Q&A with T1D Musician Austin James

7/22/20
WRITTEN BY: Makaila Heifner
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Austin James is a FreeStyle Libre Ambassador and this content was made possible with support from Abbott Diabetes Care.


 

Austin James is a multi-instrumentalist from Hartford, Connecticut whose music blends folk, rock, and soul to create a new genre-bending sound. He recently sat down with Beyond Type 1 to answer some rapid-fire questions about his life with diabetes and musical journey.

Beyond Type 1: Tell us about your diagnosis

AJ: I was 17, a senior in high school, getting ready to start my second semester of my senior year. And I got really sick, lost a lot of weight, all the signs for diabetes. A buddy of mine in my class had diabetes, so I ended up checking my blood sugar and it was well over 600 (mg/dL) so they rushed me to the hospital and it was an overnight change.

How did you know it was diabetes? Did someone suggest that it was diabetes?

I actually had looked up the symptoms. I had known about diabetes because I was close with my friend, so I was his accountability partner which is pretty funny, because I didn’t have diabetes at the time, so I was responsible for that. I knew something wasn’t right, I told my mom, “I think I’ve got diabetes.” She was like, “No, you’re fine. You’re fine.” She just kind of saw me withering away, slowly lost about 30 pounds. I was so sick, so thirsty. And I was preparing to go into the military and everything just changed. It was pretty wild.

What would you say was the hardest part about the diagnosis?

Just the change in the trajectory of my life. I came from a military family and not be able to do that was really hard for me at the time, ended up being a blessing in disguise that I got to chart my own path and become a musician. But yeah, that was probably the toughest part.

How has diabetes impacted your music?

Well, I mean, before I was on the FreeStyle Libre system, I was doing all finger pricks and it was just really painful. I’m a multi-instrumentalist so I’ve been playing violin for 20 plus years and I play guitar and your fingers are already pretty beat up from playing the instruments and then you have finger pricks on top of that and it can get pretty painful. So that’s been the biggest challenge. And then just peace of mind when you’re going on tour and making sure you have all these supplies and making sure you’re not running short on anything. And technology now helps so much, having the pump and CGM are an added layer of security there.

When you’re preparing for a tour, how do you make sure you have everything and that you’re ready to go?

I have a checklist. I’m a pretty organized person so I have my checklist ready and everything good to go. And my mom, because my mom always checks in on me. She lives in Florida, and she’s still a mom even though I’m 31, she still checks in on me. So she makes sure I have everything and she goes through the checklist with me.

What’s your favorite and least favorite part about touring?

My least favorite part of a tour is the hotel, I can never sleep in them. I like my own bed, so that can be pretty tough, but my favorite part is the traveling. I like being in new spots. I like various things, different cities, different cultures.

Who is your biggest influence for your diabetes journey?

Funny enough, obviously with the music is watching Nick Jonas. I mean, how appropriate? But watching him live a very fulfilled life, it’s pretty cool. I mean, obviously he’s a musician as well, but it makes it that much more relatable. And I think Jay Cutler, the former quarterback in the NFL, definitely those two guys for sure.

Biggest influence on your music?

I’m a big Aerosmith fan. Steven Tyler, he’s my guy.

What advice would you give to someone recently diagnosed with diabetes?

That it is tough, it’s going to be a hard road. You’ve got to be honest with them, but at the end of the day, you can really live a fulfilled life. And the technology we have now has come so far and not to get too down. You can really live a full life and it is possible. And if you really do take care of yourself, you can live a healthy life as well.

Watch Austin speak about his CGM below, and check out his music HERE



Makaila Heifner

Makaila was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at only 16 months old. She grew up and later worked at several diabetes camps including Camp Leo, Gales Creek, and DYF. Now, she is a student at UC Berkeley working towards a Bachelor’s degree in Global Studies and Public Policy. Makaila is a fan of soup, public radio, and live music.