In search of a collective noun – by Liz Buchanan




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We say a ‘murmuration’ of starlings, a ‘talent’ of gamblers and a ‘superfluity’ of nuns but there is no collective noun for Type One diabetics. Or at least I don’t know of one. I refer to my diabetic friends – the on-line ones and the ones I met on a course at my local hospital – as ‘support groups.’

Anyway, I find that a main topic of conversation in these groups – when the glass is half full – is how nice it is to talk to one another about our condition. When our drinks are half empty, we see things differently and sometimes talk instead about how little the ‘normal’ people understand us. When I say ‘normal people’, I should say ‘non T1-diabetics’. After all we ARE normal for one in 250 of the UK population. However, living with diabetes is pretty un-normal for most people: unless they know at least two hundred and fifty people fairly well, they’re not likely to know more than one of us.

As well as being unusual, we’re complicated: a broken leg needs no explanation but a technical understanding of Type 1 is something difficult to grasp. Most folk on the street have no idea what a complicated job their bodies do to control their own blood sugars, which is the same complicated job that I have to try to do for myself. They just know that diabetics need injections.

Remember when Theresa May was diagnosed a few weeks ago? The main facts reported were that she would have to inject herself at least twice a day and that would carry on with her job regardless. Injections are something that people understand. They can picture them. And squirm. ‘Poor you: you have to have injections. How brave of you to still be Home Secretary.’

For me, the injections were the least of it: they don’t hurt half as much as the finger-prick tests and it didn’t take me long to stop being grossed out. It’s the trying to control our blood sugars (and coping with them when they go too high or low) that’s the main challenge. I think about my blood sugars all the time. I consider the carbohydrates in every plate of food I eat; I am constantly evaluating my exercise levels. I adjust my insulin dose accordingly: it comes automatically after a while, like driving. But also like driving, if I stop concentrating – or even if I am concentrating, but something (a virus, perhaps) happens outside my control – then YIKES!

Blood-sugars can go wrong. They might only go a little bit wrong – a small hypo, some sweets, and back on course again – or they might be jarred out more significantly and I might spend a few weeks ‘out of balance,’ trying to get things straight. The point is that unless my sugars go very badly wrong (rare), the people on the outside see nothing amiss. Unless I give them a running commentary about my finger-tests and corrections as I go (in which case I must sound a bit obsessed) then why would they? After all, I look perfectly normal. OK: fair enough. I look pretty normal for me.

So the challenge of my diabetes often feels underestimated. This is one of the reasons why many diabetics, even if surrounded by caring non-diabetic friends, can feel a little lonely or misunderstood. Why, when we get together, we often tell one another that non-diabetics just don’t understand what it’s like. Luckily in this new technological age, it is easier than ever before to make contact with some of the other one-in-two-hundred-and-fifties who know exactly what having diabetes is like.

A few years ago, I found www.diabetessupport.co.uk, spent an hour trying to come up with a witty username and failed and went for something quite mundane. This way, I made contact with people who also wanted to talk.

I found other diabetics struggling to explain their condition to their family and friends. I found diabetics who could give us tips. I found people who were prepared to share advice about travelling, about exercise, about pregnancy…. and slightly wacky people who sculpted robots out of the packaging for their testing strips. I would recommend that anybody who wants to read or talk about diabetes should go there. It’s a fantastic starting point. My next thread on that site is going to be about a collective noun for diabetics: we should celebrate the fact that diabetics hang out in groups.

If you are reading this and are diabetic, perhaps you’d like to hang out too and join in the debate?

(Statistics (one in two hundred and fifty) from the Dose Adjustment for Normal Eating workbook).

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Great article. I am type 2 diabetic and have been for about 14 years. While having to watch what I eat and avoid most sweet things I have been able to eat more or less what I want. Exercise has not always been high on my agenda. Then I was on a max dose of Gliclazide and that wasn’t working any more. So started injecting Byetta, which made me very ill. Now I inject Novomix 30 twice a day. Now I understand the difference between type 1 and type 2. I have to say I feel much better now I am on Insulin and may have to go onto a basal/bolus regime to keep by sugar level down after meals.

People don’t realise the difference between type 1 and type 2 and health professionals treat them differently. There is much more involved if you are type 1 or type 2 injecting insulin. More testing and paying far more attention to what you eat and when. Making sure you are safe to drive and testing regular when driving. Diabetes is very complicated and has a lot of hidden dangers. I have suffered with heart disease for a few years now.

I am lucky, I have a good Diabetic Specialist Nurse, who has been a great help and is always available on the end of a phone. Without her support life would be very difficult at times.

I also use the Diabetes support site it has proved very helpful at times and there are always some worthwhile information available. The link is http://www.diabetessupport.co.uk (just type the link into your browser, it should work)

Hi, really enjoyed this article. After years of going it alone I’ve started to connect with other T1s over Twitter and have found it really useful.
I just tried the link to the support group you found and it didn’t work for me! Are you able to check the please.

Being a university student, i went to university and quickly found myself isolated in trying to manage new challenges with my diabetes and trying to explain to my flatmates my mood swings, they simply knew i took injections which helped … I have never felt so lonely away from my parents who understood. This blog puts it much better than i could ever do! X