There is an old saying that states “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”. I’m willing to bet we’ve all disagreed with this at some point, and especially when it comes to diabetes. Many advocate for the importance of using non-stigmatizing, inclusive and non-judgmental language when speaking about or to people with diabetes. For some, they don’t care, others care passionately. Where do you stand when it comes to “person with diabetes” versus “diabetic”, or “checking” blood sugar versus “testing”, or any of the tons of other examples? Let’s explore the power of words, but please remember to keep things respectful.
There are so many words and phrases surrounding diabetes that can evoke a strong response. Where to even begin to describe some of mine?
Coincidentally, I weighed in on what I think about “diabetic” in one of last year’s Diabetes Blog Week Posts. The short of it is, it’s OK, it does not bother me in the slightest.
I could talk about “compliance”. That’s one word that does not make me – and many others – feel warm and fuzzy, especially when it’s used by healthcare professionals to slap a negative judgment without making any efforts to understand why their patient is struggling.
But you know what word really gets a reaction out of me? Wait for it, wait for it…
That’s right. I am totally serious. I have a very complicated relationship with that word.
There is a part of me that is simply sick and tired of hearing it. Diabetes, shmiabites… How often do I hear it every day? How often do I say it myself? Diabetes brings me no joy and saying/seeing/hearing it is no exception. When I don’t say it out-loud, I think it. Diabetesdiabetesdiabetesdiabetesdiabetes… Sometimes it’s just a slightly annoying white noise; other times it’s like a swarm of angry wasps. Can I please have a day without saying, hearing or seeing the word?
Often, when I hear the word “diabetes” uttered by a stranger, I recoil. What’s going to come next? A mean-spirited joke? A deluge of misinformation? A judgment? An unsolicited advice? It immediately puts me on a defense. Do I say something? Do I let it go?
Then there is a hassle aspect of it. You can’t just say “My daughter has diabetes” and leave it at that. It’s not like “she has hazel eyes”, or “she is 11 years old”. Once the word “diabetes” comes out of my mouth, some version of an elevator speech must follow. There are times I don’t mind. And there are times I absolutely cannot stand it. I can feel anywhere from annoyed to exhausted, depending on what’s going on.
Yet, there are times when, upon hearing “diabetes”, my ears perk up and my heart skips a beat, in a good way. It usually happens when I’m with my T1D tribe, or when I meet a new diabetic/family, or when a person who’s addressing me clearly knows what they are talking about. When a stranger at Costco notices my daughter’s pump or CGM and asks if she has diabetes, it’s a good sign! The word becomes a symbol of connection, unity and understanding. Bring it on!
And then, when I am particularly mad at diabetes the thing, I call it “diabeetus”. No matter what is going on, calling diabetes “diabeetus” makes me chuckle. As soon as I can laugh at it, it’s a battle half-won.