Tackling Freshman Year with Diabetes: “I’m doing everything on my own.”
Your late teens and early 20s can be a time of big transitions—and those new experiences may feel even more intense if you are managing type 1 diabetes independently for the first time. Moving away from home, or starting college or a full-time job are intense experiences as it is.
If managing type 1 diabetes amid big life changes seems extra hard, you’re not alone.
Garrett Kurtz talks about taking ownership of his type 1 diabetes (T1D) after leaving home
Garrett Kurtz, 24, lives in San Diego and is a recent college graduate. Since his diagnosis at 7 years old, his parents helped him manage his diabetes, find a strong diabetes care team and assured him diabetes wouldn’t keep him from competing as an elite tennis player. Nonetheless, there’ve been times when frustration and resentment about living with diabetes creep in.
“I remember going through these trainings and thinking, ‘I have to learn about infusion sets and my carb ratio? It’s like learning a new language almost. Why do I have to do this?’” says Garrett.
He credits his parent’s involvement in helping him learn to manage his diabetes and avoid experiencing any emergencies due to his blood sugar levels. But, when he moved away for college, he had to face his own feelings regarding his diabetes management.
“I kind of went off the rails a little bit my freshman year in college,” Garrett remembers. “I was thinking that I was better than the disease. I was like, ‘I can just feel if I’m higher or low. I don’t need to check as much, I can just bolus and guesstimate my carbs.’”
Soon after, Garrett’s endocrinologist gave him some perspective.
“She said, ‘Look, you can do what you want. But at the end of the day, if you want to compete at a high level of sports, you want to make sure to manage yourself as proactively as you can.’”
That reality check stuck with him and he realized he was feeling burnout. “I’m on my own. I’m doing everything on my own and responsible for my diabetes. I felt a bit overwhelmed,” Garrett says.
Having a frank and non-judgmental conversation with his endocrinologist helped him work through what was affecting his diabetes management.
“I had been so tightly controlled at home,” he said. “When I went off to college, I feel like I was getting to that rebellious stage late. I was thinking, ‘I don’t need to pay as much attention to detail. You know, my parents weren’t bothering me about my blood sugars.”
“I did a little bit of research and was looking at the consequences of diabetes and realized I can’t be too cool for the disease. At the end of the day, it’s my life.”
Since graduating from college, Garrett has started a job in the field of diabetes technology and now had gained coworkers who are also managing type 1 diabetes. Having peers and friends who know what he’s going through similar experiences has added new layers to his support network.
He’s also learned to give himself more credit for how much work T1D really is and acknowledge that some days will be rougher than others.
“We’re constantly making decisions as diabetics. The average diabetic makes, on average, 180 more health-related decisions a day compared to someone who’s not a diabetic. Mentally it’s a grind. And some days you manage better than others.”
Garrett finds time to rest, socialize and do things he loves to decompress and avoid feeling burnout from managing his type 1 diabetes and frequently talking to other T1D patients about their diabetes throughout his workday.
“I try giving myself a mental break over the weekends by playing tennis, coaching tennis, hiking—I love being active, I love being outside. Those are just some of the things I do to combat feeling burned out because it can be really tough.”
Young men can struggle with mental health, too
Regardless of your age, managing type 1 diabetes can fluctuate between doable and really challenging. You may experience periods of feeling overwhelmed or resentful at the burden of dealing with it all. At the end of the day, taking care of your mental well-being is just as important as checking your blood sugars and taking your insulin.
And, caring for your mental well-being can positively impact your diabetes care.
Men and boys are too often socialized to internalize negative feelings and struggles, and as a result, are more likely to feel isolated and not seek mental health services or other types of support.
On top of entering the adult world—either at college or in the workplace—you may also need to find a new diabetes care team. Suddenly finding yourself without your usual support system may also prompt you to reevaluate your diabetes management plan.
There are resources and trained professionals who can help you navigate feelings like stress, anxiety, depression, hopelessness and frustration when life gets.
In this series, young men living with type 1 diabetes discuss managing their health in college, in their professional lives and their overall approach to self-care and mental health.
Mental health tends to be a generalized term. There are many kinds of mental health challenges and concerns. Needs range in severity. If working with a professional will help to address your mental health needs, please seek out support.
Check out these resources on how to find mental health support:
- Mental Health Guide for Men + Boys with T1D
- Just Diagnosed with Diabetes? Why and How to Find Mental Health Support
- The T1D Guide for Mental Health Providers
- American Diabetes Association: Mental Health Provider Directory
- How Diabetes Impacts Your Mental Health
Editor’s note: This content was made possible in part with support from Lilly, an active partner of Beyond Type 1 at the time of publication. Beyond Type 1 maintains full editorial control of all content published on our platforms.