Language and Diabetes: There is an old saying that states “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”. I’m willing to bet we’ve all disagreed with this at some point, and especially when it comes to diabetes. Many advocate for the importance of using non-stigmatizing, inclusive and non-judgmental language when speaking about or to people with diabetes. For some, they don’t care, others care passionately. Where do you stand when it comes to “person with diabetes” versus “diabetic”, or “checking” blood sugar versus “testing”, or any of the tons of other examples? Let’s explore the power of words, but please remember to keep things respectful.
(And for more on the topics of Diabetes Blog Week 2016, click here.)
Language matters. The words we use matter.
Some words make me all fired up, like “consumer.” I am a consumer when it comes to cars, or coats, or snow blowers. When it comes to diabetes, I’m not a consumer. I would never choose to consume these goods; they are chosen out of the desire to stay alive. I don’t like “suffering from diabetes” because it makes me feel weak and compromised, which stands in contrast to where I prefer to anchor my emotions about diabetes. And I totally hate the concept of “good” and “bad” blood sugars. That whole ideology can fuck off in favor of “in range” and “out of range.”
I appreciate the word “complications” because its connotation is perfect for how I feel about diabetes-related complications; that shit is complicated. I like the word “empowered” because it reminds me that I have a say in how this whole life maps out, diabetes or not. I like any words and phrases that tie the physical aspects of diabetes to the emotional ones. I latch on actively to “hope” versus fear. And I like being called “Kerri” instead of “diabetic,” but hey, that’s just me.
(And I really like certain curse words, but I am trying to use those less, but it’s difficult. I don’t make insulin, I do make use of curse words. It’s a terrible habit, but one I am not changing.)
But it’s not about the words we shouldn’t use, or the ones that seem potentially loaded. This morning, after hearing about the death of a fellow advocate (outside of the diabetes space), I’m spinning with thoughts of the words I wish I used more, the things I wish I said. The things I should say.
Like “thanks for sharing this.” I think this every time I read a blog post, or a Tweet, or a Facebook update from someone and it makes me stop and think. The DOC is filled with voices that challenge what I thought I knew, and who teach me how to re-examine my chronic illness with grace and determination or perspective or humility … or all of it. I like the way they think. I like what they say.
And “How are you feeling today?” I interact with a lot of people touched by illness – patients, consumers, caregivers … whatever word words for you in this way – and their stories touch me. A lot of the time, I absorb what they’re saying and store it away in my head, but I want to reach out more, ask “how are you feeling today?” I want the people in our community, and outside of it, to know how much I appreciate what it takes to share their stories, even when they are worn out by doing it, by living it. A little ask goes a long way.
Or “You aren’t alone; how can I help?” Because sometimes people share to get things off their chest (“I hate low blood sugars!”), but other times they reach out in hopes of someone reaching back (“I feel so alone with diabetes.”) Words matter, and hearing, “You aren’t alone; how can I help?” might make a difference.
And “I’m sorry.” Because I am.
But mostly “thank you” and sometimes, “I love you.” Over the last few years, there have been people who have come and gone from my life that left lasting impressions, and I bet I didn’t tell them “thank you” and “I love you” nearly as much as I should have. I know I thought it – thought it a lot after they were gone – but I should have said it then. When they were here. When they could hear me and understand the influence they’ve had on my life, the positive mark they’ve left on my existence, and the ways they’ve rocked my world for the better.
Words matter. Stories matter. People matter. So thank you. And even though you’re reading these words on a glowing screen and we’re communicating mostly through a digital medium, you are part of a community that has forever changed me.