Breaking down some misconceptions about type 1 diabetes


Let’s cut to the chase, shall we? I’m 21-years-old and I have type 1 diabetes.

Many people are vastly unaware of what diabetes really is, apart from some vague information they may have picked up from the internet or media.

I can’t fault this, as I could have been in the same boat had I not been diagnosed with diabetes when I was thirteen.

One of the most jarring things about living with a disease, though, has been seeing just how many misconceptions and stigmas surround it.

I was barely a teenager when I had to adapt to a new lifestyle immediately.

The less-than-tactful attitudes of countless people I meet have merely been a factor associated with it.

I’ll give you a simple Bill Nye the Science Guy breakdown. My pancreas does not produce any insulin.

Type 1 diabetes is not preventable and the cause behind it is unknown. Flat out, it is not caused by eating too much sugar and there are no pharmaceutical or homeopathic remedies that will cure it.

Diabetics, like anyone living with a disease, are human beings. We are all unique individuals who just want to live our lives as happy and healthy as possible.

Roughly seven years of countless doctors’ visits, numerous hospital stays, insulin pumps, needles, high blood sugars, low blood sugars and a lot of learning, has shown me that one of the key ways of dealing with it is through humour.

Generally, most people don’t mean any harm in what they say and I’ve grown to treat it like the simple ignorance it really is.

I’ve become so used to people staring, pointing and whispering when I have to check my blood sugar or give my insulin in public, that I either ignore it, or treat it like a live performance.

Apparently, many people assume I’m taking illegal drugs, so why not play it up like I’m somehow shooting up heroin in the middle of the mall?

I wear a Medic Alert bracelet that people readily assume is for an allergy.

When told that it’s actually for my diabetes, I’ve heard a plethora of responses.

“Wow. Well you don’t look diabetic.”

Fuck. I’ve been doing it wrong this whole time. I’m not a real diabetic and they’re going to kick me out of the type 1 diabetes association because I don’t look the part. I’m sorry Mom, I know you were counting on me.

“But you’re not fat.”

Hold the damn phone and let’s just freeze right there. What in the ever loving Hell does that have to do with anything? If you’re referring to the crappy stigmas about type 2 diabetes, which is a totally different disease, that’s still a really shitty thing to say.

“So you have to poke yourself with needles? I could never do that.”

Well bucko, that’s great, but unfortunately I have two options: I either do what my doctor tells me to do and give myself insulin every day or I die. Not much choice.

“Wow. So does that mean you can never eat sugar?”

Yes, unfortunately. I only drink water and cry every time I walk by a child eating a candy bar.

“My aunt had diabetes. She had to get her legs amputated, went blind and then died.”

You know, I was feeling okay before this uplifting tale. Now, I have the sudden urge to crawl into a dark hole. Funny how these things work.

“Isn’t it pronounced diabeetus?”

I think you might be right. Medical professionals have been saying it wrong this whole time.

My experiences related to this disease have evolved while attending university and presented problems I never thought I would have.

Getting drunk is all fun and games until I’m so smashed that I can’t tell what my blood sugar is and I don’t know what to do about how I’m feeling.

Casual drinking is very much my thing, but there’s such an aggressively negative stigma attached to a student that doesn’t binge drink and party all the time in university. I have to do what’s best for me, with my safety and health being the number one priority. So no, I don’t have a stick up my ass, I promise.

Diabetes isn’t simple, it’s hard, frustrating and absolutely exhausting sometimes. So the last thing that anyone wants is to feel like they’re not “normal.”

Treat anyone, no matter what condition they may have, with tact, respect and kindness. Question things you may not understand, but rule of thumb: don’t be a dick about it.

One response to “Breaking down some misconceptions about type 1 diabetes”

  1. Lori Anderson Avatar
    Lori Anderson

    Very well said! My name is Lori Anderson and I too have type ! diabetes since I was 8 years old. I use to work with your mom at St Mary’s hospital. I survived the teen years, losing my mom to cancer when I was 15 years, diabetes coma, college, became a registered nurse and am still working as a nurse today. I have 3 beautiful children who are now adults and do not have diabetes. I have an insulin pump and at times struggle not to get burnt out taking care of myself ! 45 years of diabetes and still going strong so be encouraged!! :)

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