I’ve been a Type 1 diabetic for 27 years. At age 13, I came out of a near death coma with partial memory loss and a strong desire to master the solo in Metallica’s “One”. Since then I’ve dealt with the many pitfalls that come along with having a chronic condition in the Unites States. It’s affected every single aspect of my life, including being a touring and recording musician.
Managing a healthy blood sugar level is a nonstop balancing act. It takes discipline and patience to adapt to changing circumstances day to day, operate within a set of protocols designed to keep you alive, and keep your cool when things don’t go as planned. I’ve played many a show with my hands shaking from a low sugar reaction or my mouth dry as a bone from an unexpected high. For many years in my 20’s I embarked on tours without proper monitoring or a predictable eating regimen. It certainly helped that I’ve never had a drink or done any drugs. The only “vice” that I afforded myself was the occasional bag of Haribo gummy cherries- a pleasure which (for me) is just as lethal as any hard drug in the long run. I’ll never forget buying loads of cheap insulin in Paris whilst on tour and realizing my own country’s gross over-charging for basic drugs or general lack of coverage was actually a problem with the culture I was raised in. Affordable health care is a human right, not a privilege.
Though complications can wreak havoc on your body, Diabetes is not just a physical disease. It fundamentally changes the way your brain works and the way you socialize. Occasionally I would do a finger prick blood test demo or publicly inject a dose of insulin to entertain some friends but for the most part I kept my disease private and occasionally put myself and others in danger by keeping people in the dark about the potential hazards I was facing. Constant travel, sitting in a van all day, thrashing around for 45 minutes every night, and unpredictable eating options and schedules tend to generate lows and highs that need to be continually addressed. Sometimes I think it’s just dumb luck I didn’t pass out and smack my head on a urinal in Croatia. I remember reading Jacob Slichter‘s (Semisonic drummer and diabetic) book “So You Wanna Be A Rock N’ Roll Star” and feeling excited to know I wasn’t alone in needing to chug cranberry juice as insurance before a show.
There are also a whole set of stereotypes attached to the disease that one must deal with. Many Americans perceive diabetes as the result of consuming a bag of Doritos and 40 oz of Mountain Dew every day for forty years. Rather than attempt to educate every human that T1D is more nature than nurture, I often went the route of not addressing it at all. In the periods when I’ve maintained a stricter low carb diet, I’ve gotten a barrage of questions and assumptions that can become tiresome and intrusive. I worry about offending people. It’s like you’re the person at the office birthday party constantly refusing the beautiful artisanal cake.
As my twenties wound down, it became apparent I could no longer rely on the low quality healthcare I purchased working as a permalancer. In my thirties I would focus on a full time career and and procure affordable pharmaceutical coverage. Over the last ten years I’ve gone through a few different forms of insulin therapy. I recently started using continuous glucose monitoring and an insulin pump. To call these game changers would be a drastic understatement. Now I feel like I’m driving with cruise control as opposed to having the odometer obscured. I still worry about being judged for constantly checking my devices, fine tuning my dosage, and avoiding bread, but I’m more open in general because I’ve accepted it’s as much a part of me as my passion for music. With a condition as all consuming as T1D, it’s pushed my self-awareness to the extreme and I think it’s made me a better collaborator in all walks of life, but especially in creating music with others. In the not so distant future tech will “close the loop” and Type 1 Diabetics will have insulin delivery automation built into their lifestyle. While I look forward to that day, I’m pretty happy with where my head is at the moment.
Onesie is the musical moniker for Brooklyn-based songwriter Ben Haberland. Stitching together vivid, hooky guitar pop anthems from scraps of British pop, American punk, and Classic rock, the band deals in the currency of anthems written on the voyage toward modern adulthood. The live band, formed in 2013 with fellow scene survivor Zack Fanelli (ex Man Without Plan), wields a visceral dynamic reminiscent of the pair’s early days in the DIY punk scene.
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