Out having dinner with my boyfriend, I hear the familiar beep of the Optimum Exceed meter going off at the table next to us. I took a sneaky sideways peak to see a fellow diabetic testing his BGLs. The excited diabetic in me squealed in delight to see another one of ‘my kind’ around (as you do), but the calm, logical me played it cool. While waiting for our dinner to arrive, I felt like I needed to test myself too. Safe to say I got fairly distracted while testing myself as I caught myself eavesdropping on my new diabetic friend’s conversation with his mates about diabetes. Ok, I wasn’t really eavesdropping – I just heard one phrase that caught my attention. In the meantime, my boyfriend thought it was the funniest thing in the world as I got increasingly agitated and frustrated. I was pricking finger after finger but wasn’t getting a drop of blood out for my little test strip! After trying all the fingers on my left hand, I ended up bursting in into a triumphant HA! when I finally got a decent blob of blood. (Maybe it’s time to change my lancet? It’s only been a year or so!)
So what did I hear that made me disown him as a diabetic relation? ‘I feel sorry for everyone with type 1 diabetes. But I don’t feel sorry for those people with type 2.’ I’m sure he said why after that, but it didn’t matter – the damage had been done.
It hurt. Almost heart broken. I fell silent for a while before the arrival of our food served as a good distraction.
Oh, the ignorance! What’s up with the hatin’?! Yes, obesity is heavily associated (mind the pun) with type 2 diabetes. Yes, the general public knows little about the difference between the types of diabetes that are out there. I can’t say I understand all the different types of diabetes out there. But I know the fundamentals – I know enough to know better. I understand how cruel the media is when they play up diabetes. I know how easy it is to play the blame game. ‘It’s your fault you got (type 2) diabetes – because you ate too much junk food and are lazy. You deserve it.’ Ouch! Imagine if someone said this to you and you are faced with this everyday. Not just from the media – but from random passer-bys or health professionals or friends or even family. Put yourself in their shoes for a moment and imagine how you would feel. Guilty? Ashamed? Depressed? Upset? Angry?
My perception of diabetes was severely disrupted the day I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. How could this happen to me? I have a healthy and balanced diet. I was a competitive swimmer for years and kept up my exercise after I stopped competing. And I certainly wasn’t overweight or old – I was only 20!
I felt guilt – maybe I did this to myself; it’s my fault I have diabetes.
I felt anger – why me?
I felt scared – what will my future hold; what’s going to happen to me?
I felt self-conscious – I am pretty stocky for an Asian – maybe I am fat.
I felt confused – I thought type 2 diabetes only happened to older people.
I felt judged – common comments from people include ‘but you’re not fat!’ (Thanks for the compliment I suppose)
I felt alone and isolated – who will understand?
The more I read in a bid to understand diabetes in all its glory, the more I knew there’s much more to type 2 diabetes than the media lets on. For instance, there’s a strong genetic predisposition for type 2 diabetes and I suspected I drew the short end of the stick from the gene pool. Yet, even if a person’s diabetes can be plainly attributed to their poor diet and lack of physical activity, the media and public’s judgmental finger-pointing gives them little to no chance of turning their lives around. They are still people, and they have feelings too.
Inaccurate portrayal of diabetes in the media has led to this vicious cycle of bullying. We see it all too often – movie or tv characters who ‘developed’ diabetes because of excess junk food consumption during childhood, resulting in needing ‘an insulin shot a day to survive’ (puhleeze, you got nothing on my four injections a day!) They make it look all too easy. Type 1 diabetics hate to be grouped in with type ‘hollywood’ diabetes because they couldn’t have prevented their diabetes. It’s an autoimmune disorder! Their bodies attack its own insulin producing cells so they need insulin to survive. And it’s definitely not a walk in the park as shown in the movies. But neither is living with type 2 diabetes. Getting over the public’s judgements and harsh words are hard enough – they don’t need it from people in the diabetes community, where we are all meant to be supporting each other.
When it comes emotional and mental wellbeing, it doesn’t really matter the kind of diabetes you have. There are things we can all relate to – things we can poke fun at and things we all whinge about. But we need to work together as a diabetes community to combat the negative connotations that have been tagged onto living with diabetes. It’s not fair for all of us and it’s not going to change unless we change.
‘Be the change you want to see’