One of my first friends in college was a bubbly woman with long, curly hair and a tie-dye shirt. I wish her bright energy was the first thing people noticed about her---but sadly it was the crutches she bore on the first week of school. My friend had the fortune of falling into a pothole during orientation week and injuring her foot. Most people assumed the white patch on her upper-thigh was related to her injury, but I knew it wasn't---I had seen the glucose monitor on other diabetics before.
Type-1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease which occurs when the body mistakes the pancreas as foreign and kills the cells in the organ. Like many autoimmune diseases, it's not always noticeable to the public.
In all the adventures we shared during our first year of college, I learned the hardships that come with having this chronic condition.
1. People are afraid of the word "diabetes"
When people hear the word "diabetes", they tend to associate it with type-2 diabetes: a lifestyle disease. I've heard people tell my friend, "oh, but you're so skinny" and "you don't look unhealthy". As if these ignorant statements weren't enough, she told me a school nurse once advised her against drinking juice---when her blood sugar was dangerously low.
2. Manually operating an organ is tedious
My friend's insulin pump.
Thanks to modern technology, my friend can monitor her glucose levels on her phone and adjust insulin via an electronic device. Though these inventions make managing the disease easier, it doesn't take away the stress of checking glucose levels throughout the day and adjusting insulin every time she eats. As a college student, it's nearly impossible to eat meals at a set-time every day---which for a non-diabetic can cause "hangriness" and fatigue, but for my friend it can result in dangerous glucose levels.
Additionally, monitoring her health doesn't stop for class. While plenty of us have pulled out our phone to read a message during a lecture, my friend has to check her phone to make sure her blood sugar is in a safe range. Luckily, most professors seem to be understanding, but I have seen a few judgmental looks from surrounding peers when her insulin pump beeps.
Because she's had to do this since the age of six, she sometimes forgets that diabetes can be a foreign concept. At the beginning of this semester, she approached one of her professors to inform them that "sometimes she beeps in class". She forgot to mention that the beeping was related to her insulin pump and that she was diabetic. We still laugh about this interaction.
3. Burnout isn’t just for caregivers
If I could change anything about my friend, it would be to convince her that she's not a burden. Though she tends to hide when she's struggling, I know she feels guilty over the extra needs and costs associated with her condition. When I consider my daily routine of classes, homework, and meetings for student organizations, it's hard to even imagine where I'd find time to regulate my insulin levels. Yet, my friend does this each day while excelling in her college courses.
4. Stress is hard on the body
My friend wearing her continuous glucose monitor.
When you don't have to think about all the functions your organs do, it's easy to forget the complex chemical reactions that allow us to function normally. My friend is easily the strongest person I know, and I hope her story can shed a light on those who have to work a little harder to stay alive.
For those of us without chronic conditions, I hope we become more aware of how taxing it is on our bodies to process stress---and how lucky we are that our body manages it for us. During these trying times, remember to take care of yourself. Your body will thank you.