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.
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.