The thought of moving away from home for the first time and living independently as a young adult can be daunting. But what is it like for a university student with Type 1 Diabetes?
Today is World Diabetes Day and we’re sharing top tips from Aneirin Thomas and Vicky March, on making adjustments to manage university life when you have Type 1 Diabetes.
Vicky: ‘Before leaving for uni I thought a lot about the different aspects of my diabetes, for example, the storage of my insulin. My parents even considered buying me a mini fridge for my room because we were worried about what my housemates would be like with insulin in the kitchen fridge. Looking back, it sounds hilarious; it was as if I was going to be living with people from another planet.
As an alternative, we bought a plastic Kit Kat lunch box to keep it in and labelled it with my name and room number. Weirdly enough it became part of my housemates’ lives; they used to say to me: “Is it time for the Kit Kat box?”‘
Aneirin: ‘I informed those I lived with about my condition and my medication was always kept safe. If you are still unsure, I discovered that my University would provide fridges in the rooms of diabetics for safekeeping. This is something that is definitely worth enquiring about when you arrive.’
Aneirin: ‘If you are moving to a new area, the most important step is to register with a doctor (the majority of application packs to University will have registration forms for the health centres affiliated with the institute). During my first week, I booked in for a health check and induction at the health centre and got acquainted with a specialist diabetes nurse.
When I arrived at University I was using insulin that needed to be taken at the same time every morning. I found this structured, inflexible medication to be completely incompatible with student life. But, different insulin types are suited to different people, and I was changed to more flexible insulin which made it much easier to adjust to my life away from home. These are all issues that your doctor can advise you on if you feel you are having difficulties’
Finding a routine
Vicky: ‘Breakfast can be hard when your housemates are getting up ten minutes before they need to leave, so you have to get up earlier to make time to eat. But once you are into a routine, it’s easy. Plus, depending on your course, you don’t always have to be in uni first thing in the morning every day. And when you do, it’s always you who lasts longer until lunchtime without popping into the student union to nibble on crisps and snacks. It seems that students with diabetes eat better than any other student – or they should do anyway!’
Aneirin: ‘At times, when working on my essays, I would drink enough coffee to stay up all night, and not take regular meals. This resulted in exhaustion and illness, as my blood glucose levels would reach highs that would affect my ability to think and perform to my full potential. I learned to plan ahead, eating well-balanced, regular meals regardless of my workload. It is almost impossible to avoid being stressed during these times, but when possible, eating well and exercising can keep blood glucose levels balanced and lessen anxiety.’
Aneirin: ‘Universities often have many activities and sports teams. Taking part in these is not only a great way to make friends, but also provides a routine, something that is so important to maintaining healthy blood glucose levels. When I took part in regular exercise my blood glucose levels were at their best making managing my condition much easier.’
Vicky: “In third year, I met my current boyfriend who studied sports science, so he probably knows more about diabetes than I do! He made me aware that exercise was also important to keep my weight steady and control my blood glucose levels better. And when you’re at uni, student gym membership costs next to nothing – so I would definitely recommend it!”
Final thoughts on life after graduation?
Vicky: ‘Obviously diabetes will always need to be a consideration in whatever I choose to do in life, but I certainly do not let it stand in the way of things I want to do, and, as I said, I do not regret one moment of University. Don’t let diabetes be a barrier. As long as you’re sensible and know your own body, uni will be the best experience of your life.’