We've said it before and it's worth repeating: There must be something in the water that brings together people with diabetes and country music talent! Our Diabetes Community has a roster of talented singers and songwriters in many different forms of music, but country seems to top the charts, so to speak.
Today, we're thrilled to feature Eric Paslay, who's been billed as an exciting "up and coming star" on the country music scene since 2014. The 36-year-old Texas native has lived with type 1 since age 10, and along with his hectic music career and appearances on the diabetes conference circuit, he's now working with CGM-maker Dexcom to share his story while promoting the company's latest device iterations. Just recently in May, Eric launched a new "Level With Me" podcast featuring down-to-earth chats with people around the D-Community.
We hope you enjoy hearing Eric's story and his POV on the music world and diabetes tech as much as we did...
Country Singer Eric Paslay Talks Diabetes
DM) First, thanks for talking with us Eric! Can you start by telling us how diabetes came into your life?
EP) I was diagnosed at 10 years old. My grandmother actually figured it out, as she was a nurse assistant for people with diabetes. She saw me drinking (water) excessively, and she recognized the symptoms pretty quickly. I'm grateful for that. So it wasn't dangerous with DKA or a coma. No one freaked out when the news came of my diagnosis.
I had great doctors and they got me involved in the local Texas Lions Camp, where every summer I got to hang out with other diabetics and learn to take care of myself. I could see that we weren't the only ones in the world. I grew up trying to be educated and know what I was doing. But diabetes can be difficult to balance even when you "know what you're doing."
I feel very lucky that I was born at a time when we have such great technology, and endos and nurses are doing so much for us. I've had diabetes for 23 years now, and it's very cool to see the leaps and bounds over just the past 10 years.
What was it like for you growing up with type 1?
After being diagnosed, I was taking two or three shots every day and testing my blood all the time. I played baseball and always pushed myself, and there were those times I'd have to sneak off and have some juice. Everyone was understanding, but to me it was a struggle at the time. It was always interesting being that "lucky" kid who got to get juice and crackers when I was going Low. There was always that "Why does he get snacks?" from everybody else, but you deal with it.
So you embraced that feeling of being different?
Yes, I think being a kid growing up with diabetes helped give me the guts to be the kind of musician I am now. Sometimes when you're feeling a bit different, when you don't quite fit in with the crowd, it allows you to step out and do things that aren't "typical." I'm grateful for that, in that diabetes helped me step out and become a professional musician.
Of course, up until age 18, I actually thought I was going to be an endocrinologist...
Wait, you went from dreams of being an endo to a musician? Wow!
I loved the thought of helping kids with diabetes. And I thought that I'd be good at it, because I understood that life so personally. I just felt that I had such a good education in type 1 diabetes, from Dr. Scott White and the nurses and Texas Lions Camp.
But then something happened at age 18... I had been playing music for a few years and learned you could get a degree in Music Business, something that was pretty cool and different. And the rest is history. Now looking back, it's so interesting to see how this was all connected, that diabetes helped get me to the point and where I am now. It's such a blessing to be able to do this, and help people with diabetes with my music career.
You're certainly making a name for yourself... what have been some highlights so far?
I've been in Nashville for 17 years now, after coming here to attend college. It's exciting to see where I'm at, with my own self-titled album ERIC PASLAY that's had the songs, “Friday Night,” “Song About a Girl,” and “She Don’t Love You.” It's humbling to look back on Rolling Stone magazine naming “She Don’t Love You” as one of 2014’s best country songs. And I've enjoyed sharing songwriting credits for number one hits with incredible people like Jake Owen with “Barefoot Blue Jean Night," the Eli Young Band on “Even If It Breaks Your Heart”; opening for Brad Paisley and playing with Chris Young; and this past summer playing with Toby Keith on his tour.
In July 2017, I released a five-song digital extended play called "The Work Tapes," and in 2018 there was my single, "Young Forever." I’m working on a new album that we hope to have out in the Fall of 2019, and we’re also putting out a live album that we recorded in Glasgow last year.
Ever thought of weaving diabetes into your music?
I remember getting a T-shirt when I was a kid that said something like, "Kids with diabetes, we're the only sugar we get." That could be a fun song for the diabetes crowd -- other than the slogan that we are allowed to eat sugar if we want. (Laughs).
Maybe someday, if I'm smart enough to figure out how to impart type 1 diabetes into the country music world, I may go for it. Really, I do think there's something to it. Any experience you have in life informs the way you look at the world. I'm sure the way I write songs, having a different view of writing a line, is because of diabetes. The frailness of beta cells not making insulin can change your whole life, and I'm grateful that I can look at my life and realize diabetes has made me a stronger person in a lot more ways than it's made me weaker.
How exactly have you been collaborating with Dexcom over the past several years?
I am excited about being an "official" Dexcom Warrior. We've partnered up, and they sponsored the painted wings that go on my single "Angles In This Town." The artist who painted these wings is Kelsey Montague, who is known for having original angel street art all around the world. And thanks to Dexcom, this is an original set of wings painted especially to take on the road. It's truly very cool.
What about the new cleverly named "Level with Me" podcast you've started in collaboration with Dexcom?
In conversations with everyone at Dexcom, we were thinking about the T1D world and what’s lacking. The everyday conversations about living with type 1 are what we really wanted to tackle together, and that is how the podcast concept came together.
When you hear people talking about their life with T1 it’s usually one of two ways: Either that I was diagnosed and the science, and then “Cool, what’s for dinner?” or that “I am strong!” And then there’s everything else about “is that the one where you take pills?” There is so much confusion out there, with different messages. That’s why I liked the idea of a podcast, where we could just talk about the real life of T1D every day -- parents talking about this -- and just the hardships and successes. Not to mention the amazing technology that makes things easier and adds years to our lives.
What do you like best about doing all of these activities in thd Diabetes Community?
I have a sickness for staying busy. When I'm not busy recording music or making songs, or even DIY'ing at our farm, I am having a blast doing things in the diabetes world and getting even more connected in working with Dexcom to the whole T1D community. It makes you feel good when you get to relate with somebody. It's fun when the kids come up to me at meet-and-greets and flash their CGMs, and say "I"m just like you and can do anything." Their eyes light up and it feels cool... not because I think I'm cool, but because the kids are.
On that note, tell us about your CGM use and diabetes management, especially when you're performing...?
I had been using the Dexcom G5 in 2016 and since then have gone on the newer G6 system. I always check before going on stage, and try to keep my BG levels on the higher side. Really, I like to be around 150 mg/dL before a concert. We always have a glass of orange juice on the drum riser in case I start to go Low and loopy, and that just means I grab that orange juice or have a granola bar or something to keep me from going Low when I'm out there. Even before getting my Dexcom, I could usually feel my blood sugar dropping and would have my tour manager bring me some carbs to get me through the show.
How has using the CGM changed things?
With Dexcom, we can catch a Low way before it becomes a problem. The coolest thing is that you see (my team) wearing ear pieces, and my tour manager has the Dexcom app on his phone so he can see my blood sugars while I'm performing and will tell me where I'm at. The other night, I was at 130 with double arrows down after the insulin was kicking in, and we were on a tour bus. That's maybe not a problem if you're sitting around not moving, but if you get up and start dancing...
So, he can tell me that I'm dropping and to go drink some OJ and it levels up. We keep rocking and no one really knows. And then to see the graph later, it's been pretty amazing. I do also use an insulin pump and it's great to be able to make small adjustments, and "catch the waves" as Dr. (Stephen) Ponder (author of "Sugar Surfing") would say.
The fact that my wife gets to stay home and can still see my blood sugars, and know that I'm OK, is incredible. We've been married for a year and a half, and she's afraid that when I'm on the road, asleep on a bus after performing, that I could go Low and no one would know it. But with the G6 she can see I'm all good, and can go back to sleep. That's huge.
It really is kind of a GPS for your blood sugar!
Has this impacted your performances?
Yes, it's really been a lifesaver, but also a show-saver for those people who come out and want to see a good show. Maybe seeing me have a Low is the idea of a good show for some people, but it's not my idea of one. I feel like I do put on better performances because I'm at good blood sugar levels, not groggy like when you're too high or low -- when it's just harder to dance. It really is cool that as a performer I can now feel these more stable blood sugars and the effect they have on my music and how much more I can give on stage.
We really have come a long way in diabetes technology, haven't we?
It just seems historic to look back at testing my blood sugar only by fingerstick, compared to what we have now.
Growing up, I do remember my biggest fear was going Low in class, and oftentimes I wouldn't speak up because I was trying to be polite and not disrupt class. So I'd just sit there and go Low -- not even knowing how Low I was, but I was pushing it quite a bit. Nowadays, if I were that age, I could just look at my Dexcom CGM data on my phone and do what I'd need to treat that Low. Or my phone would just keep going off, and send alarms to my teacher.
I think CGM helps not only because it can keep you safe, but because every kid wants to fit in. And this means you don't have to make a scene about diabetes as much, and you can just be normal.
We saw the news that you're a new dad, too... can you share more on that?
We have a little six-month old now, and she’s a blast and cute as can be. She’s very vocal and her name’s Piper, so I think we named her perfectly. Sometimes, Piper looks at me when Dexcom starts beeping at 79 mg/dL, and I tell her "I'm your bionic dad!"
CGM gives me piece of mind in being able to carry her and take care of her and know that I'm going to be OK. I've always got juice or something with me, but it's nice to have that reassurance that my blood sugars are stable and I can carry my daughter.
Now with a kid, I have even more empathy for parents of kids with diabetes and understand how they’ll do anything and everything to protect them and keep them healthy. Getting to talk with parents on the road, you hear that they’re hesitant to let their kids go to sleepovers or camp, and how so many can do that more comfortably now because they can watch their kids’ blood sugar levels with CGM data-sharing. That’s also cool about doing a podcast and getting to hear so many different people and talking about what they’ve overcome in life.
Thanks again for taking the time, Eric. Very excited to have you on board with the diabetes awareness and inspiration!