Whether you were diagnosed at age 4 or 14, dealing with diabetes when you hit college is a struggle for anyone. From late-night pizza parties, to erratic school schedules to the inevitable encounters with alcohol, diabetes in college is nothing if not chaotic. When I was attending school, I didn’t have much support, which is why I can vouch for the fact that the new Students with Diabetes organization is so important.
Nicole Johnson, who was diagnosed while in college and went on to become Miss America, launched this organization through the University of South Florida. Today, for the kickoff of our Summer Reading Series, she shares with us her own personal findings and how we can help college students with diabetes manage their diabetes during this difficult time.
A Guest Post by Nicole Johnson, Advocate and Miss America 1999
Living with diabetes can prompt insecurity, isolation and pessimism. It especially torments teens and young adults. The transition from dependence to independence offers an opportunity unlike other life points to define one’s persona and image. It is a chance to decide who you are and how others will see you. This includes the question of disclosure of diabetes. The newness of independence can also highlight challenges for those who have always had the “diabetes police” watching their every move and reminding them of what to do.
I remember that time of life well. It was during those young adult years that I was diagnosed with diabetes. I still feel that diabetes stole my college experience. I didn’t live a typical college life because of the newness of disease and the fear I harbored.
Most stunning though are my memories of both feeling alone and wondering what impact diabetes would have on the rest of my life.
Like most young people, I was concerned with appearance and perception. Some of my dominant thoughts surrounded how others would think of me with disease.
Science supports this notion. Perceived negative appraisals by peers have been associated with poorer control for people with diabetes. This is a testament to the power of relationships and their impact on diabetes. The temptation to ignore diabetes and blend in with the crowd is significant, and we all fall prey to it.
Social support is critical to good outcomes in diabetes life. By that I mean number outcomes, social outcomes and quality of life outcomes! Without loving support, we can’t achieve all that we are capable of. With loving support, comes optimism — another critical factor in living well with this disease.
Those who believe they can successfully manage their diabetes are found to be less depressed and anxious than those who believe their diabetes control is a matter of chance or fate. People who have an optimistic outlook on life are more likely to report a higher quality of life. Optimism tends to be a significant predictor of both physical and psychological well-being.
Because of the importance of social support, loving relationships and optimism, and the profound challenges associated with becoming a young adult with diabetes, last year I created a program for young adults called Students With Diabetes. This is now a national organization with chapters on college campuses across the country. This student organization is meant to be a social opportunity and a connection point for young adults discovering their pathway to independence.
The groups meet once a month and talk about a diabetes topic of their choice. At the monthly meetings, the attendees also do some kind of interactive / social activity like zumba or boxing. The results have been staggering. Participants report feeling more confident, most see an improvement in diabetes control, all gain some kind of diabetes education, and all have built strong friendships.
Participants are encouraged to bring a friend to the events. It makes educating a roommate, boyfriend, girlfriend a little easier and that education feels less pressured. Plus, the friends or “Type 3’s” love to talk to each other.
We encourage you to join our movement. If you or someone you know are interested in setting up a chapter of Students With Diabetes at your college, check out the start up kit on our website or contact us there for help. This organization is supported by USF Health and The Patterson Foundation.
Thanks Nicole, for pinpointing the needs of PWDs transitioning into adulthood!