I recently attended my 10-year high school reunion, and while the event caused me to wax nostalgic about my teenagehood, it also made me realize what I didn’t know about Type 1 diabetes self-management at the time.
If I could go back in time, here are 8 tips I would tell my younger self about managing Type 1 diabetes:
1. Listen to your parents
Teenagehood demands more self-sufficiency, but parents really do have your best interests at heart, and (irritatingly) they’re usually right. They make mistakes too, but their broader life experience allows them to
boss you around impart their profound wisdom and point your moral compass in the right direction. Plus, they go to bed with the constant worry of your overnight blood sugar levels (your diabetes is no picnic for them, either), so cut them a break.
2. Nothing exciting happens after midnight…or 1a.m.
Let go of your FOMO*! A decent night’s rest far outweighs an extra hour of “hanging out”. Studies even show that lack of sleep can dismantle blood sugar balance, not to mention mood and cognitive function.
3. Prioritize your health
The invincibility of youth starts to wane in your late twenties, as does the ability to bounce back from a blood sugar roller coaster. You may have exams to crunch for and parties to attend, but take time to check in with yourself. When Type 1’s a priority instead of a royal pain, life’s big events (and the future) will go much more smoothly than if you neglect your diabetes care now.
4. Learn to say no
We’ve all succumbed to some form of peer pressure, and the teenage years can be tough. Being an assertive youth will actually make you a more decisive, independent adult. It’s also a really kind gesture to be the designated driver after a night of gallivanting, and you’ll be happier than your peers in the morning when you don’t have to bow to the porcelain god.
5. Go to summer camp
Aka diabetes camp. Even if you’re past the camper age group, register to be a counselor or volunteer. You get to swim, hike, play, camp, and test blood sugar with your bunk mates and a team of diabetes care specialists around the clock. It’s a magical place where diabetes is the norm.
6. Stay open
Being empowered to prick your finger in public or show strangers how your insulin pump works is awesome, until that self-conscious impulse kicks in. Try not to rationalize your compulsive discretion as a shield against showing weakness or scaring needle-phobic peers. Public displays of Type 1 are a great way to raise awareness, your friends and teachers will be supportive, and anyone who can’t handle it needs a lesson in maturity.
7. Make friends with people who care about your well-being
The wise Dr. Seuss once said, “Those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.” This is an apt way to describe friendships when you have diabetes. The ones who truly get the shaky personalities of blood sugar are the ones you’ll still be friends with in 10 years.
8. Enjoy riding the wave of youth
Adulthood means growing up, figuring out your life, and paying bills. I wish I had appreciated the resources and support I had in my teens, from high school counselors to health care coverage to the endocrinology unit at Children’s Hospital. There’s going to be plenty of time to go it alone with your diabetes, too much in fact, so enjoy the support while you can.
Of course, youth is wasted on the young, and we all have to learn some lessons the hard way. I just hope the current crop of teenagers with Type 1 can learn from the experiences of the former teenagers that came before them.
* Note to non-recent former teens, FOMO = fear of missing out
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