When they’re out of options, people who use insulin are turning to Go Fund Me accounts and other online crowd-sourcing ways of raising funds. Mutual Aid Diabetes (MAD) is a new organization that hopes to help. Their mission is “to ensure every member of the diabetes community has access to adequate diabetes supplies, medications, sustainability resources via facilitated peer support.”
This week Stacey spoke to Emily Miller, part of the leadership team at MAD to learn more.
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This is Diabetes Connections with Stacey Simms.
Stacey Simms 0:11
Welcome to a bonus episode of Diabetes Connections, where we aim to educate and inspire by sharing stories of connection with a focus on people who use insulin. I’m your host, Stacey Simms, my son was diagnosed with type one more than 14 years ago, just before he turned two. My husband lives with type two diabetes. I don’t have any kind of diabetes, but I have a background in broadcasting. And that is how you get the podcast.
Today we’re going to talk about something that is relatively new in the community trying to provide help for an all too common problem, lack of resources and supplies. It’s called Mutual Aid Diabetes. I noticed this on Twitter late last year, I wanted to learn more about it. So I reached out. And Emily Miller, who is part of the leadership team at Mutual Aid Diabetes was kind enough to come on. Emily, I really appreciate you coming on and talking about this. Thanks for being here.
Emily Miller 1:01
Thanks for having me. I’m really excited to just kind of be able to share our story. Got it.
Stacey Simms 1:05
Before we talk about MAD or mutual aid diabetes. Can I ask a couple questions about you? You live with diabetes?
Emily Miller 1:14
Absolutely. I currently have type one diabetes. I was diagnosed when I was nine years old. And my dad actually was diagnosed with Type One Diabetes as well when he was about 19. So before I even had diabetes, it was like something that I even knew about, but I was diagnosed a little bit later in my childhood. And I have had it for going on about 19 years now. So I have to keep track via dates. But usually I don’t think about it too hard. But yeah, about 19 years almost coming up in March.
Stacey Simms 1:45
How did you get involved with mutual aid diabetes? Were you part of the formation of it? Or did you get involved after it had already been around before I spotted it on Twitter?
Yeah. So I kind of came in, right before we had our like, first info session. Basically, during the pandemic, I had noticed a lot on Twitter and Instagram and like lots of different circles, basically, where mutual aid was popping up in different communities. So I live in West Philadelphia, you know, like Will Smith, all that kind of fun.
We all just sang it. (laughs)
(laughs) It’s no, it happens all the time. So I’m based in West Philadelphia. And there’s a lot of mutual aid initiatives around here in terms of community fridges giving back in terms of financial mutual aid. And I love mutual aid, just because from the standpoint of asking a community what they need, and they give that answer back. And we’re not turning it really into anything that’s like part of the nonprofit industrial complex, or into charity or anything like that. So it’s really a community meeting its own need. And as the pandemic really has gone on, a lot of diabetics on Twitter, although I’m sure some people know about the DOC, or the diabetes online community already, you know, the DOC really kind of started connecting a lot more people. And we’ve been doing this before pre pandemic stuff. But it was really a way for people to communicate and build that community that we don’t necessarily have in our own lives. So I don’t know how if your son experienced this at all, but when I was first diagnosed, my like pediatrician linked me up with another diabetic but other than her, I really didn’t know any other diabetics, I just like, knew my dad. And so online spaces like Twitter and Reddit, lots of places like that have allowed for diabetics to kind of come together, domestically, internationally, to talk about these different issues that we’re all facing. And so much of that is insulin pricing. At one point I had mentioned to one of my, you know, diabetic friends on Twitter that was like, Is there a fun that we can all just like dump money into and redistribute it? Because it seems like diabetics are just like sending the same $100 around to each other to fund these different things.
Stacey Simms 4:06
I just want to jump in Emily and stop because there’s so much that has already gone by that I want to ask you a little bit more about. And this podcast audience is interesting in that it’s very well educated, it is a little bit more well off than the general population. I don’t say this as anything, then the demographics that I’ve researched over the years, and it is very well connected, as well. But I’m not sure that everybody who listens even knows what mutual aid is. And you talked about that. You have that in West Philadelphia, but it’s not official, right? I mean, it is what it says it’s people just helping each other. Right. This isn’t a group or nonprofit called mutual aid. I just want to be clear about that.
Yeah. So the way that most mutual aid initiatives work is really outside of the scope of nonprofit status, or being an official organization. Different people will kind Have link up to mutual aid. And sometimes it gets formalized. Sometimes it doesn’t, though. But I think a really good example of mutual aid that a lot of people know about is the Black Panthers. So back during the Civil Rights Movement, you know, they were doing a lot of community breakfasts and supply share, like helping people get medical aid, things of that nature. And that was really born out of the community of seeing the government didn’t help us. And so we’re going to help ourselves. And so I think for folks who are interested in learning a little bit more about mutual aid, it’s basically reciprocal sharing of resources. So if one person can jump in and help this other person, they’re going to do it. And then that way, if I ever need help, you know, I’ve kind of been able to prove that I can help out in some forms, and maybe someone’s going to help me. And it’s really knowing that like, no one dies today, or nobody is going to not get the care they need in order to survive. Because we are here to fill this gap that systems have created, essentially, we’re going to fulfill the need, that systems that already exist have not been able to fulfill.
Stacey Simms 6:09
Yeah, and there’s so much of this already going on in and I’ll bring it in might sound silly, but what I know is the moms groups on Facebook and local groups, I run a local group in Charlotte of 800. Its parents, but it is mostly moms. And there is a week that goes by that someone isn’t getting them in the car, driving insets sensors, quite often insulin, I’ve done it myself many, many times to other families and individuals. And I would assume that that’s kind of mutual aid, even though we don’t call it that.
I mean, that is that’s mutual aid. You know, someone says, I need help, someone jumps in and says, I got that I’m going to help facilitate this for you. And I mean, same thing here, we, I think a lot of us in the community have been able to step up during this time of great need, especially when diabetics are at a higher risk for losing insurance during the pandemic losing financial support. It’s just a time when more people need help. And so those requests are becoming more visible. And so now we have to kind of scale up what we’re doing in order to make sure that people are getting their needs met. And I think that’s something at the end of the day that I always think about is like how are we helping people? And how are we meeting those needs? Yeah.
Stacey Simms 7:22
Alright. So going back to what you were talking about. You said, and I think you’re absolutely right on this, it seems like we’re passing around the same $100 trying to help people mutually diabetes has been linking up to us from what I see, you know, GoFundMe and trying to find ways to get help to people who may not like I can’t jump in my car and drive insulin to everybody. Tell me about the financial part of this. How is that working?
Yeah, so currently, the big goal really, for mutual aid diabetes, is to get that 501c3. So we can open up a bank account and really be that place where people can just like I said, dump funds in, and then start sending that out to people, we’re in the process of obtaining that status. So while we’re kind of working on our like 2.0 launch, which is coming up soon, we’ve created these other resources for people. So like peer to peer sharing methods, but like you were saying boosting GoFundMe is, but I think the problem of like the political side of mutual aid being like outside of the systems of governance, versus how we can help people in a way that doesn’t put undue financial strain, or like running financial monetary donations out of someone’s Venmo account, they kind of don’t really sit together. So that’s something that we’ve talked a lot about as like an organization of how do we get these two competing ideas and these two things that can both be true, and make sure we’re honoring our community in the best way possible, while navigating, you know, the systems of, you know, the IRS and the nonprofit side of things, while also being true to our community. So, so much of the finances right now is like, if someone comes up and they have a little bit more financial resources, they’re making that active choice to send that to someone’s Go Fund Me, or something of that nature.
Stacey Simms 9:14
I have to be honest, you Emily, I’m a little confused and pardon my denseness on this, but I’m, I’m trying to figure out what is the conflict here? Is it an actual nonprofit organization in conflict with the mutual aid essence?
Yeah, I think that’s a good way of putting it. So it’s really about the whole core status of like, and I guess maybe that’s not like the best sentence of like this, like the essence, like you were saying. So it’s this essence of, we don’t want to build a system that already exists that we know has not met our needs before. So a really wonderful, one of my favorite authors, Audre Lorde, said like the Masters tools will never dismantle the Masters house. I think that’s a really good way of putting it of like if we just read create this system of how we get supplies to people how we get financial aid to people, we create this kind of dependence on like the mutual aid network. And just because unfortunately, the cost of insulin, the cost of supplies, all these things are so expensive. We are just by nature dealing with a higher amount of money than some other mutual aid initiatives are. So sometimes it’s like, I’ve seen it in my local community fridges where if you have an extra $100, you can just like go to the store and buy extra gallons of milk, and I put it in the community fridge.
But for diabetes supplies and insulin, it’s so much more complicated, because you have prescriptions, you have doctors, you have insurance, you have benefits managers, you have the different companies that kind of run all this stuff. And so you come into all sorts of different ways of interacting with these systems. But if we don’t want to emulate those systems by just becoming another pawn in it, and it’s kind of trying to combat the idea of being a radical organization that’s going to be able to support other people, but also not leaving anyone out. Because we’ve decided not to pursue c3 status, or a method through which we can’t essentially like get funds in so we can then pay someone’s copay off or someone’s deductible things of that nature, it’s just, it’s a lot more thinking about the theory of it than I ever would have expected. But it’s something where I feel really grateful to be able to bring that to the MAD team that at the end of the day, if we ever need to take a step back. And we need to think about like what we’re going for, we have that kind of like theoretical and that like personal experience basis of it, where we can fall back on that, as opposed to just like, we have a bank account or something like that. So we were really trying to put the person at the center of it rather than the community. Rather than just like the organization.
Stacey Simms 12:02
It’s so complicated, as you said, with diabetes, because we, like my local group is a great example, we will help each other because we kind of know each other, and we trust each other even if we don’t know someone Personally, I’ve seen them in the group for a couple of years. I know their child has diabetes, right? I know that this guy who lives in next town over is in between insurance and need some pods or whatever, you know, so we get the stuff that they need. It’s different somehow, when, you know, we know there is a need, but I don’t know if I should donate to this guy’s Go Fund Me. Of course, I don’t know if I should donate to this other thing. But then there have been so many groups have tried in the past, or have had the idea in the past, I should say of, well, let’s just fundraise. And then where do we give it it is so complicated, because of all the prescriptions and I’m just really echoing what you said. But I guess what I’m leading to is the question of, are you then this is a big ask. So I I’m not expecting a big Yes. But are you then trying to use mutual aid diabetes, to spread the word of what needs to change in terms of legislation and insulin pricing and all that stuff? You’ve already mentioned some politics?
Yeah, I think that’s a great question. Because the existence of a group like Mutual Aid Diabetes by nature of just being a mutual aid group, it already shows that there’s that gap in the system, like we were talking about. And so different people in the diabetes community, sometimes we call it like the diabetes, grassroots, essentially, you know, we know what skills we have. And so we can connect with each other, we can organize and we can talk about these different issues. Some people skill sets may just be better suited for mutual aid, some people might be a little bit better suited for like lobbying or things like that. But because we have these relationships to each other, that can inform how we use that information, to do things like lobbying, if we need to, or talking to elected officials, things of that nature. So it may not necessarily be like MAD’s wheelhouse, per se, to do some of that information. But just the fact that we exist as an organization brings awareness to that fact that the work that we do is because the way that insulin is priced in the way that supplies work is unsustainable for most people right now. And I think that’s, it’s a big, it’s a big question of how do we link those things.
But I think it is really important to talk about how the existence of something like MAD or different organizations and different organizations like the JDRF, or the ADA, or beyond type one, all these different things, what are their purposes within the diabetes community, because some of those organizations like JDRF and ADA and beyond type one, they talk about wanting to help people with getting assistance or making insulin affordable or making the best choices for each person’s life, but by taking like insulin money and partnering with Big Pharma kind of defeats some of that purpose. So we’re really here to kind of take that stance of like, we don’t do these things, we don’t take money we are buying for the community, we’re trying to be inclusive of the whole community, all of these kinds of principles that we took a lot of time to think about. And just make sure that we are taking a stance that it can be done. And that as we kind of move along, you’re helping people that we can meet the needs of the people who are essentially forgotten a lot of the time.
And it breaks my heart that a lot of the time when we see these GoFundMe is, sometimes they have no money going to them, because people can’t vet them. Whereas when I put up my GoFundMe literally a month ago to help crowd fund for health insurance costs, it got funded within six hours. And it’s because I’m a vetted member of the community. But I take any of that surplus, I’m able to give that back to those people who have like $0 on their GoFundMe accounts, and I get DMS, from people all the time on Twitter of like, Hey, can you just boost this and it’s the easiest thing to do. And by me boosting that, someone’s able to get a little bit more visibility. And I think that’s the great thing about Matt is that we have a little bit more visibility to bring that verification kind of in there. While also not being gatekeepers, we don’t ask for proof of anything, but we do our best to make sure when we’re meeting with people where we’re trying to facilitate that need, we can talk to that person one on one and say like, what is the need here? How can we address this crisis? Are we doing crisis management? are we helping someone out to kind of feel more comfortable and asking for help these kinds of things. And the great thing about MAD, is that we just have so many wonderful people working in our community, you know, volunteers for MAD, a lot of them have so many different backgrounds, and so many different skills. So we have folks like medical social workers, people who work in ERs, but also people who just have a lot of experience in social media, or looking at like air tables or something like that. So we have all this different experience that we can kind of put together to make the most, I guess, facilitate as streamlined as possible, the aid that needs to be given to people.
Stacey Simms 17:16
What kind of response Have you all received Since launching on social media late last year?
Honestly, it’s it’s very surprising, I guess, for me, it’s surprising because, you know, the communities that I come from, they tend to be really small and kind of insular. Sorry, I know where this is going. Yeah. And just to see the kind of outreach like, we had, I think 150 person limit on the zoom call that we needed, like for the intro session, and we maxed out and then so many people were like, how can I get this recording? How can we get this up there. And we’re all behind the scenes, like typing to each other, like, have we finished the like closed captioning on this. So it’s as accessible to as many people as possible, we just hit 1000 followers on Instagram the other day. And it just makes me really proud to see that something like mutual aid, which can sometimes be seen as this really radical sometimes divisive thing is being received and being really, you know, shouted out in the community. So it’s really cool to see that. And just knowing that we’ve had a pretty amazing impact so far, just in terms of the people that we’re reaching, and making sure that it is inclusive, and it is by the community, like I said earlier, because you know, it’s Black History Month right now, I don’t know when this is gonna go up here, being able to talk about the roots of mutual aid in black liberation, things of that nature. And to kind of connect with the community, in those respects, just shows that people are all while one, it can be a sometimes divisive thing. It’s also growing a greater community. It’s welcoming people in in a way that sometimes we don’t always see. And sometimes we don’t always think about when we think about diabetes. Yeah.
Stacey Simms 18:59
And I think telling the stories over and over again, really helps because you never know who you’re going to reach. And I tell the story all the time. We are so fortunate, you know, we’ve always had great health insurance, I never had to give my son supply the second thought until the day that we needed more insulin than we had. And I went I’m like, Oh, I’m just in between, I’m sure I can get another vial and it would have been $300. And I was stunned. I mean, you know, everybody listening knows how but I had never This was several years ago, I had never encountered this. And my pharmacist was able to put through like a vacation or emergency thing or whatever. But that was the turning point for me. And I’m almost embarrassed to admit that it took that happening to me, for me to understand one of the big problems and then of course hosting this podcast and meeting a lot more people that really opened my eyes. But I do think it can take that moment of Holy crap, this isn’t somebody else, and then seeing it happen over and over again and reading the studies of one in four people rationing insulin, which is probably more now because of the the health insurance crises we have going on in this country. So I’ll get off my soapbox. But I want to ask you before and I’m going to ask you what you will need and want from my listeners. But Emily, I’m going to ask you, what do you do? What’s your profession or your expertise or your interest outside of that.
So I am actually currently in, I’m a graduate student, getting my master’s in clinical mental health counseling. And my, hopefully, my focus, once I graduate, is going to be on working in a trauma informed way with folks with diabetes, because so much of our community has had these experiences that are just incredibly traumatizing. So whether it’s running out of insulin and not knowing where your dose comes in, or having a doctor tell you that, like, You’re stupid, because you don’t know how to give the right amount of insulin when your supplies aren’t coming through or something like that. There’s just so much stigma. And there’s so much trauma involved in trying to manage an unrelenting disease like diabetes. So my goal once I, you know, finish my clinical practice, or practicum, and internship, all that kind of good stuff is to be a mental health counselor, for folks with diabetes and other chronic illnesses. Because I think that integration of mental health care and physical health care is just so important. And prior to that I had I have experience in social work. So that’s my love meeting with people.
And just like you were talking about those stories really are at the core of what connects all of us together. So when we can kind of sit down and talk about what did these stories tell us about ourselves? And how does that impact how we think about what’s going on for us, whether that’s diabetes, whether that’s depression, anxiety, or you know, bipolar disorder, or Crohn’s disease, anything like that, that narrative, as well as how we think about accepting that were the moral values we placed on these things can really have an impact on our mental health in day to day basis. So that’s me. And it’s funny, because I always joke that my classmates get radicalized on insulin pricing, just by being in classes with me. So I’m sitting there, and someone told me someone’s talking about with managed care. And I raise my hand and I’m like, Can we like think about what it means to not have to think about insurance? And people are like, Oh, no, there, Emily goes again. Cuz all I talk about is like health care being a mess, I just wanting to change that. So that’s me, outside of MAD, but I think it, it goes to show that you can sit down, and you can think about what your skills are and how they help connect people to other folks. And so I can take my skills in mental health and social work and apply that to mad by talking with people on a day to day basis about like, how can we get you help that makes it so that you have a more sustainable access to insulin over the course of the long term and things of that nature?
Stacey Simms 23:01
So what can people listening do? What you know, what kind of need can they feel for you? If they’re interested in learning more? What should they be thinking about?
I think the best thing is that folks can do right now is just to kind of keep up with us as we’re preparing to do our like launch 2.0, essentially, you know, we’re working on making sure all of our systems for peer to peer supply sharing or peer to peer funds are as streamlined and not wonky as possible, I guess. And so just follow us on different social media. For right now. You know, we’re pretty much Mutual Aid Betes Mutual Aid Diabetes on many different platforms on Twitter, Instagram, things like that. So just follow us for right now. And you can always if you need help reach out to us, I think that’s something that we want to make sure everyone regardless of type of diabetes, regardless of any comorbid things that are going on for you, regardless of your you know, insurance status, or you know what your job is, if you need help, we’re here to help you. So I think keep an eye out on our social media, we boost so many GoFundMe, so many requests for aid.
And then when we have a chance to kind of launch, do our 2.0. And even when we get that c3 status, which is coming down the road as we keep taking those steps towards it, then, you know, there’ll be so many more opportunities for folks to kind of jump in and help out when possible. And I think my last thing is just to consider that it takes a lot of strength and a lot of vulnerability to ask for help. So when someone asks for help, sometimes I just like to take it at face value and not have to go through like, why is that person asking for help? What’s going on? I remember when I posted my GoFundMe, like a month ago to crowdfund for insurance. I was like, I was filled with so much shame and I was like, I shouldn’t have to do this. And it made me so upset that I was like sitting here on GoFundMe, trying to fill this out. And this was after I got involved with mutual aid diabetes, I was like, it’s gonna seem weird that someone who is a part of this team is already asking for help. But it just takes a lot of vulnerability and a lot of strength in order to ask for help. So I think if we can extend some grace and empathy towards everyone who’s out there asking for help, I know we’re going to see a lot of those requests, especially as the pandemic goes on. But just remember that it takes a lot of strength to be able to do that. And remember that we are here to help each other, what do we owe to each other, hopefully, it’s that community feeling that you are going to be caught. If you fall, or if you if there’s a crack, we’re going to help fulfill that and catch you when you’re there when you’re at that low point. So that’s my hope for people listening is that they can just remember to, to see each person as a person that is requesting some kind of help. And we’re here to catch our community. And that way, you also know, if you need some catching, if you need some support, we’re here for you, too.
Stacey Simms 26:03
That’s great. Emily, thank you so much. I wish you all the best. Thanks for explaining this. And I would love to follow up down the road. And please keep in touch if there’s any way we can help or get more information now please circle back.
Of course, thank you so much for having me. And for you know, just considering that mutual aid is a really important part of our community. Like you said, we’re probably already doing it. So now you have a name for that thing that we’re already doing. And just keep an eye out at Mutual Aid Diabetes dot com we’ll tap you in when we need you!
you’re listening to Diabetes Connections with Stacey Simms.
Stacey Simms 26:44
Lots more information, you can find all of those links that Emily mentioned, at Diabetes-Connections dot com at the episode homepage. And of course, there’s a transcription. We started doing that last year. And I’m really happy that the transcriptions seem to be going over well, but if you’d like to learn more, all the links are there.
And I just want to tell a story, you know, when Emily was talking toward the end there about how difficult it is to ask for help. It is such a sign of strength when people are able to do that. And I have a real personal experience, I’m not going to name this person or anything, but I have a friend in my local area, and her adult son has had a real issue with insurance and affording insulin for several years now. And because I run this big local group, it’s not difficult for me to get what he needs. And you know, I don’t know if it’s because kids, you know, sometimes the insurance for children is better than it is for adults. But it just seems easier, right? When you’re a parent, and you have a kid with diabetes, it just seems like it’s easier to get insulin sometimes than if you’re an adult, especially of a certain age, that weird insurance gap. So for a couple of years now, we’ve been doing this, and she asked me recently, and she said something like, you know, I can’t believe you’re still doing this for us. You know, I wish that he would get his act together. And she was embarrassed, she felt huge guilt. And I said to her, and I truly believe this, look, first of all, if it were my son, I would want the help. Second of all, you know, he’s going to be okay, he’s going to pick himself up and figure out what he has to do for work or whatever, at some point. And let’s keep him healthy until he gets there. But truly, this is not his fault. In terms of affording the insulin, it is the healthcare systems fault. There was no reason for insulin to be as expensive as it is. And for him to jump through as many hoops as he has to and for her to feel like it’s a personal feeling. I just think that encapsulated everything that you must feel when you’re trying to ask for that kind of help. And I don’t get you know, I don’t get emotional on the show very much. And I tried to tell too many personal stories, but that really hit me because Come on, man. It’s not It’s not his fault. He is a person who was working. This is not some kid who is you know, laying on his couch and mooching off his parents. He just cannot afford what he needs right now. So it’s one of the big reasons why I wanted to talk to Mutual Aid Diabetes and I’m hoping to kind of stay in touch and see where they go. And if you want to help all the information is there and you do with it, what you will, but I appreciate your listening here.
So thank you so much as always to my editor John Bukenas from Audio Editing Solutions. Thank you so much for listening. I’m Stacey Simms. I’ll see you back here in just a couple of days until then, be kind to yourself.
Diabetes Connections is a production of Stacey Simms Media. All rights reserved. All rounds avenged