Today is World Health Day and the focus is on diabetes. Every media outlet in the world is picking up on this health story and twisting it just so, highlighting misconceptions aplenty and feeding the stigma about diabetes. Messages get muddled and broken down into clickbait headlines that sometimes hurt our community more than they educate.
Cueing all the “eat healthy, exercise more, and you can come off your medications!” messages. Conflicted feelings about this. #diabetes
— Kerri / Diabetes (@sixuntilme) April 7, 2016
What are the five worst things to consume if you have diabetes? HINT: This is not a list of foods.
- Misconceptions. Don’t consume them. There is a public perception about diabetes as a whole and about the individual types – don’t let society’s misinformed views shape your own.
- Other people’s misunderstandings. Don’t consume them. Don’t let people’s ignorance about diabetes ruin your day. Correct their information and move on.
- Misinformed messages from the media. Don’t consume them. Address and correct articles that perpetuate stereotypes and misinformation. We’ll never be happy, as a community, with a public health campaign, but we can take steps to help shape it in a way that feels right. If not us, who?
- Anger and hatred towards our community. Don’t consume it. People get angry about diabetes and the people who have it are often the target of blame, shame, and disgust. Don’t let anger infiltrate our community. We’re better than that.
- Stigma. Don’t consume it. Don’t swallow it and don’t let it define you. Taking care of your health is nothing to be ashamed of, so wear your efforts towards good health with pride.
There is more than one kind of diabetes. This isn’t a knock on my type 2 and gestational diabetes friends, but definitely a knock on society’s perceptions at large. People have one musty, old perception of what diabetes looks like, and it’s always someone older, heavier, and lazy. Would they be surprised to meet our fit type 2 friends, or the 20 year old gestational PWD? Or a “juvenile diabetic” who isn’t eight years old? Or any of our community friends? Diabetes doesn’t have “a look.”
Diabetes affects more than just the person playing host to it. I am the one wearing and insulin pump, a continuous glucose monitor, and actually feeling these blood sugar highs and lows. But I’m not the only one affected by diabetes. My parents had to care for me when I was young, acting as my pancreas. My friends have been affected by my lows and highs while we’re hanging out, sometimes forced to jump the bar and accost the bartender for orange juice. (True story.) And my husband has taken on this disease as his own as best he can, making it such an integrated part of our life together that I don’t feel alone. Diabetes isn’t just mine. It belongs to everyone who cares about me.
Diabetes isn’t just a physiological disease. Mental health matters when it comes to diabetes management. It’s not just a question of blood sugar levels and insulin supplementation. It’s about managing the emotional output that comes as part of life with a chronic illness. It’s about the guilt of complications. The pressure to control an uncontrollable disease. The hope that tomorrow will come without incident. I feel that the emotional aspects of diabetes need to be attended to with the same care and diligence as an A1C level. Maybe more so, because life needs to be happy, whether it’s a short life or a very long one.
Diabetes isn’t easy. We just make it look that way sometimes. Some of the perceptions that the general public has is that diabetes is easy to handle. “You just wear the pump, test your blood sugar, and watch your diet and you’ll be fine, right?” Wrong. You can do the exact same thing every day and still see varying diabetes outcomes. It’s never all figured out. Diabetes is a daily dance of numbers and emotions and even though we, as a community, make it look easy sometimes, it sure isn’t.
No diabetes is the same. Even within a community of diabetics, there are still widely varying ways of treating diabetes and even more ways of dealing with the emotional aspects. There’s no winning combination and no “right” way to deal with this disease. Being on a pump means you use a pump to infuse your insulin – this doesn’t necessarily mean you are taking better care of yourself than the person who opts for injections. Low-carb doesn’t work for everyone, and neither do certain medications. What works for you may not work for everyone. It’s important to remember that this disease, like life, doesn’t have a predictable path, so there are plenty of “right’ ways to handle it.
Just because we don’t look sick doesn’t mean we don’t deserve a cure. That statement sums it up for me. We might make it look easy, but it isn’t. There’s no rhyme or reason to this disease, and even with the best care and the best intentions, complications can sometimes still come calling. And their effects are devastating. Diabetes, of all kinds, deserves a cure. No one asked for any of this. We deserve better than society thinking that diabetes isn’t worth their attention.
We deserve, we fight for, and we advocate for a better life, better health outcomes, … we deserve a fighting chance for a cure.