Hello! Who are you? And tell us a little bit more about your diabetes.

Hey everyone! My name is Jarrod Dickenson. I’m 36 years old and currently living in Nashville, TN. I have Type 1 diabetes for a total of I was diagnosed in March of 2021 at the age of 34.

I am a singer-songwriter – originally from Waco, TX, now based in Nashville, TN.
I didn’t grow up with diabetes. I was diagnosed with Type 1 two weeks before my 35th birthday as a direct result of having Covid-19 in March of 2020.

I got Covid right at the very beginning of the pandemic. I had been on the road touring for the early part of 2020, and the day that I first felt symptoms was the day that the entire world shut down. I went home and rode it out. After about six weeks I felt pretty much back to normal, but I gradually started losing weight. At first, I put it down to being off the road, which meant eating a little better, drinking a little less, and going for 3-mile walks every day with my wife so the two of us could get out of the house.

The problem was I kept losing weight, and it was getting harder to explain why. It got to the point where I was skinnier than I had ever been in my life. I’ve never been overweight, but even at various points in my life when I’ve worked really hard at it I was never “skinny”, yet here I was with a flat stomach for the first time in my life. I tried to convince myself that there must be some magic point in your mid-thirties where your metabolism finally kicks in for no reason, but I knew that wasn’t actually the case. It finally got to the point where I had lost 45 pounds, and you could see the outline of my ribs. I decided it was time to go see a doctor, and I received my diagnosis.

Apparently, Covid had attacked and killed off the cells in my pancreas that created insulin, and my body no longer makes it on its own, making me a Type 1 Diabetic, something doctors are seeing in growing numbers since the start of the pandemic.

My diagnosis has caused a pretty drastic lifestyle shift for me. That shift has brought along several obstacles, the financial side certainly being among them. However, in my case, the emotional and physical toll has been the biggest hurdle to overcome.

I know my family worries about my health now in a way that they never had before I was diagnosed. It’s all still very new, bringing a certain level of fear into the equation for everyone involved, myself included.

For myself, the biggest hurdle has been learning how to continue doing the things that I enjoy in life with this new body of mine. I’m having to figure out how it reacts to different situations and activities, and how to adapt accordingly. I try not to spend much time or energy thinking about how I “used to be able to do this” or I “used to be able to eat that”, as I know that will do nothing good for my mental health. I’ve tried my best to just accept what has happened, and figure out how to move forward in this new stage of my life.

“I try not to spend much time or energy thinking about how I used to be able to do this or I used to be able to eat that”

Your treatment

How do you treat your diabetes, did a lot change over the past years and are you able to manage it well?

I meet with my endocrinologist at St Thomas Midtown Hospital in Nashville, TN a couple of times a year, but administering my treatment is largely down to myself and my wife.

I currently use insulin pens rather than a pump. I also wear a Dexcom G6 CGM, and regularly check its accuracy with finger sticks.

My basal insulin is Basaglar, and my bolus is Humalog.

When I was first diagnosed, I was given Tresiba insulin pen samples by my doctor, but my insurance wouldn’t cover that brand. Since then I’ve been using Basaglar for my long-acting, and Humalog for my meal-time insulin. I was also given a sample of the Freestyle Libre CGM, and I used that model briefly but switched within a few months to the Dexcom G6, which I have found to be a little more accurate, and a more user-friendly app.

I think I manage my Type 1 very well. I’ve been able to keep my A1C in what would be considered the non-diabetic range, and I am very strict with what I allow myself to eat or drink and when I do so.

Obviously, I am still very early on in my T1D journey, but I am trying my best to manage it as well as I can.

Jarrod Dickenson Cgm

Can you recognize the symptoms of a low/high blood sugar? Do you test often and can you tell a bit more about your experiences with low blood sugar?

Sometimes, I can recognize them. I don’t feel any symptoms when my levels are too high, but when I am on the low side I feel lightheaded and fuzzy, I’ll sometimes get very warm and start to sweat, I get shaky, etc. The problem I’ve found is that, at least up to this point, I don’t always feel these symptoms right away. Sometimes there seems to be a delayed reaction where aside from my CGM alerting me I may not actually feel that my levels are dropping until I am already fairly low.

I wear a Dexcom G6 CGM, and I am constantly checking my levels throughout the day. Very rarely do more than 15 or 20 minutes go by without me at least glancing at my phone to see what my glucose level is. I still do fairly regular finger sticks to make sure my CGM is reporting accurately as well. Obviously, the number of finger sticks per day varies depending on how accurate my sensor seems to be, but I would typically do at least 1 or 2 finger sticks per day no matter what, and if my sensor has been acting up that number rises dramatically. I very likely fall into the “checks way too often” category when it comes to my levels, but I’m still very new to being a Type 1, having only been living with it for about a year and a half, and I want to make sure that I am being as diligent as I can.

I carry a small bag with me at all times that has my insulin, needles, glucometer, glucose tablets, and usually a cereal bar or two in case of emergencies. Depending on how low I am or how quickly I seem to be dropping, I’ll typically either have glucose tablets or a bite of a cereal bar to stabilize my levels.

Thankfully, I’d never fainted before.

Food and diet

How does your diabetes affect your eating and do you find being on a diet restrictive?

I am a touring musician, so when I am on the road, it gets a lot tougher to keep to a particular schedule or routine, but when I am home, it typically looks like this…

Morning:

  • Black coffee (between 7:30 am – 8:30 am)
  • Scrambled Eggs or an Omelette (usually around 10:00 am)
  • My breakfast is typically very low in carbs, requiring no insulin.

Lunch:

  • A typical lunch is a wrap (using a “Carb Balance” tortilla from Mission) with mustard, cheese, pickles and turkey or ham, a cup of cottage cheese, and about half a cup of unsalted roasted nuts. It’s about 42-45 carbs in total.
  • This is usually between 12:30 pm – 1:30 pm

Dinner:

  • We have a rotation of meals like Chilli, Lasagna, Chicken Curry (with cauliflower rice), Fajitas, etc. We’ve calculated the carbs in each meal based on the ingredients, usually between 50 – 65 carbs.
  • If I have “dessert,” it’s a 1/4 cup of peanut butter with celery, which is about 15 carbs.
  • Dinner is usually around 7:00 – 7:30 pm

Obviously, my relationship with alcohol has changed as well. I can no longer have a few beers without thinking about it. In fact, I rarely have more than one beer in an evening now, and it’s usually a low-carb beer like Lagunitas Day Time IPA, which has only 3 carbs.

My favorite food these days is “whatever keeps my levels steady”! Thankfully, many of the meals that my wife used to make pre-diagnosis are still in the regular rotation, like beef chili and lasagna, maybe with slight modifications. We’ve calculated how many carbs are in these meals, and my body seems to react well to them. Sometimes I do skip meals. But I don’t often snack between meals, but when I do, it’s usually something along the lines of roasted nuts.

I am pretty strict with what I allow myself to eat or drink. I try not to put myself in a position where I have to compensate with more insulin for something that I shouldn’t have. I know that, in some ways, I’m limiting myself to what I’m able to have and enjoy. Still, I personally find that the stress that comes with watching my levels rise after having something much higher in carbs than what I usually allow myself isn’t worth the enjoyment I would get from eating that thing.

I do drink a lot of water, and I did even before my diagnosis. I carry around a 24oz reusable water bottle and tend to drink at least 4 or 5 of those days.

Do you have a hard time eating out in a restaurant? And what are you thoughts on making this easier?

Eating out is still a new and tricky proposition for me. I was diagnosed in March of 2021, while the Covid-19 pandemic was still keeping all of us at home. In some ways, this was a blessing because it meant that I got to wrap my head around this new lifestyle in the comfort of my own home, while also preparing all of my meals at home as well. When I eat out or visit a restaurant, I often find myself ordering foods that will be easy to calculate rather than what looks the most appealing to me on the menu.

My wife and I got used to calculating the carbs in whatever we were making by reading labels and doing the math, but obviously, that isn’t possible when you eat in a restaurant. I do my best to Google the carb content in specific items on a menu, and try to make an educated guess, but the truth is I find myself not ordering what I would actually like to eat, but rather what will be the easiest to calculate accurately.

I’m sure as my journey with Type 1 continues, I’ll get more and more comfortable with guessing how much insulin to take when eating out, but right now, it’s still a reasonably stressful endeavor for me.

“Don’t let it keep you from living your life. Accept it. Work hard at it, and keep moving forward.”

Exercise and work

Does your diabetes restrict you from exercise or your daily job?

I play golf when I’m able, and my wife and I go to the gym regularly.

Yes, my diabetes restricts me from exercising and my daily job.

I am a singer-songwriter and a touring musician. That is not a lifestyle that is easy for a diabetic! I’ve spent much of the last decade or more on the road, touring across the US and Europe. Life on the road is tricky for anyone, but it’s especially tricky for a diabetic. I’m still getting used to how things have changed for me since my diagnosis, but it’s a minefield for sure.

Routine is such a huge part of keeping your levels steady as a diabetic, but routines go out the window once you hit the road. Finding diabetic-friendly food gets infinitely more challenging. Your eating and sleeping schedules shift dramatically. Then you have the added stress of making sure that you have all of your diabetic supplies in tow. How long will you be out? How much insulin will you need? How many CGM sensors will you need? Do you have enough needles, test strips, and lancets? How will you keep your backup insulin refrigerated?

With international travel, it gets even trickier as a Type 1. Traveling through several time zones throws your body completely out of whack. I’ve traveled to the UK and Europe a few times now since my diagnosis, and it’s been a struggle to get my body to adapt to the different time zone. I have to significantly lower my basal insulin dosage when traveling internationally to keep from having hypos every night, and even then, I still get regular alarms from my CGM. It can take several weeks to get my body to adjust to the new time zone, and by then, it’s usually time to go back home and do it all over again.

Final

Do you have any positive or negative effects because of your diabetes?

The main thing for me is to stay vigilant and keep a close watch on where my levels are at all times. I try to learn from any instances where levels jump one way or the other and log it to memory, so I know how to better handle a similar situation down the road.

For me, as a person who had almost 35 years of life as a non-diabetic, the hardest part has been the loss of spontaneity. I can no longer eat or drink something whenever I feel like it without consequence. That was something that I obviously took for granted before my diagnosis, and I miss that more than any specific food or drink.

I do feel like becoming T1D, and learning to manage it has further steeled my resolve not to let anything stand in the way of what I want to do with my life. Of course, things have changed, and I may not be able to eat or drink certain things like I once could, but in the grand scheme, it’s just another obstacle in life to overcome. While it is a 24-hour-a-day thing and can certainly be daunting at times, it can be managed, and you can live a full and meaningful life despite being diabetic.

Thankfully, at this stage in my life, my diabetes has not led to other health complications. I’m hopeful that if managed well, that will remain the case.

What is the best advice that you can give to non-diabetics, new diagnosed diabetics and diabetics?

I think the hardest thing for non-diabetics to understand is that we can never “switch off” or forget about our illness for a while. It really is a 24-hour-a-day disease, and that can be a heavy burden, not just on the diabetic but also on the people who live with them. It requires so much attention and energy, and that’s draining – physically and emotionally.

My best advice is that while it is frightening to be diagnosed with diabetes, just understand that it can be managed. It’s a whirlwind, and there’s a steep learning curve. You have to learn a lot in a very short period of time, and you’ll likely have to make pretty drastic lifestyle changes, but you can do it. You’ll surprise yourself with just how much you can handle, and you’ll be stronger for it.

Don’t let it keep you from living your life. Accept it. Work hard at it, and keep moving forward.

What would you ask the other diabetics?

What has been the most useful resource for you as a diabetic?

Feel free to answer in the comments below.

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About the Author

Ely Fornoville

Hi, I'm Ely Fornoville, and I am the founder of Diabetic Me. Being a type 1 diabetic since 1996, I developed a passion to help people learn more about diabetes. I write about diabetes and share stories from other diabetics around the world. I currently use a Medtronic Guardian 4 CGM and a MiniMed 780G insulin pump with Humalog insulin.

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