The Stupid Things People Say About Diabetes and How to Deal with It

3/29/16
WRITTEN BY: Marci Thiessen
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Editor’s Note: Marci is a part of Beyond Type Run Team, which is sponsored by Medtronic. She is participating in the 2017 TCS New York City Marathon. 


Why can’t I just be like everyone else for one moment? Why can’t I just indulge in a good hearty meal without spiking or crashing? Why can’t I just go for a jog or jet off on vacation without packing my “essentials,” arranging back-up plans and constantly making sure my numbers stay within range? A night’s rest without any beeping, buzzing or alerts would be a dream.

This is physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting. Why do I have to be so different from everyone else? Just because my pancreas tapped out, I am automatically seen as “different.” I’m the butt of all diabetic jokes. I’m the mystery girl walking around with an invisible disease that 99% of the general public misunderstands and confuses with Type 2. I’m the oddball at the table that immediately gets heckled for being gluten-free, vegan or a “health freak.” Some days I wish I could just blend in and not have someone sticking their nose into my health problems. Some days I wish I could enjoy one meal without someone drawing attention to the fact that I’m a diabetic with comments like, “Can you eat that?” or “What’s going to happen if you do?” or when witnessing an injection or bolus, “Oooh, I’m going to pass out.” Sometimes, it’s okay to make jokes about it and laugh it off. Other times, it just gets old.

I’ve heard just about every silly comment you could throw my way. For all my T1D’s out there, living with this “invisible disease,” these are some of my favorites:

The Stupid Things People Say…

  • So, with diabetes are you going to lose your feet? My grandpa’s brother got both his feet amputated due to diabetes.
  • Did you just eat a lot of sugar and get diabetes?
  • It can’t be that bad, you just need to watch what you eat, right?
  • Are you going to go blind?
  • Were you overweight at one point?
  • You shouldn’t be eating that. Aren’t you a diabetic?
  • I thought only overweight, lazy people have diabetes. How did you get it if you’re in such good shape?

Other Conversations…

THEM: I got donuts for everyone else and decided to get you a bagel since it’s not so sugary

ME: Thanks, but no thanks.

THEM: I brought extra cupcakes just for the diabetic…(followed by laughter from the rest of the group).

ME: Is that supposed to be funny?

THEM: If you go into a diabetic coma, I won’t know what to do. If your sugars go too low, I won’t know how to give you an injection.

ME: Please don’t do that.

THEM: Just pump yourself up on insulin – you should feel better, good-to-go

ME: Uh-huh that’s it.

I understand that some of these comments may be asked just out of simple curiosity. Some people do truly care and want to learn more about diabetes and how to offer support. There is a difference. I would advise anyone who knows someone living with Type 1 diabetes — whether it is a family member, friend, co-worker or neighbor — to think before they ask questions or make comments that may come off as insensitive. Here is how I handle jokes or insensitive remarks that get thrown my way:

Get your geek on!

If people say comments about my diabetes that is inaccurate or confused with many of the misconceptions related to T1D, I take the time to throw a bunch of diabetic jargon at them. Half the time they get bored to tears and mentally check out. Others take the time to listen and find my diabetes intriguing. Why not educate them when you get the opportunity. Set the record straight!

Get wise!

Negative comments can hurt from time to time, but I have learned to use these opportunities as ammunition to get stronger as an overall person. Us T1Ds are already strong fighters. We can learn to brush off the stupidity or lack of knowledge. I continue to educate myself on this disease and everything there is to it whether it be biologically, scientific or technological advancements in the T1D world. This even extends to ways I can enhance my overall health. The more you know about your disease, the more of an upper hand you have to “one-up somebody” and demonstrate your intelligence. Turn the negative comments into motivation to get wiser! There is more to this disease than food and exercise, people!

Think before you speak!

Remind yourself that most of the comments come from a place of ignorance and a lack of understanding. Most people aren’t intentionally trying to hurt you with what they say. It doesn’t make the jokes permissible, however. Many people don’t even realize that their jokes and comments could be a sensitive topic to someone. I’m sure cancer patients wouldn’t appreciate every conversation to be centered around chemo therapy or some of the other unfortunate effects that a disease like that can have on one’s life. And I’m sure a woman having fertility issues wouldn’t feel so great about people constantly asking when she was finally going to have kids. You never know what people living with a chronic illness are going through. So that is why I push people to think before they throw out comments to the ones living through it day after day. Come from a place of compassion and desire to understand, not from a place of nosiness or insensitivity.

Turn the negative into a positive!

If someone throws out a comment about me not being able to do something or being physically limited, I reassure them that I indeed can. “Are you sure you can eat that? Won’t you go into a diabetic coma?” or “You should try one of the less intense hikes since you’re diabetic.” I take moments like these to motivate and challenge myself. I stick to a strict diet and can control the majority of my numbers by what I eat. I feel empowered knowing that I can eat a cookie from time to time and know how to manage it well, but I choose to eliminate stuff like that for the most part to show others how I can live just like them without a functioning pancreas. If someone thinks I can’t push myself physically, I use that as motivation to set the bar even higher. I’ll go out and hike the highest mountain (maybe even run it). My philosophy to diabetes is that I can control 90% of it by the way I live my life. The other 10% is left to chance. My knowledge and experiences have prepared me to deal with these surprises.

When people doubt my abilities, I explain to them that I’m determined to outlive most people and live a better quality life. Having T1D hasn’t hindered this and it has given me a wealth of knowledge about my body and an opportunity to truly see how all the different external forces impact my health. I’ve learned that the only difference between me and a non-diabetic is that I have to artificially keep myself alive. To me, that is so empowering. All you T1D’s underestimate your strength! Reaching goals and achieving them is so much more rewarding. People will be inspired and have a heightened level of respect for you.

You aren’t like everyone else.

You aren’t like everyone else. You are different. You outshine others amidst all the hurdles that come with managing and living well with a chronic illness. I used to be ashamed and embarrassed at times when people found out I was a T1D, because of all the misconceptions that float out there about diabetes. Most people are shocked when they find out that I am a diabetic. I am committed to maximizing my quality of life so that I can be a positive representation of the T1D community. Be so good that others are confused. This will hopefully open up the opportunity for them to get educated on all the truths about T1D. Let’s turn the stereotypes and misconceptions into an opportunity to convert the naïve people on this world into supporters of the T1D community. Don’t hide your pumps, shots, and other endless diabetic paraphernalia.

Be yourself, be proud and realize you aren’t like everyone else. You hold a special strength that most people will never have the opportunity to hold. Use it to inspire and help others.

Choose wisely

Surround yourself with people that support you, love you and encourage you. You won’t always be able to avoid the jerks, but you can choose who you spend your time with. I know who my true friends are and the people who have my best interest. I love people who make me laugh and people who I can go through life with. These are the people that make me sometimes forget about my diabetes and the yucky parts that come with it. Having a strong support system is everything!

For loved ones of a T1D, thank you for understanding our world and please continue your support. For those with a curious mind, please educate yourself on Type 1 diabetes and all the complexities associated with living with a chronic illness. And for my T1D friends, keep fighting, stay strong and keep shining.

 


More from Marci:

“Fitness Now with T1D”

“My New T1D Outlook”

“Switching to a Pump and CGM — A T1D’s Feedback”

 



Marci Thiessen

Marci is a 24-year-old girl from California who is engaged to her best friend. When she's not planning her dreamy Malibu wedding or working the 8-5, you can find her doing anything active — yoga, pilates, paddle boarding and artsy things. She has her Master’s degree in Global Business from Pepperdine University and enjoys new adventures and traveling the world. Her best friends are also her family and her Christian faith is what gives her purpose. She's a T1D that is passionate about shattering the stigma and stereotypes associated with T1D and living with a lifelong disease. Some fun facts about her: she's a major green juice drinker, she loves electronic dance music and she daydreams about living in a Hamptons-meets-Malibu-style cottage with her fiancé, Matt.