How I Survived Going to College with Type 1 Diabetes

As I started my first year of college, I knew there would be challenges. After all, I was going to be living on my own for the first time, doing so in a different province, contending with the academic demands of my program while working part-time, and managing my Type 1 diabetes. I thought that managing my diabetes after moving away from home might be a little bit different without my family and my former medical team at my side, but I didn’t anticipate how it would define my life during that first year of school.

With high school, I spent the same eight hours each weekday in the classroom; my time spent exercising, socializing, and going to extra-curricular activities fell into a fairly predictable routine. The steady schedule made it easier to have a glucose management routine. Also, I had my family, my long-time medical team, and my friends to rely on for support with my diabetes. I felt organized and in control.

At college, a new, fast-paced, and variable schedule of classes, work, and errands threw my careful diabetes management into disarray. Meanwhile, the social events, spontaneous outings, and late nights that are part of nearly everyone’s university experience made things even more complicated. I also struggled to navigate another province’s health care system, track down specialists, follow up on medical referrals, and build a relationship with a new medical team.

Eventually, I started to take steps to stabilize. One of the first things I did was to enlist a network of people to support me; I regularly emailed and called my parents and I stayed in touch with my previous medical team in my hometown as I assembled my own medical team in my newly adopted city. I also met new people at school, some who had diabetes and could relate to my experience, others who had different chronic illnesses and could emphasize with my feelings of worry and isolation, and still others who couldn’t relate to my firsthand experiences with diabetes, but were willing to learn and to lend an ear when I was frustrated or concerned. Every conversation, text, and phone call with this network of people helped to lift a weight off my shoulders.

I also found that helping others helped me to feel better. During my second year of school, I became involved with my campus’s Team Diabetes chapter, a student-led organization affiliated with Diabetes Canada. Helping others with diabetes gave me a sense of purpose and countered the feelings of loneliness and helplessness I often felt because of my diabetes.

My first year of school was indeed a learning experience. I’ve discovered firsthand how easy it is for young people with diabetes to become overwhelmed and to fall through the cracks once they move out of their parents’ homes. I also learned that university life can offer some unexpected forms of support. I hope that by sharing this experience I can lend a voice and advice to other students with diabetes who might be grappling with the same problems.

This story has been edited for clarity and to Americanize some of the language.

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Raised in Sydney, Nova Scotia, Ainslie Pierrynowski is a third-year student studying political science at the University of Ottawa. She has lived with Type 1 diabetes for over 10 years. As an active member of her university's Team Diabetes chapter, she is passionate about supporting people living with diabetes, and also enjoys hiking, literature, and volunteering.

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