Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Week 3: LEARN
Tuesday, November 16

FAQ – What question do you get asked the most when you tell someone you have diabetes? Do you use any of these opportunities to help teach about diabetes, or do they get annoying? Or both?

That's a good question...I would probably have to say that the most common question I get asked is some variation of "What can/can't you eat?" or, "So that means you can't have dessert anymore, right?"  Not surprisingly, what comes to mind when people hear "Diabetes" is "sugar"...more specifically, that people with diabetes can't have anything with sugar in it.  Of course, this is just a myth, albeit a very popular one. 

(FYI, people with diabetes can have food with sugar in it, but the main concern is counting the carbs you take in, no matter what form they take.  A Snickers bar?  Sure, but you have to count it and adjust your diet/medicine accordingly.  A treat here and there is fine; it's the bigger picture that matters, and trying to incorporate as many good, healthy carbs [i.e., whole grains, fruits, milk, etc.] into a balanced diet is the main goal.  Also, there is no "diabetes diet"...When you have diabetes, any dietician or doctor will tell you that you need to eat the same healthy way they would recommend for anyone else, just with a special emphasis on consistently keeping track of your carbohydrate intake.)

Whenever people ask me questions about having diabetes, I just try my best to answer them to the best of my knowledge...After all, if I can educate someone through my experience, why wouldn't I?  I've always been a communicator, and at times even an oversharer, so talking about my diabetes is no sweat for me.  If anything, I like to take the opportunity to gently correct any misconceptions they have about the disease, and to help them understand what it actually means to live with it.  I've learned a lot about the subject over the past couple of months, and I enjoy being able to share that with others.  I guess you could say it's how I'm doing my part in increasing diabetes awareness...hence this blog!

The only time I get slightly irritated is when pushy people try to project their preconceived (incorrect) notions or unsolicited "medical advice" onto me.  Yes, in all likelihood I will be able to have a healthy pregnancy in the future, provided I follow my doctors' advice and keep my blood glucose in check.  Yes, if there are preexisting complications from diabetes, pregnancy can exacerbate them, and it's not a great idea to plan a pregnancy if your BG numbers are out of control.  BUT we have all kinds of amazing technology to monitor our control over the disease on a day to day or even minute to minute basis.  Try explaining this to someone whose only frame of reference for diabetes in pregnancy is "Steel Magnolias", though, and you've got a frustrating situation on your hands.  I'm trying to prepare myself ahead of time for dealing with that kind of thinking, which I'm sure I'll encounter at least once during pregnancy in the future.

As far as the unsolicited "medical advice" goes, people have all kinds of ideas that they've heard over the years about diabetes treatment, and they're always so eager to share them with you once they find out you're "a Diabetic".  Some people even take it upon themselves to personally be your Diabetes Police Team, instructing you on what you should and shouldn't be doing as "a Diabetic".  Personally I haven't had to deal with this much, but I know my younger sister, who has Type 1 Diabetes, has.  I know that some of these people are genuinely trying to help, but the way I see it is that I'm the one who has to live with this disease, and as long as I follow the plan my doctors have given me, I'm doing just fine on my own!

Clearly, this is a pet peeve of mine, along with people referring to you as a "Diabetic with a capital 'D'," as I like to say.  It's not my first name, and it doesn't define who I am...I am a person with Diabetes and much more, thank you!  I know that the term is very commonplace, especially with older generations, but with today's technology, this disease does not take over a person's life like it did back then, so the term seems kind of outdated now.  Maybe it shouldn't irritate me like it does, but it does all the same.  I mean, you don't refer to a cancer patient as a "Cancerian", or someone with another disease as if it were their first name, so why diabetes?  It may seem like a minor distinction, but trust me, it's important to those of us with the disease.

My feelings on that subject also have to do with the fact that I have a minor in Psychology.  In my Abnormal Psych class, our professor really emphasized how important it was to not define someone by their disorder...i.e., a person with Bipolar Disorder, not a Bipolar person--that they are a person first and foremost, and just happen to have a disorder or disease that affects them adversely.  I don't know about you, but I didn't sign up for having this disease...It wasn't a choice, and I don't like to be defined by it!

Also, it's an important distinction because every person with Diabetes is different.  In the same way that our personalities are different, our disease also affects each of us differently.  To attach a label to someone is to put them in a box, and let's face it...Not many people fit into those boxes!  Although we all have something in common (either our bodies don't produce enough insulin, or can't use it efficiently enough), all of us have a unique set of circumstances that determine what our treatment should be.  What works for me might be useless or even harmful to someone else with the disease...As Gretchen Becker puts it in her book "The First Year: Type 2 Diabetes: An Essential Guide for the Newly Diagnosed ," your mileage may vary.

Please don't misunderstand me in all of this...I know that a lot of the things that frustrate me only come from ignorance about the disease, and I'm doing everything I can to help fix that.  I am not the kind of person to bite someone's head off even if they refer to me as a "Diabetic," but it does irritate me on the inside nonetheless.  More likely than not, I'll answer their questions with a smile, and try to correct any myths and misconceptions that they hold as truth, and hopefully leave them a little more informed.  I truly do welcome any questions that people have about the disease--as we've all heard, "There are no stupid questions." 

I had a lot of misconceived notions about diabetes before I was diagnosed, and that's partially because no one took the time to explain to me the real facts behind the disease.  I'm guilty of being the "Diabetes Policewoman" of the family for my sister on more than one occassion, and I even thought that the disease was something you brought onto yourself somehow, through poor eating habits and not enough exercise.  Now that I know more about diabetes, I know that it's no one's "fault" that they have it; it's not caused by eating too much sugar, and although our environment has something to do with its emergence at times, the bottom line is that you have to have the gene to develop the disease.  If I can help someone else better understand what this disease is about, then I've accomplished my goal.


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