Being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes is a challenge no matter the person’s age or stage of life. Personally, I was diagnosed in November of my senior year in college. In retrospect, being diagnosed as a 21-year-old can seem like a blessing, avoiding years of additional needles and doctors appointments, visits to the nurse’s office in elementary school, and the misconceptions of my young peers. However, this surprise diagnosis still managed to wreak havoc on my college life, turning carefree weekends with friends into stressful hours of carb counting and meal planning. If I had known that this diagnosis was coming, and could have postponed it by 10 years, my life would certainly look different than it does today.
"This surprise diagnosis still managed to wreak havoc on my college life, turning carefree weekends with friends into stressful hours of carb counting and meal planning."
It would have been incredible to avoid the struggles I faced pre-diagnosis. I was constantly leaving my dance rehearsals to refill my water bottle in a failed attempt to quench my extreme thirst. I remember falling asleep during classes, even during an important presentation that my internship supervisor was giving. I was losing weight quickly, but didn’t think too much of it. Despite feeling horrible- both physically and mentally- I managed to rationalize all of these symptoms because I was a college kid! “It makes sense that I’m losing weight because exercising regularly and eating well.” “Sure, I don’t typically fall asleep during class but I was up late working on a paper.” Realistically, my body was at war with itself, and I was left completely in the dark. I wish I had the opportunity for an early screening so I could have known about my diagnosis ahead of time. I could have recognized the symptoms and gone to the hospital in a timely fashion. Instead, I continued to wait weeks until I was down an additional 20 pounds and the thirst was unbearable, unknowingly risking my health in the process.
"I wish I had the opportunity for an early screening so I could have known about my diagnosis ahead of time."
Truthfully, my life might be dramatically different if I had been aware of a future with T1D, and had been able to wait an extra 10 years to start that life. I could have avoided some of the challenges I’ve faced in my 20s-- requesting accommodations for my classes, pat downs at the airport to get through TSA, explaining diabetes on a first date, warning my coworkers about the constant beeping. Instead, those years could have been spent building a healthy relationship with food and my body in preparation for a life with diabetes ahead, or embracing those carefree moments that I don’t have the luxury of enjoying now.
By beginning life with diabetes at age 31, I would have a clean slate, potentially decreasing my risk of future health complications that can often accompany the disease. Another 10 years would give me time to work towards financial stability, building up funds to set aside for insulin, medical supplies, and copays for appointments. I also have hope that the future will bring certain policies in place such to increase affordability and accessibility for devices and medications, relieving some of the stressors that I face today. Lastly, a huge benefit would be simply creating more mental space to focus on other things that bring me joy like painting or traveling.
"Lastly, a huge benefit would be simply creating more mental space to focus on other things that bring me joy like painting or traveling."
While my diagnosis at 21 brought its own set of challenges, there were also a lot of positives that came out of it. Because of my diabetes, I chose to pursue a master’s degree in Health and Wellness Management, which led me to a career that I am passionate about where I help others living with T1D. I also learned how to listen to my body, building a deeper level of care and concern for how I take care of myself, and granting myself grace on the “not-so-good” days. I’ve also fostered relationships with others living with T1D, and created art that helps me connect with a greater community. I think I would still arrive at a similar place, although later in life, if I could postpone my diagnosis by 10 years. While I am extremely grateful for my place in the diabetes community, it would have been invaluable to have an extra decade to spend more time focusing on my other passions, dedicating my time and energy to a world outside of diabetes.
Editor's note: You can learn more about T1D screening on the T1Detect website from JDRF.