Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Diabetics in Denial

A friend of mine posted about the fact that people with Type 2 often asked him for help in how to improve their self-care, stating that they had trouble taking their medications, or managing their meal plan, or testing their blood sugar. He, being a Type 1 since childhood, was at a loss as to what to say to them, because he felt that it wasn't his place to recommend counseling, and he really couldn't address the problems of Type 2. So this is what I wrote as an answer:

I think the most important thing you can do is tell them you empathize with what they're going through. Even if you don't actually understand it, because you don't remember life before diabetes. They're being asked to make HUGE life changes, and it's SO hard I can't tell you. Because I was diagnosed in my early 40's, I DO remember life before diabetes, and I DO understand what an emotional struggle it is.

When I hear young T1s sneer at T2s because they think they have it easy, I know it's actually because they don't have a clue what the T2s are going through, and they are too young and callow to have any kind of empathy. But we older people are capable of understanding that they are struggling, even if we never had the exact same struggle. And validating their feelings is really the first step in helping them see the need for counseling, and for taking the steps they need to take in order to protect their health and their future.

Docs don't usually give them that validation, and neither does the general public; on the contrary, they devalue them and play the blame and shame game with them, and then wonder why they don't take care of themselves. Maybe because they've been made to feel so bad? Or because they start thinking it's hopeless?  We, as a society, are very cruel and thoughtless toward T2s and part of the struggle for everyone who makes it their goal to truly understand all types of diabetes should be to lift the shame and gather together under one umbrella for the support of everyone.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013


I've been doing some thinking lately about stereotypes of diabetes. I expect the general media to propagate stereotypes, because most of the writers have only a general knowledge of diabetes, and most of the time, they're writing about people with T2 who fall under the hump of the bell curve.

But as I pay more attention to ads from the JDRF (Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation) and manufacturers of products for people with diabetes, I think they're doing just as much harm. I'm looking at it from a couple of angles, so let me approach T1 first.

First off, it seems to me that these organizations present T1 diabetes as a young person's disease. There is a great emphasis on children, probably because the ads, especially ads for insulin and other diabetes supplies, but also JDRF ads target parents of T1 children. And as such, the message seems to be "You're normal! You can do anything!" But what's left out is "If you are careful and diligent about managing your diabetes." These parents know, better than anyone else, how difficult it is to manage diabetes in a young, growing child, and they've seen hypoglycemia at its worst, and DKA (diabetic ketoacidosis), and yet the advertising of the JDRF doesn't reflect how much work and worry goes into raising a child with diabetes. I understand that parents don't want their child to grow up feeling impaired, or feeling disabled, but the reality is still there, and although adults with T1 DO achieve many great things, no one who has experienced T1 can deny that there is a cost to their achievements that non-diabetics don't have to pay.

The second thing that I notice about publicity from the JDRF is that they almost always seem to depict children or young, slender, attractive adults engaged in athletics. But that is not a real picture for many people with T1. There are obese T1s and intellectual T1s and older T1s and disabled T1s, etc. We aren't all young people on bicycles. Some of us would much rather be reading a book, or shopping with our friends, or doing woodworking. So, in sum, I would like to see much more diversity in the ads put out by the JDRF.

Now let me go on to the depiction of people with T2. Many of the ads I've seen depict an attractive, slender, gray-haired person or and older couple with a small child. Or an attractive "young-old" couple on bicycles. A few have shown larger people, but not people whom anyone would perceive as obese. Again, I think it's demeaning not to show people in their true diversity -- attractive and well-dressed are good things, but what about a lovely, truly obese woman or a handsome obese man? How about showing a variety of ages and NOT including a cute 3-year-old?

I'm pretty sure I'm going to get some negative responses to this post, which is actually OK with me, because what I want is for people to think about how we're being manipulated by the power interests, and what life around us is really like. Just like I'd love to see a clothes model who looked like me, I'd love to see diabetes depicted as it really is, not like it might be in some imaginary fairyland where we're all rich, slim, famous, and don't struggle for a minute.