This week, I will be posting responses to prompts provided by the College Diabetes Network (CDN) in honor of College Diabetes Week. I may not be in college anymore; however, I hope that anyone reading my posts this week can come away with a greater understanding of the trials and tribulations faced by college students with diabetes.
Today’s prompt is about the hardest thing about diabetes and college. We’re encouraged to talk about the taboo subjects (e.g., mental health and burnout).
It’s difficult to qualify just one thing as the hardest thing about diabetes and college. I could talk about drinking and diabetes, making dining choices on campus, or explaining diabetes to new people. But as I reflected on the challenges I personally faced when I was in college, what emerged as most difficult was coping with feeling alone in my fight to manage my diabetes away from home, particularly during my freshman year.
You might be thinking, “Wait, wasn’t she a member of the CDN in college?” Yes, I was: But not until my second semester of my freshman year. I spent my first semester of college just trying to establish myself in an unfamiliar environment. I was worried about making friends, doing well in classes, trying new things, and navigating my way around a giant campus without getting lost too many times. My diabetes management was a concern of mine, but it weighed on me differently. It was a matter of control. I had control over whether I made friends, or did well in classes, or got lost on campus (all of which I did successfully and multiple times). But my diabetes was always there to throw a monkey wrench into any and every situation. You see, diabetes wasn’t as ready and willing to adapt to these new situations as I was, so it took a bit of trial-and-error before I gained anything remotely representing control over my diabetes. But my struggle to deal with diabetes and college was further complicated by feelings of loneliness.
My best friend from high school was on the same campus as me. My big brother was, too—just fifteen minutes away. I was surrounded by great new friends. My parents and my endocrinologist were just a phone call away. But I couldn’t shake off a profound sense of isolation. I felt and acknowledged for the first time that my diabetes was MINE to manage and improve. I was responsible for accurate carb counting and I was the only one who could hold accountability regarding whether or not I went to the gym. It was strange, because at this stage in my life, I’d had diabetes for 14 years already. It wasn’t like it was new to me. However, though I’d do anything to take my diabetes away from my mom, my aunt, and myself, I’d had the benefit of growing up with my diabetes. For me, being diagnosed at such a young age meant that my parents had to do just about everything for me from the get-go, because a four year old isn’t exactly capable of doing the math that diabetes requires, let alone pricking herself multiple times a day with needles. Besides learning how to count carbs and administering my own shots, there was never a true transition of responsibility until I reached college. After all, even as I did more diabetes-related things on my own, I still had my parents physically present and could ask them questions when I wasn’t sure about a carb count or the like.
That’s why it felt like my diabetes was thrust upon me more than ever: My cross to bear and mine alone. It felt massively overwhelming in the first few weeks, even months, of college. This is why I felt so alone, despite doing well socially and academically. It wasn’t until I attended my first CDN meeting in my second semester of school that I realized it was okay to feel like this, and I certainly wasn’t alone in this trying transitional time.