Friday, July 29, 2016

Lettuce Talk Diabetes: Interview with Libby Russell

Happy Friday, friends! Today I'm sharing the third interview of my Lettuce Talk Diabetes series, and today's interviewee is so, so awesome. Libby is a fellow blogger and person with type 1 diabetes. She has a beautifully honest and fresh perspective on having diabetes and living life to the fullest and I can't wait for everyone to read her answers to my questions. Sometimes it can be easy to get caught up in having diabetes and making it our very first priority, putting it even before ourselves as full human beings. Libby is a big believer in #MeFirst, a movement she has created to encourage people to be themselves first, and a diabetic second. Read our interview to get a more in depth view of Libby's important perspective on life and diabetes!

1 | How long have you been living with type one diabetes? Tell us a little about how and when you were diagnosed.

11 years! I was 17 when I was diagnosed, in my junior year of high school, and the season of lacrosse where I was actually hoping to get recruited to play in college. I was totally blindsided, and had absolutely no idea what to do with myself when it all went down. True to form I cried a shitload because the whole thing really cramped my style and took me away from my routine (aka my boyfriend, friends, looking at colleges, school, etc.) for a bit, and that really didn't fly with me. But, everyone was really supportive and my parents made a point not to panic. They sort of tackled it as a "this is just a lifestyle adjustment, we all need to be healthier anyway!" There was no major disruption to our family, no moping around (well, I moped a little), and no dramatics. Looking back on it, I'm very grateful that's how it all unfolded.

2 | Does T1D run in your family?

Not really. I have a second cousin who was also diagnosed in similar fashion. But that's it!

3 | What’s your favorite mantra or philosophy that helps keep you focused on your health goals?

PERSPECTIVE. We have a very serious disease. But we're not dying any faster than anyone else.

Life is so short. You think I'm going to throw a shit fit when I'm 180? Absolutely not. I am not a big fan of denying myself joy or enjoyment from anything, because I really see no value in being miserable for the brief time we're on this earth. As diabetics we're very in-tune with our bodies - so I pay very close attention to the times when mine is happy and when it's not. I listen very closely to it to learn how things work with, for, or against me. I love to sleep, stretch, and be outside. But I also drink alcohol, stay up late, and eat bagels because I live in New York City, man. That's just how we roll around here. I'm not gonna not eat bagels every now and again. I exercise when my body and brain needs life pumped into it. And I diet only when I feel like my body is slowing down or my clothes don't fit. Yes, I get really upset when my numbers go haywire, or my prescriptions get screwed up, but that's honestly pretty rare for me. And when diabetes really wears me down, I stay home from work, sleep until 11, mindlessly scroll Pinterest and watch Sex And The City until I'm too bored to keep it up, then I resume life as usual. I actually make an enormous point to allow myself to feel victimized by having diabetes on these days. This way, I'm not hard on myself about needing well-deserved breaks. Having diabetes isn't my fault, I didn't ask for this. And I certainly didn't do anything to deserve how exhausted I get from it. So I'm going to let myself be a brat about it once every few months. BUT, you better believe that after my 1 day of lollygagging I'm back out there. For me personally, almost every high and low I get can be explained. This is a constant reminder to myself that I am in just as much control over my diabetes as I am most things in my life...and during those rare times where I'm completely out of control, I just have to let it go. What's more important? To me, it's finding happiness in my daily life. It's okay if I spike to 220 for an hour after having a margarita and chips & guac with a friend I haven't seen in 4 years. I can fix that. I can't fix the time or experiences that pass me by when I miss out on things out of fear.

4 | Who inspires you to stay healthy?

My family. None of us have ever deserved the health issues we've had: crazy autoimmune things, cancer copycats, heart problems since birth, etc. My dad is the hardest worker I know; my brother is the sweetest human alive; and my mom is the most passionate lady of all time. It's insanely frustrating that all 4 of us have had a few really rough hands dealt to us. But as I get older, I start to see the good these challenges create for us. And when I'm home with everyone, the first thing we do is decide what adventure we'll do first. Are we going skiing? Hiking? On the boat?

I never ever want to be in a position where I can't do something because I stopped valuing my body and my health.

5 | What foods do you find your blood sugar likes the most?

Avocados, coconut, and sweet potato. And no, I'm not just saying that because I'm a basic white girl that lives in Brooklyn, works at an ad agency, and considers herself and Instagram "influencer". I genuinely feel better when I eat those foods specifically.

6 | What kinds of exercise does your blood sugar like the most?

My blood sugar loves YOGA. Spin is my personal/spiritual/emotional favorite workout...I literally cry in spin class because all of my emo nasties leak out of my eyeballs. But spin can be tough on the blood sugars because of the mix between adrenaline (taking me to bonkkkkers high places) and the cardio (taking me to dangerously low places.) Yoga is a low and slow burn that I can almost always count on keeping me in a really happy place during and after.

7 | What tricks or methods have you found to be helpful in keeping your blood sugar stable while exercising?

Ooof, I gotta be honest, this is one place I feel like I will struggle until the end of time. To set myself up for success, I typically scale back my boluses about 1-2 hours before my workout. This way, when I'm working out there isn't any active insulin working in the background to sneak up on me. I do tend to experience spikes and crashes during and after workouts. But because I am 100% incapable of sitting still, I just try and suck it up and keep moving. Honestly, as I get older, the slow burn style of fitness is what works for me. It helps me stay steadier weight-wise because my metabolism stays steady.

8 | What is one misconception about T1D that you wish you could clear-up?

Honestly, the T1 v. T2 division isn't as big of a deal to me at this point because the only way it will get easier is if we tell people the difference between the two. What I really hate explaining is the difference between high and low, insulin vs. sugar. What has carbs? Ummm not a piece of chicken. Yes, bread has carbs. Yes, pasta has carbs. Yes, you and I need insulin to "cover" carbs. Some people just can't quite get it straight and I get so tired of repeating myself. I also hate that people don't know what an insulin pump is. Again, it's no one's fault but my own. It's just so awkward telling people over and over and over again that no, it's not a catheter, and no, it's not testing my blood sugar (that's the OTHER guy that's stuck on me.) And no, as much as I wish it was, it is not a beeper. The other mis-conception that bothers me is the whole eating thing. My friends have never asked me if I can or can't eat certain things, but strangers and my grandma do. Again, it's on me to explain and educate, but it's oddly belittling when people go "ohhhh, should you be eating this?" regarding a frickin' potato chip. A lot of times I want to look at people and go, "Should you be eating this?!" Everyone just needs to mind their own bees wax when it comes to food - it's a sore subject for almost all of us as is.

9 | Are there any words of advice you wish you had been told when you were first diagnosed, whether emotional, nutritional or otherwise?

This is a marathon, not a sprint. You can't POSSIBLY do and know everything all at once. It's taken me 11 years to learn how to do a lot of the things that make my diabetes easier for me. I'm far more responsible now than I was when I was 19. I'm also more open to change and adversity. Shit's gonna happen. As you navigate this world, you just need to be prepared to embrace the madness when you're out of control, and do your best when you're at the wheel.

Your body is going to change, you're going to have some really intense times where you're not super sure you can handle everything anymore, you're going to cry on the phone with strangers at insurance companies, and you're going to have people in your life who just don't get it, but it's all up to you how you decide to manage that emotionally.

I can get really dark and dragged down, but typically, I just laugh about it. It's the only way for me to manage the anxiety and the pressure in a healthy way. I can't give the fear of what my broken pancreas has caused internally the power to consume me or I will drown.

Also always carry extra stuff. ALWAYS. Infusion sets, needles, test strips, etc. Doesn't hurt to always have a Starburst or 2 hidden in your purse. Just like, don't eat 'em for fun.

10 | What is your weapon of choice in bringing up low blood sugars?

Literally anything close by. I usually keep some sort of gummy candy around, bananas, hearty crackers (for a slower rise), Capri Sun (because I'm an adult), or...when I'm feeling NAUUUUUGHTY...frosting.

11 | What’s your favorite food or go-to meal right now?

ANYTHING WITH SWEET POTATOOOOO or brussels. Or butter. Or rosemary. Or onions/shallots. And avocado, duh.

12 | Do you follow any specific dietary guidelines that help you with blood sugar control?

No, but only because I'm an inherently lazy person. I've always chosen fun over discipline. Not something I'm terribly proud of, but it's allowed me to keep some pretty healthy perspective about limitations and my attitude towards food. Although my brain immediately switches to rebel mode when I'm told I can't have something, I try to eat as clean and in-season as possible. It's not always a perfect method but I'm much more personally connected to real food, than "healthy" food. The earth creates so many amazingly edible things, why would I want to rip something out of a plastic wrapper and throw it in the microwave? Seems like a missed opportunity on all levels. I try to eat low-carb breakfasts always, but especially at work because I'm sitting for most of the day, and it's just easier on my body. Also bagels. Fuckkkk I just can't say no to them. Like, almost ever. But I only let myself have them on Saturdays and only if I'm walking around afterward.

13 | What are your tools of choice (pump, pens, syringes, cgms, glucometers, etc.)?

Did pens for 6 years, have had a Medtronic mini-med for 5 years. I switch meters every now and then, but also now have a snazzy lil' Dexcom!

14 | You’ve talked about this on I Have The Sugars - can you touch on how to be open with your employer/ co-workers about your diabetes without making it become a “thing”?

I tend to start slow. Build relationships first, then sneak it in in conversation. Pepper it in. I'll also rely on social media to do the awkward ice-breaking for me. I'll post a self-promoting thing on FB or Insta and just hope they see it, read it, and we never have to talk about it again. I also tend to reach down my shirt and pull my pump out in the middle of the takes a while for me to get comfy doing that. But once the cat's outta the bag (or I guess...the pump's outta the bra) it's a lot easier to just stick with the openness. Once people are comfortable with me as, it's a lot easier for them to ask questions and try to find ways to be supportive. They're all SO GOOD TO ME when I have to stay home after a bad night if we go out to breakfast and I over-bolus for pancakes, then over correct. I think inherently, humans are nosy and like being in on things. being open about my diabetes, people feel like they're in on an intimate secret about me in a way. This makes you feel closer to people - which is also cool.

15 | You are very open about your earlier experiences with a sort of “diabetes burnout” (not making your diabetes a priority due to a plethora of reasons - mostly emotional). How did you overcome this?

Time. Seriously. I didn't have like a "come to jesus" moment where someone had a very stern conversation with me or I got super sick or was hospitalized. I sort of equate it all to 3rd grade when we were told to ignore boys when they annoyed us and they'd eventually buzz off.

Once I finally accepted that this is just my reality and that I have a platform to inspire and motivate other young woman to do the best they can with it, I arrived at a much healthier place.

I've also been INCREDIBLY lucky. I don't want to jinx myself, but nothing horrible has happened to me yet. I say that I'm lazy and not disciplined, but I'm certainly motivated by my clean bill of health and disciplined ENOUGH to stay in a very safe place. I've never gone days without testing or meals without any bolus at all. I make sure to be very mindful to a point because I'm too afraid of an emergency disrupting my life. I also have an amazing support system filled with empathetic and sympathetic people. For example, my boyfriend has a really bad back, and has since he was a kid. Because of this, he understands invisible misery. Even if he's not overly emotional, he can understand what I need without spoiling or enabling me to form bad habits. He's even tried on an infusion set before (and even slept with it on) to experience what it feels like. He's pretty fuckin' awesome.

16 | You talk a lot about the fact that you are #MeFirst and a diabetic second, can you share a little about the difficulty in balancing not letting your identity become diabetes while also keeping blood sugar management a priority?

I am 100% unwilling to be an unhappy person. I'm too lazy to be aggressive towards myself or my diabetes. When I finally accepted this as my reality, I pulled up a seat, and put down a place setting for my diabetes to sit at my table of life. There's no point in totally rejecting something that's going to be there forever. I hate, and I mean HATE being miserable. When I'm down and out, I get so anxious. Being miserable just makes me more miserable. So I work very hard not to feel that way. And I do that by addressing my bummers head on. If I see the opportunity to fix something with wine or ice cream, I do that. If I need to exercise to get some willies out, I do that! If I'm feeling lonely, I make a concerted effort to surround myself with the funniest people I can find. None of those things have anything to do with my diabetes and I want to keep it that way. I don't immediately call a doctor if I spiked over 150 2 hours after a meal. I don't even consider that a bad thing, tbh. It happens.

I get so sad when I see people trying to literally outdo their diabetes. I always think to myself, "Dudes, this disease is not a sprint, it's a marathon. Pace yourself. There are going to be good days and bad days, but it's also something that's going to be there tomorrow when you wake up. Blowing all your energy staying below the yellow line every second of every minute is totally exhausting."

It's not worth it to me to blow off living my life because my blood sugar might fluctuate. It's not perfect because we have a disease, not because we screwed up and this is some punishment from a higher power. If I get dinged for being imperfect in the long run, then so be it. Also, when my mental health is out of whack, or I'm overly stressed, my numbers are garbage, anyway. So to me, addressing my happiness above all else, is the best way to manage my blood sugar.
Another big thing for me is preparation. The more organized and prepared I am for things, the less time I spend thinking or worrying about my diabetes. It's a lot easier to go to the beach for the day and focus on enjoying a hot summer day, when I know all my insulin is safely packed away in a cooler that I prepped accordingly, I have a back up infusion set, and snacks packed for lows and I chose a bathing suit that I feel comfortable in with my pump on. It's not rocket science, it's thoughtfulness.

17 | Speaking of #MeFirst, what are your favorite ways to practice self-care?

I love walking. I can walk until the cows come home. I like to compare myself to a shark: If I stop, I drown. I also love wine and doodling, take a spin class alone (alone is key, gotta let all your willies out you're own way, and if you're self-conscious about your friends seeing you, that won't happen), watch Million Dollar Listing/Real Housewives, and cook.

That's what #MeFirst is really all about. Freeing ourselves from ourselves to be ourselves. We live in a time when we have access to the universe, to opportunity, and independence. How could we possibly let a test strip stand between us and our attitude about the rest of the world? I often feel anxious or stressed about going out there and getting after my dreams, but the #MeFirst movement is to really train myself to think in a different order.

My dreams and ideas, THEN we'll figure out how to make it work with having diabetes. Not...well I have diabetes, sooooo...I probably can't do that.

18 | Where do you find support?

My work friends have really helped me creatively take The Sugars from my brain child to a full-fledged community. My followers are INCREDIBLE human beings. The Beyond Type 1 family is amazing, almost as amazing as my real family. And my man, he keeps me sane, organized, and happy.

19 | What do you want to say to the #T1D community?

I want to say that we are so fortunate. Diabetes is a pain in the ass most of the time, but we still have our independence (most of us, under most circumstances). We still have our bodies. This disease is not degenerative. It's not physically crippling (if we work to stay healthy). It's mostly just annoying.

There are days where it's super tiring. There are days when I want to rip all of my infusion sites out. But I'm still me. I still have my arms and legs and personality and ability to think and eat. That's a huge blessing. We've been handed a challenge that forces us to take better care of ourselves, that has forced us to be thoughtful, and responsible and in touch with our bodies. It has, quite frankly, made me a better, less reckless version of myself. Try to remember that on your toughest days, and you'll find strength knowing that deep down, you really are okay.

20 | Tell us a little about your blog I Have The Sugars, and where can we keep up with you and your journey?

My blog has been a labor of love for years. I always struggled to find an outlet and a voice as a person with T1D, and as someone who's always turned to writing to feel better, this seemed like the perfect outlet. It has evolved substantially over the years, and now, thanks to Instagram, I have a lot more of a real-time, community building opportunity that I didn't have when I was just emotionally ranting on my Wordpress site. I'm so grateful for the ability to evolve and grow in these different digital spaces, I think it's been an amazingly cathartic thing for so many people in the T1D community.

Thank you so much for being a part of my Lettuce Talk Diabetes interview series, Libby! You can follow along with Libby on Instagram @ihavethesugars and read her blog, I Have The Sugars, here.


  1. Thank you Libby! Thank you Bailey! I have a 17 year old daughter with T1D--diagnosed at 15. She is managing it beautifully and with grace. As she heads off to college this fall it is the diabetes aspect of her life that my greatest fears live. You both inspire me and remind me of her. It is so comforting to know that there are such powerful, smart, creative women role models, like you, for my precious girl. Thank you so much for being you, and for sharing your stories. Peace and Love, a Grateful Mama.

    1. Dear Grateful Mama,
      You are so welcome, and thank YOU for your gratitude. I know I speak for myself and Libby both when I say that it is our pleasure to share our stories If it helps someone else. Good luck to you and your strong girl as she heads to college. 💜

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