Last Spring, the DOC was abuzz when a casting call went out for MTV’s reality series “True Life.” The producers were planning to make a one-hour documentary on diabetes, and they were looking for folks to submit their stories. Understandably, many people were wary of what kind of “reality” MTV would create with this show. What kind of people would they choose to represent PWDs? Would they overhype or downplay different parts of life with diabetes?
When the show aired last month, D-bloggers shared their opinion (mostly favorable), and surprisingly, one of the young adults featured in the show read some of those posts and discovered the DOC!
Kristyn Barton was one of three young adults chosen for True Life: I Have Diabetes. She’s a 26-year-old PWD from San Diego, CA, who has lived with type 1 diabetes for 15 years. It hasn’t been easy for her. On top of the normal struggles, Kristyn has also dealt with several financial blows after losing her parents’ health insurance post-college. All those medical bills started to rack up a sizable amount of debt that Kristyn has been working off with the help of her parents.
We’re thrilled to feature Kristyn today, after she spoke with us last week about her experience and how her life has changed since the MTV show aired:
KB) My roommate and I were watching MTV and we were talking about how we wanted to be in an episode of the Real World. We were joking about which character we would be, because MTV always has those “token” cast members. So we went onto the casting call website, but instead of the Real World, we saw they were casting for True Life. I wondered if they’d ever do an episode on diabetes, and sure enough, right after I said that to m y friend, there it was on the screen. I figured there was no reason not to send an email to the casting agent.
Why did you want to be on the show?
I thought maybe if someone followed me around with a camera, it would force me to confront my issues with taking care of myself. Maybe I’d figure out what’s going on with me because someone is asking me about it. It’s a random outsider who doesn’t know anything. This was someone who doesn’t know me and not judging me who was just asking questions, and through that process I thought I would come to some kind of epiphany. That hasn’t happened yet but there have been a lot of good things that have come through the show.
What was the process of getting onto the show like?
After I sent the initial email, a researcher called me. She asked some background questions about my life with diabetes. Once she complied the info, she submitted it to the producers. Then the producers called me and talked to me. I talked to one of the producers, Patrick, several times. I had about 4 or 5 phone calls so they could get a feeling for my story and which part of my story they were going to focus on for filming. After that, they came out for a test shoot. Cameramen filmed for three or four days, and then went back to their boss with the footage. The filmmakers for the show don’t work directly for MTV, so they had to show the footage to the producer at MTV. If the MTV producer liked it, they would continue to come out and film the rest of the show.
The whole process took about 6-7 months, and they came out a few times and would film a few days at a time.
Were you surprised to get a response and get on the show?
Honestly, when I sent the email, I didn’t think anything would come of it. You don’t buy a lottery ticket expecting to win. I expected my email to get lost. I wasn’t really thinking about what would happen. My whole driving force was to not let everyone into my life but really to just dig into my whole life.
When they started filming, did they follow you around 24/7?
It would depend on my schedule and what I was doing. Sometimes they would come for an hour or two, and sometimes they would follow me all day. When I was moving from my house to my parents, they were with me for like 8 hours that day. But other days it was like an hour or so, just filming me having dinner or hanging out with friends.
What did your family and friends think of you being on the show?
I broke the news to my family first because we had to get permission to film the house and film the people. There were a lot of questions about the filming, and why I was doing it. They wanted to know why I wanted to air all this embarrassing info about my life, but I really just thought that something might change as far as taking care of myself or looking harder at myself. I just sat everyone down and got everyone on board, telling them that it was like a personal journey for me rather than getting anything out of it, like fame.
My friends got pretty excited, but I still haven’t told a lot of people. People who did know though it was cool, and they wanted to know if they were going to be on the show too! All in all, it was a pretty positive experience.
Do you feel that the show was an accurate representation of your real life, or were things exaggerated for television?
It’s impossible to encompass my entire family’s dynamics, so a lot was left out. But the producers were pretty accurate about how we interact daily. It’s volatile and explosive, but at the same time I love my family more than anything. I feel like they definitely captured a part of my family life, but a lot of that’s still to be seen.
Were they pretty accurate about the diabetes?
I only watched the episode once, because it’s really too weird to watch. I only remember talking about diabetes once or twice, because I feel the rest of it is about money and my working to pay down my debt because of diabetes. It’s hard to put it all out there because I have always been pretty private about diabetes. I don’t talk about it with friends and family about it.
That was hard because they wanted you to talk about this big thing that you haven’t shared with many people on a consistent basis. The parts they did show, like changing my set and that sort of thing, that was really accurate.
What the show doesn’t really reveal about my diabetes is that I have had really poor control since my junior year in high school. I’ve been struggling with a seven-year period of high A1cs, like over 11%. The show was the first time I’d been under 10 in four years. It’s been a real struggle.
If you talked to the producers, they would tell you how much I was crying and complaining and apologizing for being such a mess. But they just said, “Everyone goes through this when we’re here. You’re not even close to the worst person we’ve seen!” It was kind of like having a little therapist walking around with you, someone to talk about this.
Are you more comfortable talking about diabetes since you’ve been on the show?
I don’t know… I’m still figuring that part out. A big thing for me was reading all the blogs about the show, and discovering the DOC and the people who existed and talked about diabetes. That’s been really inspiring to me. I have always been a lone diabetic. I never went to camp. I barely took any classes on diabetes. It’s been a complete 180 to see all these people hanging out virtually and being friends, talking about life and diabetes all at the same time. That has inspired me to be more open and really try to share my story. Through sharing, maybe I can figure out how to manage my own life with diabetes a little bit better.
In everyday life, like at work, a couple of people approached me and said it was great that I put myself out there. But I haven’t had to field too many questions. I had one co-worker who has always been curious, but i think it’s more of a morbid curiosity because she’s into medical things.
The main focus of your story was your financial situation with all your diabetes supplies. Has that improved since the show?
It has kind of calmed down now that I’m living at home. When I first left home and lived on my own, I was paying for rent, gas, food, medical costs. Right after college, I was unemployed and no longer had health insurance, so I had to pay for COBRA. It was $350 a month for just basic coverage, then co-pays and refills. All the money I had was going to that, and I was barely making money so I put a lot on my credit card. Now that I’m making more money, living at home and not paying rent; it’s gotten a lot better.
You’ve certainly gone through a lot in your life with diabetes. Do you have any advice or words of wisdom?
I wish I had known about the DOC way earlier. I can’t imagine where my life would be had I known about all these people who truly understand. One thing I would say to parents is don’t be offended if your child with diabetes says that you don’t understand. Because you know that your parents care about you, but if you’re not really dealing with it personally, it’s a different experience. From what I’ve seen on Twitter and from people who have emailed me, I definitely think there’s something for everyone out there. I’ve talked to moms, adults, college students, and there’s always someone out there who is going through something similar. No matter how alone you feel, there’s someone who has dealt with it before.
That sounds very similar to the “You Can Do This!” campaign that Kim Vlasnik started.
Yeah, I’ve watched some of the videos and it’s kind of like your own “True Life.” It’s telling your story and saying, “I did it and you can do it.” You can do all the same things that I did and it will be okay!
Thanks for sharing your life with diabetes with the world, Kristyn! You can welcome Kristyn to the DOC by following her on Twitter or visiting her blog. You can also watch the full episode of her show on MTV’s website.