Since I got Type 1 diabetes at the ripe old age of 30+, I never had the experience of "leaving the nest" with the Big D. So I recently asked fellow blogger and advocate Allison Blass what that was like: Did your parents fall apart? Were you scared to death, or more elated? What she came back with was actually more of a practical nature: the top tips she wished she'd known at the time.
A Guest Post by Allison Blass
When I graduated from college in 2003, I was excited and anxious to finally be living on my own. My parents, on the other hand, were mostly anxious. Growing up with type 1 diabetes meant that my parents were extra involved in my life and everything I did, from my food to my activities even to where I should go to college (my dad laid down the law with "the nine western continental states"). So I picked the University of Oregon, a state school that had a program I wanted that was only a two-hour drive from my folks. Like anything, packing up and moving away to college took some extra work, but I was able to have a fulfilling and fun (and educational!) college career, graduating a term early with a bachelors degree from a state university. After that, I trekked off into the wild blue yonder when I moved from Oregon to New Jersey.
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But moving away, whether it's a two-hour drive like it was for me or a two-hour flight (or maybe a two-day flight if you're studying abroad!), can be nerve-wracking and complicated. Here are a few tips I've learned from both moving away to school and then moving across the country —
1. Do not keep diabetes to yourself. But you also don't need to tell every Tom, Dick and Harry, either. Diabetes explanations are tricky animals. You don't want to go too far and make it sound like you're the Diabetes Ambassador of the World. But you do want to stay safe and have the important people around you educated enough to be able to help you during an emergency. The people I recommend sitting down with and explaining your diabetes are:
- RA/FA (Resident Advisor or Floor Advisor in the dorms)
- Close friends whom you spend a lot of time with and/or party with regularly
If you're working, tell your boss and a co-worker or two. You don't need to tell the entire office (unless you're into that sort of thing, like me). Having knowledgeable co-workers keeps you safe and also allows any adjustments that may be needed during the workday.
Roommates are the ones with you during the night in your dormroom, where you're apt to have a late night crash. Don't necessarily assume they'll remember how to use a glucagon, either (although you should definitely show them).
Keep a list of emergency contact numbers on your door for your roommate or friends to refer to if something should happen. RA and FA's can be your liaison with the school and with your floormates. Professors are important because if you're low or high during a test and can't take it, suddenly saying "I'm a diabetic and can't take this test right now" might throw them for a loop. Also, if you have to skip class because you have ketones or a doctor's appointment, having them know ahead of time could save you from losing any points or credit (yes, in college, they do take attendance).
It's also a good idea to find out if your university has any special accommodations for people with diabetes. We are technically "disabled," and that can sometimes come in handy when you can't get out bed because you have large ketones.
Boyfriend/Girlfriend and friends are important because, again, they're with you a lot. Hiding diabetes is a pain, and unnecessary. Those who want to be around you will want to be around even with the diabetes.
2. Transfer your prescriptions. Trekking home to get your prescriptions once a month, every three months, or having them shipped to you from home can be very tedious. You should keep all your prescriptions at one place, near your school, because that will help the pharmacist keep track of your medications and notice if there are any conflicts. Pick a reputable national pharmacy brand, simply because they are likely to have the medication you need when you need it.
3. Find a support network. One of the hardest things about moving away from family was the fact that I had to do everything on my own. College was especially difficult because I didn't know anyone else with diabetes at school for a couple of years. When I moved to the East Coast, I knew a handful of people with diabetes, and occasionally meeting with them really helped my emotional health. I can see a difference in my physical health now compared with college. It's much better to have friends "in the know." Try to get involved with your local ADA or JDRF chapter, or even hang out online at places like TuDiabetes.com, DiabetesDaily.com, or DiabeticConnect.com.
4. Find an endo or CDE close to you. Depending on how your insurance works with your parents, finding an endo near you may be difficult, but the best scenario is to find a physician and a CDE who can meet with you on a regular basis to discuss your diabetes management. If you can't get a doctor where you live, use your university's nutritionist to get advice on how to handle meal plans, parties and alcohol. They know how carbs work and can be great allies.
5. Stay active and keep a schedule. One of the crazy things about college is that you suddenly break from having a pretty standard 8am-3pm school schedule, followed by sports, dinner, homework and bed. Rinse and repeat. In college, all of that is shot out the window, where classes can start anywhere from 8am to 8pm, and many college students find the easiest time to work out is either 1:00 pm or 1:00 am. Add beer, ramen noodles and Starbucks to the mix and you're in for a bad combo — diabetic or not! Although we students have the flexibility to try a variety of daily schedules during any given week, it's important to stay active and stay consistent with your schedule for the majority of the time. This is especially crucial if you have difficulty testing your blood sugars on time. Developing a standard meal schedule (even if class and activities change day-to-day) will help ensure that you test, eat well, and take your medication on time, every time.
Living on your own for the first time is definitely an overwhelming experience, even for someone who doesn't have to balance carbohydrates, insulin, exercise, stress, and a million other things. My last piece of advice: stay in touch with your parents about your diabetes. I didn't do this nearly enough in college and really regret it now. Your parents know your diabetes better than anyone (possibly even you!), so don't just brush them off now that you're an adult. They still know how the disease works and can be great for bouncing ideas off of.
If you were diagnosed while you were in college, stay close to your CDE and rely on them even more during your first couple of years. It can be a struggle, but a few blood sugar readings and a quick phone call with a diabetes educator can actually make a huge difference, for both your physical and emotional health.
Good luck and enjoy yourself!
A big thank-you to Allison for sharing this very useful hindsight.