You might say that Anita Nicole Brown has perfected wearing her diabetes on her sleeve. On social media, she's been one of the most brave and bold advocates sharing details of her life with type 1 diabetes and how it plays into everything -- including her acting and modeling work.
This Chicago woman has been living with T1D for two decades now, and we love watching her on Instagram and YouTube, as well as in independent films and commercials. She'll also be a motivational speaker in the Diabetes Empowerment Summit happening May 1-5, 2019.
Today, we welcome Anita, who has offered to share her no-fear philosophy with our readers here at the 'Mine...
Anita Nicole Brown on "Being Seen" with Your Diabetes
Before I begin, let me take you back to just over 20 years ago when I had just entered my senior year of high school. I had had a very active summer that included playing tennis, badminton, swimming, dancing and bowling. So, losing a bit of weight (okay just over 10 pounds in a week) did not seem unreasonable, right?
As you can guess, that was not the case. On Nov. 12th, 1998, I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1D) and my world would be forever changed. To add insult to injury, I was also diagnosed with diabetic nerve damage in my legs and feet and lost the ability to use them properly for almost a year. Imagine going through all this in your senior year of high school!
Now, being as stubborn as I am, I refused to let this stop me. So I continued to work hard. I graduated from high school second in my class even though I missed six months of my senior year. I went to college and graduate school to obtain my degrees through a lot of hard work.
I will admit that it was not until I received those degrees that I realized I had no one to look up to while I was going through being diagnosed and living with T1D. Remember, this was long before social media was as active as it is now. So during my diagnosis and adjustment to life with T1D, there was no Diabetes Online Community (DOC) to turn to.
I will also admit that I did go through depression and doubt because of type 1 diabetes. I passed on going away to college and passed on colleges that offered me full scholarships because I was afraid. I was worried how I would do newly diagnosed. I barely knew anything about this disease and I HAD it! So what would the rest of the world know?!
Somehow, I got through it. I got through the depression, the doubt and even the fear. I had accepted my new life. And I mean REALLY accepted it. Once I did, I started thinking about all of those emotions and feelings of isolation and being different that I had experienced. Being the only T1 diabetic in my family meant that no one at home really understood what I was going through. And I did not see a strong representation of being a T1D on television or anywhere else. That was when I decided to work to be just that!
By this time, we had the DOC... But as refreshing as it was to see that I was no longer alone, I also noticed a great deal of negativity about having and living with this disease. That was something I wanted to change. Something I felt I had to change!
Type 1 Diabetes in the Pageant and Modeling World
That change is STILL a work in progress. It began when I entered the world of pageants and modeling. At this time, I was still on multiple daily injections (MDIs) and I had developed a few scars from them. What I remember most from those worlds were the looks I was given when I was asked to explain the scars and where they came from. And the immediate solution was to cover them up and hide them. In my early twenties, I would have just said “Okay” and let them hide a huge part of who I was/am. But at that time, I was already in my late twenties and I could not let them do that. I just wouldn’t! Needless to say, that decision cost me a few opportunities. But I knew I had to stand my ground.
Everything really changed for me on June 5th, 2013. That was the day I received my Omnipod tubeless insulin pump! Scars would be so much easier to hide when compared to a tubed pump! This reminded me of when I was told I needed to wear reading glasses, and I saw it as a cool new accessory to add to my life -- this was also how I felt about my Omnipod. To me, this meant that my disease was no longer invisible. This little pump allowed it to be seen; it allowed my life with this disease to be noticed. And I was so excited to share this with the world!
Unfortunately, the acting and modeling industry was not as excited as I was to receive this new me... I can still recall an ad that I was invited to audition for. I was told that if I had to wear my insulin pump for the shoot, they could not hire me! I also remember being told, while auditioning for another role, that they could not see someone who wears an insulin pump as the sexy or desirable character that they were looking to cast! I am sure you all can understand how much that hurt. And, I will admit... I almost quit. I thought about quitting so much! But I also thought about why I started and what would quitting solve?
I wanted to be an actress because I knew I was good at it. I wanted to be an actress because I love being able to become a different person each time I am on set. But I also wanted to be an actress without having to hide that I am living with T1D.
You see, I know what we go through every day. The ups and the downs. The goods and the bads. But the world mostly doesn’t see all that because we have been so well hidden for so long. There are approximately 400 million diabetics in the world and only a roughly estimated 5-10% are type 1. We are invisible because we try so hard to be just that. Many of us don’t want people to see what we do, how we live. But that is why the world is misinformed. It's the reason we are often told we can’t when WE know we CAN! Therefore, it has been my goal to make sure we ARE seen! I have been blessed to work with some wonderful writers and directors who see no reason to hide a type 1 diabetes girl from the screen.
Acting Roles with Diabetes
I have had two acting roles in independent films by production company Time Code Mechanics based in Chicago: Crisis Function in 2014, and Crisis Function: Awakening being released later in 2019. In both of those, you get to see the strength that a T1D truly has. I was honored to play the role of Andrea Knight because she is a true DiaBadAss! She knows how to handle a sword, she can take a hit and kick some ass, and she does all of this while handling her type 1 diabetes!
I also appear in the independent film The Gag Date, where you get to see a mother working hard to take care of her daughter. This mother, named Jasmine Harris, is also dating and thus she has to inform her potential new partner that she is a type 1 diabetic and hope he is willing to stay even when he knows what it would take. So being able to play Jasmine in this film has been so close to home!
In two other films -- the dark comedy Pieces of David from 2018 and horror film Scar Lake -- my character was not written as a type 1, but the directors made sure my insulin pump was seen throughout the film. This made me feel amazing because it shows that even if the actor/actress is wearing an insulin pump, it does not and should not take away from their ability to portray any role they are (and should be) given!
I have also been blessed to work with some amazing photographers who can see the beauty and sexiness that is T1D.
And on social media, I make sure to post that #T1DIsSexy because I know and believe we are! I know so many people want to push beyond type 1, but I kind of see it differently. I want to live with type 1 every day.
Because of this, I've joined forces with another type 1 named Danelle Whorton from Ohio to showcase life with this disease via a YouTube show, T1D Lifestyles. We feature "Taking On Tuesdays" & "Sugar Me Saturdays" in our series, where we talk about what we do every day to deal with this disease. So far, we have not hidden from any subject matter. We've discussed dating, insulin management, complications, periods and birth control. I enjoy this show because it is life through the eyes of two T1s who (together) have had this disease for more than 28 years and we are sharing the nitty gritty of how we live with it in our everyday life.
You see, I personally do not wish to separate myself from this disease. It is who I am now. It is who WE are now. What we go through every day needs to be seen so the world can begin to understand. Yes, this disease can be ugly, but I refuse to let that be the only way diabetes is seen.
I know the strength we have. I know how hard we work to stay alive. And I want that to be seen. I want that to be understood and the only way for that to happen is for us to stop hiding. It is time for us to be seen. Because we DESERVE to be seen.
Thanks for sharing your story and passion, Anita!