Holly Rey is an award-winning South African house artist living with Type 1 diabetes.
Mzansi’s most loved house star has stormed into 2020 towing a wagonload of awards and accolades. As if international tours, platinum record status and a tsunami of local radio play was not enough, Holly Rey brought the Record of the Year Award home to Durban from last year’s SAMAs. She was the first female artist to hoist this crown in twenty years, and at 24, she feels this is only the beginning of her musical journey.Holly Rey Bio
How long have you had diabetes, and how were you diagnosed?
I was diagnosed when I was 11 years old. But I was incorrectly diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes and a year later I became extremely ill and was admitted to ICU with diabetes-related complications. I was correctly diagnosed as a Type 1 diabetic then.
What made you decide to open up on social media about diabetes?
Over the years, I had steered away from speaking openly about my diabetes because of the stereotypes associated with the condition. I didn’t want to encourage any unsolicited opinions and ‘advice’ on how to manage or ‘cure’ diabetes. Yes, I would mention in interviews that I was diabetic, but I have never fully opened up about my personal journey with diabetes.
When COVID-19 hit, I became acutely aware of the need to speak about my diabetes and offer support and encouragement to other members of the diabetic community who were also experiencing increased anxiety over this time. I went on to a CGM at the beginning of the year and it has been life-changing so I decided to make my first post about my CGM to create awareness about the new technology. The response was incredible and so I feel more encouraged to be more open about living with diabetes.
What’s the hardest thing about being diabetic, for you?
Honestly, the stigma is the most difficult challenge in living with diabetes. As diabetics, we know how to manage our condition but we often have to deal with other people’s ignorance about the condition. Young diabetics who are diagnosed before or during their teens have a particularly hard time. Navigating school and peer perceptions is a real challenge. If a diabetic isn’t provided with positive support through this period of their lives, it can have a negative, long-lasting impact.
Why do you think there’s a stigma around diabetes in South Africa?
Too much misinformation and not enough of the right information. We encourage the wrong kind of dialogue around diabetes and we set diabetics up as victims rather than champions who live exceptional lives. Most of the stigma is rooted in Type 2 diabetes and is then projected onto Type 1 diabetics.
Diabetics have been silenced by the stigma. We tend to go underground about our condition instead of being more open and honest which would normalise the condition. We are often subjected to a form of ‘body’ and ‘fat’ shaming.
What can we do about that stigma?
We need to reboot. The conversation around diabetes needs to change. I sometimes feel that Type 2 diabetes should be reclassified and then the conversation around diabetes needs to shift to one that is more enlightened. One that encourages a stronger self image for people living with either Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes.
What advice would you offer to a diabetic who’s struggling?
Own your condition. Be proud of it, it really is your superpower. Diabetes forces you to be deeply connected to yourself, and that gives you the ability to experience the world in ways that non-diabetic people will never fully understand. Take the challenges and turn them into your strengths. Don’t buy into the stereotypes: correct people when they are wrong. Choose to be healthy in mind, body and soul.
What makes your life sweet?
Living simply, loving generously, caring deeply and speaking kindly.