When I was 18, I was a student at San Diego State University, the home of the Aztecs. It was a thrilling time on Montezuma Mesa, and I immersed myself in living independently, friends and classes. I learned a lot about myself and the person I wanted to become. College has provided some additional growth opportunities for Rosemary M., as she has made some mental adjustments as well. Diagnosed with type 2 diabetes at age 18 after her freshman year of college, Rosemary had to learn how to balance her health with her course load, and gained some valuable insight along the way.
The first few months after her diagnosis were a roller coaster of emotions for Rosemary. “I really wasn’t aware of how big a deal it was,” she recalled. “I was in denial for the first month. I was also very ashamed at first so I really didn’t want to acknowledge it. It’s hard to manage a disease that you don’t want to acknowledge. I was really busy just learning how to manage my diabetes during school and not telling anyone about it. It was a really hectic time.”
Not knowing anyone else her age living with type 2, Rosemary often felt isolated. “I felt really embarrassed because some people seemed to think, ‘Oh, type 1, you get it as a kid; it’s not your fault. Type 2? That’s your fault. What did you do to get it?’ Even the type 1s that I met would ask what’s wrong with me and why I have type 2. There was no one out there I could really relate my struggle to. It was kind of a lonely place because no one else my age I knew in person has type 2 diabetes.”
One thing that helped Rosemary after her diagnosis was reading, “The First Year: Type 2 Diabetes: An Essential Guide for the Newly Diagnosed,” by Gretchen Becker. “I just really liked it because there’s a paragraph in there saying that it’s not your fault; don’t be ashamed,” she said. “It just really spoke to me.”
Managing diabetes in college was a learning process for Rosemary. “I had to adapt myself to my class schedule,” she said. “If I was going to be in a really long class without any food, I would have to get up earlier, which I hate doing, to make sure I got breakfast, and then check my blood sugar in class. I’m not the greatest planner, so I tried really hard. I was just trying to make sure I got all my meds and exercise in. That was basically the whole day: go to class, go to the gym, check my blood sugar. For me, it was like trying to keep my head above water, with all the stuff I had to do.”
Several months after Rosemary was diagnosed, she met her boyfriend, who happens to live with type 1 diabetes, and her perspective changed. “I didn’t really reach out to anyone about diabetes until I met my long-term boyfriend, Brian,” she said. “The reason I stopped hiding my diabetes was because he was so comfortable with it. I thought there clearly isn’t anything shameful about it because of how open he is. Many in my family have type 2 diabetes but none of them like to talk about it. They sort of shove it under the rug, so he was really my first main support person.”
Eventually, Rosemary found herself hiding less. “I used to not test in public,” she said. “I would always test my blood sugar in the dorm and then I would go out to the dining hall on campus. Then I became more comfortable testing in public locations. Now when people ask what I am doing, I say, ‘Oh, I have diabetes.’ If people have questions about it, I am happy to talk about it. I also did a couple of my presentations on diabetes in my classes to share my experiences.”
In 2012 Rosemary decided to lend her voice to the diabetes online community (DOC) and started her diabetes blog, The Fat Side of the Tracks. “When I looked for support online, I found that many people my age have type 1,” she said. “There was no one whose experiences seemed similar to mine at all. There are a few blogs with young type 2’s but definitely not as many as there are for the type 1 community. So I thought if I share my experiences, maybe that will help show someone else out there that they’re not the only one; there’s another young adult who has type 2 diabetes. I’ve been told that I’m contributing my voice to the diabetes community as a young type 2, since it’s not as common. I like to think that I’m contributing.”
Now 23 and a graduate student in the northern Virginia/DC metro area, Rosemary keeps tight tabs on her schedule. “I have to be much more stringent about my routine when it comes to the diabetes,” she said. “There was a massive increase in material and things I have to do for these grad school classes. If my blood sugar is just a little too high, I can’t concentrate at all and I don’t have time to waste. I’m a big user of apps that track your exercise, food, insulin and blood sugar just because I hate writing stuff down. If I can push a couple buttons, it helps me. I also have an hourly timetable where I break down all the hours in my day, from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m.”
This summer, Rosemary plans to apply to medical schools. “I had wanted to be a doctor since high school but before I was diagnosed, I really had no concept of what it meant to be a patient,” she said. “I think when I was diagnosed, it really gave me a patient’s voice, which is so important to hear. I have that perspective on the other side, I guess you could say. This is how I want my doctor to treat me. I feel like I want to advocate for the patient and it’s just solidified my drive to go into medicine.”
With nearly five years of living with diabetes, Rosemary has gained some perspective. “Don’t waste time being embarrassed and hiding it,” she said. “Embrace it. I wish I could have told myself that it’s okay to be diabetic. It shouldn’t be embarrassing or shameful. It’s okay. You’ll do the best you can do and that’s all anyone can hope for. When I was first diagnosed, if I had a high blood sugar, it seemed like just the end of my afternoon. But I think you can’t expect perfection from an imperfect situation, so I like to tell myself that, too.”
For someone still so young, it sounds like Rosemary has already learned some valuable life lessons. The thought of not expecting perfection from an imperfect situation is a great perspective, and could speak to many life experiences. My thanks to Rosemary for sharing her story.
All the best,
Disclosure: Rosemary M. received no compensation for this post. All opinions contained in this post reflect those of the interviewee, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies or affiliates.