#DBlogWeek Day 3 – Language and Diabetes

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I have decided to include the full prompt for today’s blog here in order to provide some background for people who may be unfamiliar with this diabetes debate:

“There is an old saying that states “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”. I’m willing to bet we’ve all disagreed with this at some point, and especially when it comes to diabetes. Many advocate for the importance of using non-stigmatizing, inclusive and non-judgmental language when speaking about or to people with diabetes. For some, they don’t care, others care passionately. Where do you stand when it comes to “person with diabetes” versus “diabetic”, or “checking” blood sugar versus “testing”, or any of the tons of other examples? Let’s explore the power of words, but please remember to keep things respectful.”

Before I became an active member of the DOC (Diabetes Online Community), I paid no attention to the words I use when describing my diabetes. For example, I always referred to myself as a “diabetic” rather than “person with diabetes”. There was no reasoning for it other than it was easy to say “diabetic” when explaining it to others. I used “checking” and “testing” my blood sugar interchangeably because they were synonymous to me. Even phrases like “my blood sugar is low/high” versus “my blood sugar is hypo/hyper” don’t faze me—I swap them out depending on the context of the conversation.

I think that when I was diagnosed (nearly 20 years ago), diabetes descriptors were much less open to interpretation. In other words, they weren’t really perceived as labeling someone by the condition, they were merely parts of speech that identified something that affects me and my daily activities. That being said, I grew up saying these words without giving it a second thought.

However, as I’ve become more immersed in the DOC, I’ve come to understand that these words can bother some people. As a result, I’ve done my best to be sensitive to this issue and try to use “person with diabetes” or “PWD” as much as possible.

There is one word, though, that I choose to exclude from my personal diabetes dictionary, and that word is “can’t”. In my opinion, it’s not appropriate to tell me that I “can’t” eat a particular food or “can’t” participate in a certain activity. It perpetuates a stigma that I loathe about diabetes, which is that diabetes prevents me from taking part in mundane aspects of life.

Overall, I’m a person who loves and respects the power of language. I’m accepting of the fact that certain words and phrases bother some people more than others and more than willing to accommodate that in my speech and writing.

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Comments (7)

  1. Kelley at

    Yes, can’t is a good word to get rid of in the diabetes vernacular 🙂

  2. I have to say that words are very powerful and stating that you “have diabetes” rather than “I am diabetic” has the underlying message that YOU are in control and HAVE it and not the disease having you.

  3. kerri at

    Oh! I love that, Molly. and I so agree with you. CAN, without the t on the end!

  4. I recognise that some people are sensitive to such things and that’s fine. I am not. I really couldn’t care less what words are used to describe this condition I have. My bottom line is: if I’m in the middle of a serious low, and all somebody remembers about me is “she’s a diabetic”. Hallelujah. That magic phrase just might save my life. Having lived this way for 53 years, I wouldn’t dream of taking offense at being called diabetic. I’d actually have a greater issue withing being called a PWD. In my mind I do not have a disability. I can do anything that anybody else can do, if I so choose. I actually enjoy educating people about what life is really like with T1. I’d actually really like a CGM that looks less like an Ipod. How boring is an Ipod look? Let’s have something cool that will encourage people to ask questions and spur more education.

  5. Jeff N. at

    Beautiful. Like Jennifer, I also prefer to say “I have diabetes” (an attribute) rather than “I am diabetic” (an identity). And like Molly, I went years before it made a difference to me. I remember reading about someone who had epilepsy, and how limited that person felt if defined as “an epileptic,” with all the freight that carried.

  6. Thank you all for the comments! Much appreciated 🙂

  7. Kim at

    Being called a diabetic has always been my pet peeve. I have diabetes I am not a disease and even the word diabetic is not the name of the disease the disease is called diabetes. When people call me a diabetic I tell them that no I am not a diabetic but that I have diabetes. I have a disease but I am not one.

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