Being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2005, at the age of 13, instantly forced Nick Jonas to grow up. But recently, the soft-spoken youngest member of those teen-pop princes, the Jonas Brothers, has had to stand on his own two feet more than ever before.
For starters, the 18-year-old singing and songwriting phenom kicked off 2010 by launching a solo career with his band, Nick Jonas & the Administration; the group released its debut album, Who I Am, and headed out on the fledgling front man’s first tour without his siblings. Jonas also returned to his Broadway roots last summer, starring in the London production of Les Mis and performing in the show’s 25th anniversary concert, before hitting the road with the Jonas Brothers, teen queen Demi Lovato, and the cast of their hugely popular TV movie Camp Rock 2.
In addition, while Nick still lives at home with his parents, he has taken more of the lead in managing his diabetes—and in serving as a role model and advocate for other young people with the condition. And that’s all while handling the normal ups and downs of life as a (famous) teenager, including his tabloid-fodder love life.
Just before the New Year, Jonas returned to Los Angeles to decompress from life on tour and to get back into the studio, where he’s working on a “top-secret” new music project. Mature, humble, and always to the point, he took a break to chat with Diabetes Forecast. He talked about all of the growing up he’s done of late, and how it’s influenced his career, his health, andhis advocacy work—but also about why he’ll always be a Jonas Brother, no matter how independent he gets.
Q. You’re now five years into your type 1 diagnosis. How have things changed, from age 13 to 18?
Over time, naturally, you learn how to best manage your diabetes. I’ve had it for five years, and you just learn how to deal. . . . Right now, I specifically feel very confident about it, because I’m in the best health I’ve been in since before my diagnosis. It’s been a real blessing that over the years, my A1C has come down and down and down [from 12.1 percent, at diagnosis]. At my last checkup, it was the lowest it’s ever been.
That said, as I’ve grown into a young man and my body has changed, I’m definitely noticing changes in my diabetes. It’s continually changing—it’s not like I get in a good place and it stays there. Every day I have to watch, to look at it, to make sure that everything is cool and still intact, to make sure I’m doing the best I can to manage it. There are definitely times, though, that I feel like saying, “I don’t want to deal with this; I just want to have this Gatorade or slice of pizza and not have to deal,” but I have to take it one step at a time, and I do.
Like I said, I’m in my best health ever, and it helps now to be active like I am. I’ve always been really athletic and active, but today, it’s really just working towards making sure that every part of my goal to keep my diabetes in check is there—from things like how I eat to how much time I spend in the gym or in a chair in the studio. The smallest things, like sitting in a chair in the studio all day, will cause my blood sugar to spike—it will just go high—so I have to be active in some way. So I go in the live room, play drums for a while, come back, and it’s all good.
Q. Have your feelings about your diabetes shifted, as well?
One of the biggest changes has been that I think the mind-set of a man came on when I was diagnosed, at 13—realizing this is something I had to take on, on my own, and grab hold of. Obviously, I had the help of my parents and doctors, but I’m an independent person, and I really rely on myself in situations like these. I have been independent for a while—I just am that way—but when it comes to my diabetes, in the past four to five months, I’ve been taking even more responsibility. I’m really taking it on myself—relying on friends and family when needed, but knowing this is something that I have, that I have to deal with.
It’s just about, with my parents and my family, knowing they’re there when I need them, but also that they trust me enough to take care of it myself, which is important for me. I would say it’s been a natural transition—it wasn’t like it was premeditated—it just kind of has happened, in a way. And I think it’s a healthy transition.
Diabetes is not something I asked for, but it is something I do have to deal with. In a lot of ways, I’m thankful for it. It’s actually helped me as person to grow and really blessed me in a lot of ways. . . . Like, it’s made me strong mentally, in the sense where now I think about everything with logic because of diabetes, because it requires you to think with logic and to really think everything through. I think living that way is better than living in a way that’s hazardous, where you’re not thinking things through. Also, I was never any good at math till I got diabetes, and now I have to be really good at math, so it’s helped me there, too. [Laughs.]
Q. What is a typical day or week like for you, if there is such a thing?
It’s really hard to say. It just depends on the specific day, or week, or year. This last year has been more of a light touring cycle, but we’ve still been on the road for about seven months. It’s funny that’s light, but the year before we were gone for about 9½ months—that was a lot. So it all just depends. But every day I wake up, get ready, get dressed, brush my teeth maybe, and just go from there.
Right now, I’m not on the road. [The Jonas Brothers] just finished up in South America about three weeks ago, which was a great tour. So I’m back in L.A. Joe’s here, as well, doing some recording. Kevin’s in New Jersey with his in-laws and his wife. I’m doing some recording right now—it’s kind of a top-secret thing I’m doing—so I’m in the studio for about 14- or 15-hour days, every day. I can’t tell you what it is, exactly, but it will probably slowly come to light; it’s not all one project—it’s spread out over different things—but it’s really a fun thing.
Q. You’re involved in so many different aspects of the entertainment industry—singing, acting, songwriting: Where do you see your future in this business?
The next step for me, personally, is a lot of writing and producing for other artists—that’s going to become a big part of my career. Along with that, maybe some more theater down the road. I had the opportunity to do Les Mis this summer and to be a part of the 25th anniversary concert, which was amazing, so if another part feels right and it feels like I could do it, I would love to go back to the stage.
Also, the Jonas Brothers are still going to be rolling out new music, probably next year, at some point, but Joe needs time for his solo project—the music sounds great and I’m excited for the world to hear it—so we’ll just have to be patient. But the Jonas Brothers are definitely still together. Right now we’re just doing different things, as individuals—but we’re always together.
Q. What about college?
The idea of going to college is interesting to me. However, actually doing it, I don’t know if it’s something I’ll be able to do. There are just a lot of career opportunities for me right now, and what I’d be studying is what I’m actually out in the world doing, pursuing my passion, so I don’t know if it makes sense to get a degree. Although I’ve also thought about majoring in English—that would be the other thing I’d like to do—so we’ll see. I’m not closing the door completely; I just don’t know if right now, at this moment, I can say it’s something I want to do. But I have looked at a couple of different schools, like Northwestern, which was an interesting experience. It was basically a summertime camp with a lot of high school kids, and, basically, it ended up that we had to quickly find a way out, but it was good to just go and see the school, what it’s all about, although I didn’t get to see it all.
Q. You are very involved in diabetes advocacy, both with your own nonprofit, the Change for the Children Foundation, and the American Diabetes Association and in your work with Bayer Health Care, which runs Nick’s Simple Wins, a program that encourages young people with diabetes to focus on small, everyday victories. What do you hope to accomplish, overall?
It’s really about being someone that people with diabetes can look to and say it will be fine living their everyday life and following their dreams with diabetes—that’s the main thing. Along with that, doing what we can to help financially as well. That’s giving to different hospitals and organizations doing great things with diabetes, diabetes camps. And what I’d like to see—the cure is the ultimate goal, at the end of the day, if I’m being honest. If in my lifetime I can see that happen, that would be an amazing thing. But for right now, it’s about the small things, helping individuals with diabetes and the organizations that are doing great things to help those individuals, too.
Q. Given your status as the premier diabetes pinup poster boy, I’m sure you’ve learned a lot about how people view the condition. What’s the biggest misperception?
I think the biggest misunderstanding that people have about diabetes is purely that it’s not all type 2. Obviously, [types 1 and 2] are very different, and that can be frustrating, and I’ve talked to other type 1 diabetics about that before. With type 1, you can eat what you like as long as you take the insulin you need for it, as long as you stay on top of it and know what you’re eating and exercise, and just manage the condition. People are a bit uneducated about that. Not that anyone has been rude about it, but there are people who’ve tried to be my doctor, and that’s kind of frustrating, because I definitely know more about my diabetes than they do.
But [being a spokesperson] has been a blessing in so many ways. Even if every person I meet isn’t a diabetic, just the fact that I’ve spoken out about something that makes me different and makes me vulnerable, I guess, touches people in a way I would have never imagined. Even if it’s not diabetes they’re going through—it could be something in their personal life, another disease—I think it helps just to know that there’s someone else out there struggling through things, but still pursuing his dreams and goals. I want people to know that this is something that happened to me just as things were starting to happen with my brothers and I, and that could have easily been the point where we said, “We just got dropped by our label, I just got diagnosed with diabetes; let’s just stop.” But we didn’t and I’m very thankful we didn’t, because we have a lot of things to be thankful for these days.
Q. I would be remiss if I didn’t ask, on behalf of all of our teenage readers, whether you’re dating anyone these days. And is your diabetes ever a problem, when it comes to romantic relationships?
I’ll answer the second question first: My diabetes has, at times, made relationships—specifically romantic ones—difficult, because it’s hard for other people to understand. I just think if [a girlfriend] doesn’t have a clear understanding of what each high or low feels like—if I haven’t explained enough—then that can be very confusing as to what I’m feeling at a certain point. I’ve had the great pleasure of being able to meet and to date some great people who do understand, and who are very sensitive, but also some others who didn’t quite understand, so those [relationships] are no longer in effect.
Back to the first question: I do find time to date and I think that’s really important—I’m an 18-year-old boy, that’s kind of, like, what you do is date—but I try to keep the details of my dating life to myself.
Q. Having shared so much of your personal story with fans, are there any other celebrities with diabetes you’d like to meet and trade war stories with?
There is one person I’d really love to meet: One of the pitchers for the Toronto Blue Jays [Brandon Morrow] is diabetic, and I think it would be really interesting to meet him. I’m a big baseball fan—I love to play and to watch the game—so I hope to have a catch, throw the ball around, and talk about life with diabetes. That would be fun.
Q. You famously penned the Jonas Brothers hit “A Little Bit Longer,” which includes the refrain “A little bit longer, and I’ll be fine,” about your struggle with diabetes. Have you written any more songs that deal with your health?
I haven’t written any more songs about diabetes, but I’ve written songs about personal struggles, things you need to get through, and I think diabetes could be thrown in there. “A Little Bit Longer” is the most personal, most direct thing I’ve ever written about diabetes, and it holds a special place for me. The other part of it is that it now holds a special place for people who listen to the song, but in their own way. For me it’s about diabetes, but for someone listening, it can be about whatever struggle is going on in their own life.
Thinking back to where I was when I wrote it—being in that small room in a hotel in Toronto, Canada—it’s just that concept that if I wait a little bit longer, it’ll all be fine, that as long as hope is alive, it’s going to be all right.
Q. If a day really came when you were fine—when there was a cure for diabetes—how do you think you’d react?
I’ve talked about that with friends and family: If a cure was available, what would I do—if it’s something I thought I would want to do. I think it is; I would like to be cured. However, I don’t know what I would do. I look back on it and try to imagine what my life would be like if I didn’t have diabetes, and I don’t know—I feel like I would still think in that mind-set, I would still be counting carbs and figuring out how much insulin to take. It’s something I deal with every second of every day, it’s so much a part of my life, that if it was gone, I don’t know what it would be like, I’m not sure how I would manage.
Maybe that would pass, but I’m sure I will have diabetes for a while still, because I think we’re still a ways away from the cure, unfortunately. So for now, I just try to go about every day with the mind-set that this is something that won’t hold me back, this is something I can live with and will be fine, and that alone helps me to push through.