144. Assurance, Reassurance, and Checking My Blood Sugar Levels
The difference between useful and maladaptive.
Once upon a time, when I would feel my anxiety levels rising toward panic I would assume that my blood sugar was crashing to a dangerous level. I cannot tell you how much “emergency” orange juice I drank in those days and I absolutely HATE orange juice. Always have. Drank it anyway because did I mention EMERGENCY?
It got to the point where I was borderline obsessed with making sure I did not let my blood sugar get too low. It seemed like common sense. Keep eating to prevent those horrible sensations from happening! After doing this for some time, I was getting really good at managing my blood sugar … in my head. In reality, I had no clue what by blood sugar level was because I never actually tested that. Didn’t matter. I was totally sure that I was a blood glucose expert and that my constant grazing was warranted and effective. Thanks, anxious brain!
At one point I decided to up my game, so I purchased a blood glucose test kit. My intent was to take this to the next level and really get “protected” against those dreaded blood sugar drops.
The next day at work, we ran up against a pretty big meltdown on the network, which means I was focused and busy from the minute I walked in until early afternoon. That meant … no food. OMG. No food from like 7 AM to 1 PM? As soon as I realized how long I had gone with out eating, I immediately started to panic, which I interpreted as “blood sugar crash”! I grabbed my trusty kit and stabbed my finger to see how bad it was while I had a banana, a granola bar, and an apple juice ready to go on my desk.
My level was 96 mg/DL. If you are not aware, this is perfectly NORMAL. I tested again immediately. Same number. 96. I was in the middle of a massive blood sugar crash (in my head) but my blood sugar level was dead on perfect at 96.
Here’s where we get to the lesson. This test result ASSURED me that I was not headed into some kind of hypoglycemic crisis. I knew enough about panic and anxiety to see immediately where my error had been for months. Staring me I the face was a desk full of food and two nasty used test strips that told me that I didn’t need the food to be safe. ASSURANCE. What a wonderful tool!
Except it didn’t end there. My anxious brain told me to discard those tests because clearly the strips were bad. I went and got more strips and continued to test myself in a borderline obsessive manner for another 6 weeks or so. Always normal. Always. My body was clearly performing as designed when it came to keeping my blood glucose levels where they belonged, but I would not believe it. I was still sure that I was crashing and needed to be protected medically. I’d see a number around 95 or 96 and I’d feel much better. For maybe two hours or so. Then I was on guard again. Can you see what this was?
I was seeking REASSURANCE. Repeated assurance. I refused to make good use of the initial helpful healthy assurance and instead got myself stuck in a cycle where I would get anxious about my blood sugar level, test it, get relief from my anxiety, then repeat again and again and again. I was a perfectly healthy person frantically and compulsively protecting myself against a medical problem that did not exist, and the more I tested, the more I wanted to test.
THIS is why we talk so much about reassurance seeking and why it is a problem. I had my ASSURANCE with that first test, but I threw it away and continued to seek REASSURANCE for another 6 weeks or so until my doctor read me the riot act and I finally threw the monitor away.
That was not easy to do at all. The first week or so without my protective test kit was really scary. I even went back to get another kit, but thankfully I was able to just sit in the car for 10 minutes and didn’t actually go in to buy it. After a while, and lots of really scary moments where I was sure I was going to pass out or die in a horrible blood glucose tragedy, it started to get easier to not check. It took maybe six weeks to finally leave my blood sugar theories behind, but that effort was well worth it.
ASSURANCE is fine. We all need it. It’s part of how we learn and form cognitive models that govern our behaviors. There’s no crime in asking questions and seeking assurance. Just remember the story of my test kit and chasing a problem that didn’t exist when you feel like you want to keep asking those questions again and again. No good will come of that. Trust me. I know.