Ways to thrive—not just survive—in college with diabetes
Starting college is such an exciting time, but when living with diabetes it also means more responsibility. We’ve asked MiniMed Ambassador, Addie, to share her tips as she starts her second year of college.
Much to my loving parents' dismay, I decided to move 1,627 miles away for college last year in order to fully immerse myself in the woes of independence. This transition included, but was not limited to, learning how to shop for groceries that weren't exclusively Oreos and Mac & Cheese, deliberating over how to study whilst music blasted from the neighbor's dorm room, and trying to overcome my awkward tendencies that seemed to intentionally sabotage me when talking to boys. Though these college experiences are practically guaranteed for every trembling freshman, I had the added responsibility of navigating the lessons of independence while living with type 1 diabetes.
I admit that, while eager to begin my journey as an adult, I was absolutely terrified of what no longer living with my family—my diabetes safety blanket—meant for my health. I had been managing my T1D almost completely on my own for years, but it was incredibly reassuring to have my parents' and siblings' support on my inevitable off-days. My diabetes management, while adequate, was nothing to brag about, so I was afraid that the stress, distractions, and lifestyle changes of college would make me more vulnerable to the potential dangers of my disease.
However, in my first semester, I became so much more aware of my own self-worth, intelligence, and spirit than I ever had before in my life. I found my successes in independence to be so empowering that I became motivated to not only thrive as a student, but as a healthy human being. As a result, I achieved my best diabetes management and grades in my freshman year of college than I ever had in my life. Here are some tips that seriously aided me in succeeding in both health and academics in my first year of college.
Find Friends Who Value Your Health
I was lucky enough to be surrounded by people with similar goals and priorities. My best friends knew that my health was very important to me, so I never felt pressured to engage in activities (i.e. excessive partying and drinking) that I personally knew would unpredictably impact my blood sugars. Instead, I could spend my time with my favorite people in ways that mattered to me. All the while, my friends were very attentive and became comfortable with asking if I was feeling okay. This, in turn, made it easier for me to be open and vulnerable. Being around individuals who find you and your health important should be a requirement, not an exception.
Learn to Love the Dining Hall Salad Bar
It is no secret that college dining halls are almost always made for traumatizing young taste buds, and that those who are newly unsupervised tend to veer away from the bottom four tiers of the food pyramid. This makes it easy to turn to reliably delicious foods that suffer in nutritional value. Even I, “Miss Health Superstar,” fell victim to the tempting call of "ice cream for dinner" and "pizza for breakfast." I don't think I need to explain how this impacted my blood sugars. Apparently, healthier foods allow for better blood sugars. This concept, though wild, was very helpful in my meal selection as I was perusing the dining hall.
I found that days where I consistently ate better and had stable blood sugars were more productive and focused. However, there is nothing wrong with having a good 'ol candy supply for when you need it. In fact, I think it's essential. (Fun fact: My brother sent me a care package that contained a five-pound bag of gummy bears that became my go-to low blood sugar snack. I'm yet to finish the bag.)
Be Inspired By Your Own Successes (and Failures)
One of the most important things you will learn in your freshman year of college is how to be your own person, and how to love who that person is—whether that person has a fully functional pancreas or not. I have finally realized that diabetes, though challenging, inspires a meaningfulness in my life that pushes me to continue to conquer this disease.
Every day that I prioritized my health propelled into the next day, and I quickly noticed that I was flying, free of the fears that plagued me before I left for school. Every on-target blood sugar reading, every consciously timed bolus, and every avoided high and low was worthy of a happy dance. These are lessons that no class can teach—finding how to handle the challenges of your own existence takes time, but the successes that come with it are the best motivators to be an exceptional individual.
For The Parents: Trust
It’s all going to be okay. Don’t be afraid to send a “proof of life” message (as my mother calls it) every once in a while, but also trust that your college student is ready for this next step to independence. I know that my mom was incredibly nervous to send me off to live someplace where I no longer had my diabetes safety blanket, but she eventually felt more at peace when she realized that I was around people who knew me well, and could tell if something was wrong.
It’s okay to worry, but do not allow it to consume you. My mom will ask me how my blood sugars have been just to stay up to date, but she also trusts that I am taking care of myself. This makes me feel more like an adult, which I find to be important in this time of self-discovery.
Good luck, college students! You are going to have a great year. Stay focused on what matters most to you, and you will undoubtedly succeed. I know that finding empowerment in my own diabetes successes made me a better overall student and individual in my first year of college, and I have faith that it will do the same for you.