This content originally appeared on Beyond Type 1. Republished with permission.
By Makaila Heifner
Eritrea Mussa Khan is 28 years old and has had type 1 diabetes for 18 years. She lives in Dallas, Texas with her husband where she works full-time in application development training for a large school district.
Recently, Eritrea joined the team at Diabetics Doing Things as a Content Creator and is a co-host on the podcast. Their new 4-part series “More Than a Diabetic,” features 15 members of the diabetes community who are all people of color. This series focuses on important topics like medical racism, representation in the diabetes community, and how we can collectively as a community do better to support Black and other people of color with diabetes.
Eritrea recently sat down with Beyond Type 1 to discuss the podcast, identity, and diabetes.
BT1: Do you remember what it was like when you were diagnosed? Had you had any prior knowledge of type 1?
Eritrea: No, I didn’t know anything about diabetes at all. I was eight, so I was pretty small. I remember that I sent my parents home when I got diagnosed because I was more worried about my siblings than myself and being like, “Hey, my mom has to get up early tomorrow and take my brothers to school. She has to go home and get some rest.” I took charge of a lot of my own care, but also my parents were foreigners to the country. Their understanding was limited because of language barriers so it was easier for me to take charge and be the translator, not just for them, but for myself so that I could understand everything firsthand. If I needed to take care of myself, I could do that. I was very much a little adult about it.
How did you become involved in the diabetes world and activism?
I started going to diabetes camps when I was really young. I was diagnosed in 2002, and I went to my first diabetes camp that same winter. The next summer I started to go to Camp New Horizons here in Texas with my brothers because it was offered to diabetics and their siblings. At 13, you can become a counselor in training (CIT), and so I became a CIT and then my brothers all grew up going to camp as well so then they became CITs. It kind of became a family thing. When I turned 18, I became a counselor and then I started volunteering every summer. I have a lot of friends with diabetes. I went to a lot of camps so it makes sense that I made a lot of long-lasting relationships. As I got older, I just tried to volunteer my time here and there. Last year in 2020 I met Rob Howe at a Diabetes Meetup in Dallas (pre-pandemic) and later got really lucky to be offered an opportunity to create content over at Diabetics Doing Things.
Do you ever feel burned out while working in diabetes?
I’m lucky enough that I don’t work in the diabetes space full time, and I don’t want to say never but I just feel it would be so hard. I know some people who work full-time in diabetes and seriously huge “Kudos,” because I feel like we already work full time in diabetes. There’s no vacation from this thing! I do definitely go through some burnout. I have a therapist. This is not a humblebrag. I am not okay all of the time, it’s hard out here. But somehow, I manage. I try to go for walks a lot so that I can really just look around the earth and realize that it’s so much bigger than just me and my experience and what I’m going through in my moment. I try to eat good food and enjoy as many small things as I can. It’s the small stuff that makes up the big stuff.
How did you come to create “more than a diabetic” and why did you feel like the space was so necessary for the community?
When Rob and I started talking about me working at Diabetics Doing Things, the conversation was really around doing things differently. There is a type of aesthetic or type of face of diabetes. That face is very common within the online community and I see it all the time, or even faces that look like mine, which is the very consumable Black girl: light skin, curly hair, very cute, blah, blah, blah. And I hate it. It’s ridiculous, Black people and people of color exist in all shades, shapes, sizes, types of diabetes. And their experiences should be talked about, represented appropriately. I wanted to create a space where people were going to have real conversations without mincing words to spare feelings. I thought that it was important for us to be honest, to be clear, and to have these conversations out in the open instead of continuing to talk about having these conversations. Something that’s always really bothered me about how systems of oppression are created is that the conversations about changing them are always being had by the same people who created the problem. It really felt like it was time for these conversations to be centered around the people who are impacted by the societal impact of erasing BIPOC experiences. So, that’s what we did.
When do you feel most empowered and who in your life contributes to that?
I always feel supported at home. I have the best husband ever who lets me go on hour-long rants about things and tells me, “Hell yeah.” Having the space and sometimes the bravery to say things that might make some people uncomfortable is crucial. I also work somewhere really great, and Rob is a really great person to work for. I always feel like Diabetics Doing Things is here to tell the truth, even if those truths may be a little bit uncomfortable sometimes.
Do you have a message for anyone that’s struggling with discrimination or racism?
I think we’re all struggling. I think every single person is struggling. But maybe something we could all think about more is just being intentionally kind. There’s a difference between being nice and being kind. We all need to be a little bit kinder and think more about the other person’s human experience. We need to be a little bit more intentional with that kindness. If we are being asked to speak somewhere, questions need to be asked. Who else is speaking? Am I taking up space that could be for someone else? Are all groups being represented here appropriately? Are we making this accessible for everyone?
It’s about being kind, being intentional, opening up doors for other people other than just ourselves. I know that we all want to get ahead, I know we all want to do well. That’s not what I’m arguing. I’m just saying that we can’t all do well when we’re ignoring the needs of other people in our community. You cant be an advocate for diabetes and then ignore BIPOC with diabetes or LGBTQ people with diabetes or type 2 diabetics. We all have diabetes. We all need to help each other.
What’s next for you? The podcast?
Diabetics Doing Things is still doing takeovers on Mondays. We do about two takeovers a month. It’s called “Doing Things Day,” and we hand over our account to somebody somewhere and they take us through a day in their life with type 1 diabetes. We’ve gone to places like Palestine, Lebanon, London, Georgia, Tennessee. We get to see a sliver of a moment in someone’s life, just a day. I really enjoy these takeovers because they allow us to go all over the world. It’s going to be really awesome. We’re covering some really cool new people in March.
For now, I know I am doing some more producing at Diabetics Doing Things, and I’m not really going anywhere. I’ll be here working on stuff, brainstorming what my next thing is.
I’m also working on a project that I’m really excited about. I’m looking for diabetics in the media. I love projects like these because I so enjoy going down a rabbit hole. Catching up on Steel Magnolias and Scrubs has been a treat. I’m really excited for what 2021 will bring to Diabetics Doing Things and what season two of More Than A Diabetic will look like.
Any last thoughts?
For anybody listening to any of these episodes, please just listen. That’s it, have an open mind. If you find yourself feeling something while listening, I invite you to lean into that feeling and explore it. This is not about just one singular person. What the ultimate goal of More than a diabetic was is to shed a spotlight on an issue that impacts all of us. It’s about a shared community experience that so many people who look like me, and who don’t look like me, have gone through.