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

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29 Comments on "10 Things Not to Say to a Person with Diabetes"

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Regina

Cant tell you how many times someone tried to check me on what I eat or called me out at a party for having dessert or toldme carrying a child is unhealthy. Trust me I know my body better than anyone plus im a grown woman. Also, a minimal amount of sugar is good for diabetics just like it is for people without diabetes. People should just shut up and let me have my cookie or a child.

Melanie

I really need help, my dad has diabetes and he is always asking for my sugary food and I need a polite and respectful way to say no without him getting mad at me. Any suggestions?

FatCatAnna

LOL – how could I have missed out on reading this Jacquie – friggin’ hilarious – and so many have been said to me – or discussed with other diabetic mates within the #DOC !!!

Jimi

#1 has happened to me so many times…
cucumber water was my 2nd favorite, next had something to do with Glen Beck’s diet. But the ultimate is the old, “just start dieting and exercising and you won’t need insulin anymore” because that works so well with type 1.

JD Gold

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

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

Regina

She is advocating not being an uneducated, insensitive jerk. But I guess that is hard work for some people.

TRK
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… Read more »
Craig

Love this. Thank you!

~C 

April

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.

violet squires

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

Jared
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… Read more »
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