How Bret Michaels Rocks With Diabetes

Interview with Bret Michaels

Bret Michaels. Gary Miller/Getty Images

Bret Michaels is a quintessential rock star, reality television star, actor, director, producer, and screenwriter. He first gained popularity as the lead singer of the band Poison. Bret Michaels has diabetes and is an untiring advocate, campaigner, and fundraiser for all diabetes types.

Bret Michaels Diabetes Advocate and Hero

Michaels was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 6 and has had the disease for over 40 years.

An onstage collapse due to low blood sugar caused rumors of drug use. The rocker decided to go public with his disease and has been open and supportive of the cause ever since.

The winner of Celebrity Apprentice 3 in 2010, he earned $250,000 for the American Diabetes Association. He became a symbol of strength and inspiration with his win because he won while persevering through serious health challenges starting with an emergency appendectomy followed by a massive subarachnoid hemorrhage, transient ischemic attacks and the finding of a hole in his heart called a patent foramen ovale.

Question and Answer with Bret Michaels

Why did you choose diabetes as your cause on The Apprentice?

I've been raising money and sending kids to camp through my own personal money for years and years. I've done this long before The Apprentice, and I'll do it long after. I've been diabetic since I've been six years old.

I fought so hard to get on Apprentice and then fought even harder to win it, to raise awareness because it is such a complicated disease whether you are type 1 or type 2. I think it helps a lot of people who feel very overwhelmed, not necessarily just depressed, but overwhelmed. I'm just here to show people that I've been through a really radical, crazy life and have still managed to manage my diabetes.

What are some simple yet powerful ways that people can help with the diabetes movement?

Charitable donations without a doubt help. We want to find a cure, that's the ultimate goal. In the meantime, I live in the real world, the here and now. I'm 47. I've been a Type 1 diabetic since I've been 6. I take four shots a day. Be very educated and very aware of all the new stuff you can do and actually apply it.

How do you apply diabetes education and knowledge to your life?

We have a lot of people who like to read books about diet and health, but I read mine while I'm on a treadmill. Just reading it is the first step. Educate yourself and then apply it to your life. A keyword I use all the time is: custom-built. Build it to your world.

In my world, I am on a tour bus a lot, so I have a stationary bike in the back of the bus. I've got a Bowflex gym on the bus. It is insulin, it is diet, it is exercise, it is being educated and applying all these.

You can either control your diabetes or it is in control of you. If you manage your diabetes, you extend your life. If you don't properly manage it, you are ending your life. It can mean you are shortening your life.

I always tell people, be prepared for the real world.

Custom build your diabetic diet and insulin intake to your life. Custom build what you do to your life. That's what I do, I custom build what I do on a daily basis.

Depending on where I'm at in the world, if I'm touring, I'm on the bus, then I build it to that day. If I'm home with my kids, I build it around that day. I think you have to be very proactive in your life. You've got to be proactive to what's coming at you at that exact moment.

You have a very positive attitude. How valuable is that?

I try to make people realize a very positive attitude is huge. It's huge in how you manage your diabetes because it's overwhelming.

I have many ups and downs, many sideways, but I keep a positive attitude which helps me bring me back onto the path.

Diabetes is a very complicated disease. It no doubt can be a struggle, but if you think positive, you can overcome all of that.

What keeps you from having an attitude of, 'oh well, I'm just going to enjoy myself, die happy and forget about caring about myself?'

I'm glad you said that because a lot of people have the attitude that it's overwhelming, they're never going to beat this. I say this, surround yourself with people who want to make themselves better.

You've got to want to help yourself. Anything that I say or anything that anybody says, will not help you until you mentally say, okay, I'm going to rebuild my life. Like they say, Rome brick by brick. It wasn't built in a day. You're not going to instantly find your life changes overnight.

I said to myself if I want to play sports, if I want to travel the world and do stuff, I'm just going to have to work a little harder to get it. I knew it wasn't going to come easy, but I accepted that.

You keep persisting in spite of many challenges. How do you keep going?

I call my life a "dramady of errors." It's a drama and a comedy of errors. I manage to keep rolling with the punches. My dad said to me, "Bret, it's not whether you are going to get knocked down. You will get knocked down. It's how you're going to get back up, that's all that's going to matter." In my life there have been a lot of times where I'm running full speed, and then boom, down. For some reason, I just find that, whatever it is, the key element. Whatever it is, that want to live life to the fullest.

At the same time, to live life at the fullest, you've got to manage it right. There are a lot of buzz words people use - live it, rock it. It all sounds great, but how do you live it and rock it if you're not managing your diabetes well enough to feel good enough to rock it?

If your going to go on stage and rock it, you've got to manage a good day that day. I say manage it well and rock it hard.

What helps you feel good enough to rock it?

People always talk about exercise and endorphins. I'll tell you what man, those endorphins when I ride my bike and do stuff. I can be having a bad day; I wake up and I'm not feeling exactly great. A couple of things happen in my professional life that aren't great, but I go out and jump on that mountain bike or ride my bike or go for a run or I kickbox--whatever works for me. Half an hour later, I've got some tunes cranking, I feel great and life seems to come back into perspective.

Biking, running, kickboxing...are those your favorite forms of exercising?

I love it. I built what I call a fun zone on my ranch. I've got a little BMX track for my bike. I'm only racing myself about half the time. My kids don't want to go out and do it. I'm like a worst kid than my kids. I make my daughter go out and I'm like, lets ride around and race each other around the track. She's like, dad, we've done this for half an hour, I want to do something else. It's those kinds of things, staying young at heart and young at mind, really help me a lot. It really does. It helps me stay in the game.

Do you take time to relax?

Absolutely. When I relax, I relax out of sheer love of that I feel that I've done everything else. I'm a huge sports fanatic. If I know a game is coming on, I kick back. I throw on the TV. Sometimes while I'm doing that I'm cooking a meal for the family or kids.

Sometimes relaxing for me is immediately laying down and putting on a movie. I knowingly give myself two hours. I watch this movie, and I'm going to love it. I don't stress myself out. I do what I'm doing completely.

If I watch a football game, at half time I'll make a little bite to eat and then I come back and watch the end of the game. The world series is on. I do everything ahead of time so that I can watch the series.

I can lay by the pool, go to the beach or I can just lay in the sun and do stuff. I get everything out of the way. I workout. Then when I go there I collapse. I turn some cool tunes on and just let the world just drift by. That recharges my battery.

Do you find stress makes your blood sugars go up?

Oh yes, stress makes my blood sugar go whacky. I never realized how it does until I got older. If you are in an argument or you are stuck in traffic, especially in LA, and I'm naturally late to everything--by accident--and then the stress. I've learned to let it go so that I don't stress out because it causes my blood sugar to normally go very high.

That's how you try to handle stress in the moment, just try to let the stress go?

Oh yea, I gotta find an easy listening station in my car if I'm stuck in traffic. I quickly find an easy listening station while I'm stuck in traffic or it can go real bad. I have a couple of go-to songs when I'm like, okay just mentally let it go, put on a good easy song and you'll be great.

I try to put myself in a beach frame of mind. I'll throw on a little Kenny Chesney. You know what I mean? That song he did with Uncle Kracker; I love that. It kind of just puts me into an I'm-okay-life-is-good [mood]. Or [I find] a song that fits that exact moment, like my song, Open Road, or a really mellow tune that just kind of sets the I'm-okay-I-don't-need-to-drive-I-can't-get-anywhere-cause-I'm-stuck-on the-405 [mood]. What you want to avoid is being on your cell phone and arguing with someone while your stuck in traffic; that's double -stress high blood sugar!

You were diagnosed a long time ago when blood sugar was tested with urine strips? What modern innovations or inventions are you thankful for today.

I come from, not the oldest school, but the "old school" of being diabetic. We're talking 1969 here. I was even before the test strip; I had the actual test tube. Three drops of urine, two drops of this, a pill, and then it bubbled up and told you what your blood sugar was. It took like four minutes; I'm not kidding you. I was like this science experiment. Then we got the test strips which were great. Then we finally got the first early glucometers which took about 45 seconds to a minute. Now it's like 4 to 5 seconds. I'm thankful beyond thankful for knowing what my blood sugar actually is versus tests which were very inaccurate. Those tests were very inaccurate. Now I can get proactive. I'm extremely thankful for that. I still take the injections; it just works for me.

What type of diet do you follow and what is your favorite snack?

My diet is pretty consistent. I'm still big on Americana food, don't get me wrong, I love to eat. I just control it by never eating a complete big meal. My day consists of about six really small meals, starting in the morning with egg whites and wheat toast with peanut butter. I don't overly do the bacon and sausage but occasionally you can throw that in.

I love fruit, but I have to watch how much I eat. I love berries--strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries. That stuff I love.

I love mixing up and creating stuff. I take lean ground turkey and mix it in with steamed broccoli. Then I throw in a teeny bit of cheese in there. Then I make a burrito out of it. Personally for my body type, I can't eat a lot of spicy stuff. So for me, it's a little salt, some pepper, maybe some ketchup or mustard.

My favorite snack hands down--I love peanut butter crackers. I have a fondness for chips so I have to be careful. I've got to count them out. It's really boring but I do it. I get a bag of those beautiful chips, they've got the lime already sprinkled on them. Oh man, they're good! I mix that up with maybe, fat-free, sugar-free yogurt. That kind of stuff, but I'm pretty simple. I keep only stuff I know I can purchase on the road, but peanut butter crackers are my favorite. That's my number one. Good and real easy.