Call me picky, but language matters to me. I believe words and grammar shape how we understand and experience the world (hello, Sapir-Whorf hypothesis and linguistic determinism!). Which is why the word “diabetic,” can really rub me the wrong way in certain contexts.
"Diabetic" (Adj.) + Thing (Noun)
Sometimes the word "diabetic" describes a thing. Diabetic neuropathy, diabetic glucometer, diabetic low. No problem.
"Diabetic" (Adj.) + Person (Noun)
Other times people use the word "diabetic" to describe a person. Thediabetic patient, my diabetic uncle, their diabetic colleague. That's when you may see me clearing my throat and shifting uneasily in my seat. The condition is starting to eclipse the person.
Now, when people use "diabetic" as a full-on noun - as in the diabetic who lives down the street - oooof! It's fingers on a chalkboard to me.Not only is it reductive – the disease is defining the person - but there's a suggestion of permanence that I find wholly dispiriting. I suppose I still maintain some hope that “a person who has diabetes” may some day be rid of it.
This post is part of Diabetes Blog Week.
The Prompt: Many advocate for the importance of using non-stigmatizing, inclusive and non-judgmental language when speaking about or to people with diabetes. Some don't care, others care passionately. Where do you stand?
I was diagnosed with diabetes the summer before my sophomore year of high school. The initial treatment plan? “Take 2.5 mg of Glyburide daily and restrict sugar intake.” Because it was 1987 and glucometers weren’t available yet for home use, the doctor sent me home with Tes-Tape® and instructions to test my urine once a week or “whenever I felt like my blood sugar might be running high.”
For those who don't know, Tes-Tape® was just litmus paper. You’d tear an inch-long strip off the roll, pee on it, observe the change in color, then compare the color to swatches on the back of the container. The darker the the paper, the greater the urine glucose concentration. As a refresher: for kidneys to spill glucose, serum glucose level has exceed 180mg/DL, high enough to be causing damage. And by the time it shows up in urine, it's likely been that way for several hours. So, any color at all on the test strip indicated some degree of bad news (with no strategy for correction).
I dutifully carried the Tes-Tape® to school every day at school, zipped in an interior pocket of my backpack. But here's the thing: peeing on a narrow, inch-long strip of paper is messy! So, no, I didn't test my urine in my high-school bathroom stall. In fact, I never, ever, would have used it at school. None of my friends had diabetes. None of my friends' friends had diabetes. No teenager I had ever heard of had diabetes. And, like many teenagers, I just wanted to be like everyone else.
Over Spring break that year I visited my friend in upstate New York. At some point during the trip, her aunt asked me, “I understand you recently found out you have diabetes. How is that going for you?” I replied that it was OK, but admitted that it was a drag not to be able to eat everything my friends ate.
She listened, and then offered a fresh perspective: Had I ever considered how movie stars ate? She went on to describe that movie stars - who lived lives of luxury and ate as they pleased - elected to limit their sugar intake. Movie stars knew sugar was bad for them. It was bad for their bodies, bad for their complexions, and it contributed to premature aging.
I had not considered this, and it got my attention. Sure, she was appealing - very effectively - to my teenage vanity. But I also understood in that moment that I could create a positive framework for diabetes. Instead of feeling deprived of sugar, I could choose to bypass it in favor of something better. Say, ripe, seasonal fruit.
I remember this conversation often when I reach for a luscious July peach instead of a sugary doughnut. "What would Jennifer Anniston do?" I think to myself.
This post is part of Diabetes Blog Week.
The Prompt: How does diabetes affect you or your loved one mentally or emotionally? Any tips, positive phrases, mantras, or ideas to share on getting out of a diabetes funk?
Today’s Prompt: Why are you here, in the diabetes blog space?
In early 2004 I was pregnant with my first child. I had recently switched to insulin therapy since the pills I had been on for years were not FDA-approved for pregnancy. So, I was learning to count carbohydrates, manage multiple daily insulin injections, and minimize the effect of fluctuating hormones on blood sugar. I was excited about the eventual baby, but felt acutely overwhelmed and isolated by diabetes. I pined for someone who understood what I was experiencing.
I searched online and found a diabetes message forum run by the Joslin Diabetes Center. I drafted a short post describing my situation and asked if anyone could relate. When I logged on later that day I found FIVE friendly, supportive responses. One that I found especially encouraging was signed "Type 1 Mom of two grown sons, 20 & 23."
Years later I came across Kerri Morrone Sparling's highly relatable blog Six Until Me, and was again inspired by (wait for it...) a person with diabetes talking about what it's like to have diabetes. When I had trouble finding blogs specific to MODY (my form of diabetes), I realized I should start a blog of my own and contribute something to the conversations!
To learn why other people blog about diabetes, click here.