Country music star Eric Paslay talks life with t1d

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WRITTEN BY: Todd Boudreaux

Eric Paslay is a Grammy-nominated musician who has used his platform to advocate for people with Type 1 diabetes. The country music star just released a 5-episode podcast series called ‘Level with Me — An Eric Paslay Podcast sponsored by Dexcom.’ Each episode features interviews with people living with T1D from across the country. Beyond Type 1 recently spoke with Eric about his life with diabetes, the importance of role models, and what he set out to accomplish with this new podcast.

Beyond Type 1: Thanks for taking the time to speak with us today Eric. Can you tell us about your history with diabetes?

Eric: I was diagnosed 26 years ago, when I was 10 years old. My grandma was a nurse’s assistant and her job was to test people for diabetes. She noticed I was drinking a lot of fluids… and peeing and drinking and peeing and drinking – she realized something was wrong. I’m really grateful for my grandma, and that I grew up with great doctors and nurses around. I grew up in Temple, Texas with a great care team that taught me how to take care of myself, taught me what this Type 1 diabetes thing was all about.

One of the best places I learned how to take care of myself was Texas Lions Camp. The Texas Lions Club has this amazing summer camp in Kerrville, Texas for kids with physical disabilities, cancer and Type 1 diabetes. Getting to hang out there at that camp and realizing I wasn’t the only kid with T1D… It’s some of the best memories of my life. I wasn’t the only person in the world with it. A lot of the nurses and the counselors have Type 1, so these little kids are getting to look up to people they admire. As a kid you think, “They’re cool — and they climb mountains and hike with Type 1 diabetes — if they can do that, I can do anything.”

I think that really encouraged me to probably do this crazy thing called music. That’s not normal to pursue, either. I think being diagnosed with T1D as a kid has encouraged me to reach further than I otherwise would have.

Tell us about your decision to get involved with Type 1 advocacy

I didn’t always think I was going to be a professional musician. When I was a teenager I really thought, “You know, what? I’m going to be a doctor… and take care of kids that have diabetes.” I wanted to be a Pediatric Endocrinologist. That was kind of my plan, and then I picked up this guitar and started writing songs and becoming a doctor turned into being a musician.

So, I’ve always had it in my heart to want to take care and encourage people with diabetes. I just love going around and encouraging people. I had a song a couple years back called “Angels in This Town.” It’s just about miracles, but it’s also a cool way of saying in every town there are angels. There are people everywhere that are helping people: doctors and nurses and fire departments, police officers, Habitat for Humanity are all angels.

I made all these stops during a tour and we would just show up and hang out and play music and encourage whoever it was that day — we got to go up to a whole lot of children’s hospitals, and I even got to go back to Texas Lions Camp and play a show and hang out with those kids. I need to go do that again, I miss going down there.

Why is it important for kids with Type 1 to have role models?

Everybody needs encouragement. It doesn’t matter how old or young you are. It’s always good to just have someone come along and say, “Hey, you’re doing all right. Even though you don’t have perfect blood sugar levels all the time. No one does.” I think encouragement is contagious. Encouragement gives kids confidence. Ultimately your parents aren’t going to be there to take care of you, eventually all these kids are going to grow up and they’re going to make their own decisions. Are you going to test your blood? Are you going to look at your Dexcom? Are you going to take your insulin? Or are you just going to act like you don’t have this disease and then end up having complications?

How do you manage your diabetes while on stage?

There is always a red Solo cup full of orange juice on stage. My crew watches the Dexcom Share app on their phones. We have certain levels — if I’m at 110, arrow down or arrow angle down, they let me know. We wear in-ear monitors, so my crew can literally talk to me without anyone else hearing it, saying things like, “Yo, you’re at 110, arrow down. Chug your OJ.”

It’s amazing just the magic that’s happening behind the scenes. I’ve never gone low on stage since I’ve had a Dexcom, and also, it’s been great that my guys get to learn about it. They’ve become friends with other diabetics because they know how to deal with it and what it is.

I don’t want to chug the OJ, but the times that I do… the country crowd thinks I’m drinking something else. I always just tell them they’re going to thank me I did that later, so I’m not having a seizure in the corner of the stage. It’s just kind of fun, the technology. We can smile about a very serious situation because Dexcom just makes it a lot easier.

Tell us about your podcast. Where did the idea come from? What was production like?

I think our teams just kind of got together and said there really isn’t a podcast about diabetes that focuses solely on the personal stories of everyday people dealing with the disease. Just the everyday of living with diabetes, and we all have a story as a Type 1 that comes back to how we were diagnosed. How did that feel? Also, how diabetes affects our loved ones — the parents and spouses that have someone that they love living with diabetes.

In each episode, I think people will learn a lot more of everybody’s story, and that even though we all have our own story, we all are connected. And that [T1D] is manageable — there are so many tools and it’s a great time to be surviving diabetes. I’m excited. We just recorded the last one and it’s been a lot of fun hanging out with other Type 1 diabetics and sharing stories, and hopefully people come along for the ride and listen to us talk about ourselves.

One of the cool things about the podcast is that each episode has two segments. So the crew went to the towns of each person, and they told their story in the town they live in — I always love hearing the sound of where they live in the background. And then they came to Nashville and we did the second part of the interview and just talked about their lives.

I will say I am more comfortable behind a guitar or singing on stage. The podcast was brand new to me, sitting there going, “So I’m going to talk, right? We’re just talking together?” We had a blast on the set of Blackbird Studio in Nashville, a studio that I’ve recorded a lot of music at.

Who did you end up interviewing?

I spoke with Colleen: a nurse, certified diabetes educator, marathon runner, nutrition enthusiast and all around optimist who thinks, “T1D has been a powerful and enabling thing to be given.”

Then there was an Iron Man, John B. It was just really encouraging to hear from such a great athlete. And he encourages kids, he’s got a camp that helps kids have fun with diabetes and live life and not just sit and worry about going low.

I also spoke with Julie E. and her daughter Abbie. Abbie is 11 and was recently diagnosed with Type 1. It was just fun talking to them and hearing recipes and just hearing that story, the struggle of worrying for your child.

I also got to speak with Keary and Zola C., a mother and daughter who both have Type 1 diabetes. They have a wild story. Keary was diagnosed with diabetes and then found out that this little girl in Uganda was also recently diagnosed and it is just a beautiful story.

And the final interview is my wife interviewing me. We cruised around Nashville in my truck and talked about our story, how we met, our life of me dealing with diabetes on the road, and how she can watch it on her phone with Dexcom, which is mind-blowingly amazing. It just kind of makes our relationship a lot easier with her not having to worry all the time.

Who do you hope listens to the podcast and what are you hoping to achieve with it?

I hope whoever’s meant to hear the podcast hears it. Someone asked me the other day, “How do you get a song on the radio?” I looked at him and I kind of held my hands out like I was holding a precious feather and I threw it up in the air and I said, “You do that, and then you hope all your friends [huff and puff] and blow the feather up, and keep giving air time and keep it up there.” I can’t make people listen to the podcast, but I know that it will help people if they hear it, whether they live with Type 1 diabetes or they know someone with Type 1 diabetes.

It’s amazing to hear the stories of people living with Type 1 diabetes every day. And not just the extreme diagnosis stories or the big triumphs. It’s the in-between of connecting lives together with this ingredient called diabetes.

Diabetes is not all of who you are. You’re not just a Type 1 diabetic. You’re a brother, you’re a sister, you’re a mother, father, friend, whatever occupation if you want to say you’re that. You’re not just a Type 1 – it’s just an ingredient in your life, and I know you have a flavorful life, and we’ve got to talk about all the ingredients in life that let us be human. It was just fun conversations and hopefully people will want to tune in and listen to it when they’re cruising down the road, or flying through the air on a plane, or whatever they’re doing when they listen to podcasts. Hopefully the podcast will just encourage them and let them know they’re not alone, and that they are not unloved because they have diabetes.

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