Happy Bastille Day, beautiful France.
I’m never not missing you.
I don’t want to talk about diabetes today.
I don’t want to dissect the mishaps I’ve had this week- how the dial on my insulin pen got a grain of sand in it so I have to use a syringe for the remaining…. 200 units. Or how my CGM (Wednesday!) had a weird error the day after I changed her sensor and she shut down and I forgot to bring a backup on my week-long vacation because I was packing all the other things and there’s always something important left behind, and that was it, of course, and I needed it, of course. I don’t want to talk about the 4am pop-tarts and bowls of cereal from hazy, late-night lows the past few nights while out of town.
Hm, its funny how even when I don’t want to talk about it, I talk about it. Even when I don’t want to deal with it, I deal with it. I’ve been feeling a bit burnt out lately, if you can’t tell. But as we know, giving up just isn’t a viable solution here. In these moments, I’ve found I must re-ground myself with things that make me feel restored and energized and optimistic. Recently, I’ve been turning toward travel.
With my next European adventure in sight, travel dreams have been clouding my mind. Daydreaming about stepping off a train or plane or bus into a new country, a new society, a new language; dwelling in crumbling architecture or lush, foreign valleys. Just a few more months. I’ve also been flipping through my pictures from studying abroad. They always boost my spirit and ease my doubts somehow.It’s been a year and a half since I spent 5 days in Portugal during a break in my year studying abroad in France. I still can’t stop gushing over the beautiful pastel houses by the sea, the vibrant tiled walls, the warmest welcomes and kindest people I’ve ever encountered while traveling.
We spent several days in Porto and several days in Lisbon. I couldn’t choose which one I preferred. They were both so sweetly sunny. This sandwich is called Francesinha, crafted in Porto, Portugal. Pictured here is the vegetarian version I ordered, but my friends got the real deal… which is not for the faint of heart or for someone (me) who was just weaning herself off a 6 year vegetarian lifestyle. The original has wet-cured ham, linguiça (smoke-cured pork sausage), another type of fresh sausage, and steak or roast beef between two slices of bread which is then covered with melted cheese, topped with a fried egg, tucked into a plate full of thick cut french fries, and doused in a generous helping of its “secret sauce,” a hot, thick tomato + beer sauce. Oof. I’ve already started making mental notes of places I want to return to in Europe this go-around, and Portugal is at the top of the list.
After studying abroad for 10 months, I applied to be an Education Abroad Student Ambassador at my university. This big, fancy title essentially meant that I worked to promote and encourage students to study abroad. I set up tables in the student commons, gave speeches to classes, and attended global education-oriented events. I did it because I believe SO MUCH in the experience of studying abroad, and I want everyone to be able to do it. My ambassador job was really fun, plus there was usually free pizza involved. +++
(Here I am being really enthusiastic at a study abroad storytelling event) :
Earlier today over our ‘farewell lunch,’ one of the study abroad advisors, Kelly, told me I would make a great travel writer. I told her that is literally my dream and then I told her about my blog, Coffee & Insulin. I told her I started it for many reasons, but a big reason is because at 21 years old, I packed my life into a single suitcase and moved to France (where I knew approximately zero people) to spend the next 10 months riding trains around Europe and stumbling over the French language. And I have type 1 diabetes and of course it didn’t stop me. And I want other young diabetic people (or any people, really) to see/hear that from as many of us as possible.
Kelly proceeded to tell me that just last week a t1d student dropped out at the last minute of a summer study abroad program because of her worries of diabetes management abroad.
That student was so close, it was so soon. I hate that that happened. I don’t want that to happen.
But I don’t blame him/her (or their family) for being scared. Traveling abroad is nerve-wrecking enough with a working pancreas. Traveling with t1d requires extra planning, consideration and definitely some extra luggage space, but god, it really is worth it. It really is possible. I rode a camel for 2 hours to reach a campsite in the middle of the Sahara desert in Morocco. I sipped wine and ate macaroons and baguettes in front of the Eiffel Tower with my best friend (and then I took a lot of insulin and regretted nothing.)
I learned the ins and outs of the French healthcare system- went to the doctor and the pharmacy and got the medicine I needed. (And I will be forever haunted by how fucking incredible socialized medicine is. sd8fas087fsauhdf I can’t even talk about it.) It was definitely challenging sometimes, especially at first, but I will never forget the feeling of walking out of the French pharmacy with Humalog in hand, thinking, I navigated a foreign healthcare system in a foreign language. What can’t I do?
I wish I could have spoken with the girl that dropped out of her study abroad program. I would have told her that yes, it is difficult to manage diabetes while traveling. It is also difficult to manage diabetes at home. The internal scale is always tipping wherever we are; the circumstances are ever-changing, and we will always, always be re-evaluating and re-adjusting. Whether we are in Minnesota or Prague or Patagonia, we will have low blood sugars and we will have high ones. And we will treat them, and we will keep going, because that’s just what we do.
‘Not traveling’ was never an option to me, I’m way too stubborn and adventurous. My mom sent me on week-long spring break trip to Germany and Switzerland when I was 16 (I remember hearing about it from my best friend and immediately whipping out my cell phone in homeroom, whispering in the back of the class, begging my mom to let me go. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, Mom!!!!!!!” )
Several years later, she told me one reason she fully supported me going on that trip was because she wanted me to learn early on (I’d had diabetes for 2 years) that I could still do things. I could still go out into the world and maybe almost die riding a donkey up the side of a cliff in Santorini, Greece (the key is that I didn’t die) and get lost in a maze of winding alleys and pastel-colored buildings in Portugal and not know exactly how many carbs are in the Italian gelato- and be okay.
One of the reasons I started this blog is to try to use my experience and my voice to show whoever I can trick into reading it that, if you want, you can do these things, too. (Although I really do strongly discourage riding a donkey up the side of a cliff in Santorini, Greece. Oh, you want a picture that encapsulates the moment?) Okay, I’ll break it down for you:
We went from this:
to this very quickly:
I would looooooove to talk to more travelers with diabetes. Also, if you are diabetic and happen to be reading this and are considering studying abroad or know someone who is, feel free to email me! I’m not an expert at traveling with diabetes and I don’t have it all figured out, but I’ve done it, and I’ve learned a lot from it. When dealing with travel, much like when dealing with diabetes, we must simply plan to be surprised. We must be flexible and we must be brave.
Yes, I’m diabetic. I’m also young and curious and wanderlust and alive, so I’m still doing the damn thing. And I want everyone to join me.