Cheers to You! Why You Don’t Have to Party to Love College

It is the first Thursday night back at college for the semester — syllabus week — and the halls of the freshmen residence hall where I am a RA are buzzing with the sounds of students getting ready to go out, filled with the smells of burnt hair and too much cologne, and crawling with residents hurriedly opening and shutting their doors in fear of a RA walking past. It is a scene all too familiar in our halls, and the sounds and smells can send the RA on duty into a fit of fear, worrying about having issues or documentations when they are finally out of the office and able to get some sleep. I happen to be a RA in the very same building where I lived my first year of college. These halls were the ones where I met my best friends, cried on the phone to my mom, stayed up way too late watching movies and eating any kind of chocolate we could find. This building is the first ever “home away from home” I had experienced. It is where I grew from a nervous, anxious freshman, fresh out the high school womb, into a calm, confident (although still anxious at times) junior, knowledgeable in more than just academics, confident in who I am becoming and where I am going in this world. However, living in this building brings back a flood of emotions sometimes, and I am often reminded of that timid, nervous freshman, unsure of how to remain true to herself while still making friends in the fast paced world of college.

I’ll be honest, I am not a drinker. My diabetes puts some limitations on that and, while I can enjoy a few drinks safely with proper insulin and blood sugar testing, I usually do not like to push it. I have been 21 for over a month now, have consumed 2 glasses of wine since becoming legal, and was only slightly tipsy for the very first time a full month after my birthday. I don’t know how to mix drinks, I’m still not really sure what some drinks are, and didn’t even know I was tipsy until my boyfriend pointed out that the reason the room was spinning was because I drank a large glass of wine on an empty stomach in a short period of time. It’s safe to say I’m not very good at this stuff. My three best friends have a goal to see me drunk before we graduate (three semesters to go!) and when I told them I was tipsy I was met with texts of  “OHMYGOD I HAVE BEEN WAITING FOR THIS DAY!” and “THIS IS THE GREATEST TEXT I HAVE EVER RECEIVED!” with a plethora of emojis.

Freshman me dreaded the party scene of college for this very reason. I feared that the only way I would be able to find and keep friends was if I went out with them, and I feared the idea of going out in a social situation where I would be unfamiliar with the location and the people, most of whom would be in a compromised state. Even more so, I feared the people coming back into the halls after their wild escapades out. I was blessed to be paired with two roommates who were just as unfamiliar and uninterested in the partying scene as I was, so strange people ending up in our room was never an issue. I feared drunk people though. I feared the bluntness and sudden courage and loud voices and lack of control over actions that seemed to accompany every drunk person I had ever encountered. I feared what they would say, what they would do, just their presence in general. Becoming an RA helped me to overcome this fear for the most part. My hands still get clammy and my voice still waivers a bit any time I am faced with an alcohol documentation, however I know I am doing my job and some kids need to be stopped before things get out of hand.

Nights like this though, where every single person in the building seems to be going out, always strike a chord with me. Perhaps it is because I know, somewhere on my floor, somewhere in the building, there is a girl that is just like freshman me; anxious about fitting in while avoiding the party scene, unsure of what could happen to someone who drinks too much, and wondering if they are really missing out or are going to regret not riding Cabbie D at least once in their college career. To that girl, I say, keep on doing what you’re doing. Keep on making friends and memories in the ways you are. You will find friends, best friends, like I did. If they are your real friends, like mine are, they won’t care if you don’t want to go out. They’ll invite you to be inclusive, but they’ll say, “I know it’s not really your thing, and I totally respect that. I just want you to know the offer is there.” and then when you politely decline, citing a massive load of laundry, a movie you’ve been dying to watch, or just simply, “I don’t think I can do it,” they’ll understand. They’ll give you a hug. You’ll help them curl their hair or pick out an outfit. You’ll tell them to call you if they need help, which they know they always can. Then, they’ll head out, with their flasks in their purses and their “Gatorade” bottles filled with mysterious smelling liquid. You’ll go on with your plans; watching a movie, doing laundry, whatever you decide to do. As the year goes on, you’ll realize there are plenty of other people who don’t enjoy the party life, who are staying back while their friends go out too. You and these people will bond. They’ll become your safe zone, your weekend people, always up for a movie night, a board game tournament, or an evening spent talking and laughing, sharing stories. You and these people will make your own kind of memories and share your own nights. And then, in the morning, you’ll drag your hungover friends to the cafeteria with you, where you’ll load up on hash browns and swap stories. They’ll have tales to tell of the fun they had, and so will you. And the best part is, only one of you will have a headache. So, to the non-partiers out there, keep on being true to yourself. The real friends you make won’t care how you spend your nights, as long as you have fun and are there to share the stories the next morning.

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Diabetes and Dogs: Man’s True Best Friend

This is Mac. He is my 7 1/2 year old, very ungroomed, shaggy haired, Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier. He loves to go on long walks, takes his job as the house guard VERY seriously, has a personal issue with squirrels, and has been a key role in my type one diabetes care and management, going back to before I was even formally diagnosed. He’s not an actual service dog (although I sometimes think of him as my own type of service dog) and he actually has no training beyond the basic housetraining whatsoever. (When I say no training, I mean NO training.) Regardless of his lack of schooling, his ability to detect my blood sugars is amazing.

It all started about 4-6 months prior to my diagnosis. I was a sophomore in high school (I was 16 when I was diagnosed), becoming more involved in school activities, and had started going out with my first boyfriend. That summer before my diagnosis, I had gone on a trip to Italy without my family, leaving my beloved Mac back in the good ol’ USA for nine days. When I arrived home, he began to follow me around the house, laying on me while I slept at night, and keeping a “vigil” in my room whenever I wasn’t around. This continued all throughout the fall. While I played tennis and went to soccer games, had bonfires with my friends and continued my dance lessons three times a week, Mac stayed in my room, followed me when I was home, and ALWAYS slept in my bed with me. At one point, my mom jokingly remarked, “Mac seems to be obsessed with you!” We all thought he was being silly old Mac. Little did we know what he was really doing.

Then, January 4th, 2011 happened. I was sent straight from the pediatrician’s office to Children’s Hospital, with a diagnosis of type 1 diabetes at age 16. My mom and I spent four nights in Children’s, with my dad going back and forth from home with my four brothers to the hospital with my mom and I. I wasn’t super sick, thank God. I was never in a coma, I was never in ICU, my blood sugar was only 420 upon entering the hospital. I had exhibited a few symptoms, mainly an unquenchable thirst and a five pound weight loss, that prompted my mom to call the doctor and a urine test to be run. After four days of IV fluids, learning how to check my blood sugar, calculate carbohydrates, inject insulin into my body, and generally become my own functioning pancreas, I was sent back home. I walked in the door, exhausted, overwhelmed, and scared to hell as to how I was going to manage this on my own. I felt a small wave of relief rush over me when I walked in the door, knowing Mac and his sister Molly would be there to greet me and cuddle up on the couch with me. However, Mac had a different idea. He walked up to me, sniffed me, gave me a small lick on the hand, and walked away. That was it. He didn’t follow me around. He didn’t lay in my bed with me. Nothing.

I was a bit taken aback about Mac’s nonchalant reaction to my return home and didn’t understand why he was behaving so strangely. However, as the weeks went on and my diabetes became a more normalized part of my life, my family and I soon realized why Mac behaved the way he did. One night, my mom awoke in the middle of the night to Mac licking her hands and standing on her. She got up, went into my room, checked my blood sugar, and lo and behold, I was low! She woke me up, gave me a juice, and, once I had come up, Mac disappeared.

This has become our thing, Mac and I. Sometimes, my mom will walk past my room to go to the bathroom and see Mac “in position” — either laying straight across my legs or laying on the floor of my room staring up at me — and wake me up to test my sugar, which is almost always either low or high. Sometimes, when I’m  2 1/2 hours away at school, Mac will be in position in my room at home. My mom will call me or text me to ask how my sugar has been, and I will either be in the middle of treating a low or dealing with a high. He has this remarkable ability to know my sugars before I even do. Just last week, I woke up to Mac laying so tightly across my legs I couldn’t get up. Once I finally convinced him to let me go, I tested and realized I was only 55. It is truly amazing.

Just tonight, as I was brushing my teeth, I heard the jingle of a collar and the clicking of nails on the hardwood floor. I walked out of the bathroom to find Mac, who had been sound asleep in my mom’s bed moments before, sitting on my carpet, staring at the door, waiting for me to come in. I gave him a kiss on the head, and reached for my meter. He immediately walked out of the room and up to his bed on the floor above me. I tested and came up 97, which is considered a good number during the day, but too low for me to go to sleep safely. I took a few minutes before reaching for a juice, checking my phone and moving some things on my bed. As soon as I crinkled the plastic wrapper on the straw, however, I heard that oh so familiar jingle come rushing down the stairs and looked up just in time to see a curly, cream colored head, peer into my doorway. Once he saw the straw inserted in the juice box and me lift the juice to my lips, he was gone, as quickly as he had come. I drank the juice and smiled. I know if I need another one, he’ll be there to let me know.