Today as I was browsing along in the interwebs, as one does, I came across an insightful & beautiful article written by a girl who was diagnosed with genital herpes. Although I don't have herpes or any related diseases, I still found myself agreeing with every word she had written about the stigmatisation of diseases such as herpes, HIV/AIDS, and of course...diabetes.
A mere 2 hours later, in a completely unrelated manner, I had a friend throw this picture up on Facebook:
What I'm sure was meant as a self-congratulatory pat-on-the-back came across as insensitive and uneducated on many levels. This picture tells people to be ashamed of themselves if they can't 'say the same'. It offers no chance for explanation (not that any is needed. In this life we live, stuff happens all the time that is completely out of your control). It again reinforces that specific diseases can make us less worthy to be called human beings. Having or not having AIDS does not make you a better person, nor does it increase or decrease your worth as a person. It doesn't change who you are as a person or what you've done, or will do, in your life.
It made me appreciate Elle's article even more.
Even the title of her article gave me the 'I feel you' fuzzies that can only come with knowing someone else out there gets you, however indirectly. Titled 'Why I Love Telling People I have Herpes', I feel very similarly about my T1D. Life and my interactions with others becomes so much easier when my T1D is announced and out in the open. Just like the author, Elle, I had a brief 6 month period where I felt like less of a person, and more a giant cesspool of self-blame, for having a disease that has been so stigmatized as something to be ashamed of. Diabetes is very much portrayed as a lazy persons disease with a very defined description of how hideously awful we are as human beings. I briefly wondered if I would wake up one day and have transformed overnight into the stereotypical diabetic - terribly unmotivated, largely obese and all of a sudden extremely ugly. Safe to say that so far that hasn't happened to me - because so far, diabetes is a disease that doesn't concern itself with how you look or act - It just picks a person and forces them to become best friends forever.
Like Elle, I also get a little kick out of the moment I tell someone I have T1D. Their reaction often opens up a natural conversation about T1D and Diabetes in general and gives me a chance to educate someone about what living with diabetes is really like. Its a chance to change the way we view and think of people with diabetes in a negative sense and hopefully one day, turn diabetes into just another disease that sucks to have, instead of a disease that society says we should be ashamed to have. A chance to reintroduce the human aspect of living with diabetes. I can only hope that if enough of these conversations are going on - by people with all types of diabetes - that there might be a day in the future when I am not asked why I am not fat.
People with Diabetes deserve to have their disease and their own sense of self treated with respect. The current generalised attitude denotes one of shame, avoidance and denial. Whilst we know people in the medical profession are taught the pathophysiological mechanisms of diabetes and its contracture, they too can become prey to this way of thinking that we should do as they say because we brought it on ourselves to begin with. Too many stories of doctors or nurses treating a person with diabetes as a lesser person or someone who needs to be 'controlled' by them, because of the way they percieve us, and our apparent lack of respect for self.
I have self-respect in bucketfuls. Self respect is far deeper a notion than how many minutes you worked out for today or what food you put in your mouth. Self respect is about consideration for your body, and all of its needs, including sometimes, the need to forego looking after one aspect of your health, in order to build up another. Its about recognising that balance between mental and physical health. You can have self respect and be in burn out. To me, self respect is about being able to speak up when people say or do something that doesn't sit right with you - including telling a medical professional that maybe they haven't got it right. Because I respect my body so much, that I do all sorts of unimaginable things to make sure I keep kicking on. Its through respect of my self and my body that I push needles into my skin and lancet my fingers.
We need more Elle's in this world. People who'll tell it like it is, and take embarrasment and shame away from ordinary situations.