A what?? Well, for those of you lucky enough not to know what a hypo is, it’s a hypoglycaemic “episode”, a low, a wobble, or put simply, a total nightmare where, as a diabetic, your blood sugars fall and you experience something I frankly wouldn’t wish on anyone.
The textbook definition is –
“Hypoglycaemia means ‘low blood glucose levels’ – less than 4 mmol/l*. This is too low to provide enough energy for your body’s activities.” – Diabetes UK.
I however, as a diabetic of almost twenty years, have a few more choice descriptions of it. They’re not always alike and thankfully certainly not something I experience often but last week the hypo Gods of delight decided I should be the lucky one to have a particularly grizzly and very rare one bestowed on me. I know, lucky me right?
Now I’m not suggesting this is the same for every diabetic, probably far from it, this is only my experience. The treatment is the same (sugar, glucose) but the process leading up to it, the feelings, the emotions might not be. This is just how it is from my perspective, I’m no medical professional!
So the first step, the first red light warning signal for me is overthinking. Now I’m guilty of this most of the time, I am that person at 4am stressing about the tiniest of things that in the cold light of day mean nothing. This for me means thinking about what I need to do, i.e. feeling the warning signs of low blood sugars and having some glucose tablets or jelly babies to treat it, yes, these count as medicine in my house, woe betide anyone who decides they’re going to pinch one! (I’m looking at you husband…..) but not actually getting round to doing it because you start thinking about a million other things that seem to be more important (and aren’t) and the initial sensible thought of “have a glucose tablet and you’ll be fine” gets put further down the pile. Worse still is the denial stage, the “I’m fine” stage. Generally I’m not. I should point out, hypos for me usually consist of “ooh, feeling a bit low, pop a glucose tablet and she’s back in the room” Unfortunately for me on this occasion, it wasn’t going to be that way.
Now at this stage, it usually would have been fine, I’d have reached for that glucose tablet (a little hero of pure sugar in pill form) and have solved it straight away. But the day in question I’d done that thing that girls do, changed my handbag (to a very nice one I may add) and didn’t put the glucose tablets in. Rookie error. So I think, “I’ll get something to eat. In a minute.” (You can kind of see where this is going can’t you?)
I start to shake a bit, start repeating myself, get more and more confused and time starts to stand still a little. I have no concept of how long I’ve been feeling like this, a few minutes can feel like hours.
Then the fun part. (Heavy use of sarcasm here) The trippy bit. Now speaking as someone who has never experienced the trippy part of any kind of hallucinogenic drug, this is only what I can imagine it to be like. Pretty sure it’s close though. The feeling of having an out of body experience. In your mind you sort of know what’s going on and you can move around, albeit in a confused kind of way that makes my occasional walking around the house wondering what I went into the kitchen for look really normal. Taking things out of my bag, putting them back in, repeating the same questions over and over again. For me this was also the part when realisation kicked in and it finally came back to me “I need sugar”. Find a shop, (thankfully one was close) and locate the sweetest thing available. Fudge. And at this stage I totally forgot how much I utterly HATE fudge. But never mind about that, I hand over the change, with tears running down my face to possibly the most confused shop assistant I’ve seen in a while. Only guessing but I’m sure flustered, sobbing, middle aged women don’t often buy fudge.
Outside again and I feel as though I’m a pinball, being batted from one side of the game to the other. Everything seems very dark despite it being a sunny day. Voices around me are deep and echoing like you hear on TV and films when everything goes into slow motion. I want to speak, to tell people around me what’s wrong but I can’t, I know what I want to say in my head but it won’t come out. Just squeaks and the occasional sob. I feel locked in my own head. I can feel people’s eyes burning into me. I’m hot, sweating, feeling overwhelmed by it all. I want to crumple as every part of me hurts. I want to hide, to get away from all this. Even fresh air hurts my head, my bones ache and my heart is going faster than it would if David Beckham himself was stood in front of me.
I wolf down (attractive, dainty little bites it ain’t) the fudge thinking firstly “please work quickly” and secondly “this is flipping disgusting” Now, I have to admit these weren’t the exact words and phrases that came to mind as the next stage for me is the good old sweary stage. Diabetes with a touch of Tourette’s perhaps. Nice.
The foul tasting sugary treat starts to kick in but slowly. I’m a little more aware of people around me and as if by magic, the next stage begins. The remorse. The shame. The embarrassment. In the cold light of day as I type this (actually quite warm, lying on a beach right now but that’s another story) I can totally see that none of this is anything to be embarrassed by. It’s an illness, these things happen and it’s ok, I’m ok. But at the time the total and utter embarrassment hits you like a slap in the face with a giant wet fish. Let’s face it, to any casual observers, the sight of a grown woman with tears running down her face, sweating like a pig, shaking, swearing and stuffing fudge down her neck as though her life depended on it is a bit weird.
But the simple fact is, my life did depend on that fudge. If I hadn’t have had that pile of sugar then I would have reached the next stages of a hypo which thank God I have never experienced and never wish to. The passing out, the coma, the part where you’re simply not around anymore. And call me old fashioned but that’s pretty scary.
When people say “oh you’re diabetic?” and give you the sympathy look, with head tilted to one side, you nod and explain (if asked) about the injections. “Oh I could never inject myself” they say. You assure them that it’s fine, it works, it keeps you alive. And then that’s the end of the conversation. A lot of people don’t know about the hypos, the side where it’s not so easy. A lot of people get confused by the “different types” of diabetes, aren’t sure if I need sugar or shouldn’t ever go near it. Not a problem, as a non diabetic, why should you know?
But next time you work with a diabetic colleague, meet someone who has it or have a friend who has it and you know little about it, just ask. That day last week has given me a nice sharp kick up the behind to remember to put my glucose tablets in my many handbags. I don’t want to feel like that again, it’s pretty grim. And I’m immensely grateful to the people I was with that day who pretty much saved my life. Sounds extreme but if I’d have been left without help, I’m never sure if I ever would make it.
Oh, and if you meet a diabetic who has a stash of jelly babies? Go near those sweets at your peril! (Still looking at you husband….😘)