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Diabetes Stigma. The Blame & Shame

Ask anyone you know, what is diabetes and how do you treat it? You'll hear all kinds of answers.

People are generally confused about this disease that affects 37 million people here in the United States.

Along with this state of confusion, it's no wonder women living a life with diabetes feel a "Stigma" attached.

Stigma is defined as a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person. A discrediting attribute minimizing a person's value.

I take this definition a step further...and see diabetes as a circumstance that is marked with disgrace, and if we don't understand or take time to learn, we continue to be misjudged.

Even people who are close to someone managing diabetes remain in the dark, and little is understood about how it is diagnosed and how the different types of diabetes are treated.

It's simply not because we ate to much sugar as a child, and we are not to blame, and shame has no place here. Like most anything we base our beliefs on what we see, hear or what we're told, even if it doesn't ring true.

No more blame and shame

This is evident with women managing diabetes. When I was diagnosed with diabetes in 1982, the root cause of this chronic disease was a mystery and wasn't explained to me.

So, I created my own stigmas, I hid and downplayed my diabetes, and felt ashamed. Even I didn't understand or could explain diabetes. To anybody or to myself.

We ignore what we don't understand and then we put false expectations around it. The stigma around what a person with diabetes should eat can impact our relationship with food and feeling comfortable in social settings. Do we have limitations? What is a healthy weight when we're in control?

The biggest diabetes stigma...can we have that dessert?

All the misinformation and judgement are simply not fair. Women with diabetes who want to rise above this, need to ask questions and talk openly about our disease.

Education and getting closer to the disease are the only ways to break the diabetes stigma.

Here's a few facts about the different types of diabetes:

Type 1 diabetes - The pancreas no longer makes insulin, so blood sugar cannot enter the cells to be used for energy. Those of us with type 1 diabetes require insulin to survive and must be injected daily. The cause of type 1 is unknown, but the occurrence is greater if a parent or sibling also has type 1 diabetes.

Environmental factors, recent illness or stress have been possible markers in some diagnosis.

Type 2 diabetes - (also pre-diabetes, type 1.5, gestational) Is when either the pancreas does not make enough insulin, or the body is unable to use insulin correctly. There is a variety of treatments including medication, diet and exercise. Causes of type 2 include many factors such as family history, age, environmental, pregnancy, physical inactivity, poor diet, etc.

LADA Diabetes - Latent autoimmune diabetes in adults, sometimes called type 1.5 is a slow-progressing form of autoimmune diabetes. Like the autoimmune disease type 1 diabetes, LADA occurs because your pancreas stops producing adequate insulin, most likely from some "insult" that slowly damages the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. But unlike type 1 diabetes, with LADA, you often won't need insulin for several months up to years after you've been diagnosed.

Here's a few things to remember about yourself and others living with diabetes

  • Diabetes of a every type is a complex, constantly changing, challenging condition. It's 24/7, with no day off.

  • Everyone living with diabetes deserves to be treated with respect. If you're unsure about what we are or aren't doing "right", don't judge us, just simply ask.

  • A diabetes diagnosis is not a personal failure... it takes strength, perseverance and patience to live with this health challenge.

  • Try to avoid assuming or judging when you meet someone with diabetes... and instead let's focus on helping each other learn and to better understand.

  • Taking control of diabetes and managing blood sugar is possible. Prediabetes is a warning sign, a great signal making you aware that your body's not optimally functioning.

  • Lifestyle, support and turning basic practices into a consistent routine can reverse a type 2 diabetes diagnosis and contribute to thriving with all types of diabetes.

The judgement, labels, and minimizing a person's value, are beliefs used to characterize those of us living with diabetes, and stigma around many things in life can be hard to turn around, it begins with our own thoughts, limiting beliefs.

But with more knowledge and grace with ourselves and each other we can move forward and when we give and receive compassion anything is possible.

Say out loud it is time to lose the diabetes stigma!