Based on the nature of our bodies and the fact that many diabetics are diagnosed after exhibiting specific symptoms, I think it’s safe to say that diabetes is not just a label or category, but a disease with a distinct physical reality.
But labels are important these days; think of how much time the courts spend defining “disability,” “enemy combatant,” and “marriage.” So it seems appropriate to give some real consideration to what we’re calling this condition.
Are you a diabetic? Or do you have diabetes? Do you specify the type? Do you capitalize the “D”? Does it bother you if someone else does differently?
Personally, I don’t usually capitalize, unless I’m specifically announcing, title-like, that “I have Diabetes.” I find I have no particular preference between “I am a diabetic,” and “I have diabetes”– but the fact that either works seems strange to me. After all, it’s not every disease that you can either be or have: you can have cancer, but you wouldn’t say you are cancerous, and you might have hepatitis, but you wouldn’t be hepatastic.
Indeed, it seems to be a particular subset of diseases that can be either possessed nouns or adjectives:
- I have asthma/I am asthmatic,
- I have autism/I am autistic,
- I have epilepsy/I am epileptic,
- I have anorexia/I am anorexic,
- and so on.
Oh. That’s right. I have a non-terminal, chronic illness. It’s part of who I am now, not just a passing possession. (Similarly, comparing Google results implies that in Spanish, the more permanent copular verb “ser” is used to say one is diabetic, rather than the more transient “estar”. Any Spanish speakers out there to confirm?)
But that raises a question- if you have gestational diabetes, would you be considered a diabetic? What about Type II diabetes that you intend on beating back with diet and exercise?
And speaking of Types- when you identify as a diabetic, do you specify the Type? This question might prove controversial, especially as increasing obesity rates and increasing focus on healthcare costs turn the nation’s focus on Type II diabetes. I admit that I will- not initially, but perhaps after a raised eyebrow or confused glance- specify that I am a Type I diabetic, since I was nine, because of some still unclear combination of genetics and timing. (In other words, no, it’s not because I ate too much sugar as a kid.)
For the Type II diabetics out there, bearing the brunt of the nation’s attention, how do you identify yourself as a diabetic? And, if you’ll excuse my borrowing terminology from another can of worms, is Type II diabetes something you are “born with,” or is it a “lifestyle choice”?
And then it’s the end of the day and I realize, lost between all these questions of label and term, I’ve neglected to monitor my blood sugar. And yes, the simple fact of the matter is, my blood by any other name gets just as sweet.