Quinn's Bittersweet Valentine: An Exclusive Interview With Country Music Star Eric Paslay
Last year I had the amazing opportunity to interview Nick Jonas, a fellow type 1, like me. It happened to be Valentine's Day and let's be honest...what single lady wouldn't relish that role? This year, I was asked to interview Eric Paslay, a rising country music star who also lives with type 1 diabetes. (Are you sensing a pattern here? Talented performers and type 1 diabetes???)
Unfortunately for me, Eric is already taken. He's married fellow country singer—and long-time girlfriend Natalie Harker in April 2016. (You can read more about his romantic proposal to her here.) So, it looks like I'll be spending another Valentine's Day without a Valentine! But, hey, I still enjoyed talking with this charming, talented and very funny young man.
Eric started his rise in the country music scene first by finding success as a songwriter, and then releasing his most recent album last summer with the title track, "Angels in This Town". During our conversation I was struck by how being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at a young age helped propel him to take a different path. In fact, he says it's what ultimately lead him to the success that he’s had today on the airwaves.
Here's my interview with this down-to-earth, humble Texan:
How did you discover that you had type 1 diabetes?
My grandma was a nurse’s assistant and she noticed that everytime I came in from playing outside I'd jug juice. She saw my symptoms and recognized them. My Uncle had type 1 diabetes. She thought it might skip a generation but I was grateful she caught it when she did. My blood sugar was around 500 at the time. I was high, but not in a coma.
You were only 10 at the time of your diagnosis. What was that like?
Looking back on it now, I feel even more grateful because I realize I was old enough to understand what it was to get sick, but not old enough to be set in my ways. My life wasn't set in cement yet. My identity was not in a cereal or a can of Coke. I grew up in Texas. My family brought me to a great hospital. There were wonderful doctors, nurses, and nutritionists. Steve Ponder, MD was my doctor. Someone also told my family about the Texas Lions Camp for people with diabetes. Because the Lions sponsored it, my family never had to pay a penny for me to attend. It helped me realize I wasn’t the only one living with type 1 diabetes. I also learned it’s up to you to take care of yourself.
How did you cope with the news?
Honestly, I never had a really traumatizing moment—and I'm grateful for that. No kids made fun of me and I always just kind of rolled with it. Just realizing that somehow I was lucky enough to be born in a time where there were treatment options. When I get bummed out, I'd think of how I could be dead if I was born at another time. I thank God for being born now, not 100 years ago. I’m lucky that I can live. Not a lot of young people were able to live with diabetes and I never had that worry. I get to live every day.
You said in an interview with People Magazine, “I think diabetes probably helped me pursue music because I was already an outsider in a way. I was not a normal kid already and that was a blessing”. I found that insight so interesting. What would you say has been your biggest lesson learned?
A lot of times what you think makes you the weakest, makes you the strongest. Diabetes allowed me to not follow the blueprint of what hometown folks think you should do. Sometimes what people think is ordinary is ok to be status quo. God gave me diabetes to allow me to think outside of the box. It let me think a little differently and I was not afraid to do that. Songwriting is a gift that enables me to sit in an empty room and find a melody. Diabetes made me a bit of a rebel and helped me chase the music business. It’s a wild thing. The odds of having it work are unlikely but the signs kept telling me to go forward. There can be roadblocks you face, just like diabetes, but it’s not the end of your life. You just we need to find another route.
Nick Jonas wrote a song about the highs and lows of living with diabetes. Have you written any songs that have to do with living with diabetes?
I wrote a song called, “Give Me Some Sugar”. I’m totally joking! I haven't written one yet. There is probably a shadow of helping people look up, not look down. I think of my song, “Keep On Dreaming Even If It Breaks Your Heart” like that. Diabetes contributed to the way that I look at things with the glass half full or empty. For me, it’s half full of unsweetened something!
What is the most difficult aspect of managing your diabetes while touring?
Most people see us on stage and think we flew on an airplane. But the reality is I get on a bus at midnight. My wife is always worried. She’ll crawl up in my bunk and see if I have a low blood sugar. When I’m on stage there are so many times I’ve needed juice. Seriously looking back, I used to test 5-6 times a day. Now I’m on the Dexcom CGM. I can now look at my phone and see my blood sugar. Natalie can look at her phone in Nashville while I’m touring in Canada…and know that I’m just fine. I know she sleeps better now but hasn't always been the case.
I’ve yet to have a catastrophic low on stage since using a CGM. I certainly haven’t always had the best shows in the past when I was low. Jugging juice leads to some burping! My tour manager knows if I’m 100 or double arrows down…we need juice on stage now.
I dragged my feet for so long to start using this new technology, and I finally get it, and realize how cool and life changing it is. It’s like having a GPS for my blood sugar. We all have hectic schedules. The lifestyle of a musician is crazy but I'm relieved having my Dexcom. It helps me know the show will go on.
My brother has diabetes and he doesn't use an insulin pump or CGM because he doesn’t like the thought of having something attached to him 24/7.
That’s why I didn’t get them. I played baseball in high school. I didn’t want an insulin pump because I didn’t want something hanging off of me. What was I thinking? I wouldn’t have had to carry all of the supplies. I just got on the CGM six months ago. Change can be a little scary. But this has really been a mind-blowing change. You may have some weird moments, but I don’t think about it much anymore. I was in the same boat as your brother. Feeling hesitant. But now my A1C and blood sugar level is so much better…I'm confident I'll live better and longer.
What is the kindest gesture you've ever received?
Two of my doctors—Dr. Don Wilson and Dr. Ponder—really impressed me on the importance of taking care of myself. If I feel better, I do better. Little bits of advice over the years have helped me tremendously. It’s been a wild thing for me. I can’t imagine my life without diabetes. There have been so many positives because of it. I hope everyone knows that for every bit of bad news, there are 100,000 other pieces of good news.
Is there anything else people should know about you?
I’m the most attractive man in country music! Ha, ha, ha!
Seriously, I found the blessing in the curse living with diabetes. The more I looked at my life and realized there are so many other sicknesses that I could have, but at least with diabetes I could take care of myself.Just getting to talk with you about it is great because we have a shared story. It’s up to us to be the difference.
Maybe we can co-write a song together? Or you can cover Tom Petty’s “Pour Some Sugar on It”?
Yes, you will have to come to a concert. I really enjoy meeting other people with diabetes.
Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me today. I’m looking forward to seeing you in concert soon.
In the meantime, this Minnesota gal plans to polish up her cowboy boots and find a concert date in the very near future. Quinn will be cheering Eric on as he continues to rise through the country music ranks and raise awareness about not letting diabetes get you down! Happy Valentine's Day!