Growing up, I was blissfully unaware about diabetes and what it involved. I knew that my grandfather had diabetes. He took tablets, watched everything he ate and exercised and is still healthy and active, even today. Type 1 diabetes was rarely talked about though, even during my health science degree at university. We may have had one lecture that briefly mentioned type 1 diabetes as an autoimmune disease. But everything I learned about diabetes from the media and textbooks focussed on type 2 diabetes. The main message was the same; you will develop type 2 diabetes if you are overweight, if you eat lots of ‘bad foods’ and if you don’t exercise. Now I know, this couldn’t be further away from the truth.
I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in February, 2009. I was 19, at a healthy weight, ate a balanced a diet, and more active than your average adolescent. After receiving my Metformin prescription, I went to the hospital pharmacy and experienced my first ignorant comment of diabetes. The pharmacist looked me up and down, double checked that the medication was indeed for me and commented, ‘but you’re not fat’! I had no idea how to respond, so I just politely smiled and shrugged.
People are quick to judge type 2 diabetes. Yet, people seemed unsure of how to respond when I said that I had type 2 diabetes. I challenged the stereotype they held of type 2 diabetes. Although, I’m pretty sure I’m challenging any stereotype of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes at the moment. It’s sad to hear ignorant comments being thrown around without a thought or care for people actually living with type 2 diabetes. This is especially hurtful coming from the diabetes community. Too many times, I have seen hurtful and hateful comments towards people with type 2 diabetes on online forums. No one wants anything to do with type 2 diabetes because of all the stigma and discrimination that has been fuelled by misinformation over the years. I will never forget this one time when I was dining out. I overheard a teen with type 1 diabetes at the next table tell his friends, as he was injecting, ‘I have no sympathy for people with type 2, they deserve it’. I felt crushed and so angry but didn’t have the confidence then to confront him.
Type 2 diabetes can happen to anyone, not just people who are overweight, have poor diets and don’t exercise. There is a huge genetic component associated with type 2 diabetes. People also need to stop confusing type 2 diabetes with type 1 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition and there is no known cause and cure for it. So, no, they didn’t develop type 1 diabetes from having a poor diet and no, eating cinnamon or ocra will not cure it. More importantly, there are many types of diabetes out there. Not everyone fits neatly into a diabetes category. If you dislike receiving misinformed comments and judgements about your diabetes, don’t do the same for others.
I’m thankful for the diabetes online community for many reasons. They have opened my eyes to see the ugliness and beauty of people. For every negative comment I see, there are at least three positive and supportive comments to counterbalance it. This gives me hope that people are speaking out against the discrimination and stigma that exists with diabetes. There are many projects currently underway all over the world started by people who are sick of putting up with discrimination and stigma because of diabetes. With each small project, I hope that awareness of diabetes will be raised and a little more education will be shared and received by the public. From my experiences of trying to find an accepting online support group for other young adults with type 2 diabetes like myself, I created my own Facebook group: Young Adults with Type 2 Diabetes (original, I know). Our group welcomes anyone with diabetes of all ages. All we ask is for you to come with an open mind, willing to share experiences and support others in theirs. The Australian Centre of Behvaioural Research in Diabetes are also currently raising funds for further research into the area of diabetes stigma through crowdfunding. You can help raise funds and find out more about diabetes stigma and the project here and follow #diabetesstigma on twitter on updates.