Moving away to college is scary no matter what. When you add a chronic illness (or illnesses) into the mix, it makes the fear much more potent since it means not just learning to live on your own, but learning how to survive on your own.
I’ve been a diabetic since I was four, and lived under the close care of my mother until January 2007, when I packed up and went to college. Now, on the brink of my graduation, I’m here to share hints and tips on how to survive your college years with diabetes.
To begin, I’m going to state the obvious: College is stressful, difficult, and time consuming. Diabetes is stressful, difficult, and time consuming. You should know this from the start and recognize that college does not mean dropping diabetes off at the campus gates. You have to learn to manage them together. And you can.
Here is the first part in the series Lindsey’s Guide to Surviving College with the Big D
First Things First
Register with your college’s Disability Services. I waited until I was almost two years into my degree before I sought out Disability Services. I sincerely wish that I had registered in my first semester. While it varies from school to school, in most places, Disability Services offers all sorts of helpful tools for diabetics. For me, letters to my professors and early registration were the two biggest perks.
Registering with Disability Services can be a daunting process, but don’t let it deter you. They usually require letters from your doctors and a personal letter explaining why you find their services necessary. Registering does not mean that you are incapable of managing your conditions in college. It just means that you are utilizing the proper resources to stay as healthy as possible. While some doctors don’t support diabetics in Disability Services, I believe your health is the most important matter here, not what a doctor or your friends say. Do not be ashamed of taking care of yourself.
If you register with Disability Services, ask if there are any other diabetics on campus that you can reach out to. Find a club or even better, establish a club! Diabetic Echoes is willing to help with that process.
Buy a mini-fridge. Whether you are living in a dorm or an apartment, you should have one. Stock it full of water, your quick low-treatment of choice, and plenty of snacks.
Tell your professors you have diabetes. Sometime during the first week of classes, let your professors know that you are diabetic and that you might occasionally need to leave a class to treat blood sugars. Professors often don’t remember names or faces (especially in your 50+ student classes), but they are more likely to remember you if you’ve approached them and informed them that you have diabetes.
Do not be afraid to leave group projects, tests, or class to treat low blood sugar. I once sat through an entire English exam knowing that I was low. I will never know how much better my grade might have been if I had told the professor how I felt, and done what I needed to do.
Avoid the situation above! Keep easy low-treatments in your bag at all times. Use them. Do not be afraid to pull them out in the middle of exams and classes. Students and professors might give you dirty looks, but thick skin is the only way to survive diabetes in general, and especially in college.
Locate every vending machine in the buildings where your classes are held. It gave me peace of mind to know that even if I had a treatment in my bag, there was a vending machine back up (or sometimes first choice if I did not want the treatment in my bag –juice boxes do get hot in the middle of August here in Texas).
Always, always keep change for the vending machines. My mom gives me rolls of quarters as stocking stuffers. And don’t forget your wallet, otherwise, those millions of quarters are kind of pointless.
I decided one semester that I wanted to start riding my bike the mile to campus. First, I practiced through my mom’s neighborhood a few times, just to refresh my muscles and reacquaint my blood sugars with that particular exercise. On the day I decided to ride from my apartment to campus, the outside temperature was around 100 degrees. By the time I had reached my building, I was fading fast. And, of course, my wallet was sitting on my coffee table. Thank goodness I had a backup juice box in my bag! (I also called my best friend to bring me my wallet after class in case I dropped low again in any of my other classes.)
The key to successful college years with diabetes is preparation. Stocking the fridge, alerting your professors, and tapping into vital resources on campus are true survival tactics.
Coming next month: Part two in Lindsey’s Guide to Surviving College with the Big D: Schedules and Connections.
Of course, there’s also the notes: that all-nighters do impact BG levels. And that it’s always prudent to tell the closest new college friends about the signs to watch for, particularly when drinking. And that you should tell the resident-dorm assistant (narcs) about your D, in case they do a late-night dorm search and find used syringes all over the place.
And don’t forget that intense mental exercise lowers blood sugar, too! I found myself coming out of far too many three-hour-long finals with blood glucose levels in the forties. Needless to say, my performance on those finals was less than what I had expected…