Ten years and not sure what to say – By Helen May
I remember the date well: 20th January 2004. The day I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Since then I have learnt a lot about the condition and given myself nearly 20,000 injections. But those needle pricks have not helped me tell other people. It’s not that I am ashamed or that I don’t want other people to know (although I would rather they didn’t think of me as “the woman with diabetes”). I just don’t know what to say.
To say “I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes” describes something that happened ten years ago and does describe the condition today. To say “I have diabetes” sounds a like ownership; like “I have a car”. The media often describes people as “suffering from diabetes”. This is the description that annoys me most.
According to the dictionary, the definition of “suffer” is “to undergo, be subjected to or endure (pain, distress, injury, loss, or anything unpleasant)”. Unless you count the bruises from injections, I have not suffered pain from diabetes. Apart from the initial shock of the diagnoses, I have not suffered distress due to diabetes. I definitely do not consider diabetes as an injury. I have not lost a thing or an opportunity due to diabetes. And, to be honest, on an unpleasantness scale, diabetes does not rate as high as breaking a leg or putting my hand in a bowl of tripe or eating Brussels sprouts.
Some may say that I am lucky with my diabetes because has not stopped me doing anything: I climb mountains, travel around the world and have a career. In nearly ten years of having diabetes, I can count on one hand the number of days I have had off work due to the after-effects of a night time hypo.
I know some children miss out on activities because of their diabetes. And adults may be sidelined for a promotion. But I don’t think of that as suffering from diabetes: it’s suffering from ignorance of diabetes. And using the using the phrase “suffer from diabetes” adds to this ignorance. When someone hears about diabetes they expect some sort of pain, distress, injury, loss… This someone may be the employer of someone with diabetes or it may be the person who has just been diagnosed with diabetes.
My personal experience of the diagnosis was scary. But, in hindsight, the most scary thing was the unknown: my own ignorance of diabetes. As I have discovered more… as I discovered I don’t have to make major changes to my life and by taking control of diabetes, I can reduce the odds of getting complications … diabetes became less scary. I still worry about these complications but they do not dominate my thoughts. I do not “suffer” from these worries.
So, to celebrate my 10 year diagnosis, I would like to ask the media to stop describing celebrities, such as Theresa May and Tom Hanks, who have recently been diagnosed as “suffering” from diabetes. I think, “suffering” should be reserved for the victims of natural disasters or war or severe hunger. The media have a major role in educating the expanding society of people who know someone with diabetes and people who are diagnosed in the future.
I don’t want to underestimate the difficulties other people have experienced through diabetes but, after ten years, I have settled on “I have diabetes”. It may not be ideal but it’s not too positive and it’s not overly negative, And, whilst I would rather not have diabetes, at least by focusing on the ownership, it reminds me I am in control.