Stereotypes – by Helen Whitehouse


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A few things have happened in the last week, which just re-enforce one of my massive hates – stereotypes. Something which effects me, especially as a diabetic.

The issue of being stereotyped is something which, although happens all your life, really starts when you get into secondary school. I mean, in year seven and eight it’s all big and new. But once you get to the older end, you expect it to stop more than it does. Everyone gets stereotyped. I stereotype. But here, I want to talk about the pre-conceived ideas that people get about diabetes.

It was about a year ago, I was talking to my friend about the four cans of non diet coke he had just consumed in quick succession. Using my weird carb counting knowledge (I tend to know the sugar content, carb content of most foods and drinks… it’s my talent!) I said:

“You do know that you’ve probably just drunk about 100 grams of sugar, and its only half eight in the morning?” to which he replied:

“Erm, well I didn’t. Oh well, you would know though Helen, cause that’s why you got diabetes isn’t it?”

“…..”

I get it a lot to be honest, as most diabetics will. It’s just something that has totally stuck in people’s minds- too much sugar gives you diabetes. But it doesn’t! Type 1 diabetes is caused by unknown reasons, some people think it’s a virus that attacks your pancreas, some think it’s genetic… But it’s not a dietary thing, not something you as an individual have caused. But still, I get people asking me things like this. And also, I know that many people – especially younger children – get teased for being fat, even if they are anything but, simply because of diabetes. And it makes you want to not tell people, to be honest. They will judge you for something that isn’t even true, you can’t even stop them. What can you do? There’s only a certain about of “ Type 1 diabetes isn’t caused by anything like that, its possibly a virus, possibly genetic etc etc” you can do!

People need more education on diabetes. In Science, the teachers don’t know what they are talking about with it, from the point of not understanding hypos and hypers, to actually saying the words “ Oh, its what them fat kids get innit!”.

If qualified teachers have no idea, how are children and teenagers meant to! And ignorance about the matter only causes deeper issues. A few weeks ago in a lesson, someone had a bottle of full fat coke. The teacher just comes out with “ drink that, you’ll get diabetes and ruin your own life”. I’m sorry, but that is just not acceptable in any circumstance, especially when I was sitting right there! And I most defiantly defend that I have a life. I do more stuff than most non-diabetics do, it’s certainly not something which has held me back.

I hate being stereotyped. Whether its for my bright red hair, my taste in music or my diabetes. Yet, the last one could be solved so easily.

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16 Responses to Stereotypes – by Helen Whitehouse

  1. Mark Caz says:

    “Drink that, you’ll get diabetes and ruin your own life” Isn’t a great comment but is it that far off the mark? Increased weight can increase the risk of Type2 diabetes, which while it doesn’t definitely ruin someone’s life is certainly not a plus point.

    The funniest comments I’ve had are:
    “Do you have the type of diabetes that means you can’t have sugar, or the type that means you have to have it?”
    “You don’t have to occasionally eat at strange times, diabetes isn’t like that, I know because my aunt is a diabetic” (have had similar from loads of people who will argue with a diabetic with a science degree about what their condition entails based on the little they know about a minor relative’s affliction)
    “Drugs…it’s in your hands” By a very brave, spooked octogenarian who saw me injecting using a syringe after having some food in the wee hours of the morning at a train station in Holland.

  2. Sean Eatherden says:

    Helen,
    your post came via a Twitter link. Until last April I had barely any knowledge of diabetes type 1, until our son was diagnosed with it at eighteen and a half. My first reaction as a parent was anger and frustration, why him, why now and of course the thought that condition would carry the stereotyping you write of, for his life.
    After spending 2 days in hospital he left armed with such knowledge and a determination to achieve everything he had planned. There was great assistance and mentoring from our health authority, he attended a DAPHNE recently.
    He was finishing his A-Levels when diagnosed with a gap year planned. He spent 58 days straight working on the site crew at the Big Chill festival, with regular meal times and regime. He then spent 3/4 weeks traveling around Europe on his own with an inter-rail pass. We met in Belgrade to watch Arsenal play, he traveled for 18 hours from Vienna for this. He is currently in Canada on a 12 week snowboarding instructor course. These adventures are the ones he planned, I find him totally inspiring, he knows what he has to do and does it. He looks at a plate of food, just as you do and knows what he needs to inject, 99% of the time he gets it correct, in a restaurant he will sit at the table, pull out his pen and roll up his shirt. He has a this is me attitude and if you have issues with it I’m not bothered. We are so proud of the way he has looked diabetes in the eye and lets it not get in his way.
    He describes himself on Twitter as Snowboarding Diabetic Gooner.

  3. Hi Helen,

    I really enjoyed reading your post, mainly because I can relate to it so much! I had the same kind of opinions whilst I was at school, and I still get it now at work. It’s one issue that will most certainly bug all diabetics, unless more awareness is raised about type 1 Diabetes!

    Look forward to reading more of your posts :)

  4. aidan berwick says:

    its quite amazing what you hear , personally i like to be referred to as a person with diabetes as opposed to a diabetic , its a pet hate of mine . After all you would say about sufferers of other conditions that “this person has piles or herpes or some equally nasty sounding illness” you wouldnt label them as a “pile-etic, or a herpesetic or whatever ” ah well grumble over , and apparently ” we cant cut our own toenails ” can we ?? i despair !!

  5. Graham burton says:

    great artcile helen wel said and yes if teacher know what they would be talking about would help to educate others about it but teachers are not qualified as like you and me with type 1 diabetes.

    even a doctor said to a freind you just become type 1 diabetic told him not to inject in is stomch and the doctor had to go and ask the diabetic nurse.

    well done on this artcile

  6. Pauline says:

    Another great post Helen! I’m a mother of a five year old type 1 diabetic…. I’ve met many a prejudice, discrimination, ignorance, call it what you will in my life but people’s total lack of understanding, when it comes to diabetes, whatever type, baffles me.. you sound a particularly strong individual – good luck with it all!

  7. Helen says:

    thank you everyone! It’s good to know that people relate to what I am talking about, and are annoyed with it too. I would love to front some massive campaign telling everyone that they have ideas that are totally wrong!

  8. Sarah says:

    I want to thank you so much for this blog. For past few years i have been blaming myself for having diabetes and this made my feel a lot better for two reason. mainly because i know know i am NOT alone in this. and also because it has reassured me that it was nothing i did. Thank you.

  9. Simon says:

    Just came across your blogg via the Facebook link. I am really saddened by your experience at school and the teachers. Our son is in Year 9 and was diagnosed in year 2. We are so grateful that the schools he has attended have been fantastic and very supportive. We are also very fortunate that the community nurses are just fantastic. We hope that all the good practice here in North Staffordshire can be spread across the country – so people can live and manage their condition, not be managed by the condition. Here is to a lot of education and awareness raising across the UK

  10. As a type 2 diabetic I come across stereotyping which is never corrected. I did not become a type 2 diabetic because I was over weight, over ate or for any reason I can actually blame myself for. I am average in every way except I became diabetic at 45 years old ?!! Stereotyping yeah I know all about it type 1 or 2 ?!!

  11. Sally says:

    Hi Helen,

    I found this through the Twitter link and laughed out loud because it’s so true. I became a Type 1 Diabetic in 2009 at 25 because of Pancreatitis and have faced many different questions since then. Such as “Oh that’s the worst kind, isn’t it” (refering to “type 1″) and even “That’s disgusting, I couldn’t inject myself”. I must admit my knowledge of Diabetes was very limited before I was diagnosed but compared to some comments I get, it was positively expert. Even on being corrected, people tend to misinterpret and dismiss it.

    It is completely necessary to provide better awareness of living with Diabetes and dispel age-old myths and mystery that seems to cause so much misunderstanding. Greater awareness of living with Diabetes can benefit Diabetics and non-Diabetics alike.

  12. Paulette says:

    What a fantastic blog! People’s misconceptions about diabetes astounds me.

    I agree with Helen a greater awareness of the condition is required, if some of the negative press around diabetes was replaced by ‘the human story’ what it is actually like to live with diabetes then there might be a better understanding by people in general.

  13. Jenny Foster says:

    Thanks for a fab blog Helen.

    My son is just 8 and type 1 and so far (other than the odd scuffle about who will be allowed to go with him to lunch for first sitting!) he hasn’t come across anything negative. All his friends have been very understanding and at very interested in learning about what is happening to him. I feel saddened that it seems inevitable that at some point in his life he is going to have to deal with negativety :(

    I look forward to reading more of your blogs to hear how dealing with diabetes as you are going full throttle into your teenages years effects your life!

  14. Elin says:

    Really great blog!

    As a diabetic currently going through high school, I can relate to that so much. I’ve had countless biology teachers claim all diabetes is from too much sugar and you end up having all your limbs amputated, end of story. No one arguing or questioning because they got a pHD in 1846 and people like me in the room listening to it, are too angry at the time to be able to put into words just how wrong they were; as well as not wanting to shine a light to everyone in the room what condition you have. It’s all about education; teachers as well as students. It can be tiring explaining to people over and over again that you didn’t swallow 10 bags of sweets every day as a child, but it’s something that needs to be told. Thanks for the blog :)

  15. Helen says:

    thankyouu :) I just want people to realise that it takes great effort balancing healthy diets/insulin/sugars, so we dont just eat sweets for the sake of it and we didnt get diabetes because of it!!

  16. ellie says:

    hi helen,
    Im 17 in may and i was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in december last year.
    when i first got back to school after being in hospital I had to explain what diabetes is to sooo many people! i got the same comments
    “have you got type 1 or type 2 or type 3?”
    “did you get it from having too much sugar?” all these stupid ignorant questions! all my friends were supportive about it though, and I feel I am coping well after only 3 months. I really want a pump though!!!!
    thanks for all your blogs i can relate to them all!!!!!

    ellie
    xoxo

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