From the age of four years old, I was not only learning how to ride a bike and to read, I was also learning how to test my blood sugar and give myself insulin shots.
Type 1 Diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the body attacks the islet cells on the pancreas – cells that produce one of the body’s most important and necessary hormones: insulin. Insulin combines with sugar in our blood to give us energy. My body cannot produce any insulin, so I have to wear an insulin pump 24 hours a day to do this.
November is National Diabetes Awareness Month and thousands of students around the world have diabetes.
Growing up with Type 1 Diabetes, I was embarrassed of testing my blood sugar and embarrassed of my insulin pump, often trying to hide it.
Today I am proud and I hope to raise awareness for this disease for as long as I live. Learning and comprehending this at the age of four was challenging, but bringing Type 1 Diabetes to college with me – that was a whole new level.
Managing a disease is easy when you have routine, structure and familiarity. However, these words and concepts are not always a part of regular vocabulary in college.
The challenge of college and Type 1 Diabetes is finding balance among all that I do and my blood sugar. That includes class, work, exercise, food, sleep, stress and social life. Almost anything can affect my blood sugar – so it is always on my mind.
Food has certainly been an obstacle. Some students may stumble upon free food after an event and pop some chicken tenders or nachos in their mouths and I can actually do that too. However, the difference is that I have to consider how food will make me feel hours after eating it.
Every time I eat, I have to consider how the food will affect my blood sugar. Sometimes I need to consider whether eating certain foods is worth high blood sugar and injecting insulin.
The greatest difficulty that diabetes presents is its invisibility. There are days when my blood sugars are bouncing up and down and I can’t seem to keep them in control.
It’s these days that I walk around campus with a smaller smile than usual and I try to carry on with my day. But inside, I am frustrated because I cannot figure out the disease. Type 1 Diabetes is a mental disease just as much as it is physical. From kindergarten to college, Type 1 Diabetes has been an opportunity for me to educate others.
It is not a struggle, but it is a part of my journey.
Erika Szumel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.