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Type 1 diabetes and university: Tom's story

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Tom tells us about the support he received at university, and how it helped him deal with the ups and downs of Type 1 diabetes and student life.


I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when I was 13 years old, so my school friends understood the condition and were really supportive. Going to university meant having to tell a brand new set of people and that definitely made me feel nervous. I felt quite alone with it to begin with.

My mum sent me to uni with loads of small orange juice cartons (my favourite hypo treatment), which I stored under my bed.

On my first night some people were in my room and made a joke about how much I must love orange juice. I took that as my opportunity to tell them about my diabetes and let them spread it, rather than having to have the same conversation over and over again.

They knew a bit about Type 1 diabetes already, and I told them what to do if I ever needed help. Luckily I’ve never been so low that I can’t treat a hypo myself.


Academic support

told academic support about my diabetes and they put a study plan in place to help me. I was entitled to week-long extensions on deadlines and a week longer for library loans. This was in place for me from the start, so I didn’t need to explain it each time.

 

Tom studying at university

I was entitled to week-long extensions on deadlines and a week longer for library loans. This was in place for me from the start, so I didn’t need to explain it each time.

Tom on the practical help he received from academic support

 

Sometimes you need time and space to focus on yourself and get your head back on track. I have days where I aim to get my blood sugar under control – nothing else.

Tom on coping with diabetes burnout

I do miss lectures sometimes. Type 1 diabetes can run you down and leave you feeling exhausted. If I wake up with low blood sugars I feel grumpy for a few hours. Waking up shaky and sweaty is a rubbish way to start the day. Sometimes I’ll treat my hypo and have breakfast but then end up too high and need to spend a few hours sorting it out. By midday I’m exhausted.

Sometimes you need time and space to focus on yourself and get your head back on track. I have days where I aim to get my blood sugar levels under control – nothing else. You can get tired of constantly having to put your diabetes second.

All my lectures are recorded and I can access these without having to give a reason. My lecturers are also really supportive and are available outside of lectures if I need to chat or catch up.


Catering

I choose my food more wisely now, and that helps me keep on track with my diabetes.

Tom on managing his meals

At my university all accommodation was self-catered. I did consider catered halls at other universities but wasn’t keen on having strict meal times.

Like most students I started with good intentions when it came to preparing meals, but it all slips up. I found that the worst food for me was super noodles. They may be convenient but are really fast-acting carbohydrate and would mess up my blood sugar much more than expected. You learn things like that the hard way.

In my second year I moved into a rented house with my friends. Over time I’ve started to plan meals more. Potatoes with toppings like cheese or beans have always been a good option, as well as sweet potatoes and pasta. I choose my food more wisely now, and that helps me keep on track with my diabetes.


Alcohol

I turned 18 one month before moving to university, so had only really had one big night out before then. I remember feeling really nervous – I had no idea what my limits were.

 

Tom on a night out with a uni friend
Tom on a night out with a friend who he met on his first day at uni

At my diabetes clinic they would bring young people with diabetes together sometimes for group sessions on topics like university and alcohol. I went to a two hour session where we talked about alcohol and how it would affect our diabetes. It was there that I learnt tips like eating before and after drinking, and not injecting for carbs when you’re drinking as alcohol will make your levels dip.

I’ve also learnt by experience about factoring in how much activity you’re doing – if you’re dancing until 3am you need to make sure you’re topping up your sugar levels throughout the night.

Tom on Type 1 and alcohol

I’ve also learnt by experience about factoring in how much activity you’re doing – if you’re dancing until 3am you need to make sure you’re topping up your sugar levels throughout the night.

Luckily I’ve never had any big disasters when it comes to alcohol and diabetes. I’ve definitely learnt that if you feel awful, you have to stop. You can’t push your diabetes too far and sometimes you have to accept it. I have supportive friends who know not to put pressure on me.

Because I was diagnosed at 13 years old, I don’t know what it feels like to go out drinking without diabetes. So in that sense I don’t feel that I’m missing out on anything. Type 1 diabetes is such a key part of who I am.

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