Setting the record straight: respect where it’s due – by Andy Broomhead

I love DiabeAndy-Broomhead-150x150tes Week! It’s a week for ‘us’ and to a huge extent, by ‘us’ as well. Whilst there’s always a good time to tell a diabetes story, I think Diabetes Week really does a great job of giving us a bigger platform than usual from which to share our experiences.

I think the theme for this year is exactly what we need.  We’re all too familiar with the constant myths, lies, and stigma associated with diabetes on a daily basis, so what better way to address them by putting the rumours to bed once and for all?

So where to begin?  I thought I’d talk about a few of the things I’ve encountered in the last 14 years and how hopefully these will soon be things of the past for all of us.

One I’ve think we’ve all probably come across is “can you eat that?”  I’ve heard it a number of times over the years, often said with the best intentions, though that does little to reduce its frustration.  As we all know the answer is of course “Yes I can!” (unless it’s poisonous).  You can see why people get confused.  Understanding carbohydrate intake and managing diet is such a huge part of our daily lives and I think it’s good that some sense of that has made its way to the non-diabetic population.  But at the same time, it’s frustrating that the full message hasn’t made its way out.

Yes, I can eat that.  It might be more work for me, and I might not get it quite right, and end up high (or low), but I can eat anything that anyone without diabetes eats.

Something else we’re all familiar with is the sharing of diabetes ‘jokes’ which do nothing except enforce frankly unhelpful and incorrect stereotypes.  This one popped up on my Facebook newsfeed a couple of weeks ago. (Click on the image to make it bigger if required).

Share this if you like perpetuating offensive stereotypes

I mean the sheer amount of offensive stuff in that one “joke” is mind boggling, and the fact that someone I know well decided it was worth sharing all is beyond belief. But at the centre of it is this idea that diabetes is fair game for jokes.  “Ah diabetes – that’s all fat people brought on themselves by eating too many sweets”.  It’s a horrible way to view what we all live with.  It’s shockingly ignorant about the condition that 4 million people in the UK live with and it’s downright insulting that people believe it’s OK to perpetuate this kind of thing.

No, diabetes isn’t caused by ‘chips and sweeties’.  It’s a complicated chronic illness that a huge number of people battle/fight/manage/control on a daily basis.  You absolutely shouldn’t make jokes about it.

The last thing I want to talk about is a bit more subtle, and probably down to a lot of unconscious bias that people hold.  A few weeks ago I climbed across the top of the O2 Arena in London (well worth doing if you ever get the chance).  Before you get kitted out there’s a form to fill in (of course), and one of the things says you should inform the guide if you have medication you need them to carry, or have any concerns that you’re not medically fit to climb.

Now I’m not going to let someone else carry my insulin pump for 90 minutes (I mean, come on…) and I knew full well I was medically fit to climb.  I’ve done a fair bit of running in the last 14 years, and I was confident a total of 320 metres wasn’t going to send my bloods crashing through the floor.

But my wife insisted that I told them I have Type 1 “in case you have a massive hypo and no-one’s carrying anything for you”.  Having had (and lost) that argument, I reluctantly told the guide I had diabetes.

He looked at my pump… “Will it fall out of your pocket?”  Er….  We went outside and had our harnesses clipped on.  “Just take it easy OK mate – you’ll be fine” he said to me before we started…  Yeah I know – it’s like walking back up from the shops where I live, but doing it slower and behind people who are less accustomed to physical exercise.  I know I’ll be fine – no need for you to worry about the potential paperwork.

I climbed the whole thing without using the handrail on principle.  I felt a bit bad.  He was just doing his job and no doubt thought he was looking out for me with those words of encouragement, but it all felt so completely unnecessary.

The fact is that walking a couple of hundred metres up and down a steep incline doesn’t really register on the list of things I overcome on most days.  We talk a lot about how diabetes doesn’t have to stop us doing things because it’s true.  If you can get out of bed and have breakfast whilst injecting a drug that could kill you, of course you can do whatever you want to!

Setting the record straight is exactly what we should be doing.  Yes, we can eat whatever it is you think we can’t.  No, your jokes aren’t funny in the slightest.  Yes I can climb over your music venue.  I do dozens of things on a daily basis you can’t even imagine.  Try understanding what diabetes is.  And give me the respect I’m due.

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