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Diabetes and test taking: getting an even playing field

Updated: Mar 19, 2020

I was recently scrolling through my Instagram news feed and saw that one of you followers is about ready to graduate from college! What an accomplishment! It made me think about my own academic achievements. I have since been reminiscing about my high school, college, and then PA school graduations and I feel very proud. You all should be proud of the things you have accomplished too! Not just academically, but otherwise. Graduating from anything is a huge deal for anyone, but to accomplish something that big with the added pressure of diabetes is an accomplishment that many people can’t wrap their heads around.

I grew up on the small island of Kauai. When you live somewhere that small it’s one big family. Everyone knows you and you know everyone. People knew about my diabetes and that I managed it well. Even still, I always had this irrational fear that someone would think I was using my diabetes as an excuse to get out of something unpleasant. Because of this, I took many tests with hypers or hypos when I should’ve just spoken up.

I could get by doing this in high school. I studied a lot, and therefore I could usually force my way through the mental fog of a high when I needed to. However; once I got to college, it was a completely different story.

My first semester I was majoring in pre-med and I took a lot of tough classes. The stress level was nothing I had ever experienced academically and when it came to my first finals week, I was a mess. As most of you know, stress can lead to severe hyperglycemia which leads to; frequent hunger, thirst, and urination; as well as headaches, blurred vision, and difficulty with concentration. It was a nightmare! I was experiencing all these symptoms and my BGs would not drop below 300mg/dl no matter what I did. Of course, this stressed me out even more and my BGs only went higher. I should’ve asked for help, but I didn’t want to use my diabetes as an excuse. Instead, I took my first semester finals with all of these symptoms and guess what….I failed all of them.

Luckily, I had good enough grades to pass my classes (with C’s), but this poor decision followed me for a long time. My grade point average dropped significantly, and I almost lost my scholarship. It even affected me when I was applying to PA schools because it caused my GPA to be so much lower than it should’ve been! I didn’t want to face the fact that sometimes I need help and I certainly didn’t want to use my diabetes as an excuse for anything. It took me a long time and a big event like this to realize that sometimes diabetes IS an excuse, and in fact, it’s a very good one!

I knew that I needed to do something to better set myself up for success in school, especially since I planned on pursuing a master’s degree in addition to my bachelor’s. I decided to put myself in therapy to learn stress management. The techniques that I learned made my stress and therefore my BGs much easier to manage. I also applied for testing assistance so that I could take extra time on my exams if I needed to. This made such an enormous difference for me and I ended up being much more successful in school. I realized that asking for help doesn’t make me weak, it just gives me an even playing field, and I deserve an even playing field!

We, PWD, deal with so much more on a daily basis than the average person, yet the expectations of us at work, at school, and at home are the same. I think that’s good. It encourages us to manage our diabetes to the best of our abilities. We want to be successful, same as anyone else. My point is, it’s okay to ask for help. It’s always okay to ask for help. Diabetes is so hard, and we deserve an even playing field. So, if you need help, ask for it! You deserve it and you deserve to be successful!

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