College is essentially the survival of the fittest. Some enter with AP credits that allow them to forego some of the courses that weed out others. Some enter on scholarships for merit, athletics, or diversity while others are on government or private loans. Some enter without diabetes, and then there are those of us that do.
Whether you are newly introduced to diabetes or have been lifelong acquaintances, college is going to daunt you. In K-12, there was this safe space known as the nurse’s office. In this place, you could test your sugar and administer insulin without the gawking, the questions, and the repulsion. Questions like, “Can’t you do that in the bathroom?” from the guy who watched my every movement- measurement of insulin, the hiking up of my shirt, the pinching of my stomach, and finally the grande finale of administering my insulin - in a lounge space in the Music and Dance building. When I met his eyes, they were filled with the same kind of intrigue that you look at the animals in the zoo with.
I am unapologetically a person with diabetes. In the first few years after diagnosis, I was indeed ashamed. I was diagnosed at sixteen, and at sixteen, all I really wanted was to be liked, to fit in, to be “normal.” I wanted nothing to be wrong. I didn’t want to deal with anything that I didn’t have to for the rest of my life. It was a long time coming, but six years after diagnosis, I finally realized that my diabetes wasn’t going anyplace. With that realization came a pride and a standard.
Yes, I am diabetic, but it is not the affliction I thought it was. I will not hide myself away in an unsanitary bathroom to manage my diabetes because it makes others uncomfortable. The same way that people who do not have diabetes live their lives out the open, there is nothing saying that we cannot do the same. However, upon coming to college, people rarely gawk at me. Some stare but I no longer pay them any mind. If they ask questions, I always take the opportunity to educate. The more that people are exposed to diabetes, the more normalized it will be, which would result in no questions, no gawking, and no feeling uncomfortable.
Did you know that anything can throw off your blood sugar levels? Stress, menstruation, change in diet, change in exercise? All of these will continue to happen and even increase in frequency, save for menstruation, upon entering college. I thought I knew stress when I was in high school taking the SATs and AP exams in preparation of applying for college. I thought I knew stress when waiting for my acceptance letter from Temple University. Oh no, that was the easy part.
Stress is being in charge of making your own schedule and having to strictly adhere to it because education is no longer free. Stress is thinking you know what to do with your life but after taking a class or two, you’re no longer sure and then you change your major a few times. Stress is midterms and final exams and group projects and presentations. My regimen could be the same as it was yesterday and no longer be effective today because of my stress.
I recently took up exercising after fighting it for twenty-two years. I always go to the gym when my sugar is in the 300s, which may seem a little too high for some, but after a workout of thirty minutes, my sugar is in the low 100s. Be it because my activity level changed and I’m burning through carbohydrates faster, or because of my fast metabolism that doesn’t reflect my high cholesterol diet, or maybe a little of both. I had to lower my insulin to carbohydrate ratio in preparation for the times I would hit the gym, and drink my weight in juice so that I didn’t continue to plummet afterward.
The bottom line is this: your lifestyle undergoes a massive upheaval when you go to college, even if you commute for classes. You’re going to be around different people, people who don’t know you or know that you have diabetes or what to do in case of emergencies. You’re going to have a different schedule than you did in high school. Classes aren’t going to start and end at the same time every day, unless you do some very meticulous planning but even as a fifth year in college, I still have yet to manage that. This means that meals will be at different times than usual and may change every day. Depending on the layout of your campus and time elapsed between classes, you might exercise more by having to run from class to class. Change is good, but it is best to be on the front end of it rather than the back end.