I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 14. After diagnosis I had a fairly easy time incorporating diabetes into my day-to-day routine, due in part to the incredible amount of support I received from my family and friends. In addition, my routine was consistent, which made diabetes management easier. When I left for college, however, my outlook on diabetes changed – I lost my support system and my drive. Suddenly, I wasn’t given any special-treatment, nor was my schedule consistent. I soon realized that it was much simpler to eat and act like my new college friends, ignoring diabetes to stop it from getting in the way. As an 18 year old, I rarely had diabetes complications on my mind, and when I did, I’d try to brush off my ever-present fear and guilt by trying to convince myself that it was only a few years of poor management. People had much worse control for greater periods of time – I’d be fine once I graduated.
Every doctor’s appointment I had would be yet another attempt at jumping back on the horse. My friends grew used to my poor management skills and seemed to think if they saw me check my sugar once a week, I was doing a great job at diabetes. It was also hard for people to understand that just because I was open about having diabetes, I wasn’t necessarily taking proper care of myself. All of this terrified my parents, but their frustrations and concerns only made me want to push them away. I was isolating myself when all I really wanted was someone who understood. I worked at a diabetes camp one summer and it was amazing to meet other people living with the same frustrations I had, and it was wonderful to exchange stories with them. But when I left camp to go back to school, everything I had learned there fell to the wayside when I was again consumed by the stresses of college.
Everything changed when I met Natalie.
Natalie, who has been living with diabetes since the age of three, happened to be sitting across the lunch table from me one day during the spring of my senior year at Wellesley College. A mutual friend casually said, “Oh yeah – you guys both have diabetes.” We were both thrilled to have someone else with diabetes, but the other six girls at the table didn’t seem to be as excited as we were. Natalie and I exchanged phone numbers and reverted back to a conversation that everyone else could relate to.
A few days later, I joked to my classmate Sam, saying all that the only things in my fridge were beer and insulin. I had no idea, but it turned out that she had type 1 diabetes as well. Sam, Natalie, and I started a to have a continuous group text conversation. We texted blood sugar levels and guesstimations of carb-counts in the dining hall. We still had everyday conversation, but it was always interspersed with diabetes talk in a way that could never happen with friends who did not have diabetes. Talking to Natalie and Sam quickly became part of my essential diabetes management. As it turned out, my diabesties, as we began to call ourselves, were also struggling to manage diabetes in college. The three of us agreed that it was time to take responsibility and to hold each other and ourselves accountable for living healthy lives with diabetes. There was no reason for us to spend so much time feeling guilty, tired, frustrated, and sick.
Natalie, Sam, and I learned how special it is to talk to another person with diabetes, someone who also deals with it every day, and “gets” it. We had become old enough to not want to consult with our parents on every diabetes-related decision, so finding a diabestie provided the support that we so desperately needed in a way that pushed us to exercise responsibility. While we each had different stories, pasts, and diabetes routines, what we had in common was that we were all desperate for friends who understood. We began to not only stay in touch on our phones, but we would also meet for meals and stop by each other’s dorm rooms to check in. Through this relationship, we developed other friendships with students with type 1 diabetes on campus – we looked out for each other, whether it was simply to call about a tough day, to have low supplies available all over campus, or to bounce carbohydrate counting off of one another.
And diabesties didn’t end there. On our campus, we established a branch of the College Diabetes Network (CDN), a national non-profit organization that supports college students living with diabetes. Soon after that, we were reaching out to others with a Facebook group and were talking about diabetes not only with each other, but also to hundreds of others. The group turned into an active forum for young adults to find each other and create a place to openly talk about diabetes. And it has now taken a bigger leap. Last month, CDN, where I serve as program director, launched the Diabesties iPhone application that I developed. The app enables users with diabetes to connect with one another and feel supported in their everyday management. It allows friends to share blood sugar levels, insulin dosages, carbohydrate counts and messages while also effortlessly logging all of the information entered for later review. These messages allow each diabestie to receive real-time support and troubleshooting so that they never feel alone with their diabetes.
My father recently told me that the day I called to tell him about my newfound diabesties, he and my mother could breathe for the first time since I had left for college. Looking back, I see a very direct link between meeting my diabesties and taking on the responsibility of being a young adult living with type 1 diabetes. Meeting them relieved me of the guilt, the loneliness, and the frustration that I had been feeling up until that point. While living with type 1 diabetes can be bumpy at times, I don’t let it get in my way and I now always have a diabestie to cali if I feel like it is getting to be too much.
For more information about the College Diabetes Network, please visit our website: www.collegediabetesnetwork.org or follow us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/College-Diabetes-Network/241757184299?ref=hl, or Twitter: @CollegeDiabetes
For more information about Diabesties, visit our website: www.collegediabetesnetwork.org/diabesties, join the Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/143244405739217/, or search for it today in the iTunes App store!
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