it (if you even had one in the first place mine is questionable in that case) and if you don’t eat well your muscles get weak, as does your brain.

Confusion is my main go to signal of a low. I can normally understand things with little problem. Once in a while someone will try and explain something to me and because I think about things differently, it may take me a while to get it into terms I can understand. If I run into something I know I should be able to do easily but I end up having to think about it a while or over and over before I solve it, I have a problem.

I also mentioned tired. This gets kind of tricky. Is it from having a low or only getting 3 hours of sleep yesterday? Got a coin to flip? I work nights so sleep is a luxury I don’t get enough of most days. Sometimes there are just too many things going on and I have to cut it short and sweet. Other times noisy neighbors and “normal” daytime sounds get in the way of a good sleep. A low sugar causes a tired feeling because it cuts your bodies power supply at its source. That annoying sugar level in your blood is also responsible for energizing your muscles and brain as already stated. No sugar, no energy.

Second question on the list why can’t didn’t you stop it. This one is also a multi-layered question. If I do feel it getting low I will try and fix it. A question to answer the question is what am I doing? Can I stop right now or do I need to get to a stopping point first? How fast the sugar drops is a big decision maker. Is it slowly dropping or is it making like a skydiver without a shoot? I have had my sugar drop 130 points in 1 hour. Hypoglycemia is listed as below 60 so doing the math on this I would have gone from “normal” to low in only 30 minutes. It takes about 15 – 20 to get sugar into the blood stream. Just the fact that it drops that fast can add to the confusion and quick onset of problems. I’ve felt confused at 110 because just 2 hours earlier it was 478. So take roughly 368 divide by 2 hours and we get 184. An hour! This happened just the other night at work. I did not wait for the engraved invitation to come in the mail, I got a pack of peanuts butter cups and was fine until lunch. It was still down to 78 but since the fall slowed down I was fine mentally.

Anyone confused now? Yeah it sucks doesn’t it. That low sugar slowing the brain down also means I don’t think rationally. I once had 4 people at a previous job trying to tell me I should eat something and the only thing on my mind was that they were just trying to pull my leg and get me to do something stupid. Well the EMTs knew me by name back then and were able to get me to down some nasty sugar paste in a tube. By the way anyone who has never tried it should and you will understand why hypoglycemic diabetics don’t eat it willingly.

The last question on the list is truly the most ridicules. If you could see my fat frame you would understand I don’t miss many meals in life. The lows actually are a part of why I am so heavy. I have to eat to bring my sugar level up and since the doctors want to keep it as  low as possible, I eat a lot to stay above water each day. I am fine to let it sit at 250 but it is a cardinal sin for a diabetic to let it get that high. It is a constant tension point between my doctor and I.

I have a phobia of having lows. It genuinely terrifies me. I keep a cool head and low profile as much as I can in life but when my sugar gets low I get combative. Just ask my sister and a close friend who both have tried to get me to eat somethings and I ended up hurting them. I tear up just writing it down.  When I was 12 I threw a nurse across our living room after she jabbed a needle in my arm to get me out of a low. My mom said she flew about 5 feet. I am much bigger and stronger now. Would she have gone through a window now?

On more than one occasion I have woken up from a low while sleeping with the help of EMTs. I believe the most I counted was 8. They said I was fine until they tried to start the IV and then my demons came calling with a vengeance. 8 strong strapping young fire fighters had to hold me down as another started the IV to get my sugar up. That is why they knew me by name back then. If they got the call to my house they brought back up.

I fear hurting someone without being able to control myself during one of these incidents. I have in the past and regret it deeply. That is not who I am or want to be known as . I have no control over my mind when they happen so they scare the crap out of me. I can’t speak for every diabetic but I will do whatever I can to keep this from happening. If I shorten my life a few years by keeping it high but everyone is safe, I am fine with that.

So that is how it “feels” to have a low. Confused, tired and most of all terrifying.  Can I feel and stop it? Yes I can under most circumstances but there are always curves that God puts in our way to both challenge us and humble us. We just have to deal with them as best we can and maybe get a little help from our friends. The loss of control is scary and humiliating at the very least. I am not a social butterfly so the extra attention garnered by such events is never welcomed. I would much rather be the wall flower in the back of the room who tells the guys about it the next day. Oh to dream.


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