When You’re Diagnosed as a Young Adult: Finding a New Diabetes' BFF

Ellie Pardee, University Of Georgia, Middle Grades Education '17

Editor's note: for more information about being diagnosed as a young adult, check out our new guide: "You've Got This: A Guide for Young Adults Diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes", and the accompanying video series. 

“College is the best 4 years of your life,” sounds like such a cop-out, but for me and my almost 22 years of life, it has been absolutely true. I have laughed with people I never thought I would have met, eaten food I had only ever dreamed about, checked quite a few items off my bucket list, and learned to think and act like a pancreas 24/7. I’ll be the first to say, I did not see that last one coming.

Six days before my 20th birthday, I went to the health center on campus for what I thought was a bladder infection. I had common symptoms and expected an easy fix. When the doctor came back 45 minutes later, I knew something was up. He calmly told me that my blood sugar was 526. I knew nothing about blood sugar or diabetes, so to me, 526 sounded good. Maybe the scale for blood sugar was 0-1000? I thought to myself. Yikes, was I wrong! My doctor then proceeded to explain to me that I was diabetic and dehydrated. Diabetic? What? No way, not me. Knowing nothing about diabetes, the difference between type 1 and type 2, or the causes and factors, I immediately thought this was something I had done. The guilt set in heavy. I was only a little relieved when the doctor reassured me that it was not my fault, but I needed to go to the emergency room. While in the emergency room, I was treated with an IV and insulin and then sent home after only 3 hours. Until I could get in to see the endocrinologist and get tested to know if I was type 1 or type 2, I was in a holding place. I Googled diabetes constantly and for anyone who has ever Googled diabetes, you know that 95% of the search results are negative. Maybe not the most productive use of my time, but I did not know a single person with diabetes; therefore, Google and its terrifying results became my diabetes’ BFF.

My first endocrinologist appointment was a blur. I officially added type 1 diabetes (T1D)  to my title, learned how to give myself shots, and became aware of the warning signs of high and low blood sugars.

Conveniently, I was diagnosed in November, which led to a few meltdowns in the grocery store aisles around Thanksgiving and Christmas. I realized the miniscule serving size piece of pecan pie I was recommended to eat was a 1/4 of what I typically ate. I also learned quickly that sugar free hot cocoa is not worth it, and my love for dinner rolls would have to be toned down a few notches. As a self-proclaimed sweet tooth addict and foodie, carbohydrate counting was the first area where I felt my diagnosis change my life. Over the past 2 years I have learned how to balance better, and that sometimes that cupcake is worth the bolus. Once I got past the shock of carb counting, I learned how exercise affects my blood sugar, all about nighttime lows, and a whole long list of other things I am still learning about.

After getting involved with Dawgs for Diabetes Awareness at the University of Georgia, a chapter of the College Diabetes Network, I no longer had to depend on Google as my diabetes’ BFF. There is something comforting about knowing that there are others who, on a daily basis, are dealing with what you deal with. They know what it is like to sneak fruit snacks into football games for unexpected lows or having to adjust your basal rate before a big test. Being diagnosed as a young adult was a learning curve. I was used to the life I had lived for 19 years, and I had no desire to change that. But life happens, or in this case, diabetes happens. My numbers are not always perfect; I mess up, and if there are peanut M&Ms somewhere, you bet I will be eating them, but that is okay.

Cheers to you diabetes! You have taught me more about myself than I ever thought I would know, and not to mention, you have made college a whole lot sweeter.