“I know everything you're going through with diabetes. It’s horrible. We've been dealing with it for years in my family. My dog was diagnosed 4 years ago.”
One of the most frequently asked questions I receive as I lecture across this GREAT land of ours is, “How do I respond to someone who says something really stupid about diabetes? I get so angry.” To be quite candid, how much did any of us know before our lives were tilted upside down? How understanding were we when Mary Tyler Moore talked about her life with diabetes on TV so many years ago? Did we get the message then? How sensitive were we to hear about a child with diabetes, a grandparent who had the disease or Fluffy the family dog's diabetes? The truth is, we weren’t.
Nor should we have been.
One can always have empathy for the life someone leads without experiencing it themselves but ask yourself how much you knew before diabetes before it landed squarely in your living room? If there is no reason to become familiar with a disease that is not presently within the confines of your home, it makes no sense to think you would, or should, know about it.
As Diabetes Awareness winds down this month and November turns into December, it’s important to understand that diabetes, living with diabetes, being diagnosed with diabetes, is JUST NOT as important to others as it is to us. Years ago, when much less was known about HIV AIDs, the outcry was monumental. EVERYONE seemed to be at risk and SOMETHING needed to get done. Millions and millions of dollars were spent educating the masses about the steps to be taken to reduce risk and spread information. It was a much-segmented part of the population but the fear of ‘catching’ AIDs was like a wildfire and the fear caused action.
What is the perception of diabetes in the USA? There is no fear. There is no cautionary tale. There is no drastic action being taken to prevent it. Has there ever been a disease portrayed in the media that did not make it seem that the person with the disease brought it on himself?
NO there is not.
This, of course, is not the case with Type 1 diabetes but it's still a poorly understood disease.
My complaint is not with those who suffer immeasurably with HIV AIDs. My complaint is that there is no watchdog agency making sure that the way diabetes is portrayed is diabetes accurate. When the media pounds, and pounds, and pounds away at the idea that diet is the only thing that matters in the diabetes world, the mainstream world will have no reason to believe that anything else is the cause.
And quite honestly, there is nothing.NOTHING in the works to change this thought process. There go, no change should be expected in the near future. It is sad…but it’s also true.
SO that takes me back to my original question. When someone we know, or a stranger for that matter, make that completely stupid comment regarding diabetes…how should we respond? Well, the obvious answer is to take a deep breath and allow that moronic comment to serve as a reminder to you that you did not always know as much as you know now. Allow it to sink in that the world STILL does not have a clue about diabetes just as you did not have a clue until it arrived.
The bigger question is what are you going to do about it? Smile at the person and explain why they are misinformed and use it as a teachable moment and correct their error. Make it quick and to the point or their eyes will glaze over just as your eyes glazed over when you were first being introduced.
And bear in mind that If they do not have a loved one battling diabetes, they also are not going to care about it as much as you are, so keep it very short. Take the time to choose your language and figure out a way to teach others. Here is a simple idea, Kim May (a mom and friend) helped me create www.GetDiabetesRight.org so people could download cool flyers and hang them in public spaces to further diabetes education. Hang a poster or two in your community today.
What you do will not change the world...but it will indeed change SOMEONE’s world…and changing many someones' worlds is a necessary step to changing the world.
I am a DiabetesDad