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Type 1 and university: Emma's story

Emma is from Northern Ireland and is studying for a masters at the University of Glasgow. She shares her tips on moving away from home and settling into uni life.

I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when I was six years old, so have lived with the condition for most of my life. But however much experience you have of living with diabetes, moving away from home for the first time is still a huge adventure.

Getting organised

Try to get yourself organised in the first few weeks. Here are some of the things I did early on:

  • registered with a GP and set up an appointment to meet my new diabetes team
  • contacted student support at my university so I could tell them I have Type 1 and find out what support I might be entitled to
  • chatted with my new friends about Type 1, how it affects me and what they might need to watch out for
  • bought myself a new bag to carry all of my diabetes supplies around while I'm out and about
  • downloaded the Beyond Type One app and followed lots of diabetes Instagram accounts so I could vent or get advice when I needed to
Emma (centre) with her university friends
Emma (centre) with her uni friends

New routines

    “The stress of moving away and feeling nervous about meeting complete strangers was daunting and had a profound impact on my blood sugar levels.... However with time I settled into uni life and found a rhythm that worked for me.

    Emma on adapting to her new routine

    One of the most challenging parts was how stress and change of routine affected my blood sugars. Firstly, the stress of moving away and feeling nervous about meeting complete strangers was daunting and had a profound impact on my blood sugar levels. When I started classes my routine was always changing. However with time I settled into uni life and found a rhythm that worked for me.

    It takes time to grow in confidence and stop being worried about all the little things. Uni life is a different world to normal life, especially during your freshers bubble. Try not to worry too much. When you live with Type 1 it’s always on your mind, but be kind to yourself and give yourself time to settle in.

    “Moving away from all the friends you grew up with and who understand about your diabetes is a huge change... Once I had settled into my new friendships this was something I worried less about.

    Emma on meeting new people at uni

     

    Emma with a uni friend

    Talking to housemates

    I’ve never been the kind of person to hide my diabetes or to feel self-conscious about it. However, I found that moving away from all my friends who I grew up with and who understand about my diabetes was a huge change. I did worry about having to tell new people about it in the beginning. I was surrounded by people who had never known anyone with Type 1 diabetes, nor did they know much about it.

    Once I had settled into my new friendships this was something I worried less about. The more time I spent with people the more questions they asked, and the better chance I had to educate them on the condition.

    Funny reactions

    Talking to new people about diabetes does have its comedy moments too. The funniest reaction I've ever had was when I was getting ready to go on a night out with my flatmates once. One girl didn't know I had diabetes, and got quite a shock when I took my insulin injection. She'd had a few drinks at this point and when she saw my bright orange syringe I don't think she quite knew what to say and got so flustered she just blurted out 'can I try it?'. As soon as the words had left her mouth I could see the horror on her face as she realised what she'd just said and panicked that I would be offended. I've never laughed so much in all my life!

    Dealing with house shares

    I did have one tricky experience when I moved into my uni house in second year. I'd ordered a mini fridge to keep my insulin safe in my bedroom. I'd gone home for a week and left some insulin stored in the fridge. One housemate was particularly paranoid about electricity bills. While I was away she had gone into my room and unplugged the extension cable which my mini fridge was connected to. She felt awful when I explained that my insulin need to be kept refrigerated. Now I always make sure everyone knows not to touch my supplies.

    Educating others

    Once I was doing my insulin injection in a campus café and a group of students thought I was injecting illegal drugs. I saw them pointing at me and they began saying things like 'I can't believe she's doing that in public'.

    Luckily I was with a very good friend who immediately got up from our table and went over to explain what was going on. It played on my mind for a few days and I was embarrassed at the time. However, now I view those situations as learning curves for people with no experience of Type 1 diabetes. That particular group of people now have a small glimpse into what life with diabetes is like and will be more understanding if they find themselves in the same situation again.

    You definitely learn from experience at uni

    Emma on learning from mistakes

    Student life

    It was frustrating to watch others who were able to eat whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted, and drink alcohol without all the mental maths I had to do.

    My mini fridge is always kept well stocked with hypo treatments for post-night out hypos. You definitely learn from experience at uni!

    Getting through exams

    Exam periods are never a fun time at uni, but coupled with diabetes they can be pretty rough. Stress always makes my sugars spike like crazy, but studying tends to make them drop. I like to think it's because I'm working so hard! 

    Stay connected

    Social media is a great way to stay connected and meant I always had somewhere to vent or ask for advice if I needed to. I downloaded the Beyond Type One app and follow a lot of diabetes-related Instagram accounts. There's an amazing support network online and it can really help if diabetes is getting you down.

    Don’t let Type 1 stop you living life to the full.

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