If you were like me, you were so prepared for the transition to college that you had checklists, extra supplies, and plans on how to engage in courageous conversations with your roommate(s). If you were like me you had researched the type of food in the dining hall and talked through a meal plan with your care team. It seemed as if I had been preparing for this college transition my whole ‘diabetic’ life. Fast forward through those four years with peaks and pits and by the time I felt I had a small grasp on diabetes management in college, it was time for graduation. So what comes next? What happens when there isn’t the same structure or checklist for the next transition?
Change in physical environment
One thing to expect for the transition OUT of college is a change in your physical environment. IN college I physically lived on campus, with roommates and I felt I was always surrounded by classmates, colleagues, and friends. So when I lived alone, not only was I processing new feelings of loneliness as a product of my new living situation, but my built-in safety net of oversight was gone. All that means is that you have to take extra precautions to prevent emergencies, even more than you did in college. One app that I have found particularly helpful is Sugarmate. One of the features is that during a set time period, you will receive a phone call if you reach a certain level. For me (a heavy sleeper who doesn’t wake up to my Dexcom alarms) that is 65mg/dL between 1 am and 6 am. It has been super helpful in catching those pesky and dangerous overnight lows.
Unlike in college, those around you may not see you managing your diabetes in the ways they did in the college environment. This means, utilizing courage, if needed, to vocalize when I may need help. For example, if I catch a low or I am sick with a high that may need advanced treatment, I may send a premature text to a trusted friend saying, “Hey, I am treating an extremely low blood sugar right now”, send them my location for an hour and then say “if I don’t text you back in 15 minutes call me. If I don’t answer three times call an ambulance to my location.” Yes it seems intense and usually I am fine and text back the minute I start feeling better, but I would be remiss if I didn’t prepare for the “what ifs”.
Change in mental space
Similarly to the transition TO college, the transition FROM college includes a change in mental space and I realized I needed to adjust my mindset, particularly with harnessing more personal accountability. Gone are the days of “oh I am in college and my schedule is crazy” and giving myself a “pass” on holding myself accountable for what I was eating, drinking, how much I was working out and sleeping. Post-college I found a daunting, yet exciting opportunity to face these challenges head-on. I chose a career with more routine hours, that left me time to cook, and if I wasn’t sleeping it was not because I had too much homework or a late shift at work, it was because I made the choice to stay up late and therefore had to face the consequences. There were a lot of behaviors to unlearn, which isn’t unlike other young adult’s transition out of college, but I also had to learn patience and grace because the path to success wasn’t linear. Transitioning from college meant facing the real reasons why I may have had poor management including a lack of focus on eating and exercise, laziness when it comes to looking up carb counts, and a general lack of self-discipline. All of that can feel like a whole new level of burden. That means digging into the “coping mechanism toolbox” that we have all been forced to learn from a young age to maintain a healthy perspective about living with a chronic illness.
Change in emotions
With the change in mentality around diabetes management, I think my emotions changed too. I was very lucky to be plugged into CDN at an early stage in college. Talking about diabetes with others arose naturally when I other people with diabetes. Even if it was just a sentence acknowledging a triumph or a challenge from that week, sharing that with someone who understood was very therapeutic. I didn’t realize what the power of vocalizing something seemingly routine, had on staving off feelings of isolation that we all know too well. I realized that I have fewer people who “get it” outside of the CDN community on campus. So what do you do? I started talking more openly with my friends, and they have been receptive. You just have to do it. I find the more I talk to them about it, the more questions they ask and the more I educate them on it, and soon they start to understand enough where they can be genuinely supportive. I always felt like I would annoy people with my diabetes but people are actually really willing to learn and listen to what one of their friends goes through on a day-to-day basis. It was scary at first, but now I am maintaining a level of emotional support that I didn’t know I needed until it was gone.
Just like transitioning INTO college was a huge, scary, intimidating transition, transitioning out of college will be too. But, in a weirdly beautiful way, managing your diabetes can be the thing that grounds you; the normalcy in a changing world. You still have to count carbs, administer insulin and respond to low and high blood sugars, just like you did before college, just like you did while in college and just like you will continue to do.
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