I've mentioned in previously writings that my ability to explore was largely because I had my parents' support to try things without diabetes coming up as a road block.
When I was 19, I decided to live abroad. It was not a program supported by my college or my friends where I would live in a college dorm overseas and attend classes with my American friends. This was a program offered through British Universities North American Club, which offered several destinations for my abroad experience.
BUNAC offers several destinations for your abroad experience and my first choices were France, Switzerland and England. Each had plenty of options: places of interest, jobs, cool places to live.
While showing it to friends, I shared my desire to go to Africa. My friend shared her experience of going to Kenya and how sick she had gotten from brushing her teeth with tap water while on a safari, and the hospital experience frightened her enough not to want to return to Africa!
It suddenly occurred to me to think about my own health. While I was in good control of my diabetes, I knew that a flu, cold or simple infection could wipe me out and I would be desperate to find a clean, healthy hospital and doctor to help me.
So how I decided on my destination became crystal clear! My father had been pivotal in helping open JDRF internationally. He became close friends with Dr. Karp in Televiv, Dr, Rabino in Milan and Dr. Bob Tattersall in London.
I had been to England several times with my family. I knew many of the sites of London. My family had traveled to London to meet the Tattersall family and had dinner at their home, they in turn, had spent time at our home had come and spent time with us at our home. On one journey to England, I developed a sore throat and my father called Dr. Tattersall for help. When a knock came to the hotel door, I answered it to see a silver-suited, helmet in hand Dr. Tattersall who came to have a look at my sore throat before going home! A house call away from home!! England had a sense of family to me, and not because my ancestral heritage was from England.
Another reason to go: I didn't have to land on my feet and have a grasp of the language to begin work. BUNAC was based in London, so it was easy to get information and help from their main office. I spoke to them a few times before leaving for my adventure and every call made my decision to live there more relevant!
Without sharing a word of my concerns with my parents, I made my decision to go to England! My parents never gave me grief. At that time I did not want their help; I needed to sink or swim on my own and that experience was something I was fiercely fighting for that chance. I needed to prove to myself that I could pack it up like many of my friends and experience life not only on my own but abroad.
Thinking back, the pressure I put on myself was plenty, and I suspect that my parents in someway understood. My mother was very encouraging and supportive of my decision and never let on to any hesitation she may have been feeling. I have no doubt that had she showed her concerns for my trip, it would have been far more difficult for me emotionally! I needed to know that she was 100% behind me, and if she doubted any part of my decision I never knew it. (Read Ann's Mom's thoughts on her leaving the country).
My father was also very relaxed about it. He never argued with me not to do it. I think he knew not to try to talk me out of it (he and I had a long history of irritated teen and worried dad -- my indifference to his concerns had driven him to reply "ok" on many occasions!).
To feel safer for me, he had asked if had I considered taking Dr. Tattersall's number. I became instantly irritated (mostly because he was stumbling onto my own concern) and I commented that I would call for his number if I needed it. In fact, it was already packed in my bag!
About 3 weeks before I left for England I got a call from a girlfriend from college who lived in Decatur Ill. She called to say hi and to tell me she was not returning to school in the fall. She had decided to live abroad. I jumped and said "me too, where are you going?" and she yelled "Great Britain!" I yelled, she yelled and we ended the call with plans to live together in London!
I had my wisdom teeth pulled, and a week later I was on my way to London!
I spent my first 3 weeks traveling England, Scotland and a small part of Ireland and then I returned to find Sally waiting for me at the BUNAC office and off we went to find a flat. We both took jobs in Harrods and lived the life of every day Londoners! I traveled over to continental Europe most weekends and ended my year's stay by traveling through Europe for 3 months, living solely out of a backpack (which included my diabetic supplies) and youth hostels.
That experience gave me so much of who I am today: confidence, self esteem and a love for other cultures and people! In 2004, I went back to England to hike for 3 weeks in the Cotswald and Cornwall with my mother. We eventually spent 3 days in London, when I took her to see where I lived. It was only then standing at my London door that my mother shared her true feelings about my journey. I'm glad she shared them later, as it would have affected my journey had I known her true feelings!
I am glad to have this unique opportunity to share with many parents my experience as a teen with diabetes. But even better is to have both sides of the story. My mother is my best advocate and I'd like her to share her experiences to round out this picture!
See also: A site for teens with diabetes