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Life at Uni with a long term health condition

I have type one diabetes. For those unaware, it’s a long-term health condition characterised by the failing of the pancreas. I’ve had it since I was 4 years old so it’s not a big deal for me. It’s just part of my life. However, coming to uni presented new challenges to face. I wanted to explain a couple of these issues and give you some advice if you’re in the same boat as me, whatever the health condition may be.

There were some awkward first conversations.

When I left sixth form, I couldn’t remember the last time I met a large group and not knowing a single person. Que challenge one: people didn’t know I have diabetes and wouldn’t know how to deal if something went disastrously wrong. I was so used to people not even thinking I had diabetes because they had known me for so long so it just became second nature. However, this was far from the case. I remember the first night of freshers. Everybody was in the kitchen ready to go out and I had to be like ‘sorry guys, just so you know, I’m a type one diabetic and if I pass out tonight you have to call an ambulance straight away’. Talk about a mood killer.

My best advice would just be upfront from the start. Explain the worst case scenario and what to do if it happens. This should hopefully avoid awkward questions later on and leaves you not worrying about something going wrong in freshers week. Now, everybody now knows what to do if the worst happens. Trust me, people won’t think you’re weird – they will be thankful for the heads up.

My diabetes is managed by my insulin pump: a small device attached to me 24/7. Unfortunately, this device is not discreet and I have to attach it to my trousers. This means it’s on show, perhaps more than I would like sometimes… I have had so many people come up to me and ask ‘what’s that on your belt?’ and have thought I’m wearing a really out dated mp3 player. Not fun. I have to explain that I have diabetes and my pump manages everything for me. Sorry about this but I’m not entirely sure what advice I can offer, I just tend to think I can’t help it being there it saves my life on the reg. It could be a lot worse! Also, as annoying as it is, people are just curious…

Sometimes you just can’t help missing uni.

I’m one of those people who won’t let my diabetes get in the way of me doing anything; it should not be barrier. One of the challenges I faced was missing uni and a lack of understanding as to why I wasn’t present. However, these things happen and sometimes you just can’t control it. Missing a lecture because you have a legitimate reason should not leave you feeling guilty or bad.

My best advice would be to try and control your condition as much as you can but also have a bit of perspective on things: you cannot control the world. It also might be worth dropping your academic staff an email explaining your situation. This means that if you have to miss seminars or lectures your lecturers completely understand and are aware that these things happen.

Universities also have welfare teams in place to help with any kind of illness, mental or physical. I went and talked to the dedicated welfare officer in the School of English in the first few weeks at university. This made sure my name was on the record, they knew who my emergency contacts were and any procedure I had put in place.

University is a big, big place and it’s very easy to get lost. When you have a long term health condition that isn’t ideal. Make sure you have told all the relevant people about your situation and, I promise you, things will get easier from then on!