People chuckle when I tell them the title of the book I wrote, "If I Kiss You, Will I Get Diabetes?"...but I chose that title because my senior prom date asked me that before he went in there for the kiss!
There are so many misconceptions about people living with diabetes and in my work as a spokesperson for various diabetes-related groups, I try hard to dispell them. Here are some insulting comments I've received over the years. Don't be this person.
1. "It's your fault you got diabetes."This can be said in several different ways…."you ate too much when you were younger", or "your parents fed you too much candy when you were a kid", or when people say, "if you had just eaten better and/or exercised more you wouldn't have diabetes." First off, if you were diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, we could’ve eaten spinach leaves for breakfast, lunch and dinner and still had the same fate…it’s an auto-immune disease. If you have type 2 diabetes, although lifestyle factors do play a factor in diagnosis, there are also several other factors that play into getting diagnosed….family history, race and older age. Let's be honest….I would say most people don't respond well to being shamed.
2. "I could never have diabetes because I could never give myself a shot." This is simply not helpful. Do you think I enjoy being a pincushion? For my younger brother Will and I, we had no choice in getting diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at a very young age. You’re forced into a new discipline and you have no choice if you want to take shots or not. Insulin is our life support. Trust me, if we didn't have to take shots, we wouldn't.
3. "Have you heard of that cure for diabetes?" People living with diabetes hope and pray every day that there will be a cure in our lifetime. My younger brother Will told me last night at dinner that he believes we will never find a cure in our lifetime. It broke my heart. I started doing diabetes advocacy work when I was in the 5th grade because Will had been diagnosed that year in preschool. My mission is to help find that cure for him in his lifetime. When people tell us they've heard of mice being cured, or there is some holistic way that we can cure diabetes, or even when researches or diabetes non-profits say a cure is within 5 years…with no merit to back it up…it only gets our hopes up. If the FDA has not approved a cure for the American people living with diabetes, please do not tell other people with diabetes about it. It's not helpful, only hurtful.
4. "Are you sure you should be eating that?" When people find out you have diabetes, some choose to play the diabetes food police. It doesn't matter if I've helped myself to a cookie or a plate of pasta…I get these comments. I've even had someone make this comment when I had a Diet Mountain Dew in front of me! This goes back to the shame piece. Anytime these comments are made to me (and sadly I sometimes get them weekly)…they only make me feel bad about myself. The truth is that although in the past research showed that you needed to limit the grams of sugar you had as someone with diabetes, now the research shows that you count your carbohydrates. A cookie could actually have fewer carbohydrates in it then say a protein bar. I always say to people….I probably shouldn't eat a dozen cookies…but should you either? Food should be eaten in a healthy, moderation type way. Same is true for people who still have a working pancreas. If people want to be helpful and supportive….they should ask us, "How as someone living with diabetes do you best manage your diabetes knowing that food has to be counted for? I'm curious and would really like to be better informed."
5. "Have you ever seen the movie Steel Magnolias?” Or can people with diabetes have babies? Maybe it's a female with diabetes thing….but I hope to have children of my own one-day and horror stories don’t help me believe that’s a possibility. Watching this movie once was horrifying enough for me. When people bring it up to you, it just throws salts on a sensitive topic. Yes, women with diabetes can get pregnant and have healthy babies….we just have to work very hard to maintain proper blood sugar control.
6. "You don't look like you have diabetes". I've been told this on several occasions. In college I was doing a live TV interview with a journalist and she said this to me. This woman went on to say that most people with diabetes have bad teeth, are not fit, have low energy levels, and continued. Trust me, you can't put 29 million Americans with a disease into a pigeonhole category. A comment like this fuels the perception that people with diabetes "look" a certain way. I've met thousands of people with diabetes. We are all ages, races, pounds and heights! I don't know in situations where when you make a comment about someone's appearance (that isn't direct compliment) it is going to go over well. To be safe, keep those comments in your mind and educate yourself about this chronic illness.
I don't know how diabetes has gotten this bad wrap about "it's your fault" that you got it. I believe this will never be helpful…no matter if you're speaking to a person living with type 1 or type 2. Kindness and compassion always goes farther with people…always.