Shannon Smith is a sophomore in college. Diagnosed at age 10, Shannon grew up taking an active and relatively independent role in her diabetes care; however, heading to college presented some new questions and challenges for her. For the next few weeks, Shannon will share some of her experiences transitioning to this increased level of independence.
I am a believer that people with diabetes have challenges beyond just medical management – we have social challenges as well. I mean, when I’m meeting a person for the first time I don’t introduce myself as ‘Shannon the diabetic’ but rather just ‘Shannon,’ or if I’m feeling talkative, ‘Shannon the Public Relations major.’ I wondered whether that should change how I introduced myself when I met my freshman-year roommate.
My Diabetes and Roommate Worries
A large part of me also worried: Would she think she was the girl who got stuck with a ‘weird’ roommate? I didn’t want to throw it all out there in front of my roommate-to-be right away. She was a person I was hoping could become my friend.One of my first worries was trying to foresee how my roommate, who I had never met, would take the news that her roommate would be bringing diabetes supplies along with her bedding and shoes. Would she be okay with me storing vials of insulin in the tiny micro-fridge unit in our dorm? Would she touch my medical supplies, like my needles, alcohol swabs, meter, test strips, etc.?
I talked to her on Facebook, but dreaded the awkward “so I just wanted to let you know, I’m a type 1 diabetic” conversation. I wanted to have the conversations that consisted of things such as what kind of music we should play when studying together and how we should decorate our room together.
Facing my Fears
I ended up facing my fears and decided it was best to let her know about my diabetes before move-in day. I explained to her that I was a diabetic and what that meant. She understood that I needed to keep some of my medication in the fridge; that my orange juice was for low blood sugars, so to try not to use it; and that I would have other diabetes supplies stored in the room. I felt so much better getting everything off my chest.
After a few minor bumps in the road, it turned out that my concerns about managing my diabetes in our shared space were not an issue with my roommate. What really still worried me, though, was whether she thought I was abnormal or weird. I had encountered that sort of judgment in middle and high school.
My Mini Support System
Then something happened that proved that my fears were misplaced and that she and I would end up being great friends. It was one of the first couple of weeks at school and we went to the food court for lunch. Someone pointed to my Pod on my leg and asked, “What are you, bionic woman or something?”
Have I heard worse comments? Yes. But for some reason I just broke down right there. I was exhausted mentally from trying to make new friends and live in a building with people I didn’t even know. It was like a last straw.
My roommate looked at this guy and, in kinder words, told him off. I was shocked that she stood up for me, being someone she didn’t really know too well. At that moment I knew she didn’t think I was weird. She liked me for me - and my diabetes didn’t have any effect on that.
She and I ended up becoming great friends. Sometimes I would come back to our room and find a note saying, “Hey I saw you were low on orange juice and was at the store, so I picked some up for your low blood sugars!” My roommate became a mini support system for me at school – not only for keeping my worries that people would think my diabetes was weird at bay – but also for helping me meet new people and make true friends. And be just like any other college student.
Come back as Shannon continues to share her experiences at college with diabetes.