Friday, January 21, 2011

The Definition of "Diabetic"...and Why I'm Not One

Thank you,!  You are my new favorite definition engine (although it's not like we didn't have a great relationship before) =)
World English Dictionary
diabetic  (ˌdaɪəˈbɛtɪk) 

— adj  
1.  of, relating to, or having diabetes 
2.  for the use of diabetics: diabetic chocolate  

— n  
3.  a person who has diabetes 

Usage:  Rather than talking about a diabetic  or diabetics , it is better to talk about a person with diabetes , people with diabetes 

Word Origin & History

diabetic  1799 (adj.), 1840 (n.), from diabetes.

It's refreshing to see an everyday source like take the initiative to be politically correct in the case of describing people with diabetes.  I've written about this subject before (See my post from the 30 Days of Blogging in November for American Diabetes Month, FAQ), but I'm calling attention to it again because it's something that affects almost everyone with this disease at some point or another, and that really needs to be nipped in the bud.

The thing is, just about anyone who has any disease doesn't want to be defined by it, and people with diabetes (PWD) are no exception.  Yes, this disease does take up a significant portion of our time and energy throughout the day, but we try to not let it take over our lives.  We are so much more than this disease, and only ask to be treated as such.  

It's a phenomenon that can be traced back to older generations, when the word "diabetic" was the go-to word used to refer to someone with diabetes.  Even today, when I Googled "Being referred to as a diabetic," this is what came up:

    You wouldn't describe someone with cancer as "cancerous", after all...So why diabetes?  The most frustrating thing is not so much when someone uses the descriptive (i.e., "She found out she's diabetic"), although that irritates me plenty; it's when they use the noun ("I didn't know you were a diabetic").  I like to call this being referred to as "'Diabetic' with a capital 'D'".  Most often used by the Diabetes Police (you know the ones...they sit disapprovingly and watch you eat, then make the comment "I didn't think Diabetics were supposed to eat
[fill in the blank]", either to your face or behind your back), it's a word thrown around without concern or compassion for those on the receiving end of it.

I don't think that these people are ill-intentioned most of the time, but it hurts nonetheless.  As I pointed out in my FAQ post, I didn't sign up for this disease, and I don't like to be defined by it.  It's hard enough to deal with sometimes (physically and emotionally) without being constantly reminded of it or having to feel like you have to defend yourself because of it.

I think "diabetic" is simply an antiquated term that should be eliminated from popular usage.  Back in the day (actually, until 1980, when the first home blood glucose monitor came about), diabetes was a disease that tended to control people's lives.  The technology simply wasn't where it is today, and diabetes was a disease that was incredibly hard to manage and often lead to horrible complications and even death as a direct result of poor management.  Today, however, diabetes is still a chronic illness, but a manageable one.  You can get BG meters for less than $20 or often for free from your doctor or pharmacist.  There are countless pharmaceutical drugs that are well-documented in lowering BG levels, and recent insulin analogs more closely mimic the natural function of the pancreas.  Insulin pumps allow those of us who depend on insulin some freedom to lead a more normal life.  (Or so I've heard...Mine won't be here until next week, then I'll let you know!)

The reason I make this point is to show that diabetes management has changed drastically in the past two decades, and I believe that the way it is conceptualized in the media, popular culture, and daily life needs to change as well.  Myths and misconceptions surrounding diabetes are rampant, which makes it difficult for those of us dealing with the disease.  People tend to view diabetes as a "fat/lazy person's disease" that can be controlled if only the people with it would try/work hard enough, whether they would admit it or not.  I will be the first to confess that before I was diagnosed, I had a lot of misperceptions about diabetes.  I've learned a lot since then, and now I know the reason I didn't have much accurate information on the disease is because there's not enough awareness about it.  What attention it does get in the media is often negative, and further contributes to the bad reputation it has.  Not only that, but celebrities who have diabetes often reinforce the myths instead of using their position to educate the public.  In those cases, it would be better if they simply didn't mention it at all, because it is already hard enough to combat the negativity and fallacies without their "help".

The bottom line?  Yes, I have diabetes.  Yes, it does require a lot of effort and daily (and sometimes hourly) attention to manage.  Yes, it means that I've had to make some lifestyle changes and allow for interruptions in my routine because of it.  It means that I'll have to watch what I eat, use insulin, and check my blood sugar for the rest of my life.  BUT, although it is a part of me, it isn't who I am.  Sometimes I would like to forget about this disease for a while, and not have to explain myself.  (See sixuntilme's posts "A Pump Vacation" for more on this and "Disco Boobs" for a hilarious and entertaining story on how diabetes sometimes complicates everday life)  Diabetes doesn't define me, and it's not my first name.  So please don't refer to me as "A Diabetic".  Just Ashley (or even "Hey you!") is fine. =)


Michael Hoskins said...

Good post, Ashley. You're absolutely right about media and public perceptions and how the tone needs to change. I'd also agree that none of us who are living with diabetes want to be defined by our chronic condition, even if it has become a defining characteristic in many ways and something we actively and proudly wear on our sleeves. I'm not one who takes offense to being a diabetic, because I am - that to me doesn't limit me to being "that guy with diabetes" or confine me to that definition alone. I'm many other things, too - husband, fool, dog owner, newspaper reporter, son, writer... blah blah blah. Diagnosed in 84 as a five year old, I grew up learning I could do whatever I wanted despite diabetes and I am not limited by my broken pancreas. Of course, I certainly get the rationale behind not liking the term "diabetic." None of us are wrong, because it's our own life and we should be able to choose what we call ourselves and how we're perceived based on our own lives. Anyhow, long story short: Great stuff! Thanks for sharing it.

Ashley said...

Thank you Michael, I appreciate the feedback! I know that there are plenty of people out there like yourself who don't mind being called diabetic, and some days I don't mind either. I suppose it really depends on the context of the conversation and the overall vibe I get from the person...If they are genuinely caring and interested in learning about my diabetes, I'm a lot more apt to not let the term bother me. With others (i.e., the "D-Police"), it frustrates me simply because it's part of their overall negativity and bad perception of the disease. It's all about the tone and content of the conversation and the person I'm talking to, and sometimes it jsut depends on the day...Some days I enjoy talking to people about it and trying to be an activist for the D-community, but other days I'd rather just be me-something I'm sure you can relate to! Thanks again for your comments, and it's nice to "meet" you!

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