A Discussion about T1D, Mental Health, and Body Image with CDN

Last night, the College Diabetes Network hosted a Facebook Live that brought together a panel of young adults with T1D, psychologists, and special guests who discussed the mental health issues associated with diabetes. The conversation lasted just over an hour and a half, with viewers chiming in throughout to get their questions answered by the panel.

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Missed the Facebook Live? Visit the College Diabetes Network’s Facebook page to watch the whole video.

The topics covered by the panel included depression, burnout, anxiety, ADHD, and disordered eating vs. eating disorders. Incredible stories, insights, and tidbits of advice were shared as the panelists opened up to viewers and honestly answered the questions that were asked.

Several responses from the panel stood out to me, and I’d like to share what was said and why it affected me…

On T1D as a psychologically and behaviorally demanding stress in your life:

The idea of perfectionism…and you have to be perfect at everything, and transitioning into having to go into college, get good grades, do well, and plan for a successful career…and having diabetes also be a factor is overwhelming and can cause people to go into a state of ignoring it. -Karly

I related to this because I’ve always tried to be a perfectionist, in all facets of my life. Karly’s take on diabetes being an unwanted, demanding, and additional stress factor resonated with me because I also view it as just another thing in life that I have to try to handle perfectly – which, of course, is impossible when it comes to a chronic condition with a mind of its own.

On the concept of lowering expectations and setting goals:

It’s less about lowering expectations and more about establishing expectations that are real…Also, the way that diabetes is taught, I personally think is absolutely incorrect. Patients and loved ones are taught that blood glucose can be controlled…and that it responds to an algebra equation…what your insulin to carb ratio and what your sensitivity factor is can land you directly into the target, but what we know is the target is a zone, not a bull’s eye. And we don’t teach it that way. -Ann

I loved how Ann phrased that part I put in bold – I grew up thinking that I had to have my blood sugars right on the money at all times. If it was higher or lower than say, 120, I was failing (this ties in with that perfectionist attitude I was just talking about). But to hear her acknowledge that this way of thinking shouldn’t be taught was validating to me.

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On the fear and anxiety of losing control from low blood sugar:

During a workout…whenever I was making progress, it seemed like something just pulled me right back…because of that, I started training high, purposely. I would start training in the high 100s, to almost the 200s, which is not good at all…I had to become conscious of that…because of my fear of lows [and feeling like I’m about to die]…I intentionally made myself high. -Jiggy

Working out has always been a challenge for me, and my fear of lows during a workout is pretty intense. To hear that Jiggy responds to that in the exact same way as me made me feel not so alone.

On accepting mistakes and that you’re not perfect:

Remember that you were never meant to perform this function. Your body was meant to perform this function. You are trying to take over from something that your body was supposed to do for you…remember you’re a human being [who is] being asked to do something you weren’t supposed to do. -Will

Yes, yes, YES. Will could not have said it better. It’s important to remind yourself that it’s not easy to take over a job that your body is supposed to do for you automatically as a biological function. You just need to try to do the best that you can, and not beat yourself up when you don’t always get desirable results.

A major thank you to William Jennette, Karly Kroeten, Jiggy Yoon, Aaron Sherman, Heather Levy, Ellen O’Donnell, Ann Goebel-Fabbri, and Quinn Nystrom for volunteering their time to get together for this Facebook Live, as well as for being vulnerable for perfect strangers on the Internet. I know it’s not easy to share personal stories, but the integrity and eloquence displayed by each panelist made for a powerful live video.

The College Diabetes Network’s website contains a variety of information on how you or a loved one can cope with the mental health challenges of diabetes. Visit their page to access materials that help explain touchy topics, as well as additional resources.

College Diabetes Week Day 3: The Hardest Part about Living with Diabetes in College

Here is the prompt for today:

Share the hardest thing about living with diabetes in college. Don’t be afraid to talk about the things that are taboo, like mental health or burn out!

Last year, I wrote about how lonely I felt throughout college – that is, until I found the CDN! This year, I’m going to focus on a more taboo topic, something that I’ve struggled with in the last few years: anxiety.

The more I think about it, the more I realize that my anxiety towards my diabetes manifested itself in college. I was more worried about severe lows than ever, even though I didn’t have to cope with many of them.

But one particular day, it seemed like my blood sugar simply didn’t want to stay above 80. I was terrified. I knew all the tricks in the book to fix it, but that didn’t stop me from fretting over the matter. My lows consumed my mind and I couldn’t focus on anything else. I began to think about the “what ifs” – what if my blood sugar doesn’t come back up? What if I need help? What if I’m alone? What if I pass out? What if???

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I was absolutely frantic, forcing myself to eat 15 or so grams of carbs every hour just to keep level as I monitored the situation. I remember sitting in a 500+ person lecture hall for my psychology class with a T1D friend, who watched me anxiously test my blood sugar three times within 30 minutes. “You’ve got to calm down a bit,” she’d said. “Remember, it’ll take your body time to process all of the carbs.”

She was right, of course. And by the end of the day, I hadn’t experienced a blood sugar below 80 for a couple hours. It seemed like the episode was over. And I was fine.

That’s what I like to think about when I remember this certain episode. I was fine. As scared as I felt at points throughout the day, I took action to stabilize my blood sugar. I monitored the situation carefully and still performed my responsibilities as a student by attending classes. I was fine.

And I will be fine, despite my diabetes, because I’m determined to overcome the hardest parts of living with it.