Diabetes Awareness Month: Things to NEVER Say to Your Type I Diabetic Friend

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Photo from alex27 @ freeimages.com.

Because it’s November, we’re doing something a little out of the ordinary this blawg.

November, for the millions of you who aren’t aware, is National Diabetes Awareness Month. No, there isn’t a ribbon. At least, I don’t think there’s a ribbon. If there is, I hope it has Wilford Brimley’s picture on it, and the word DIABEETUS in flaming pink letters down the side. (UPDATE: there IS a ribbon. It’s grey. Boo-ring.)

Anyway. You don’t get pink soup cans, and no one cares if you go braless. (Except me. You can totally show your boobs for diabetes awareness. Totally.)

I, however, was diagnosed with Type I diabetes when I was seven years old, so I’m all about spreading the word.

I could share inspirational messages, but I get tired of those. If you haven’t gotten the gist of ‘you can do it’ by the time you’re old enough to read, you’re never going to get it.

Or I could share the struggle, which I think is the traditional thing to do. But the internet is chock full of people ‘sharing the struggle’, and that shit tires me out faster than inspiration. If I struggle a lot, it’s the only thing I’ve ever done, and it seems perfectly goddamn ordinary to me.

So, instead, a little information:

There are two basic types of diabetes (actually, there are more, but for blawg purposes we’re going to talk about two); Type I and Type II. Type I diabetes is an incurable autoimmune disorder where the pancreas doesn’t produce the hormone insulin, necessary for blood glucose regulation. Type II diabetes is, at least in the beginning, insulin resistance, where the body DOES still produce insulin, but has trouble absorbing it.

Not all diabetics are the same, and not all diabetes is created equal. (Obviously. Mine’s better.)

Type I diabetes, like that of yours truly, is an auto-immune disease in which your immune system (for reasons still not totally clear to science) starts attacking insulin-producing beta cells in your pancreas, which usually regulate the amount of glucose in your bloodstream. As a result, Type I diabetics are insulin dependent–they have to inject insulin, usually produced by those pesky betas, to keep their blood sugar from rising. Type I diabetes is usually, but not always, diagnosed in childhood, and is, while not inherited, often previously apparent in the family tree. (My grandfather, for instance, was also a Type I diabetic. My grandchild would likely be a Type I diabetic too. People claim it ‘skips a generation’, though that’s absolutely not scientific fact). Type I diabetics account for roughly 5% of the diabetic population; Type II diabetics are the other 95.

Type II diabetes is a condition where the body becomes insulin resistant. Type II diabetes can be controlled through healthy diet and medication, though Type II diabetics may occasionally require insulin, temporarily or permanently, to bring down blood glucose levels.

Type II diabetes can, with good diet and exercise, sometimes go away. Type I diabetes is a syringe-laden plague you carry your whole life, inherit through no fault of your own, and pay exorbitant sums of money to feed with medicine that, if absent, would leave you dead within a matter of days.

Not that it’s personal, or anything.

Anyway, now that you know a little about the diabeetus, here are five things you should never, EVER say to your Type I diabetic friend. All of these have been said to me, on numerous occasions. DO NOT be this person. DO NOT.

1. ‘Did you get diabetes because you were fat?’

No. I got it because genetics. When your body is first adjusting to man-made insulin, in fact, it can cause you to gain a few pounds–however, uncontrolled Type I diabetes often causes weight loss. When I was diagnosed, my blood sugar was 647, and I was VERY thin.

2. ‘Should you be eating that?’

Why, thank you, Tinkerbell! My hand was aiming for the carrot sticks, but, in a moment of temporary blindness and insanity, I grabbed this giant hunk of chocolate cake instead. Why, if you weren’t here to function as the reasoning senses of an adult mentally capable woman, I would have gorged mindlessly on chocolate cake until my pancreas exploded.

I’ve been doing this as long as some of you have been alive. I know when I can eat cake and when I can’t. Would you tell an overweight woman she ‘shouldn’t be eating’ something? Mind your own business.

3. ‘If you eat less sugar, it’ll go away.’

While this is, arguably, semi-true for Type II diabetics, your Type I diabetic friend is getting just a little tired of your dietary advice. I do not explode when I touch sugar. I do not explode when I touch pasta.

For that matter, sugar itself isn’t the enemy–a diabetic counts carbohydrates, not sugars (though sugar will make your blood sugar spike faster than low glycemic index carbs such as pasta).

If you eat less bacon, your fat ass will vanish. Would that be polite to imply in conversation? No? Mic. Dropped.

4. Diabetic-Friendly Treats.
While your effort to accommodate is really kind, please pause before you reach for the Sweet n’ Low. Consider asking your diabetic friend: ‘I can make this sugar-free. Should I do that?’ Each diabetic, again, is different. Some folks treat sugar like C4. Some folks treat it like C4 that tastes DELICIOUS.

Cookies, no matter how much Splenda you pack into them, still contain carbohydrates, as they contain flour, milk, etc–so a Type I diabetic can’t eat even the most sugarless of cookies like a non-diabetic person can. Everybody else doubtless wants the sugar, don’t go making a separate batch just for me.

Sweet n’ Low tastes like shit. Sorry, but it does.

5. ‘My (insert relative here) has diabetes, and she never–‘
That’s great, boo bear. I’m glad your relative has a system. I have one, too. What’s true for one person might not be true for another–f’rinstance, even though it goes against common wisdom, I take my lunch insulin after lunch. Why? Because I’m at work, and I’m not always sure if I’ll have time to eat the right amount of carbs to counteract the insulin I take. It’s better to have my blood sugar be slightly high than slightly low–the first will just make me grouchy, the second might have me passing out on a sales floor.

Other fun conversation bits have included misguided (male) attempts to forcibly ‘improve my lifestyle’ for the sake of my health, offers of Victoza (a medicine used to treat Type II diabetes) because ‘it worked really well for me’, and a loving but deeply erroneous desire to cure my Type I diabetes with essential oils.

Long story short: I am a healthy and fit youngish person. I’m a vegetarian, I don’t do drugs, and I rarely drink. I’m a little overweight, but I have an active lifestyle, and am in no immediate peril from kidney shutdown/blindness/amputation. So, please, save your lifestyle advice for your kids.

Because it is not okay to tell someone their incurable autoimmune disorder can be cured if they’d just lose a few pounds. Sure, the advice is probably well-intentioned and the result of ignorance, but when did ignorance become an excuse and not a deficiency to be remedied? I don’t know anything about engineering: therefore, before I try and tell an engineer how to build a bridge, I’m probably going to need to google it at the very least, and, you know, maybe shell out a hundred thousand dollars to go back to school.

I’m lucky: being diabetic doesn’t affect my life very much. I’m healthy, young, in good control, and I’ve only been hospitalized a few times. I can work an ordinary job, go out with my friends, live life, in short, like a garden-variety human.

Maybe it’s a disability and maybe it’s not. I, personally, tend towards the not–everybody has something wrong with them. But, long story short, I live with it every day. You, person telling me it’s a ‘simple problem’ essential oils can cure, do not.

Before you try and give me life advice, think about the stuff that’s wrong with you. Would you want ME telling you how to ‘manage’ it, if it’s something I’ve never experienced?

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2 thoughts on “Diabetes Awareness Month: Things to NEVER Say to Your Type I Diabetic Friend

  1. When I was at school, a diabetic lad in our class appeared on a local television news item, being carried away on a stretcher. He became an overnight star amongst his classmates. I’ve no idea what became of him. Maybe I should google his name.

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