Most conditions or illnesses when you tell people that you have them, they automatically express sympathy or show empathy. Diabetes, well that can be a different story.
Sometimes when I have mentioned that one of my sons has Type 1 Diabetes people react with an ‘oh I’m so sorry’ or a ‘that must be so hard’. Often I’m met with confused looks, as the person doesn’t know much about Type 1 Diabetes and presumes my son should be either old to have it or obese.
Occasionally though I get accusing looks. I can see that they are thinking ‘What an awful Mother if her son has THAT’.
I won’t lie, this hurts a little bit. More so in the beginning. There is a very unfair stigma attached to Diabetes of any type. So many people believe that Diabetes is always a condition caused by the person who has it … or by their parents … via poor diet and lifestyle.
In their minds Diabetes is something that people almost deserve. Something that they could and should have avoided.
So for my own son to have Type 1 Diabetes, I must therefore have fed him rubbish and never encouraged him to play outside. It must be my fault.
I’ve mentioned on here before, that I have even had this negative reaction from an ex in-law. This person came to the hospital just after my son had almost died at diagnosis. They asked me a question … a question that it took me a long time to forgive. They said to me …
‘Did you cause this? Did you do this to him by feeding him rubbish?’
At the time, knowing so little about Type 1 Diabetes myself, this hit me really hard. I was already upset. Inside my head, I was his Mummy and I was supposed to look after him and protect him. I felt like it was my fault at that time, so hearing it from someone else broke me a little bit. That time was the worst in my life.
As time went on with greater knowledge and understanding, I know it is not my fault. I know that Type 1 Diabetes is not something that you can prevent and nor is it something caused by lifestyle. He was a normal healthy five-year old boy and at diagnosis he was tiny. He was and still is the most active person – adult or child – that I know. He never stops moving, that’s just him.
I forgave the person in the end, as insensitive as they were, their misconceptions came from somewhere. A little bit of me never forgave them for voicing them, but I couldn’t blame them for having them.
Unless you live with Diabetes, you have no idea what it is like. You can’t expect everyone to understand every health condition and the misconceptions that so many have are from the media.
I wrote an open letter to the BBC last year over their ‘jokes’ about Diabetes. You see, I don’t expect the average person to understand any Type of Diabetes unless they have to, but the media I do expect to do their research and be accurate. I also expect them not to mock what is a very serious health condition.
A lot of the stigma of Diabetes comes from the media always talking about it in reference to obesity and how to prevent it. This said without ever mentioning the type of Diabetes or indeed that even the worst stigmatised type of Diabetes Type 2, isn’t always caused by lifestyle.
I actually have a lot of sympathy for those with Type 2 Diabetes. They often are stigmatised even by those with Type 1 Diabetes or those related to someone with Type 1. The anger at being ‘lumped in’ with Type 2 Diabetes – some of whom have ’caused’ their condition through an unhealthy lifestyle makes many Type 1 parents see red.
However, so many Type 2 Diabetes cases were caused by medication, mobility issues due to other conditions, other conditions full stop, genetics, even Gestational Diabetes and so many other causes. It isn’t always their fault.
Also to speak of ‘fault’ no one ever deserves any form of Diabetes. No one ever sets out to try to give it to themselves. Just like there are addicts to various drugs and alcohol, food addiction in a thing, so even those whose Type 2 could be said to have been caused by over eating … why can people not have more sympathy for that?
Search for Diabetes on Instagram and other forms of social media and do you know what you get? Photos of sugary and fatty food, or worse photos of overweight people, which others have taken. Sometimes taken and made a cruel meme out of. I think too often people forget that behind some of these ‘funny’ memes are real people whose photos have been stolen or taken purely to mock them. Cruel is the best description for someone who would do that to another human being.
Sadly to many Diabetes is something to joke about, something to laugh at. Believe me, if you lived with any form of Diabetes the jokes become a lot less funny.
At first after diagnosis and even up until a few years ago I felt a rage at these people. A rage that they could be so cruel as to laugh at a condition that has been life threatening for my son and so many others.
These days I see it for what it is, pure and utter ignorance and I try to ‘educate’ those that I know, my readers and more about the truth of Diabetes. Would I have thought anything of a Diabetes joke eight years ago before my son had been diagnosed? No, in all honesty, without knowing the seriousness of it I may even have laughed if the joke was ‘funny’.
I feel no shame in that, as my mirth would not have been malicious and I just didn’t know anything about Diabetes. This is why I don’t feel anger at people who share rubbish Diabetes memes on Facebook. If it’s someone I know, who knows what we have been through in the last 7 and a half years with my son though, I am very much less understanding.
Personally I think the media really has their part to play in reducing the stigmatisation of those with Diabetes. Considering their idea of ‘news’ some days though, I won’t be holding my breath.
I really don’t want my son to grow up feeling that Diabetes is something to be ashamed of, something he will be judged about and something people may be cruel to him about. If anything he should be proud of all that he copes with every single day whilst still smiling.
For now, all I want anyone who reads this to know is this…