Quick note: This week (May 15-19, 2017), GraceMark Musings is participating in Diabetes Blog Week, adding our voice to the chorus of diabetes bloggers, caregivers, and friends of the DOC (diabetes online community) who are uniting to share their unique reflections on certain topics prevalent in life with diabetes. Thank you to Karen Graffeo at Bitter-Sweet for creating this opportunity--congratulations on the 8th year of D-Blog Week!
The premise of today's prompt is perspective with a twist: talking about a situation where you've felt blame related to your diabetes, but instead of simply telling the story, I've been challenged to think about what I wish had been said or done instead.
It is my opinion that many of the ignorant statements and reactions people with diabetes receive from others are a direct result of the continual misinformation and unjustified stigma attached to the disease, which in turn creates a blame response. As in, you did this to yourself (falsehood/blame) and therefore, it is okay to say judgmental/mean/unhelpful things because you deserve it all. Perhaps this is a bit dramatic. I do prefer to just think of it as ignorance easily corrected by education, but my experience has shown me that in many cases, that is idealistic thinking.
Today, I'm laying out some situations I've encountered in the past where I have felt blame or misunderstanding in connection with diabetes, and what I wish had transpired instead:
From a nurse in the hospital at diagnosis: "If you just eat better and exercise, it will all go away."
What I would have preferred to hear: I have a solid grasp on what type 1 diabetes is, and I can tell you that although there is no cure, you will get stronger and healthier and be okay.
From the endocrinologist on-call when I was in the ICU at diagnosis: "You will lose your driver's license. You will never be able to wear high heels again. Your feet will be amputated."
What I would have preferred to hear: You have type one diabetes and are now recovering from a serious complication of undiagnosed diabetes, diabetic ketoacidosis. We are going to give you all of the tools you need to take excellent care of yourself in your new life with diabetes so you can do everything you can to avoid complications in the future.
From my employer on my first day home from the hospital: "Do you even still want your job?"
What I would have preferred to hear: Everyone here at the office is just glad that you are okay. We are sending our best wishes and look forward to seeing you back when you are well.
From a co-worker: Offers everyone else in the office a delicacy from their latest trip and turns to offer you one and says loudly, while physically taking back the package: "OH but you can't have that!"
What I would have preferred to hear: Nothing. Just offer me the opportunity to make my own choices on what to eat or not eat, and not shame me publicly in the process.
From a date: "I just feel like your diabetes would be a burden on me."
What I would have preferred to hear: I'm not sure I'm understanding how your diabetes impacts your life. Can you tell me more? OR whatever it is that is appropriate to say to someone when you don't want to see them again, but don't want to actually say that you don't want to date them because of their chronic illness...they don't teach you that answer in school.
From a friend: "It's a good thing it was you who got diabetes and not me! I wouldn't be able to do it."
What I would have preferred to hear: You are so well-equipped to handle this situation; I know you're going to handle it like a champ. You always find a way to take care of business, and this will be no different.
I could go on, but I think I have made my point. Each of these examples are real things that were said to me by real people, presumably with good intentions. I hope that in the time since, each of the people who said these things to me may have come to understand this disease better, offering more knowledgeable compassion for others as a result. Until we, as a society, treat people with diabetes with the same empathy and compassion that we give people who live with other serious conditions, we will continue to encounter the blame game, and the normalized behaviors that follow, like the statements above.