For me, the studying aspect of college was fairly easy. I have always been a good student. I never really struggled with classes except for a few subjects like Calculus. But I had a much bigger issue looming in the college scene- chronic health conditions. My health matters were, and still are, a constant job in themselves. Even beyond the daily management of diabetes, which is a full-time job, I have issues with insurance payments, finding the right doctor, keeping up with prescriptions, and all those extras that come with diabetes and health issues.
When I left for college it was especially important for me to quickly get into a good health routine where diabetes came first. More than studying and attending classes, my college life at first was about managing and coping with this disease. After all, if you’re not on top of diabetes, your academic performance will suffer. The ideal situation is, of course, to manage diabetes without it consuming your college life.
The start of the new school year is around the corner, and it’s time to start preparing. Below are a few more tips to help you get ready for college. For more tips see part 1 and part 2 in the series, Lindsey’s Guide to Surviving College With The Big D.
-If you don’t take any other tip away from this series, be sure you get this one: develop a system. Study habits are important. So are logbooks, eating schedules, and staying sane. Manage, cope, prioritize.
-Don’t let your diabetes care slip just because you are in college, but at the same time you have to remember to enjoy the college experience. Have fun and also keep your doctor’s appointments up to date (endo, eye, and dentist). Stay on top of your A1c. Remember that most diabetics experience their worst A1cs during this time because of the stress, the schedules, and being away from home for the first time. Don’t feel bad. Just keep trying.
-One of my biggest pet peeves with my university was that certain places were “No food, No drink.” And the university was strict about this. One day, while experiencing a low, I was standing in the lobby of my university recreation center eating a package of peanut butter crackers. I’d walked down three flights of stairs, feeling shaky and unsteady to get to the point where I was eating. A staff member approached and told me that I needed to go outside. I explained, through my weak and shaky state, that I was a diabetic who was treating low blood sugar. I needed to eat- no matter what. It was an emergency. A few moments later another staff member turned to me and said, “I have one of those.” He was pointing at my insulin pump. He pulled up his shirt to show an OmniPod. He warned me that even staff members were forced to go to the break room to eat – even for treating low blood sugars. That’s how strict the university’s rules were. I’m not telling you to be rebellious, but I am suggesting that in situation like this, you should put your health first and worry about the rules later. Classrooms and rec centers that say no food, no drink…respect them on a regular basis but for emergencies, respect yourself and respect the D.
-Drink responsibly. I don’t believe in underage drinking or drinking in excess. It’s against the law: don’t do it. But for those 21 and up (and those that will rebel despite this sound advice), know that alcohol affects diabetes. Keep your drinks to a minimum (my limit is one), check your blood sugar before you drink, two hours in, and again at the six hour mark. Alcohol can lower blood sugar so you may be prone to hypoglycemia (and seizures and comas) after drinking alcohol. This is true even of those carb heavy margaritas and daiquiris -especially if you bolus to compensate for the sugar and syrup. Have a friend make sure you are okay after drinking. If you go low and food isn’t bringing up your blood sugar level, you may need to go the emergency room. Also know that glucagon might not help an alcohol-induced low.
-Don’t be afraid to be a hypochondriac during these years. I went to the ER once and the urgent care clinic more times than I can count. Stress makes colds, skin infections, and plenty of other things much worse. College is stressful. If you’re having blood sugar issues with or without any of those pesky infections, it still holds true that the ER might be the right place to go. Sometimes insulin just doesn’t work. Sometimes the lows just won’t come up.
-Keep your prescriptions up to date, and don’t forget to order them. Keep an emergency refill prescription on hand at your local pharmacy if you do mail order. Sometimes you just forget. Sometimes it doesn’t get there fast enough. Or sometimes you drop the last vial of insulin.
Now that I’ve graduated, I’ve had a few moments of nostalgia for my college life. As difficult as it was sometimes, I know that I came out a stronger person because of it. I will be the first to tell you that college and diabetes do not mix well. I will also be the first to say that you can do it as long as you have faith in yourself and knowledge. Use my tips, create your own, and ask others for advice.
The last three years of my life were about managing diabetes, and yet were really not about diabetes at all. Diabetes falls into the background of my memories. I do, of course, remember the scary lows and the frustrating highs. But most of all, I remember going to football games with my friends, attending classes that pushed my limits, meeting new people, and truly learning who I am and who I want to become. Diabetes will always play its part in my memories of everything, but it is not the defining factor.
Lindsey Guerin was diagnosed with type 1 when she was 4 years old. She is now 21 and a senior in college. She currently writes for Blogabetes on dLife and runs Diabetic Echoes, a global diabetic network.