I've had Type 1 diabetes for over 45 years. Yep. Almost half a century. In spite of that, I travel frequently, ride a motorcycle (as the rider, never a passenger), keep a crazy schedule, live life to the fullest, and prefer to say I have diabetes instead of referring to myself as a diabetic. (The difference in perspective is huge.) Diabetes has NEVER stopped me from doing anything, and it never will. Well, ok ... I confess having diabetes could have once stopped me from parasailing, but I lied and said I didn't have it. (God forgave me.) There are laws that say I can't get a commercial driver's license, fly a plane or scuba dive, but I can darn well do everything else. Having diabetes means I have to plan ahead. It doesn't mean I had to give up.
Although I have Type 1 diabetes (the type that is controlled using insulin), most people in the US have Type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is typically controlled using diet, exercise and oral medication if needed. Some things discussed in this post are more applicable to people with Type 1 diabetes, some are more applicable to people with Type 2. Regardless of which type of diabetes we are blessed to have, people's perception of us changes the minute they hear we have "it." The judgment and assumptions drawn are often incorrect and always unfair.
Based on what I see in the media (I've been known to throw things at the TV during commercials for diabetes products) and hear from people unfamiliar with diabetes, here's what I suspect a diabetic is "supposed" to look like:
- Diabetics have syringes for arms & legs, a pill bottle for a head, and one leg in the grave: The fact I have diabetes doesn't mean my life is controlled by it. I have challenges and have to consider things others don't, but I control it ... it doesn't control me. Period.
- Diabetics are all fat: Diabetes has become such a common disorder that it no longer has a "standard" demographic. People with diabetes come in all shapes and sizes. Some are rail thin, some are grossly obese, and most of us fall somewhere in the broad range between the two. Not all fat people have diabetes, and not everyone with diabetes is fat. Please let go of that stereotype and move on.
- Diabetics spontaneously combust if they eat sugar: The myth that diabetics can never eat sugar is just that ... a myth. People with diabetes do need to make careful choices when it comes to food, but an occasional indulgence is not going to kill us. Frequent indulgences may, but please don't freak out or give us a disapproving look if we eat a cookie in front of you, ok? We're smart enough to know what we can and cannot eat. People with Type 1 diabetes take extra insulin to counteract the effect an indulgence has on their blood sugar. People with Type 2 diabetes hopefully exercise or use other methods to counteract dietary indulgences. I don't mean to imply that people with diabetes can eat like pigs. (Or like most people in the US eat.) People who have diabetes and eat whatever they want with no regard for how it affects their blood sugar typically suffer higher rates of complications, such as blindness, amputation, heart disease, etc. However, eating a single Twinkie won't cause us to spontaneously combust. I promise.
- Diabetics are weak invalids who have a lot in common with Eeyore: Most people with diabetes lead full, vibrant lives. They do if they choose to, at least. They have challenges, but they choose to control diabetes instead of letting diabetes control them. Yes, it is true that diabetes has the capacity to kill us if we don't control it, but many people with diabetes are invalids because a medical professional at some point in time convinced them they had no other choice. Many people with diabetes have told me the doctor who diagnosed them told them they had diabetes and went on to say their condition would continually deteriorate and that they would eventually die a horrid death from it. Instead of telling them they had diabetes and that their condition could be controlled, their doctor sucked the hope right out of them and then sent them home to die. It's criminal, but it happens more frequently than people realize. The truth is that there is no reason people with diabetes need to let it interfere with leading a full, vibrant life. None. I don't mean to imply diabetes is not a serious disease that is ruining lives. It is ... but not for everyone.
If you know someone with diabetes, I can almost guarantee they would LOVE one of these t-shirts as a gift. I want one of each!