You will probably never be more challenged in your diabetes management than when you are a college student (well, maybe parenthood is the most challenging but I haven’t crossed that bridge yet so I am going with what I know). Junior high and high school can be hard with changing hormones, but you still have the balance of a daily consistent schedule and your family’s help. College is like nothing you have ever experienced in your diabetes management.
It is difficult and exasperating to balance ideal diabetes management with a college lifestyle. Sometimes these two will not mesh at all, while at other times – with hard work and some luck – you will forget that there was ever a problem between the two spectrums. Here are some things to consider as you plan for surviving college and diabetes at the same time.
- First, be sure to know the best schedule for you. Diabetes can affect each of us in a different way. For me, other health conditions made mornings unbearable, so I always tried to schedule my classes in the late afternoon or at night. (And…hey, what college kid really wants an 8am anyway?). One semester I had a set of classes back to back that went straight through lunch, but made my breakfast too early. Even after an entire semester, insulin and snack changes couldn’t prevent my body from doing what it wanted to do at that time…drop low. Other diabetic friends did better with 8am to noon classes which left their breakfasts and lunches consistently at the same time.
- Work around whatever college throws at you. If you can get a schedule that works with your insulin regimen, you’ve been blessed. So try for that, but don’t be afraid to change things if you can’t get the right schedule. I moved my Lantus many times because of my class hours. Sometimes the adjustment was hard and meant setting alarms to remind me that I needed the Lantus injection, but other times I found that it was actually easier to change things. If you’re on an insulin pump, it’s definitely a lot easier to manage for class times, but it’s also not the ultimate problem solver. Only you, your advisors, and your schedule can really determine that.
- Don’t bite off more than you can reasonably chew. Diabetes is time consuming. You have regular and routine management with finger sticks and insulin injections. Then you have the usual doctor’s appointments. And all of the other issues that go along with this disease. So limit yourself to what you can handle. I do not advocate skipping basic care with your diabetes, but I do understand that we have to make time for our school and life priorities, which sometimes means that diabetes gets put in the backseat. And other times, it’s a paper that becomes more rushed because of a trip to see the endo.
- Get a roommate. Or a dog or cat who can smell when you’re low.
- Live in the dorms if you can, or apartment complexes that function like dorms. When you aren’t doing your own cooking and cleaning, you have a lot less stress in your life. Grocery shopping takes time and energy. Cooking takes planning. Cleaning is just plain annoying. Let someone else be in charge of those things if you can.
- If you live in the dorms or those apartment complexes, you still need to watch your food! Fast food and dorm food are full of carbs and calories. Don’t be afraid to ask for nutritional facts for everything because you never know when something you think has 40 grams of carb, actually contains 80, or has a heavy mix of protein and fat which means a completely different bolus than normal.
- Make friends with the gym. And make friends at the gym. I really enjoy working out, especially cardio intensive exercise. But I always had trouble keeping my blood sugar up, especially while I was on the insulin pump. So I only let myself work out with a buddy who was aware of my situation. When my buddy got too busy, I started working out alone and was continually scared that I would drop low on the treadmill. Get familiar with the trainers and the staff there. Let them know what’s going on. And be sure to carry fast acting sugar and wear your medical alert tag.
- Keep in touch with your parents. Be honest with them about how you are feeling, but don’t be too honest. Parents worry. Always let them know what’s necessary, but don’t create needless fear. Know that you can handle it on your own, but also know that they are there to fall back on.
You will find that class schedules, exam schedules, and football schedules rule your college life at times. In between all that, there is still the schedule that diabetes needs you to keep. Connecting in college is vital, too. You’ll meet some of your best friends during these years. You will connect with all sorts of people: professors, advisors, classmates, colleagues, random strangers, even the campus mascot. Keep those connections alive and strong. Lean on those people when it’s necessary, when you just can’t handle it anymore. When it’s all said and done, know that you are the strength behind this disease. You can handle it, and you can thrive with it.
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.