For young adults living with diabetes, preparing for college can be a difficult time. Managing diabetes while trying to make sense of a new world, social network and expectations can be especially challenging. You’re not alone! There are many resources in place to help support this transition.
The following are stories shared by College Diabetes Network (CDN) Students, involved in CDN’s Student Advisory Committee (SAC), about their experiences heading off to college, and navigating life on campus, with diabetes.
The College Diabetes Network provides programs for young adults with diabetes to help make their college experience safer and more successful. The American Diabetes Association is working with CDN to help further this goal.
My name is Dorian, and I’m an 18-year-old sophomore at Howard University in Washington, D.C. I was diagnosed in October 2005 at the age of nine and am originally from Southfield, Michigan. Although I did not research health services and accommodations when looking into colleges and universities, I knew Howard would be a perfect fit. My doctor informed me that every school has some kind of accommodations in place for people with diabetes, due to the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Before I headed off to college, my health care team gave me a packet full of helpful information, important phone numbers, documents to give to my school’s Disability Services Office and a letter to give to my roommate and Resident Assistant (RA), among others. The letter stated and explained my condition and included my symptoms of high/low blood sugar levels. This was important so my roommate would be able to recognize them.
I chose to tell my roommate, RA and college professors about my diabetes. Even though I never had any issues, my RA was glad I let her know ahead of time instead of waiting until it could have been too late. Howard University’s Disability Services Office issues letters to each of my professors every semester, obligating them to accommodate my diabetes. These are all helpful accommodations and a must for everyone college student living with diabetes.
When talking to friends about diabetes, I am very open and honest about my lifestyle. I make sure to explain diabetes in a simple way to make it easier for my friends to understand. I answer all their questions because I am flattered that they are interested in learning about diabetes.
I knew that my college schedule would be more unpredictable than high school. I also knew how important it is to always be prepared. My parents made sure I had a box of medical supplies to make it through the whole semester so I wouldn’t have to order any extra supplies. Trying to develop a consistent eating schedule around my classes, extracurricular activities and downtime was a bit of a struggle. It took quite a few weeks for my body to adjust to the new food, the extra walking I was doing and the added stress. However, I knew I was going to be okay thanks to all the support around me.
I still had to learn the hard way that it was up to me to make sure I had what I need with me at all times. I’ve experienced low blood glucose levels with no food nearby or little time to go and find food. I have also been stuck with a malfunctioning insulin pump and no extra supplies on hand, so my blood glucose escalated until I could get back to my dorm. These are very uncomfortable situations! Before heading out to college, I wish I had realized the importance of always being prepared. Sometimes I put myself in certain situations during exams without food or supplies, and that was very dangerous.
My endocrinologist informed me about CDN after my first year of college. I found that there was no existing chapter at Howard, so I decided to start my own and it’s been a learning experience since then! Because I am currently in the process of starting a CDN chapter, it will be a while until I can fully use all that CDN has to offer. However, I plan to make the experience an enjoyable, rewarding one for all members. My efforts for starting the chapter have included hanging flyers, meeting with the Student Health Center, spreading the word using social media and planning a meet-and-greet—all in hope of finding students who are interested in joining even if they aren’t living with diabetes.
If you have diabetes and are getting ready for college, I would offer this advice:
- Take responsibility for your health! College is already hard; don’t make it harder by not taking care of yourself.
- Always try your best to be prepared and equipped with what you need; every day can be filled with unexpected situations.
- There will be times where you will have to stop what you are doing to tend to your health (i.e., having to leave a party or a class because you desperately need some supplies from your dorm room). Do what you need to do.
- Even though you may be under stress, keep a positive attitude; your negativity will do NOTHING for you or your diabetes.
Living with diabetes can be frustrating and stressful sometimes. But once you adjust to college, living with diabetes as a student is really not that bad. With education and a support group, you can feel perfectly normal.
The College Diabetes Network (CDN) is a 501c3 non-profit organization, whose mission is to use the power of peers, access to resources, and grassroots leadership to fill the gaps experienced by young adults with diabetes and make their college experience safer and more successful. CDN’s vision is to empower young adults with diabetes to thrive in all of their personal, healthcare, and scholastic endeavors. CDN has over 80 campuses with 60+ affiliated chapters. Sign-up for more information here.
Diabetes Forecast magazine and the College Diabetes Network recently published a “Thrive Guide for Young Adults” with tips for doing college with diabetes. Visit diabetesforecast.org and diabetes.org for more information.