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Surviving High School With Type 1 Diabetes

When I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in December of 2019, one of my greatest concerns was whether or not I would be able to continue living as I had been for 17 years, or if I would have to adjust to a new way of life. I couldn’t imagine focusing on all the things high school students are supposed to focus on when I was literally ALWAYS managing my blood sugar. Here are 5 tips that will make a high school student with type 1 diabetes easier and more enjoyable.

The Medical Management Plan

If you’re a type 1 diabetic, you know how hard it is to explain your diabetes to others, especially when you’re high or low. The medical management plan is an agreement with your school on how to handle your diabetes if they ever need to get involved. When I was in school, this plan was super helpful to me because it made dealing with highs and lows at school a lot less frustrating. For example, if I was low and had to eat in a class that didn’t generally allow eating, the teacher wouldn’t say anything about it because they had read my medical management plan and they understood that I needed the sugar. On the opposite end, if my blood sugar was above 14.0mmol/L (250mg/dL), I was allowed to postpone an exam or assessment until I was back in a comfortable range. Of course, it wasn’t perfect, but it helped teachers understand my needs without me constantly having to explain and re-explain. I highly recommend making a medical management plan with your high school because it eliminates the need for you to constantly advocate for yourself and your diabetes.

The Stares 

I think it was my second week back at school after diagnosis when this kid saw me injecting and asked if he could watch. I felt uncomfortable with it because injecting felt personal and I didn’t expect people’s curiosity. Whether people watched intently or cowered away when I was injecting, it still felt like I was being judged and I didn’t like it. I eventually decided that enough was enough, I needed a private space to inject. Whether this space is a teacher’s classroom or an area designated for taking care of medical needs, I definitely think having the option of a private space is helpful, even if you don’t need it every time you inject. 

What Do I Tell My Friends?

Having a support system of friends at school is a good idea because it allows you to share your diabetes with them and it gives you some extra help with the management. Knowing what to tell friends can be tricky, but I have a foolproof system to help you decide what and how much they need to know.

  • If you spend a lot of time with someone, they should know the basics such as the signs of highs/lows, where you keep your sugar and how to use your glucagon. 
  • If you see someone strictly in class, then it’s not necessary to tell them much about your diabetes, but you can let them know about the signs of highs and lows if you want to. 
  • Friends that you meet up with in after school sports teams or other extracurriculars should know about the signs of low blood sugars and how to use your glucagon because it is more likely that you will go low when you’re being active.

This system of “who and what to tell” worked really well for me, but make sure you tweak it to what works best for you. 

Physical Education And Sports

Have you experienced low blood sugar during or after physical exercise? If you said yes, you’re not alone. This happens because exercise makes your blood pump the insulin into your cells at a quicker rate while simultaneously lowering your insulin resistance. For me, eating a small snack or meal without insulin before vigorous activity usually helps me prevent activity lows. However, you might need to adjust your basal rate (insulin pump therapy) or your basal injection (Multiple Daily Injections Therapy) on days when you have planned vigorous activity. For example, on days when I planned to work out, I would take less long-acting insulin than I did on days when I wasn’t planning on being active. When you are active, you should always keep your low snacks, glucagon, and water nearby so that you’re prepared in case of an emergency.

Drugs And Alcohol

It’s important for you to know the risks of alcohol and drugs for a type 1 diabetic before you try them. A good tip is to try something mild in a safe space before going out and drinking. Doing this will be an experiment to see how your body reacts to the substance so that you can be prepared when you are out with friends and not in a controlled environment. I suggest talking to your doctor about safe consumption and emergency measures, in case something goes wrong before you start using drugs or alcohol.

Being in high school is trying enough, without the added stress of type one diabetes. Using the tips in this article will help you feel safe and keep your blood sugar in range while you’re at school. Good luck!

Jasmyne Kizito
I help type one diabetics find community in social media T1D since 25/12/2019

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