Starting college reminded me of how I felt when I was first diagnosed with type one diabetes (T1D). Being thrust into a new beginning is terrifying, but while discovering how to fit into a new world, it is vital to realize how diabetes fits in as well.
I was diagnosed with T1D two weeks before starting high school. I had only known life with T1D in the context of school, sports, and home in a small town. Diabetes was my own cross to bear but I had support and help everywhere I looked, from parents, to friends, to coaches. Then came the independence and flexibility of college: I was unprepared for how isolated and naïve I would feel being completely on my own. I experienced burnout and denial and because of this, not only did my health take a hit, but my self-confidence did as well. As a sophomore, I now have a year of college under my belt. The past year has given me a wealth of life experiences I wish I had last year - as well as an overwhelming sense that I still have no idea what I’m doing, which somehow feels just about right for a sophomore in college.
As for everyday college life, there are four main areas where I've made adjustments to improve and simplify my hectic schedule and help me with my T1D management:
1. ORGANIZATION. Dorm rooms are small and T1D is high maintenance, so I highly recommend bins, boxes, and bags. Freshman year I dumped all my supplies in one giant bin. This year, I have separate, cute canvas bins under my bed for sweaters, laundry, food, and you guessed it, diabetes supplies. If your necessities are in an efficient and visually appealing setting, self care becomes that much easier.
2. DINING. A meal plan is something you should not take lightly. While you’re in the dining hall, stock up on Gatorade/fruit snacks/protein bars/your go-to low snack in bulk (usually there are plastic bags you can take to fill up). It’s really a win-win that you make the most of your meal plan and you’re able to feel safe in your room with lots of emergency sugar, especially if you’re not living right next to the dining hall. It’s also never a bad idea to ask dining staff about carbs or any other nutritional info. They have been more than happy to help me out.
3. SOCIAL SCENE. There’s no 5 step guide to making friends at college, sad as that is. It’s a toughie but we all get through it in our own way. Telling new friends that you have diabetes is entirely up to you and how you feel most comfortable, may that be using it as an icebreaker or slipping it into a convo weeks into the friendship. However, it is a must to brief somebody close to you on your situation and what to do in case of an emergency. As high maintenance as diabetes is during the day, it increases ten fold during college nightlife. Bags are always a part of our lives and it’s no different when going out, but there are little tricks that can make it less insanely annoying. For girls, buy a small, sleek bag that fits just the essentials (CGM, test kit, sugar, etc.) and make the quick switch from your regular bag before heading out. Guys, a small backpack can work or pants with pockets for meter and CGM. Most importantly, set yourself up for a good night by eating protein, keeping your blood sugar in a good range (which may even mean slightly high to avoid any emergencies), and making sure a buddy knows your situation and is keeping tabs on you.
4. EXERCISE. Whether playing sports in high school kept you on track or you have always exercised on your own terms, finding a routine in college that works for you early on and sticking to it is essential. As diabetics we know just how important athletics are to keeping us healthy. The freshman 15 is a funny term that holds some hard truth. Go to class, meet people, but don’t let anything get in the way of you and the exercise that leads to a healthy mind, body, and blood sugar level. From the perspective of someone who has succumbed to the dark allure of Netflix and naps, the results are fleeting and destructive in the long term. Anything from walking, to club sports, to floor routines in the dorm, to hitting the gym is a step in a positive direction.
Not surprisingly, it was pretty hard to limit diabetes into categories. Lastly, everybody wants to be special and, like it or not, diabetes makes us unique. Be proud of this uniqueness by caring for your diabetes and proving to the world and to yourself that you are strong and you can do this.
Editor's note: Lexicon is a CDN Corporate Member and is dedicated to bringing awareness to the relationship between T1D and mental health. Watch CDN's Mental Health and T1D Facebook Live event, which was made possible by funding from Lexicon.
For more organization tips, download the Off to College booklets for students and parents here.