College can be challenging for many reasons. From balancing time between classes, reading textbooks, & studying for exams to participating in clubs, sporting events and post morning lecture naps. And of course, trying to have a social life. Adding the rollercoaster ride of type 1 diabetes to your daily college life can bring unwanted frustrations and emotions – plus having to make decisions like whether or not to eat ice cream at the cafe or have a drink from the mystery bowl of punch at a party. So follow me as I take you on my journey of managing my diabetes during 4 unforgettable years of college.
The first thing I did (diabetes related) when I moved in freshman year was to tell my roommate about my type 1 diabetes. Luckily for the both of us, we knew each other, which made the “in case of an emergency” talk a little easier. However, if you don’t know your roommate before move-in, I believe it can only help to tell them about basic symptoms of low-blood sugar. Most people can handle dialing 911 if needed. I had also asked him to wake me if it looked like I was sleeping too late – which saved me once. My roommate woke me one morning and I found that my blood sugar reading was 55 (heading down) following a late night.
Sophomore year I moved to an off-campus apartment. The 45-minute walk to class every other day had my blood sugar acting up. So I always packed snacks, a juice or even sugar tabs just in case I went low. As my class load got harder and I became more involved in clubs and intermural sports, it was challenging to always sit down and eat a decent meal. My meal plan helped but I also planned my meals ahead of time and packed my lunch when needed because I knew that I would be caught up in class until late afternoon.
By junior year, I would try to wake up earlier to eat a protein and fiber filled breakfast that kept me going through back-to-back lectures. I was playing intermural soccer every semester which helped me get my dose of intense sweat and exercise. I also had smaller classes so I made sure my professors knew about my diabetes just in case I would go low during an exam or if my pump would go off during a lecture.
Finally, senior year – let’s not forget the elephant in the blog: drinking alcohol with type 1 diabetes. I spoke with my doctor about drinking with diabetes all throughout college. I was also using a continuous glucose monitor which helped me monitor my blood sugars. I found the best practice for me was to eat a meal beforehand, drink lots of water between drinks, keep sugar tabs handy and test before falling asleep.
I wasn’t perfect in managing my diabetes, no one can be, but sometimes being away from the people who have helped me since day 1 was a challenge itself. Throughout college, I met 3 other people living with type 1 diabetes and we would share experiences. However, the best thing I did from the start was to proactively inform my roommates and friends of my diabetes and keep in touch with my healthcare team about my blood sugar numbers. So even when it seemed like I was the only one battling my blood sugar, I was able to find support while attending college.
As always, since I was diagnosed, I would continue to embrace my situation, educate those around me and not let type 1 diabetes stop me from doing the things I love to do.
NOTE: This is one person’s personal experience and you should check with your health care provider before choosing to drink alcohol or make changes to your diet, exercise or treatment regimen.