Today’s prompt: Our topic today is Language and Diabetes. There is an old saying that states “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”. I’m willing to bet we’ve all disagreed with this at some point, and especially when it comes to diabetes. Many advocate for the importance of using non-stigmatizing, inclusive and non-judgmental language when speaking about or to people with diabetes. For some, they don’t care, others care passionately. Where do you stand when it comes to “person with diabetes” versus “diabetic”, or “checking” blood sugar versus “testing”, or any of the tons of other examples? Let’s explore the power of words, but please remember to keep things respectful.
Several years ago, I did some volunteer work for a non-profit benefiting children with developmental disabilities. They had a set standard for presenting the organization’s mission, approved vocabulary to use at their events, and so forth. For example, their beneficiaries were “children with autism” rather than “autistic children.” Describing the children as “handicapped” while at one of their events, or ever, was frowned upon. The purpose? To eliminate the stigmas and stereotypes. To say, hey, I have a disability but it doesn’t have me. Or define me. I learned a lot from working for that organization, and still try to keep the vocabulary and phrasing I was taught during conversations.
When it comes to my own illness, I waiver slightly. “Person with diabetes” is only a phrase I’ve recently began using – mostly influenced by the Blogsphere and social network. I refer to myself as a “diabetic” often enough that it doesn’t phase me if someone else says it. It’s not a slang term or a derogatory term at face value. Since I was diagnosed at a very young age and have no recollection of my life before diabetes, it does define who I am and it’s very much a part of my upbringing.
There have been plenty of instances where “well-meaning” words regarding my condition are anything but.
“How can you be diabetic? You aren’t fat.”
“[thumps mid-arm] Hey, when you are done with that shot, can you give me a hit?”
“Oh, pregnancy in your condition sounds rough. Why don’t you just adopt?”
“You’re on an insulin pump? You must be a bad diabetic.”
“Well, it could be worse.”
“I couldn’t do it. I’m terrified of needles/blood/doctors/hospitals/big pharma.”
“Hey, have you tried [random supplement/cinnamon/camel milk] to get your A1C down? It worked great for me/my husband/my dog.”
“Why are you eating this/that/carbs/meat/fruit/ice cream? Don’t you want to take care of yourself?”
“This meme wasn’t about your diabetes. Stop being so sensitive.”
“Haha, look at this awesome dessert! #omnomnom #foodgram #diabetes”
I’ve heard or seen all of these. I realize people, usually, are just trying to help. Or make light of a not-great situation. While I don’t get hung up on someone calling me a “diabetic,” I do get hung up on these. I feel like there are ten zillion other responses or conversation starters or questions people can ask if they were really interested in what it’s like to be sans a pancreas.
Instead, ask me about what I have rather than what I don’t. Because the only way one can change the culture and perception of an illness is to educate and continue to talk about it. Keep talking about the things that make my illness unique and quirky, albeit frustrating and overwhelming.