After living with type 1 diabetes for two decades, I’ve been on the receiving end of hundreds of innocent questions and comments in which someone assumes I have type 2 diabetes. When I was a child, my parents were asked if my diagnosis was a result of too much sugar in my diet. Kids at school wondered why a thin person like me had diabetes. Trusted adults advised me to make sure people understood I didn’t give myself diabetes. This all set me up to view those with type 2 diabetes as people who were not taking care of themselves. I don’t think that way anymore, not at all.
People with type 2 diabetes continue to be seen as culprits who brought diabetes onto themselves instead as of people struggling with a difficult illness. Type 2 diabetes shaming has become part of our culture. I used to be part of that. In my early 20’s, when someone said, “Oh you have the type of diabetes you didn’t give yourself” I would proudly nod in agreement while a little voice in my head said, “You know how hard it is to avoid certain foods, to be disciplined, check blood sugars, stay active, and eat well. You are being a hypocrite.” It was just so much easier to avoid being grouped with “those people”. If someone asked if I had type 2 diabetes I would quickly blurt out, “Oh no, I got this as a child.” I didn’t want to suffer more at the hands of diabetes than I already did.
The way I see it now, I abandoned my fellow type 2’s because the truth is I struggle in ways that I know would give me a hell of a time if I had type 2 diabetes. If I had type 2 diabetes, my food, exercise, depression, and my general lack of discipline would likely still be a part of me and so my challenges with diabetes would continue. Perhaps I’d be even worse off, weighed down under society’s view of me. On certain occasions, I feel I have benefitted from being seen as the noble victim of a tragic illness I acquired as an innocent child. Type 2’s never experience anything but contempt.
It took me a long time to speak out about this matter. Two years ago a doctor asked about my A1c as she always did. She was impressed with my latest results so I added that I still often get blood sugar fluctuations. She said, “I know, it’s hard for you, but you make the effort to take care of yourself unlike those with type 2 who don’t.” I stared at her blankly until she stopped writing in my chart and looked up at me. My adrenaline was pumping as I forced myself to say, “Wait, that’s not accurate. People with type 2 diabetes are just like you and me and everyone else. We all struggle in varying degrees. I do take care of myself, but not all the time. The same is likely true of anyone with type 2 diabetes.”
I didn’t stand up for the truth sooner because of fear and rejection, but also because I didn’t see the big picture. Now, I have realized that when we put down others in order to lift ourselves up, we actually weigh ourselves down in the process. Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes are incredibly complex, challenging, expensive, and damaging to millions of people. All people with diabetes share the pain, the complications, the frustrations, and the stereotypes. I’m no longer offended because when people ask if I have the bad diabetes or the lifestyle one because it provides me with an opportunity to educate. Each of us is deserving of unconditional support and respect when it comes to our diabetes. Blame, shame, and guilt are not effective in any way. Let’s all do without them and instead shoot for truth: no matter what kind of illness you have, it’s a struggle, and everyone deserves to be treated with dignity.
*Art by Ana Morales