I’ve never thought of myself as different. After having type 1 diabetes for eight years, I have “great” control. Does anyone truly have great control of something that continues to attack them daily? I have such “great control” that when in a regimented routine, I often forget how different I really am.
Living out of a backpack with no agenda in SE Asia for a month is a humbling experience. The only thing that can make it more humbling, however, is doing it with a chronic disease. Before leaving, my mother was up in arms over the idea of me being in developing countries for a month with no true agenda and not much access to healthcare. I reassured her that I am a “good diabetic” and was taking ridiculous amounts of insulin with me in a freezer pouch (to ensure they stayed out of the scorching heat). I reassured myself as well, not addressing how tough this journey may be.
The first mental breakdown came only five days into the trip—at a yoga studio in Chaing Mai, Thailand. Eating low-carb, as a vegan, in Thailand was nearly impossible, and I was consuming much more insulin than I had ever imagined. Mid-morning on the fifth day of our month-long excursion, my best friend, Kelli (who spent the month exploring the wonders of Asia with me), and I headed to a mild Hatha yoga class. Of course, we had fruit before and I had dosed a few too many units of insulin for our high-carb breakfast. With so many factors at play: the heat of Thailand, carbs-carbs-carbs, walking everywhere, stress, insulin dosing higher in the morning, I managed to swing a 30mg/l low mid-down dog. Feeling a little funny, I left the room to grab my phone and see what my Dexcom was reading. Because my phone was not on my person, it didn’t have a signal. A quick prick and blood sugar reading confirmed my 30mg/l. For me, going below 50 is treacherous. At 30, I struggle to walk, talk, or think—let alone feed myself. I struggled with my backpack, pulling out apple sauce and crying my eyes out in between. I headed outside the studio, applesauce and phone in hand, to call my mom. She could hear me crying and reassured me I was going to be okay. All I could keep repeating were things like, “I feel so different. This is so hard. Why do I have to deal with this. I wish I could just backpack Thailand like a normal college grad, and turn this disease off for a month.”
We left Chaing Mai that day and headed down south to Phuket. I was fine and quickly ended my pity-party. We continued onto Bali shortly after, where there were much better food options and the acclimation easier. Kelli, my rock, was always there to listen to my mental breakdowns as they unfolded the entire month. There were numerous times Kelli and I discussed flying home early. We hit more than a few road bumps along the way—with bed bugs, vomiting, and a crazy man pounding on our door at 1am being a few of them. However, we stayed. Diabetes didn’t get much easier, but I grew stronger, more patient. I could not change my diabetes, but I could change the way I reacted to the variables. If you are a type 1 diabetic looking to adventure for a month, like a nomad, do it. However, be aware of the mental and physical hardship that will accompany your adventure. For me, the hardest part was wrestling the idea that I am, and always will be, different.