10 Things Not to Say to a Person with Diabetes

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Every person with diabetes has one: a story of a diabetes-related comment they received that completely left them reeling. There are memes and videos dedicated to these comments. The wise folks at Behavioral Diabetes Institute even made pocket-sized etiquette cards you can hand out to try to save people from their own big mouths. And you’d think it would all be enough to maybe keep people from making hurtful, embarrassing, and woefully misinformed comments to people with diabetes – but from my own life experience, it’s not.

 

So here it is: 10 Things Not to Ask of or Say To, About, or Around a Person with Diabetes.

 

10. “Gross.”

 

Listen, I know. No one hates the invasive nature of diabetes more than people with diabetes themselves. The poking, the bleeding, the alcohol-swabbing, the insertion of metal objects into subcutaneous tissue. But we do it to survive, and when you call us out for disturbing your delicate sensibilities when we’re just trying to juice up for a slice at the local pizzeria, it’s not helping anyone. Maybe just look away, or go get another beer. Cheers!

 

9. “Are you well controlled?”

 

I used to think it was just weird primary care physicians who asked this question, but a fellow person with diabetes actually posed this query to me at a barbeque a few weeks ago. First of all, “well controlled” is different for everyone. Second of all, none of your beeswax. And third of all, if I say “no,” what kind of question are you going to ask me next? Let’s talk about the weather, shall we?

 

8. “Aren’t you worried about having kids?”

 

Yes! The price of higher education is insane! Bullying in schools! Sleepless nights and breastfeeding drama! Climate change and – oh, you’re talking about diabetes? Well, yeah. Probably every person with diabetes, female and otherwise, has worried about the effect of the disease on his or her future offspring. But it’s another subject that’s none of your business, and you expressing your concern only causes more stress, more worry, and more frequent urges to kick things. The truth is, people with diabetes conceive, carry and deliver healthy little peanuts all the time, and have been since the invention of insulin. The only person who’s allowed to ask me this question is my obstetrician. On a good day.

 

7. “Can you eat that?”

 

As long as I still have functioning teeth, yes. Here, watch me chew.

If and when you see a person with diabetes eating a cupcake or drinking a giant cup of juice or a gin and tonic, please consider the following possibilities: 

  • That person’s blood sugar is low, and she needs to eat to remain alive, conscious and healthy. Diabetes doesn’t mean never eating sugar; it means balancing blood sugar levels with food, insulin, other medications, and exercise – and sometimes that necessitates a handful of jelly beans.
  • It’s a special occasion, and the person with diabetes has waited – and planned – all week to eat that ice cream cone. Don’t ruin it for him.
  • It’s not a special occasion, and that person just wanted an ice cream cone. Trust that she knows – and tries – enough to keep herself healthy, even if there’s ice cream or tequila involved.

 

6. “At least it’s manageable/not cancer.”

 

Excellent point! Diabetes is manageable and people with diabetes can live long, wonderful lives. It’s also a full-time job, so “manageable” can be a double-pointed syringe. There’s a lot of responsibility, expense, time, discomfort, guilt and anxiety involved in “manageable.” And yes, any terminal disease would be terrible, but I believe it’s possible to hate all hateful diseases equally. As the great Brene Brown once said, “’At least’ is never a good start to an empathic response.” That goes for all areas of all life everywhere.

 

5. “My aunt had diabetes. She went blind, lost her feet, her kidneys failed, and then she died . . .”

 

To take a cue from #6, would you tell a similar story to a person with cancer? Then why are you telling this story to me? (I’m sorry for your loss.)

 

4. “. . . But she didn’t take care of herself.”

 

Here’s another one that hearkens back to #6. Successful management of diabetes is quite possible, but it can also be kind of a crapshoot, and depends on genetics, accessibility to quality doctors, affordable medications and monitoring devices, access to healthy food and solid nutrition education, patience, luck, supportive friends and family members, and astrological signs. Please don’t assume that your aunt (or whoever) wasn’t trying her darnedest, or that I’m faring any better. Let’s talk about the weather, shall we?

 

3. “Hahahahahaaa! Look at all the brownies I just ate! I totally have diabetes right now!”

 

Thank goodness that’s not how it actually works. All varieties of diabetes are complex conditions influenced by a whole bunch of environmental and genetic factors, so those brownies probably won’t do you in. But when you talk like that, you’re reinforcing the idea that people with diabetes bring the disease on themselves, and that maybe they deserve it, after all. And no one really deserves to be sick, do they? Please just be quiet and continue eating your brownies. They look delicious.

 

2. “Nice pager.”/ “Is that a nicotine patch?”/”What happened to your arm?”

 

I can’t tell you how grateful I am for my insulin pump – clipped to my pants pocket – and my continuous glucose monitor, which I wear on my arm. As much as I love them, though, I make a conscious effort to minimize both every time I get dressed, because I don’t want to look like a post-apocalyptic robot – or worse – like someone who wears a beeper. If you have a question about the gray Lego taped to my upper arm, please just ask me what it is. Nicely.

 

1. Anything at all about any unproven supplement or strange diet trick that you read on the Internet will cure diabetes.

         

There’s no surer way to rouse ire in a person with diabetes than to suggest that they’ve been missing out on years of diabetes-free living just because they haven’t tried the okra cure. We all wait eagerly for new advances in care and a glimpse of some kind of real cure, and we work so hard to keep ourselves healthy in the meantime. People and companies who hawk “cures” like cinnamon, sketchy vitamins or – I don’t know – ladybug teeth are only out to defraud a group of people who just want to be healthy. You don’t want to be one of them, do you? Let’s talk about the weather.

For 10 more things not to say to a person with diabetes see here

 
Jacquie Paul WojcikJacquie Wojcik has lived with Type 1 diabetes since 1990. She works as an advertising copywriter in Jacksonville, Florida, where she lives with her husband, toddler, and assorted pets. Jacquie writes the blog Typical Type 1.  You can follow her on Twitter @badpancreas.

 

 

 

 

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Comments (17)

  1. Karen at

    LOVE this! Thanks for putting into words what I’ve thought hundreds of times.

  2. AW at

    You had me at your quotation of Brené Brown. What an amazing person. And what a great article!

  3. sc_callahan@hotmail.com at

    Loved this article. I just had someone ask me about my “pager” yesterday and some guy said “oh get a real disease!”

  4. Axiotis at

    You forgot:
     
    “You think I can lose weight if I use your insulin?”
     
    Nice Top 10, it will make Letterman for sure!

  5. Myra at

    Thank you! 

    I’ve been T1 since 1981. I’ve never read a better or clearer statement.

    I’ve seen some other versions of etiquette for non T1, and inevitably, it suggests “Don’t tell me what to eat. Offer to make healthy choices with me..”  One of those etiquette cards basically said that, and it gave full codependent  powers to any person who received it.

    @Axiotis, I knew a guy who was big into weight lifting, and he caught up with me and started asking me about insulin, how he wanted to take it to “bulk up.” I forget what I said, but seriously… yeah, grand mal seizures will really help improve things… ugh.

    Last thing: THANK YOU for mentioning the whole “My <D relative> died, but she didn’t take care of herself.”

    Now back to trying to find a way to get back on the pump after it was repoed.  

  6. Lance at

    Wait!  Ladybug teeth are a cure??  We’ll have to give that I try. :)

  7. Elena at

    I liked 7th  – “here, watch me chewing” – I almost laughed out loud (in a bus full of people) on this one :)) I need to try it out sometime! :)
     
     

  8. Fraser Gray at

    Thank you so much for producing this document. I was diagnosed Type 1 when I was 38 and many people just don’t understand how that can be. Many people still think Diabetes is a childhood disease or if you are diagnosed as an adult you caught it at Mac Donald’s, Wendy,s, A&W or you were the official taster at the Coke factory. It is nice to see that I can now hang this in my bathroom or just post it on FB so my friends might get the hint. I don’t get upset when someone says something as it gives me an opportunity to explain why and what I’m doing. The people I do get upset with are those who tell me I ate too much sugar as a child but if I eat 5 pounds of fried Okra and rinse with a Blueberry Smoothie I’ll be cured. Thanks again for the post.

  9. Jessica at

    YES!!!!! *loud clapping* Thank you. Sharing this with everyone now!

  10. Dee Dee at

    Some of my favorites.

    ” She has a real bad case of diabetes.” 
    “So you got that from eating too many sweets, right?”
     

  11. Thank you, thank you, thank you!! Especially #1!!!  y son was diagnosed Type 1 three years ago and we have been through most of these!! And telling me, “oh your whole family will be more healthy now that  you all have to change your diet” Uh, no we still eat the same things  we always did, the only difference is we learned to read nutrition labels,! 

  12. Laura Tomer at

    My favorite is still, I dont know how you do all that, I could never do that. Ha then I hope you never get diabetes cause you will die ugh. Loved this list though.

  13. TN at

    Thanks for the article. But please realize if we are ignorant of diabetes we are just that ignorant. We can’t know it all. I have adopted children some with obvious special needs, some without. People say do you ever talk to their real mom? Do they know they are adopted. Well yes especially the ones of different races. But really.. they are just ignorant. I have kids that are developmentally delayed. I am not offended by the R word. It all is what it is… 

  14. SL at

    Thank you so much for this.

    You are so RIGHT — we know what we SHOULD eat and we CAN have that piece of cake if we planned for it. 

    I do know people mean well but I think you should right some quick comebacks for us when they start that on us.  AGAIN.

    Love it — Diabetic since 1994.

    Delivered two healthy babies.

    Now I just need to loose weight — A lot of it.             

  15. Katie at

    LOVE IT!!!  Thanks!  I’ve saved the article to hand out to those who do not have diabetes, but think they know all about it and how to ‘cure’ it!  Especially when I try to explain that I’m a person with Type 1 diabetes diagnosed in adulthood, and the other person tells me I can’t be Type 1 (actually LADA in my case, but who besides persons with diabetes knows about LADA?) because Type 1 is a “juvenile disorder” (their words, not mine).  Thanks again for a great blog!

    Katie

  16. I have come across many people that have made the most inappropriate comments to a diabetic who has either T1D or Type II and it can be very hurtful. Thank you for sharing this information because many other people in our society need to realize that this was not a disease they chose to have…As my friends 14 year-old daughter says, “I did not choose Diabetes, it chose me and I will not let it defeat me.”  I will forward your website so others may also be educated.
    Karen

  17. Spot on! My personal favourite is when you see the dental hygienist or get a massage and they ask “…and have you taken your insulin today?”

  18. Walter V Feitshans at

    Touche!  The food gestapo are still alive & well.

  19. Jared at

    I have a new #1 for you.  I can’t stand it when people say “Oh he’s a ‘diabetic’…” Most of the time this is one person to another person who has no idea what diabetes actually is and then they get this terrified look on their face like I am carrying the plague and if they get to close they might catch it and be stricken to a horrible existence.  No I’m actually a person…..that happens to have type 1 diabetes.  Do you label someone with cancer a “canceric”?  I am a person, not a disease, a no I am not contagious.  The phrase “diabetic” should never be uttered again and stricken from all forms of language. I work in the medical profession and see newly diagnosed kids and their parents frequently.  I always stress to them the above points. 

  20. violet squires at

    I have had all the comments and told about the person or people that eat any thing and drink alchol all the time andthey are ok its usually people who know nothing about diabetes

  21. April at

    I am too much of a smart mouth person.  I have been T1 for almost 35 years now and every so often when I eat a sweet I would get the comment of “Are you suppose to eat that?”  My reply was no, I’m trying to commit suicide!  They would look uncomfortable and move on.  Most people have no clue until it happens to them.

  22. Craig at

    Love this. Thank you!

    ~C 

  23. TRK at

    Good stuff.  I don’t mind the word “diabetic”; I have had type 1 since 1976 (I was 6 then), and I have been around since before everyone got their feelings hurt by politically incorrect words.  I don’t mind being different and that I stay away from carbs.  I am above all else THANKFUL.  I am thankful for insulin.  I am thankful for very good health.  I am thankful for good doctors (although I see mine only when I need a prescription renewed).  I am thankful for my wife of 22 years and my two healthy children.  I am thankful for my parents who taught me to “man up” and accept reality and responsibility and to work to pay for my medical supplies–self employed w/o insurance for 15 years was not easy, but God supplies all our needs.  I am most thankful to Jesus Christ for paying my sin-debt on the cross of Calvary and for His perfect atonement to purchase my pardon.  May I glorify Him in this life with this imperfect body; someday I will live forever in heaven without a need for insulin!  How about you?

  24. JD Gold at

    Or… we can all walk around on eggshells afraid of possibly offending someone.

    Oh wait!  Thats what you’re advocating.  Sorry.. carry on. 

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