Shannon Smith is a sophomore in college. Diagnosed at age 10, Shannon grew up taking an active and relatively independent role in her diabetes care; however, heading to college presented some new questions and challenges for her. For the next few weeks, Shannon will share some of her experiences transitioning to this new phase in her life.
I have been a type 1 diabetic for nearly half of my life. When I was first diagnosed, I was focused on learning how to manage diabetes and still feel like a ‘normal’ kid. Thoughts about going away to college weren’t really on my mind when it came to managing my diabetes. When I was in high school though, some questions about this new phase in my life started coming up.
How Far To Roam From Home
I was filling out all the applications to universities when it suddenly hit me: should my diabetes be a factor in my decision whether to stay close to home or go away to school? I’d known for a while that Public Relations and the field of Communications have always fascinated me, but I also knew that meant applying to some schools with amazing programs that were further away from home.
I felt I had a lot more to think about and consider - much more to think about than my friends. They were trying to decide where to go to college based on criteria, such as where their friends were going, if they wanted to live at home or have the full college experience living away, and which schools offered the program they wanted - no matter where it was located. I was thinking about those things too, but I was also considering my diabetes.
I’m not going to lie, it was exhausting and stressful thinking about how my diabetes would affect the start of the new chapter in my life. Eventually, I remembered to focus on the attitude I have always tried to have about my diabetes: even though diabetes is my life, I control my diabetes. It doesn’t control me. I have always tried not to let diabetes be the deciding factor on the goals I set for myself, so why should where I want to go to college be affected or altered based on my diabetes? I made my decision; I decided I really wanted to attend Rowan University, a college that is about a six-hour drive from my home. It was a lot further away than I had anticipated, but I was up for the challenge.
Managing My Diabetes Supplies at College
Maybe because I have always prided myself on having a “take-charge” attitude with my diabetes care, I wasn’t nervous about handling my blood sugar levels, carb counting or changing my Omnipod by myself. But I was concerned about the actual diabetes supplies themselves. I became preoccupied about whether I would have enough while I was so far away.
At first, I wasn’t sure why this bothered me. It wasn’t like I was living in the middle of nowhere; I was just outside of the major metropolitan city of Philadelphia! I discovered as the semester began that I was actually nervous about keeping track of the quantity of my diabetes supplies. This new responsibility was a bit confusing at first; my parents had always taken care of this part of my diabetes. My mom would always know when and what prescriptions I needed and now the responsibility rested in my hands.
When I visited home for the first time my mother asked me whether I needed to bring some supplies back with me. I think I stared at her like a deer in headlights for a moment as I took a mental count of my supplies. I realized living away from home that managing my diabetes was not just controlling my blood sugar levels, counting carbs and administering insulin - it encompassed managing my prescriptions and supplies too.
Staying Healthy Away from Home
Living in a building full of my peers was another adjustment I needed to make with my diabetes. I didn’t want to feel left out when everyone was hanging out in the lounge at all hours; but I also knew that I needed my sleep more than most people my age. I have always found that my diabetes makes me more susceptible to getting a cold or the flu - and staying up all hours was not helping my immune system at all.
At the beginning of the year I tried to keep up with my classmates’ crazy study and socializing schedules, but I found that I was exhausted, having low blood sugars and getting sick all the time. I got one cold after another. I hadn’t realized how much my parents had helped me through high school when it came to making sure I took care of my immune system so I wouldn’t get sick.
I had been worried that I wouldn’t be able to make friends if I was asleep while everyone was hanging out; but I soon realized that it wasn’t weird that I needed to pack up my things around midnight and call it a night. And I found other ways to socialize. I made the extra effort to go out to the dining commons with people in my building. I also invited people to come study at the library with me instead of in the lounge, so I knew we would leave at an appropriate hour. In return, my immune system thanked me and I started feeling healthier again.
Going off to college to live on your own for the first time is a big transition for anyone. Tackling these changes with diabetes showed me that I still had a lot to learn, but that I was up to the challenge!
Come back next week to read more about Shannon’s experiences managing diabetes at college.