When I woke up on my first day of college, I had this wonderful, idyllic picture of what the next few months were going to look like. I was going to have a 4.0, work part time, go to the gym every morning, and to top it all off, lower my A1C. Heck, I was even going to exfoliate on a regular basis. In retrospect, my naivety is laughable. The first week of classes was manageable, but by the second, the sheer amount of work that I was facing seemed to be insurmountable. I thought that I had dealt with stress before, but nothing compared to the ever present fear that I was forgetting an assignment, or needed to write a ten page lab report on top of the exam I had to study for. I have always been a perfectionist, so the thought that I might not be completely in control of every aspect of my life was terrifying. Having type one diabetes (T1D) was always a challenge for me; to be perfectly frank I really hated it, but managing it never felt like an impossible task until this time in my life. This was probably normal given the hectic nature of being a college freshman in a big city where everything and everyone is new, but I couldn’t let go of this need to have every aspect of my life neatly tucked away and compartmentalized in an organized fashion. This ultimately led me to experience some serious burnout.
After a few weeks of incessant grumpiness and exhaustion, in addition to far too much caffeine intake, I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to sustain this lifestyle I had created for myself for much longer. Sure my grades were great, but I also wasn’t getting enough sleep and can admit now that I didn’t handle my stress well. I was constantly riddled with anxiety over my grades, and I let my health, the one thing that should have been my main priority, slip through the cracks. I constantly resented the fact that I had T1D because it added a whole other level of stress that I simply couldn’t cope with. After having this disease for thirteen years, it wasn’t until college that I realized the toll that it was going to take on my entire way of living, and I loathed this realization.
Finally, after a crying jag in my organic chemistry professor’s office over a bad exam grade that resulted in some awkward (but much appreciated) sympathetic looks, I realized that I was not taking care of myself the way I should have been. I was exhausted, both physically and emotionally, and I knew that I needed to pay more attention to managing my diabetes in order to be successful in college. I thought that prioritizing my class work over my diabetes was going to result in a better academic performance, but all I managed to do was become increasingly agitated and sick. This affected my energy levels and ability to study and finish homework. I realized that in order to do well in school, I needed to treat my body with the same level of deference that I gave to the deadlines I was constantly faced with.
It was challenging at first to allocate as much time and attention to checking my blood glucose and counting carbs as I was to writing papers and studying cellular respiration. However, once I came to the realization that nothing is more important than my health, I was able to find a happy medium that satisfied both my need to do well in school and my endocrinologist. Joining the Chapter of the College Diabetes Network (CDN) at Simmons and leaning on newfound friends or “diabesties” for support were also instrumental in my success. Being able to talk to other people with T1D was immensely comforting, and coming from a small town in New Hampshire with practically no T1D friends, this was both a novelty and a blessing. Finding resources both on campus and within your friends and family can make a world of difference when it comes to managing a chronic disease like T1D as a college freshman.
I didn’t want to write this as such a pessimistic take on the first semester of college from the perspective of a person with T1D, but rather as an honest account that shows others who’ve experienced this that they’re not alone. It’s okay to struggle and have moments where you have absolutely no idea how you’re going to get through it. The important part is learning from these moments, and creating something meaningful from them. The first semester of college was difficult for me, but that doesn’t mean it will be for everyone. Just because a person has to live with a chronic disease doesn’t mean that they can’t be happy and healthy. Despite the stress, I am really thankful that I experienced my first semester, because I learned how to manage a busy schedule and my chronic disease. This is one of the most important life lessons I will ever learn. The key is to find the right balance, and remember that your life is more important than an 100 on a test.
Editors Note: We cover this and much more in the second edition of our Off to College booklets for students and parents! Download your copies here.