Diabetes & Dealing With Anxiety

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Lauren Kneeland, University of New Hampshire '21, 2021 NextGen Fellow

Living with a chronic illness can be a lot at times. I remember being told the odds of depression or anxiety occurring in those living with type 1 diabetes is two to three times more than the average person. I always thought I would never be in that position. I had a good grasp on my blood sugars, and my A1c had always been relatively in-target. I was diagnosed with T1D at age 8, and honestly had not run into many issues with my diabetes until I was about 17. My senior year of high school, I began to let my numbers slip. I wanted to be like everyone else at school and not have to worry about bolusing for food or dealing with highs and lows. I was burnt out. Even though I was well aware of potential long term damages I could cause, I was beyond feeling the weight of that; I was too focused on doing what I wanted to do. While I eventually got through this period of feeling like I did not care about my diabetes, college presented a whole new set of challenges. 

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"I wanted to be like everyone else at school."

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While I expected dealing with my diabetes completely on my own for the first time to be difficult, I was not expecting the mental toll it would take. Once I got to college, the anxiety of it all started to kick in. I went from a stage of not caring about my diabetes to being constantly aware of it. It took me almost a week of being at college to tell anyone, other than my roommate, that I had T1D. I didn’t want it to be part of my “identity” at college. The thought of explaining to new people what my diabetes meant exhausted me. I wanted to just be myself. The chance of having a severe low at school terrified me. I felt like a burden to my friends and roommate when I had to stop the fun to correct my numbers.

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"The thought of explaining to new people what my diabetes meant exhausted me."

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When I wasn’t feeling like a burden, I was constantly worrying about my BG. I had been very independent with my diabetes at home, but had not realized how much having my parents nearby was an extra layer of comfort. I knew if anything went wrong, they would know what to do and take care of me. At college, I no longer had this safety net. It was scary to think about all the potential worst case scenarios and my anxiety made these forefront in my mind. 

The thought of my low alarm going off began to cause me anxiety, not for the medical reasons, but because I hated that my diabetes was causing problems for my social life. I couldn’t help but notice my roommate seemed irritated when my Dexcom alarm would go off in the middle of the night. While I understood (I think the sound is just as annoying as the next person), it hurt that something that quite literally saves my life was turned into something that bothered her. I would sit in the dark trying to open juice boxes as quietly as possible in an attempt to not wake her up. This is when I began to realize the way I was living was not sustainable. College takes a lot of energy normally, and diabetes was taking up so much of my energy at this point. As my anxiety became more and more prominent, I realized it had always been there in some ways. Though I had not declared a major, I was already starting the path of getting my psychology degree. I was passionate about mental health, and I knew I needed to look into getting help with mine.

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"I hated that my diabetes was causing problems for my social life"

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At my next appointment with my endocrinologist, I spoke to her about my anxiety. She referred me to see a social worker in the diabetes department in the hospital. I took some screening exams for different mental health conditions with the social worker. Though not an official diagnosis, she said it was likely I was dealing with generalized anxiety disorder. Though not living with T1D herself, she worked in the diabetes care department and saw people like me all the time. We spoke about everything at the first meeting and it felt good to have someone who understood me. She encouraged me to speak to my primary care doctor about treatment options. After going to see my primary care doctor, I began taking medication for my anxiety. I noticed my mind felt clear again. I could think without spiraling into worst case scenarios. 

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"It felt good to have someone who understood me."

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Now I am a senior graduating in a few weeks and I would definitely recommend other T1D college students to reach out when they are struggling. I found a group of super supportive friends who never make me feel guilty when I need to stop and check my BG. They have been there for me through everything, and it made me realize friends who make you feel bad in any way are not true friends. I’m so thankful for them, as well as the rest of the support system I have in my family and doctors. My anxiety is only a small piece of who I am now, and it no longer controls me. Connecting with other T1Ds through CDN has also helped me not feel alone. After I graduate with my psychology degree, I plan on working in the field in relation to awareness and/or mental health. I’ve learned to love my diabetes and use it to my advantage in finding my passions.

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Lauren is from Massachusetts and is currently a senior at the University of New Hampshire majoring in psychology and minoring in business administration. She has had T1D for about 15 years. She hopes to work within the field in some capacity after college to help spread awareness and help kids in the same position she was in. Lauren is a 2021 CDN NextGen Fellow.

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Thank you to the sponsors of the NextGen Fellowship, CBDCE and Novo Nordisk!