I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes on June 19, 2003. Although I was just 9 years old, I can say without a doubt that it was one of the worst days of my life. In that moment, I knew that my life was going to change forever. November is National Diabetes Awareness Month, which is why I am writing this article. Type 1 diabetes is a largely misunderstood disease because when most people think of diabetes, they think of type 2. Type 2 diabetes is brought on by obesity, age or occasionally pregnancy. Type 2 can be managed through daily medication––insulin or otherwise––exercise and diet management. Type 1 cannot be managed like this.
People with type 1 diabetes cannot produce insulin with their pancreas. This means there is no natural homeostasis-maintaining measure for blood glucose levels. In order to fix this, type 1 diabetics like me have to take insulin to regulate our blood sugar.
Living with diabetes does not mean that there are any foods I cannot eat. There are, however, foods that I try to stay away from. Unless my blood sugar is low, I will try to avoid high-carbohydrate drinks like Mountain Dew or Sierra Mist. Still, I can theoretically drink them whenever I want.
Living with type 1 diabetes in college can be a challenge at times, to say the least. I have an insulin pump with me—I can eat whatever and whenever I want, however, I always have to be conscious of how much insulin I have left. If I run out of insulin, my blood sugar skyrockets and I am at risk for hyperglycemic ketoacidosis, or ketones.
Ketones is nightmarish. When I have ketones, my body essentially shuts down. Although symptoms vary from person to person, ketones cause my muscles tense up and become hard to move. I become extremely thirsty and I am incredibly irritable. It also becomes hard to focus on anything—meaning I have to shut my life down when my blood sugar gets too high.
Undoubtedly the hardest part about living with diabetes in college, however, is drinking. One thing many diabetics have in common is a low drinking tolerance—especially with liquor. This, however, is not the difficult part.
The liver and the pancreas are closely connected organs. When alcohol is consumed, blood sugar has a tendency to plummet. This means that, on top of being incapacitated, your life could potentially be in danger. During my freshman year, I consumed too much Everclear at a fraternity party at the University of Alabama. I was taken to the hospital when my suitemates had no idea how to take care of my low blood sugar.
This feels worse than being too drunk. Imagine the most intoxicated you’ve ever been while conscious and lucid. Multiply that feeling by five and that’s what it feels like to have a low blood sugar while drunk. It’s not pleasant.
Despite the struggles, living with type 1 diabetes is manageable. I have support from my parents, girlfriend and many of my friends in managing this disease. I’m confident that there will eventually be a cure available in the United States, but until then I’ll be here drawing some blood from my forearm.