Handling Roommate Issues

Roommate issues are very common in college. A mom recently wrote to our Online Diabetes Support Team about a problem her daughter was having with her roommate. The following is her question and JDRF volunteer Melissa’s response. If you have a question for the Team, please don’t hesitate to contact us. A JDRF volunteer will personally respond within 48 hours.

Question: My daughter has just started college and has a roommate. Issues are arising because my daughter is trying to establish a regimented routine while the roommate wants to have things less so. Both are in difficult positions. The RAs are aware and working with them. How have other new college students been dealing with this situation and their health?

Answer: Hi, I’m 23, I’ve had type 1 diabetes (juvenile diabetes) for over 11 years, and I’ve had an insulin pump for over eight years now. I went to college early, so I actually got my bachelor’s degree 5(!) years ago, but I remember well what it was like to negotiate with roommates.

You said your daughter is trying to establish a regimented routine while her roommate wants more flexibility in her schedule. I’m not sure how flexible the roommate wants to be, whether she wants to keep the lights on until 3 a.m. one night and sleep until noon another day of the week, or whether she wants to return to the room at all hours every night of the week and doesn’t like it when your daughter needs to get up and move around to test her blood sugar, take her insulin, and eat every morning.

Whether or not type 1 diabetes or any other medical condition exists, incompatible sleeping habits can become a big problem when two strangers are thrown together in a dorm room. It sounds to me like the college your daughter is attending made a bit of a roommate mismatch in this situation–unfortunately this is not uncommon. Did your daughter receive a questionnaire to fill in about her sleeping/studying/scheduling preferences at some point in the past few months, or did the college not try to match roommates that way? Whether or not a questionnaire was used is not the crux of the matter, though. I had roommate switches in three out of four years of my undergraduate education even though I always filled in my questionnaires for the Residence Life office truthfully.

Some possible solutions:

Option 1: Compromise
It would not be wise to make any sudden, drastic alterations to your daughter’s regimen in order to “fix” her relationship with her roommate. The issues at hand are most likely not purely to do with your daughter’s type 1 diabetes anyway. The roommate may feel right now like your daughter’s schedule is cramping her style. Sharing a room brings frustrations and tensions of many kinds–if type 1 diabetes were not part of the picture, there would probably be another reason for conflict between your daughter and her roommate.

One area where there may be some room for compromise is if your daughter prefers to get up and make her breakfast and study early, she may choose to hang out in the common room rather than in her room with the sleeping roommate. During my junior year, I liked getting up by 6:30 a.m. to make coffee in the hall kitchen and sit in the common room to study.

Having type 1 diabetes did not give me a license to make a lot of noise while my roommate was trying to sleep, but neither was her desire to stay out late and sleep in a license to wake me up while I was trying to sleep. It is possible that your daughter could compromise by doing some of her self-care tasks (for instance, eating) outside of the room when her roommate is asleep. But that may be all the room for compromise that your daughter has.

Option 2: Roommate switch or a single room
If your daughter and her roommate reach an impasse, it may be time to play the type 1 diabetes card. I had to do it in my junior year and I have absolutely no regrets about it.

After a particularly troubling confrontation about schedules that caused me to have an adrenaline-induced high blood sugar episode, I went to see the college administrator. She suggested a roommate mediation. I said no. I informed her that my blood sugar had shot up dangerously high because of the fight and if I didn’t have a different room to sleep in within eight hours, she would receive a phone call from my parents’ lawyer. Because I was a minor, the college was legally in loco parentis and I could accuse the administrator of endangerment. I had a new place to sleep within six hours…

In my senior year I was so sick of roommate dramas that I got a single room. I have not had a roommate since. I have become comfortable telling neighbors and friends that there might be cause for concern if they didn’t see me for more than a day.

If I have not addressed all your questions, please do not hesitate to write me again. If your daughter wants to correspond with me directly, I would be glad to be in touch with her.

Best wishes,