Traversing the World with T1D
“Travel the world and the seven seas” – this line got me. It was September 2015, and my last semester as an engineering student. I was looking forward to placements and settling down for a job in the corporate world. Yet one thing kept bugging me, I had known as a matter of fact that I was passionate and in love with travel more than I loved programming. I knew that this had been in my thoughts for years now and that I had to just start acting. Action is what I believe is the key to results, something that brings dreams to reality.
It is then that the planning began to make my dreams possible and I had some extensive discussions with my family. It was decided. To see the world and the seven seas, I had to take my first step: complete India. This was decided with just the fact that I was born here, had a personal attachment to it and it made sense to complete India first.
At the time, I rode my dad’s motorcycle, a Royal Enfield called the “old bullet.” That was a different experience all together. My college was in Vellore, India and home was Chennai, India. The end of 2015 was the last time that I would travel back home on my motorbike apart from the weekends that I frequently used to. This time, the ride was different not only because it was the last time, but also because I had lost quite a lot of weight. Feeling weak and not so right, I had left for home, enjoying and clearing away all the stress I had on the four-hour ride back.
Relating my weight loss of over 30 kilos to an upcoming surgery I was going to have, I had not bothered with all the symptoms I had. A few weeks after the surgery, with good recovery, my symptoms just seemed to continue. I had been sleeping more, feeling thirsty, felt incredibly weak with all my bones popping out, losing hair all over my body, out of focus blindness and a slight touch on my skin just led to bleeding. My family and I felt that something was not right.
Coming to terms
One morning in the third week of January 2016, while my family and I sat down for breakfast, my mom asked, “I wonder why I see so many ants on the toilet seat. Do you all have any clue?” I myself had done some reading about all that I had been going through, on the internet. I knew that everything had been pointing to just one thing: diabetes. There was the ‘but’ though, I knew that just reading up on stuff on the internet would only make me believe things that I did not know about. We decided on the 26th of January 2016 that these symptoms were not because of the surgery I had recently and would not just go away, so we decided to visit a hospital and find out the roots of it.
The first thing was disbelief on my end, as I had finally just become happy after three long years of a rough time. I just could not accept the fact that I had been diagnosed with T1D and I had to take injections all my life only to merely stay alive. My family and myself were both happy and upset about one thing though: we went to the hospital when I was close to reaching a coma or possible death. Close but not there. Somehow, in my heart, I had reached a new level of peace, happiness and freedom which I had never felt before; near death experiences do change us.
Apart from me accepting the facts, my parents and my brother Rochit were my life support. They made it possible for me to stay calm and more accepting about it. My dad states, “As a parent, it was a shock in the beginning. Personally, I had no knowledge of what the pancreas does. Never knew what should sugar levels should be and what the range is. When it was taken care of and when I understood from what the doctor told me, I knew acceptance would arrive and it did. What I did next was read extensively about diabetes and everything about it. I made an action plan to deal with it.”
We tried aura cleaning, yoga, explored reiki, homeopathy, Ayurveda and as much we could find to stay medicine free and fight it. Eventually we realized that would not work and embraced it completely. It was decided that, “Diabetes will never be a barrier for us, no matter what the outcome will be.”
My mom said, “For me as a parent, I had realized that first of all possible things, I had to deal with it and not get carried away but could not accept it the way my husband did all at once. I cannot even begin to imagine how all this had happened. On the other end, it was during Rochit’s 12th examinations. I felt lost and feel even Rochit felt so. I couldn’t have imagined it to be a worse time to have all this happening.” With her constant support, all I could see was hope.
Call to action
Now that we had realized this, we created an action plan on the recommendation of doctors, consultants and other relatives. Nearing the end of the last week of January 2016 and the first week of the following week, we strategized my plan to travel. This was traveling, not just along and across India but thoroughly. With extensive discussion and unimaginable support from my family and friends, we decided that I would continue to achieve my passion, what I loved and all that I dreamt about, after gaining strength and understanding the know-hows of diabetes. That would give us confidence and my dad knew this was the right way out.
Three months passed and I was ready after some rigorous physical training from my coach, motorcycle training from my ultimate coach – my dad, diet advice from various health gurus, diet training, consultations, the right amount of insulin dosage, understanding how deadly low sugar is and how health deteriorating high sugar could be.
I read book after book about diabetes, travel, health, yoga and inspiration. This was lot of early morning workouts, motorcycle practices and tremendous hard work done with a happy mindset. This time made me aware and achieve my balance of mind, body and soul. I had gained back my strength. I was ready in my mind, ready to embark upon my journey of a lifetime.
On the 29th of July 2016, I packed up my luggage which was over 100 kilos with riding gear, saddle bags, and all packed up with tents, bottles, all season wear, adventure stuff (you name it, I had it) and left. I left home with only one goal: complete India – all of it. So I did, covering over 25 states, and completing 48,000 kilometers on my motorcycle for over one year and two months on the road. This also gained a lot of attention from media, including newspapers, radio, media channels on TV and other places where I could give public speeches about my journey.
I weighed only 42 kilos when I left. We took a calculated risk with my ability to handle things even after all those months of training. My gypsy feet didn’t believe, in fact failed to even recognize, what giving up meant (I say this because I was asked about it often). Another thing frequently asked about is the fracture and appendix surgery I had in the middle of the India trip, and I believe my determination to keep moving and never back down came naturally (along with good healthcare and healing). I was taught this from the beginning. It’s like my dad says, “Where there is a will, there is a way.” It was also my mom’s love and faith that gave me the courage, and my brother being young yet so mature about everything, was also a catalyst.
Rules to ride by
The question arises from a lot of diabetic readers: how did I manage all my sugar levels when eating a variety of food? The variety of food was a result of me being in a new place every day! How did I even manage that? First and the foremost, what I recommend and what I did is: read, read, read. Educate yourself. Be aware. Understand what diabetes is all about and all that there is to it. You don’t have to be a doctor or a science student to understand how the body works. Read, find out what a pancreas is, what functions provides, understand all the related activities in the human body, understand hormones, and realize all the symptoms (and causes) of anything and everything you do. What I did while travelling was track my sugar extensively, made sure I averted low sugar with a very low possibility of if actually happening, and never missed my breakfast, ever. My rides were sometimes two hours only and sometimes up to 12 hours or more. In such situations, proper planning is required such that I would include all my food breaks (which were compulsory, even if sometimes reaching the destination had to be a trade-off to ensure an accurate planning process).
Secondly, create a support system. My family and peers knew at every moment where I was. Some of the frequently asked questions that most people with diabetes get are frowned upon. Questions like, “How are you? How is your health? Are your sugar levels okay?” Readers, I encourage you to look at these questions in the shoes of your peers, where they come from, their concern, and the absence of information that only you might have (if you are independent, take care of yourself always, especially during travel). On my travels, I reported to my support system as if it was a matter of life or death.
Thirdly, check your sugar levels! Keep track. Understand the ratio of what and how much you ate to how much insulin there was. It gives you a mental graph and as time passes, helps you manage your levels so well it gets hard to believe how much your imbalances have reduced.
Fourthly, keep food and insulin with you at all times.
Happy as I am
With all that being said, I am diabetic and proud! There was never a day – not a moment or a second – that I was ever ashamed of it. In fact, I am not sad or upset but happy, oh so happy. It was never about getting into misconceptions and the words that the world says, or rather the judgements passed, about people with diabetes. It is about embracing it, yourself and your own body. How can anybody possibly hide it or be ashamed of it? It is about changing that perspective in your own mind (and taking an extra step to educate the people around you), and as more and more people see you embrace it and truly be happy about it, you will make a transformational, incremental difference in yourself and the world around you.
If you ever have time, do see this video: “RIP Claire Wineland – Make Your Life Beautiful.”
My brother Rochit tells me, “I was not scared while you were going through the rough time when you found out you had diabetes. If I had to put reason to it then it’s because I believed that you’d be fine as long as mummy and papa are here. I’m very confident that nothing can happen to us. But the thought of how things went south so much and what could’ve happened still haunts me. The journey that you went on despite all of the problems is really inspiring. I’m proud of you. And I couldn’t ask for a better brother or family. We are awesome, and we can defeat all odds as long as we are together.”
Finally, I live in a world where all possibilities are possible. Currently I am on my way to travel the world and the seven seas. Cheers! 😀