You may remember our featured interview from a couple years ago with Jeremy Larsen, a fellow longtime type 1 who lives in Japan and created a blood sugar photo project called 70-130. He's originally from Georgia, but has lived in the city of Osaka on Japan's main island for a decade, after moving there to teach and travel. Now Jeremy's at it again with a new diabetes-related project.
Late last year, he set out on a backpacking adventure that took him to 18 countries over the course of four months. He did blog about the experience, but since returning home, has compiled a video that really tells the story he wants to share. In it, he 'shows off' his BG meter in various spots around Europe, emphasizing the inspirational message: "You can go anywhere with diabetes."
We were glad to re-connect with Jeremy recently to catch up and explore the backstory of his latest adventure:
DM) Great to talk with you again, Jeremy! Refresh us on your background and D-story?
JL) I was born in Nashville and moved to the state of Georgia at age 8, and lived in various places in Georgia, especially Augusta, throughout my teens and 20s. I got an art degree from the University of Georgia in 1996 and worked alternately as a graphic designer and in newspaper circulation. In 2004, I moved to Japan to teach English for a short time... I liked it and I'm still here.
I was diagnosed at age 9 just before Christmas in 1982. Over the years diabetes just became a regular part of my life. In my 20s I went maybe two or three years without checking much at all, but fortunately had no major complications other than having little energy from being too high. In my 30s, I began to realize how much better I felt when I had good BGs. Now I'm in my early 40s, and checking and targeting has become very important. That was a big part of my focus a couple years ago, in creating the 70-130 Project where I took pictures around Osaka of my BGs being in range. That whole project has been about inspiring people to check their sugars more often, and I've had a lot of fun with it.
What were the parameters of your most recent backbacking trip?
My trip was from October 2014 to February 2015 (131 days to be exact). I was with my longtime travel partner Masayo the entire time. She was a great help to me and lots of fun to travel with. We started in Sweden, went down through the Baltics, then parts of Eastern and Central Europe, the Balkans, and finally to Norway. The entire list of countries is: Sweden, Åland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro, and Norway. Whew!
Except for the first two days in Stockholm, Sweden, the trip was spent in places I'd never been, including many I'd never heard of.
Wow! Why did you take this trip -- vacation, work, or some other reason?
This was simply a vacation. If I could find a job that would let me travel I certainly would like that, but this was something I planned and saved up for for a while.
How did this impact your job situation?
Well my job generally involves short-time contract teaching positions, so I just stopped taking new ones and canceled my private lessons for the trip. I'm back in Osaka now and starting up the same thing again -- looking for classes and students now.
You obviously aim to inspire PWDs, but did you experience any negative diabetes issues?
For the first several weeks, I had high BGs, especially 3-4 hours after dinner, consistently around 300. It turns out I had a mental block against injecting what I knew to be the correct dose of Humalog for my meals -- I got into a bad habit of being overly paranoid about getting low.
What happened eventually was I actually did get low a few times (I did a lot of walking most days), and there was no crisis -- just some juice and I was fine. So I gradually brought my Humalog doses in line with what they needed to be, and my control got MUCH better.
It may sound silly for a decades-long diabetic to restrict himself from proper insulin doses, but such is the unhelpful psychology of bad habits. As usual, experience and education took care of it. I'd had this bad habit for quite a while, and I was glad that I could use this trip to analyze, experiment, and ultimately triumph over it. Diabetes gives you endless opportunities for self-improvement!
Any anecdotes that stand out?
Aside from the general fun of moving around and meeting so many genuinely nice and helpful people, I learned to ice skate in Slovakia, drove a car around Croatia, almost got caught in a tear gas riot in Kosovo, took a heart-stopping bus ride through a mountain snowstorm in Serbia, saw the Northern Lights in Norway, visited a church made of human bones in the Czech Republic, learned to sound out the Cyrillic alphabet, and didn't let diabetes hold me back from sampling whatever local foods I found in each place!
How do you plan to publicize or share this new video with the diabetes community? Is there a Call to Action?
All I really want to do with all this is to reach diabetics who aren't keeping track of their health as much as they should, to inspire them to get things in order because you can do more fun things (like traveling) and enjoy them more if your BG is good. I've seen a lot of needless worry from diabetics about things like traveling, and I want to help them see that it's not a scary thing. So far, I've just posted the video on YouTube. I hope people like it and share it, and I hope it makes diabetics relax a little about undertaking big new projects.
And how does the new video relate to or differ from your 70-130 Project?
I consider it a part of that project, which is to keep in mind that BG target range and to check frequently. The biggest difference between this and the original project is that I did that in my free time while living in Osaka, whereas this was a big trip for which I saved up and quit my job.
Another difference is that while the underlying message is still that BG knowledge and good control are powerful and necessary, the Europe video is more about travel specifically and reaching your goals generally, despite diabetes. I like hearing about diabetics who travel, but there aren't enough stories that I've seen.
What kind of feedback have you gotten so far?
One viewer told me that because of some bad problems with his control, he is unable to travel anymore, so he loved watching it because he can't travel himself now. Other people tell me that it's inspiring, either for diabetic reasons or for travel reasons. I'll take either! One woman told me her diabetic son was going to visit France and she was worried about access to emergency health care; I'm glad my experience helps show that there shouldn't be any restrictions to traveling with diabetes, only preparation.
Do you plan to travel to other places and do this more?
Oh yes, I have several ideas for another trip/project under the 70-130 name; it's a matter of choosing one, fleshing out the details, and finding the time and money.
What are you hoping comes from all of this?
My ultimate hope for the Europe video project is that diabetics will feel a little more adventurous after watching it, and allow themselves a "yes" for some travel dream whereas before they might have said "no." It's a cliche, but if just one person does that as a result of my work, I'd be more than happy.
Thanks, Jeremy. We look forward to seeing where your future adventures take you around the globe, and definitely how that inspires people to travel and take command of their own D-management.