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Type 1 and university: Kaja's story

Kaja was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes towards the end of her first term at university, after what she thought was a bout of freshers' flu.

Kaja

I went from a carefree fresher to being sat down in a hospital and told I had Type 1 diabetes – a condition I knew barely anything about. I’d been losing weight, which I put down to not eating properly, and feeling unwell, which I put down to freshers’ flu. I didn’t have an explanation for my extreme thirst or needing the toilet all the time.

“A diabetes diagnosis isn't the sort of thing you expect to happen in your first term of uni.”

Kaja on her diagnosis

It was the first time I’d been really independent from my parents and I felt very alone. It was a huge shock to my family too. My mum immediately started researching the condition and my brother helped me stay positive and wasn't afraid to ask questions.

A diabetes diagnosis isn't the sort of thing you expect to happen in your first term of uni. It was a big shock to my new friends as well, although they were glad that I finally knew why I'd been feeling unwell. 

The first few months after diagnosis were definitely the hardest. I spent my Christmas holidays revising for my January exams, which was stressful enough without having to also learn about diabetes.

Student support

I would definitely recommend talking to your university about your Type 1 and how it might affect you at university. I found that they were really understanding and supportive.

Kaja's tip to any students with Type 1 diabetes

One of my first hypos was 20 minutes before an exam. I had jelly babies and was able to raise my blood sugar to a safe level but didn’t feel 100% throughout the exam, as is normal for a hypo. I finished the exam and ended up applying for extenuating circumstances. I had planned to do this anyway because of missing so many lectures in my first term due to illness.

I would definitely recommend talking to your university about your Type 1 and how it might affect you at university. I found that they were really understanding and supportive. After my diagnosis I decided to move from a catered hall into self-catered accommodation. I found it easier to get to grips with carb counting when I was cooking my own meals and knew exactly what went into them. There was a long waiting list for accommodation transfers, but once I explained my situation I was bumped to the top of the list and moved in almost immediately. I was also given a mini fridge in my room to store my insulin.

My lecturers were really understanding if I ever needed to eat in a lecture or leave for a few minutes because I was feeling unwell. I also had the option to resit my exams without it affecting my final grade. I didn't end up needing to resit anyway as I was pleased to get a 2:1 for my first year, but it was good to know I had that option.

Awkward moments

Being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at university was definitely a daunting and upsetting experience, but over time I've learnt not to let it get me down.

It does still throw up challenges and the odd awkward moment. There’s always someone who stares while you’re testing your blood sugar before the start of an exam or lecture. I felt uncomfortable at first, but then realised they probably have no idea about diabetes, just like me before diagnosis. I also had a bit of a nightmare once where my finger wouldn’t stop bleeding after a blood sugar test in an exam and I got blood on my exam booklet. An assistant gave me a new booklet, and once the exam was over I saw the funny side.

Everyone is far more understanding than you think – from lecturers to flatmates – and even though some people do have misconceptions about the condition, they are always willing to listen and change their mindset.

Social life

I was worried that diabetes might stop me enjoying the social side of university.  It took me a while to figure out what worked for me and there were a few nights where I did have a hypo. Luckily my friends are really supportive and are there when I need them – whether it’s helping me test on a night out, or setting a bouncer straight who mistakes my hypo for being drunk.

I've now started my second year of university and although it can still be difficult to manage diabetes, I genuinely don't see myself as being at a disadvantage compared to my peers. I'm determined to not let it hold me back as I continue to enjoy my university life.

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