I’ve previously alluded to my zombie condition, but I only alluded because, well, the explanation is really quite boring since I don’t actually eat brains.

I suffer from chronic hypoglycemia. See? Boring. 

The way my dad tells the story of my diagnosis, it began when he spotted me in my car seat staring wide-eyed with dilated pupils toward the sun on a very bright day. He asked the doctor, “What the hell is wrong with our kid?” and found out that, among many other things, their kid has an overeager pancreas that shoots out way too much insulin. Pew pew! So lots of my childhood memories involve medicating with juice, having to carry a box of snacks with me to school, and waking up in the middle of the night with leg cramps that wouldn’t go away until after I’d eaten a banana and my mother had spent a while massaging my legs.

Among the joyous symptoms I experience in a state of low blood sugar are incoherent speech, drunken behavior (not the fun kind), clamminess and chills, headaches, nausea, shakiness, and dilated pupils. These days I have a blood glucose monitor but I fortunately don’t have to use it every day the way I did when I was a child. I carry glucose tablets on my key ring. I eat frequent, small meals. I don’t consume a lot of processed foods and sugar. I substitute lower glycemic index foods for higher ones to avoid peaks that lead to later crashes. I dose with juice or fruit when I’m feeling really unstable, then I follow it with a meal. I exercise regularly. And I know I’ll feel like complete caca whenever I’m sick, since illness typically magnifies the crash symptoms. My husband knows when I’m crashing and is very good at parting crowds to get me to the nearest food source. Or downing large animals for me to feast on, depending on my (or his?) mood.

Side note: Ask my husband how much he loves when I medicate in response to a late night crash by retrieving a fruit bar then huddling back under the covers and against him to try to stop my teeth from chattering. He swears that I only ever eat in bed by holding my face inches from his while I chew. I swear that he tells even bigger tall tales when he’s half-asleep.

Aside from my family and friends who know I suffer from the condition, I don’t have any problem telling people what’s going on when I sense a crash. In fact, I’ve started a habit of warning my coworkers so they don’t witness my slurred speech, shaking hands, and irritability and mistake it for something else. Most days I just deal with the irritating symptoms that accompany my hypoglycemic highs and low low lows.

cartoon credit: Mike Durbin

My most interesting symptom is the pupil dilation. It’s often one of the first symptoms I experience, so that my husband can tell me I’m crashing before I feel it just by looking at my eyes. He usually says it very sweetly, like this: “Holy sh*t sweetheart, your eyes are freaky big!” (Ladies, you know the jokes about guys telling their girls they must be PMSing because they’re cranky? My husband has never used that one since he has this one conveniently built in instead.)

But I’m not just a speech slurring, stumbling zombie. I’m also a vampire. As in, I hiss at and hide from the sun, and not just during blood sugar crashes. For whatever reason, the same jokester who decided to gift me with an overactive pancreas decided I needed chronically dilated pupils too. It’s called mydriasis, and it can freak the hell outta people, I’ve learned. It also saves the eye doctor money he’d otherwise spend on dilating eye drops when he sees you again year after year and still always exclaims, “My, what big pupils you already have!” True story: Last week after my annual eye exam the lady at the front desk repeatedly urged me to take a pair of their oh-so-sweet temporary sunglasses with me since my eyes were so dilated. She actually gasped when I told her the doctor hadn’t given me anything to dilate my eyes.

We’ll probably repeat the same routine again next year.

photo credit: Wikipedia

No way I’d let somebody flash a camera at me in that state. Hiss!

What’s interesting about the large pupil problem is that there are just as many people who gasp at it as there are who find it alluring. I’ve never seen the appeal, since during my worst crashes I’ve actually managed to make myself recoil in fear from my own reflection in a mirror. When I say you can’t see my irises to tell what color my eye is, I mean it. I don’t play around; I go for full dilation. But I can’t tell you how many men have complimented me on my big eyes and then corrected their compliments to specify, my “big pupils.” (Anyone who wants to joke they’re complimenting me for something else that’s large, well, no. Trust me on this one; that’s not it. Moving on.)

Pair the big pupils with the fact that I already have freakishly big eyes, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. I can’t get away with staring because people always feel my eyebeams and turn around to see who’s burning holes in them. And everyone thinks I’m staring, constantly, even when I’m not. Okay, so what if most of the time I actually am staring. Moving on again.

My college friend’s boyfriend–who I figured achieved states akin to my hypoglycemic crashes by recreational means–couldn’t remember my name and instead called me “the girl who stares.” When I was a young girl the other kids would make fun of me for my big eyes, and I kid you not, I actually walked around for close to a year trying to squint so they’d leave me alone. In high school the shady kids would pull me aside in the hall to ask me where I’d gotten my drugs. Y’all, my life has been hard. #bigeyeproblems (I guess that last one’s actually #bigpupilproblems. I bet that hashtag goes viral overnight.)

Nowadays, much like I just deal with the hypoglycemia thing, I just deal with the big eye comments too. My eye doctor has never made a fuss of it so I figured I didn’t need to worry, but last week I must have caught him in a chatty mood because he kept me in the chair for an extra ten minutes to tell me all about how people used to dose up in order to make their pupils look like mine. As it turns out, women used to use drops from the plant Atropa belladonna (commonly known as Belladonna or Deadly Nightshade) to dilate their pupils so they’d look like freaks because they thought big pupils were seductive.

Atropis belladonna / Deadly Nightshade            (photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nowadays, Atropis belladonna is used in a lot of legal medications including the one your doctor uses to dilate your pupils when all the rest of you who aren’t cursed blessed with my #bigpupilproblems undergo an eye exam. It’s also included in a lot of not-so-legal medications that don’t really sound like that much fun. When it’s used to kill you, you’ll want to reference the plant as Deadly Nightshade with your last words. When it’s used to make you look freaky seductive (or freaky seductive, I guess), you’ll want to reference it as belladonna, which in Italian translates to “beautiful women.”

And from now on you fools need to stop making fun of my #bigeyeproblems and understand that I’m just a beautiful woman. A stumbling, half-drunk acting, word-slurring, beautiful woman. #nodrugsneeded


2 thoughts on “Belladonna

  1. Ashley

    I too share your pain on the hypoglycemia front. We found out I had this condition when I was four and my blood sugar levels dropped down to 11 (yup). It’s so fun trying to explain it to new people while your hands are shaking, and in true drunkard fashion your words are slurring. Good Luck!


    1. stocktoc

      I think finding out at an early age (so it’s all I’ve ever known, having to always have a sugar/food source) has made all the difference. I do recall rolling my eyes when in high school it became the “fashionable” thing and girls would make a big deal out of drinking soda during class. If the teacher got onto them for bringing food in they threw the word “hypoglycemia” out there and became untouchable.


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