Hostel life + T1D
Hi! I'm Suradha and I'm nearly 10 years a T1D as of writing this.
Three years ago, I moved to Pune from Navi Mumbai for college after 12th grade. Being in a new city, especially living by yourself without a support system is hard. It’s a huge change, and hostel life is very different from living at home. Now, after 3 years of living this life, I have a rounded perspective on how to manage diabetes in an alien setting like a college hostel. Allow me to take you through my journey!
When I joined a hostel in central Pune in August 2016, I was 18 and nearly 7 years diabetic and I was very comfortable in a routine of being a school student living with parents. My HbA1c was a comfortable 7.2 when I’d left after my final check up before moving and my diet and exercise were very stable, even though I didn’t have a strict routine after my 12th grade competitive exams. I was on ~36 units of Novorapid and ~24u Lantus each day, and was new to carbohydrate counting as a means to exercise flexibility of my own medication. Despite all that, life was easy, with all possible resources at my beck and call, but I needed to move for a good college in my stream, and I wanted to spend as little time & energy on travel so I could spend it on exercise.
Moving to a hostel was not an easy choice, it was a decision my parents and I only agreed upon once I decided to choose living in Pune - barely 3 hours away - rather than move to better colleges farther away. I would still be close to my family & doctors and would have access to help a couple of hours away, if I ever needed it. The mental security played a large part in being able to shift and pursue what I wanted to study. With this experience however, I have come a long way in gaining my parents’ trust in being able to take complete care of myself & I will not have to compromise on shifting cities in the future.
Learning to be independent and taking complete charge of my health is a big part of my learning in a hostel.
First Months & Settling In
My first challenge was to convince the wardens and hostel authorities that I had a legitimate problem and might need concessions - like the use of the mess fridge for insulin storage, or keys to the hostel gym to access after classes/after dinner, and some help in accessing doctors in case I was ever in any medical emergency. My hostel had had T1 girls before, and they were sufficiently accommodating. My luck has been really good in this respect.
The second challenge was to source medicines at a fairer rate. I was used to a discount at my local pharmacy so I went and negotiated a discount in Pune too. Getting 10% off might not be a significant recovery for a single bill, but over 3 years I’ve saved thousands of rupees! Additionally building loyalty to the pharmacy means they deliver chilled insulin to me at my doorstep, and I pay them flexibly if I don’t have as much cash on hand. This affords me so much ease in terms of getting hold of medication, I would highly suggest it to any T1D.
The third challenge was creating the regimen. At home, there was a rhythm and there was so many assumptions to build my diabetes care upon - the assurance of healthy food being the foremost factor. When you have healthy, home cooked meals that your body is used to eating for over a decade, the change can be drastic. My readings fluctuated a lot over the first few months in hostel. Eating poha and sabudana khichadi each day was not ideal for me, when my daytime readings tended to veer off course with hormones, adrenaline and stress. It took me some time and a lot of intervention from my doctor to re-establish my baselines.
Everything had changed, effectively. I was walking more, I had different sleep routines and the biggest kicker was food.
While I was on a more balanced diet in terms of protein and veggies at home, the hostel mess was never close to reaching the same balance. Moving from a lower sodium-fat-spice cuisine at home to a Maharashtrian cuisine made for 1000 girls to enjoy meant a lot of carbohydrates, spice and salt at the expense of protein and salads. The change was drastic for me. I had to get acclimatized to the kinds of menus in the mess and report to my dietician who helped me understand what I could substitute in case I didn’t enjoy mess food. Thankfully, the mess food didn’t make me sick, and three years in, I didn’t have to change my major food source so I never had to go through another adjustment period again.
Because of how a mess works and strict timings, I would often have to resort to canteen food for breakfast. If I was staying up to complete assignments, I would want snacks and the easiest thing to source were chips and biscuits from the hostel store. Slowly I realized my night eating had adverse effects on my readings, so I stopped but it was largely because of the kinds of snacks I was consuming as well. At home, there is always a low carb option or one which didn't contain loads of salt and preservatives. I effectively stopped snacking but when I do, it’s always roasted peanuts, chana or popcorn.
I’m sure it’s not just me, but exams are a rollercoaster when it comes to sugars and I have grown to eating 2x the food I do on regular days. What to eat when you’re constantly hungry is a question I’ve had to ask. Finding enough quantities of that food also becomes a challenge at a hostel. I ate 2 large guavas a day in my last exam season.
Healthy food alternatives
Hostel messes often serve unnecessary amounts of potatoes and fried dishes and they might seem like convenient options, but is it the best for you? I started choosing differently, stocking up on good food (like carrots) in my room so I wouldn’t have to eat bad foods regularly. I had enough opportunity to go out and eat whatever I wanted over the weekends, I didn’t have to do it everyday.
I’ve spent many weekends eating outside. While it is tempting to visit the nearest fast food joints with friends, I’ve had to put my foot down so we eat healthier. Though I enjoy the occasional McAloo Tikki, we have started frequenting Pune restaurants like Vaishali and Roopali more and this is a choice that makes managing my sugars easier.
I was uncomfortable exercising in my room, as I would often at home, which meant I had to go to the gym within a specific window of time. This was easy at first, but over time, as classes and labs got hectic, I’d find it very hard to keep the habit.
The normal hostel-girl lifestyle doesn’t include having a staunch gym routine, so it was weird to be the only one that owned a mat and shoes for the gym, waking up at 7am for a workout.
This was all at the expense of late night bonding sessions or birthday celebrations - I did partake in a lot of both. Creating time for exercise/meditation became something I took 2 years to cherish and it has had several positive outcomes on my health and mental wellbeing and as a result, my academics as well. It’s a positive feedback cycle if you treat the habit with the respect it deserves. Hostel has played a huge role in making exercise a choice for me as a T1D instead of an imposition.
There was a water problem in my hostel and the bathrooms were always dirty and the showers & hot water would be available for 3 hours a day, in the summer of my first year in hostel. I am prone to heat boils and I got one on my arm which I was unable to prevent due to a low hygiene condition. I had to come back to Mumbai to get checked and I still have a scar. The healing took over a month and I was in pain the whole time. Taking personal hygiene very seriously is something I learned after that incident.
Taking care of hypos was a bigger challenge. I no longer had access to drinking water/ glucose in the fridge so I started stocking up on laddoos and juice boxes. At times I’ve had to ask my roommates to fetch me my supplies because I was too tired to get up from my bed. You have to make sure you have stock and then some, in every single bag you carry or else money to be able to buy some at short notice. Snacking on chocolates/mithai definitely doesn’t work well for hypos and it’s just worse when you have to resort to eating those because you ran out of glucose. I’ve been guilty of this many, many times. The April campaign topic was #HypoHacks, click here to read more and see a few videos on how people manage.
Overall the hostel experience was a ride. It was never equivalent to being at home, the assistance provided by your family and friends is unparalleled but having to build those systems up for yourself is empowering and necessary.
Mine are supportive and understanding of my condition. I have gym buddies at the hostel so I don’t skip exercising.
Pune weather and my hostel being airy meant that apart from cartridges, I didn’t have to store anything in the mess fridge so accessing medicines was not a chore.
Communicating with my doctor
I was asked to email updates and queries and though I’m working on documenting my sugars better, I have been in better contact with my doctor than when I was living in Mumbai. I guess taking full responsibility for your condition makes you more communicative about it. Being fully open about my condition to more people has been a challenge mentally, because it means I'm being more vulnerable too, but it has always been met with degree of sensitivity and it's just easier to be open about your experiences and constraints with other people.
What didn't work
My unit tests would be fine but during major exams, the sugars would ALWAYS play a role and make it harder for me to study. I have been hypoglycemic in 2 exams and performed poorly in both. The final exams’ period has always been stressful and dealing with it in a calm manner, without taking on extra stress is still a major issue. This was not the case when I lived at home, because I had people supporting both my mental and physical health with lots of care.
Here, I have only myself to depend on and the cravings while studying are hard to beat. My insulin resistance goes through the roof during that period and I’ve learned to take it easy on myself so that I don’t ruin my health. So even though my academics have not been as excellent as I’d like them to be, I wouldn’t leave the hostel experience because it’s been a greater learning.
My history with heat boils left a major mark (pun intended) on my experience because of living in a hostel and I wish I had better facilities to avoid them in the first place.
Cramps and uneasiness was a major factor in attending classes and I’d spend most of the time in pain in my room at this point. I started going back home during my period because I was unable to eat well and wanted access to showers 24x7. While this might seem like an excessive response to some, it was a good move on my part because I wanted to keep up my spirits and hygiene and going home was a better alternative. Read the guide to managing sugars during menstruation.
Overall, living in a hostel was a positive ride & I plan on fine tuning my systems of diabetes care more so I can confidently achieve my HbA1c targets and be sure that I can move away farther one day and live the same life I am used to!