It’s just me, Elladia
As an 8-year-old model and actress in NYC, I spend a lot of time in front of the camera. On set for commercials, I’m all smiles and laughs, ready for my close-up whether we’re rolling or in-between takes. During editorial shoots, I bring personality to every frame. At New York Fashion Week, I strike my most powerful pose on the runway as the photographers’ flash bulbs pop. But behind the lens, things aren’t always picture-perfect. My backstage routine involves needles, numbers and constant vigilance. My name is Elladia Jones, and I’m a type 1 diabetic.
At age 3, I began my modeling and acting career. Now I’m a member of SAG-AFTRA, an actress in commercial, TV and film and a model in print, editorial and runway. I work hard to fulfill my dreams in acting and modeling, and have booked projects for brand names like Maybelline, Tide and Apple. I’m always having fun, and feel privileged to get to do what I love. When I’m not on set for any jobs, you can also find me involved in ballet, cheerleading, gymnastics, Girl Scouts and sports like softball and basketball.
On January 16, 2015, after feeling ill with what I thought was the flu, I was rushed to the emergency room, where I received my life-changing diagnosis: Type 1 diabetes (T1D). The pain and lethargy that I felt were symptoms of diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), which required immediate treatment of insulin and fluids through an IV and close monitoring in ICU. I spent a few days in critical care as doctors worked to stabilize my vitals. Even once I was feeling myself again, I knew that this was only the beginning. From here, it was an uphill battle to find my “new normal.” I was taught how to count carbs, decide on doses and pay attention to my blood glucose levels, as both highs and lows were suddenly life-threatening. At first, I was scared of my new reality, of having to test my blood and receive so many insulin injections. The thought of going through that every day made me worry if I would still be able to do all the things I loved, and move forward in my career.
Let me illustrate the life of a working model and actress in NYC: A typical week involves long car rides into the city almost every day to attend “go-sees,” auditions and call-backs. If I have a booking in the city, I can expect to spend several hours shooting in front of a camera. And in a business that operates on less-than-24-hour notice, I have to be ready for last minute changes to my daily agenda. Dealing with the complications of diabetes on top of an already high-pressure schedule seemed like a daunting task at first. I would have to adapt my working lifestyle to accommodate my new needs. Would I be able to handle the long hours on set? How would my blood glucose levels affect my performance? And I had to think about how others would respond to my diagnosis, too. T1D isn’t familiar in the industry. Would casting directors hire a model with diabetes? Would production companies have the flexibility to work with me?
Though I started from a place of uncertainty, it took me only a short time to find the acceptance that I live with today. Clients and companies I work for understand that I need a little extra observation throughout the day and make allowances to ensure that I am well looked after.
I bring my diabetic supplies to every job so I’m equipped to deal with whatever unpredictable spikes my blood glucose levels may take that day. My new Dexcom glucose monitor is a lifeline for me, allowing me to treat problems as they arise. And within myself, I find the strength and courage to push past the pain and embrace every opportunity that comes my way with confidence and positivity. I know now that diabetes can’t slow me down, and I want to share my story to inspire other kids with T1D to never give up on their dreams. I choose not to let diabetes define me; instead, I am redefining diabetes.
The goofy grin you see from me on the other side of the camera is the genuine article—it’s the smile of a bright, thriving 8-year-old living out her dream. It’s just me, Elladia. It’s the face of a type 1 diabetic—determined to live beyond.
Read Type 1: Act 2 by Gavin Lewis.