Who among us hasn’t been the brunt of sugar-related jokes? I was at a dinner for work, for instance, and started talking about how excited I was for dessert. The waiter must have overheard me because he brought out the hefty platter of tiramisu and set it before me. My work friends, who really are sensitive and considerate friends, erupted into variations of, “Sure, give the dessert to the diabetic!” I struggled with my initial reaction–mostly a heaping pile of, “C’mon, guys, be a little more creative.”–but decided to take a breath and smile along with the crowd. They don’t mean it like that. This is a work party; everyone is nervous. Being the means to an end for someone, though, no matter the intention, never feels good. It causes me to judge that person as narrow-minded and ignorant and, mostly, unimaginative.
Besides, I really was excited for dessert.
In settings such as these, I like to reflect on all the things I do that do not fit the stereotype of someone who has diabetes, then I try to bring those up in conversation immediately following the, “Get it? Because she has diabetes!!” moments. (Let me add here that I’m not necessarily mad or even defensive in all these instances, but I do still feel a twinge of How dare you mock my genetically inherited medical condition that is more difficult to manage than you will ever understand? Okay, so maybe I am a little defensive. Regardless of the emotion, though, I feel a strong sense of duty to disprove whatever comment was made in order to instill a more positively framed association with diabetes.)
So I turned the conversation, ever so naturally, to the Lake Union 10K I ran last weekend as a fundraiser for an organization called Girls On The Run. I talked about what a beautiful day it was and how my friend and I got up around 5:30 A.M. in order to get to the lake on time. Then I described how I was really worried to run “away” from the safety of my meter and low supplies that were safely locked in my car. I rambled on about how sweaty my plastic bag of dried fruit and glucose tablets gets when it’s wedged between my waistband and my skin. I casually mentioned that the run around the lake was a full 6.2 miles and that there were only two aid stations along the way if something unexpected happened. And just when I had them remembering, “Oh, right; this is a serious condition that demands unending mental sharpness,” I moved onto majestic depictions of our glorious finish and how I almost puked from sprinting to the end. “Wait. So, it was hard, and even dangerous, but she completed the race and feels good about it… so this must mean she is a strong person! She must be as strong as I am! Maybe even stronger! Maybe having diabetes doesn’t keep her from doing difficult tasks, but she has to spend a lot of time and energy preparing for every step of the way!” (Just slowing it down for those of you who needed a how-to on the whole positive association thing.)
It’s not like I go home and replay these conversations with a voodoo doll in hand or anything, but I’d be lying if I said I could easily let go of these kind of comments and not let them get to me. I attribute this to the fact that I have only lived with these conversations for 18 months, but also to my lifelong passion for encouraging (ahem, insisting upon) language that shows respect for the people it describes. I’m not obsessed with being Politically Correct–a term which, I believe, is a cop-out anyway–and I have a whole other set of double-standardized rules for vocabulary when speaking with fellow Type Ones, but I know that language is primarily how we communicate in this society. If language is what guides us, I prefer that it at least somewhat accurately portray the people it is guiding. Bottom line: don’t put me in no box, man.
Karmel recently brought to my attention a certain athlete who has Type I and is a climber. Reading about his plan for 2012 made my heart swell with pride and gave me another role model for my how-do-I-do-this phases. It’s not about setting out with anger to laugh in the world’s face (at least, not for me), but it is about educating those around us who may not understand diabetes at all. It’s about understanding each other, regardless of health condition or lack thereof, with the fundamental hope that people liking each other is probably better than people being mean to each other.
Call it karma, call it the Golden Rule, call it good manners: let’s have more of it. This goes for me, too.