Diabetes is a Total Jerk, But I Don’t Have to Be

I have a confession to make: I am a recovering Type 2 blamer. Which is to say, I am a recovering insensitive ass.

When I was in the depths of my Type 2 blaming, I didn’t realize what an irresponsible thing I was doing. People would ask me about my diabetes — which “type” I had — and I’d always answer the same way. “I have the kind of diabetes you get when you’re young and your body goes haywire. I couldn’t help it. The other kind of diabetes is the common one — it’s the one all the overweight people get.”

If I were to try to rationalize my behavior, I guess I’d say it was fueled by a sense of frustration; a lack of control over my body and my disease. I couldn’t understand how a person could bring diabetes on his or herself. Also, I was kind of terrified by what I saw on TV and in magazines and online when it came to diabetes information (or lack thereof). It seemed every story was bookended by shots of headless overweight people plodding down Main Street, USA  — the camera focused mercilessly on their midsections — while some V/O lamented the state of Americans’ health, and how much it was costing all of us in hospital and health insurance fees.

Then, I got to know some real people who actually have Type 2 diabetes. And I realized that, just as every person with Type 1 diabetes has a different story to tell, so do people with Type 2. Not every Type 2 diabetic spends his or her days glued to the couch, binging on pork rinds and Mountain Dew. Type 2 hits people of all different ages, shapes and sizes. Not every person who’s diagnosed with Type 2 can prevent the diagnosis; and for those who can? Sometimes, “Eat more vegetables and get some exercise” is easier said than done.

The real smack in the face came a few months ago, while some of my coworkers were doing research for a JDRF Public Relations project. I was copied on an email that contained a link to a financial study: Diabetes Costs Americans $83 Billion Dollars a Year. My coworker included a note in the email message: “I wonder how much it would cost to pay for weight-loss programs for all of these people?”

I was pissed — and ashamed. Pissed because of the mindset that so many people who don’t have diabetes carry around: If only all these lardasses would exercise some self-control and lose a few, we’d save so much money on health care expenses. I was ashamed because, a few years ago, this is just the kind of response I would have shared: Why can’t the people with Type 2 and pre-diabetes just get their shit together?

Yes, it’s true that the onset of Type 2 diabetes is influenced by lifestyle factors, including diet and exercise. But — as is the case with dozens of other diseases — there are many factors at play. Age, genetics and race all have a role in the development of Type 2 diabetes. Just as they do with the development of cancer. And asthma. And osteoporosis and stroke and quite a few other noninfectious conditions.

Here’s the thing: no one deserves to get a disease. And whether or not you believe that a person has brought her particular malady upon herself, the pointing of fingers and the placing of blame have no place in any efforts to cure or treat diabetes — Type 1 or Type 2.

Furthermore, it’s none of my — or yours, or your Mom’s, or your neighbor’s — business how another person manages her own health. We all know how crappy it feels when someone gives you the “You shouldn’t be eating that rice krispie treat” look, and how frustrating it can be when total strangers presume to know more about your treatment plan than you and your doctor do. So when it’s time to tsk-tsk the Type 2 diabetics, let he who has never drank to excess, or overdone it on the macaroni and cheese, or fallen asleep without brushing his teeth cast the first stone.

When we characterize every person with Type 2 diabetes as lazy, careless and unhealthy, we do an enormous disservice to those who are seeking — and those who are waiting for — a cure for Type 1 and Type 2. After all, why would anyone donate to the American Diabetes Association or JDRF  if their overwhelming perception of the disease is that it’s simply the punishment that unhealthy people have coming to them?

And let’s get back to that alarming dollar figure: $83 billion spent to treat Americans with diabetes. Healthier lifestyles all around might help to bring that figure down, but I refuse to believe that diabetes is an economic drain just because so many people have it. Diabetes is expensive in part because the tools and information that Type 1 and Type 2 patients need to take good care of themselves are costly and not always accessible. As Riva Greenberg recently pointed out, we’re facing a dire shortage of health care professionals who know what they’re talking about when it comes to diabetes management — and who are available to help patients live healthier lives. Not to mention the nightmare of dealing with insurance coverage and diabetes supplies. Despite their fluffy PR campaigns, most of the insurance companies I’ve dealt with don’t seem to be so interested in helping me manage my disease so that I have a lower risk of facing (expensive) complications down the road. Getting consistent coverage for things like CGM supplies and any more than 100 test strips per month is close to impossible. I can only image how exhausting that fight must be for a newly diagnosed patient.

So yeah, I used to be a Type 2 blamer. And then I realized that, in so many ways, we’re all in this very uncomfortable diabetes boat together. Until there’s a cure for all of us, I’m going to try to make a concentrated effort to suspend judgment — and offer support instead.

"The jerk store called, they're running out of unhappy people who think you don't exercise enough."

18 comments on “Diabetes is a Total Jerk, But I Don’t Have to Be

  1. talesofmy30s says:

    We don’t know how much type 1 and type 2 are truly related – we don’t know if a cure for one will lead to a cure for another – or if a treatment will make life easier for both. They’re finding that out now with different types of cancer treatment, who is to say that it won’t happen with diabetes?

    Much too often I must defend myself against stereotypes and ignorance. To those who judge, the raw end of the genetic stick hurts like heck, thank you very much.

  2. Foodie McBody says:

    As a type 2 who has spent a year marinating in guilt and shame, I appreciate your honesty and also your support. Back atcha.

  3. Wonderful post today. Funny how we preach for tolerance and understanding then we catch ourselves being an “insensitive ass”. You aren’t alone, I am find myself getting frustrated too. But not towards the T2’s more towards the idiots in the news, or pushing meds, or pushing the latest fads. However, I do see how a T2 might take offense to what I am saying. You got me thinking.

  4. Scott says:

    I’m a recovering asshat as well, Jacquie

  5. Liz says:

    I have to admit that I very often feel persecuted in the DOC for being a Type 2 Diabetic, and not part of the “did nothing wrong” Type 1 crowd… I’ve had to cut back on my interactions, and my involvement with many Type 1’s because it was simply not good for my emotional health and with managing my disease any more. I’ve become really nit picky as to what Type 1’s I let into my life, to trust and befriend. Often times they act like they never once ate a French fry, or as if there were never any overweight Type 1 Diabetics out there, struggling with their weight, or with insulin resistance, as well… Or, like you mentioned, as if ALL Type 2’s got their Type 2 by being fat. Never do they sit down to consider that many got it from medications, and from other illnesses as well, and sometimes, simply from strong genetic factors, despite being thin. One doesn’t even have to be hugely overweight to get at risk for Type 2… Just 15-20 lbs over the limit can do it! But we are a society of blame… Whenever we can seem more like a victim, and blame other people for the woes we feel, then we feel justified. I get that Type 1’s don’t want to be asked if they got their D from eating too much sugar… It’s just that they probably don’t get that we, Type 2’s, don’t like that either. It’s the media that’s the enemy, and ignorant doctors and other healthcare professionals.

  6. Katie says:

    This is a great post, Jacquie. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Sysy Morales says:

    WONDERFUL POST! I really enjoyed reading what you had to say. I think ALL of us have a responsibility to not only stop judging each other but also to help each other do better. I once felt frustrated with people I knew who didn’t eat healthy and then I realized that sometimes I’d come over and bring them a cake! I realized that doctors aren’t informing people properly in many cases and that what is most accessible to people is the junk food. No one should go broke trying to eat healthy but that is what happens to those who don’t have extra money to spend on food. And like you said there are sooo many factors involved!

    love to all fellow diabetics 🙂

    Thanks Jacquie!

  8. This might be cliche’ but I have always equated peoples ignorance towards diabetes to Racism.They both come from a very ignorant place and I have experienced the bitter end of both without going into a lot of details. Point is it is always easy to point fingers and lay blame,this fire is perpetually fueled by the media who as we all know tell stories skewered to their own vision of the matter.
    And yes we do have a serious to the core problem when it comes to research dollars and cents and fundraising efforts among other things.
    It is sad indeed but until one and all become enlightened to the nature of diabetes type 1 or type 2 am sure the ignorant point of view will always be a part of diabetes.
    I wrote a post called the dark side of diabetes awareness that covers this very topic and how we are falling short in funding for diabetes cure research for this very reason, here is the link to it

  9. Kate says:

    As a person who looks like a T2, but has T1 (diagnosed at the age of 37), and spent wasteful moments in my non-diabetes years judging a T1 coworker of mine, I truly appreciate your post. I just had an educational event with a peer diabetes education program that I’m affiliated with, and I was amazed at the lack of discrimination that diabetes has. I’ll let diabetes be the bitch, not me! Thank you for the awesome post.

  10. tmana says:

    Thanks for the post! I’ll give you some of the dialog flipbacks:

    Until I started hanging around the DOC, I never realized how easy it is for a T1 to go from over 300 to below 60 and back in the space of an hour or two, regardless of their diabetes management — or how stubborn highs (or lows) can be, despite the application of insulin (or sugar-bearing foods).

    The other side of “smugness” I sometimes find is more because my T2 diabetes is diet-and-exercise controlled. I sometimes find the “You can eat whatever you want, just bolus for it” mentality a bit off towards people who either are NOT on any meal-dependent blood-glucose-lowering pharmaceutical (whether fast-acting insulin or mealtime oral drugs) — but on the flip side, I find people amongst ALL types of PWD who believe in lowering insulin demand to the point where one would be eating nothing but low-fat meat jerky, lettuce, celery, and low-fat cheese. (FWIW, I lived through the “Stillman Diet” fad back in the 1970’s. It was, in short, a steak-and-water diet.)

  11. Amie says:

    As as a young(ish) person with T2, I appreciate your post. I’m active, eat right and yet At the age of 23 was diagnosed with T2 diabetes… Recently I found this site that I think many people may find interesting… It lists links to several studies showing that T2 has a genetic basis just like T1… Anyhow… Thanks for your post. I appreciate it!


  12. People assume I’m at Type 2 because I’m obese – turns out I’m not. I gotta say, it’s not always easy to eat right and exercise even when a disease is involved. My obesity has been a part of my life since childhood (well before diabetes) and so I’m as empathetic to it as I am diabetes. I don’t ignore either of them. They both are, and will continue to be, daily battles that include some good days and some bad days. It’s frustrating when someone thinks I could fix my disease by just taking better care of myself, since I know my diabetes doesn’t work like that. Even the weight part is a little more complicated. Thus, I go to counseling and continue to work on myself. Sigh.

    I try to remind myself that I don’t like to be judged by anyone on how they think I’m treating my disease. I try to remember that when I want to judge folks on theirs. Some times it’s easier than others.

  13. Tina Kicklighter says:

    Love this post!

  14. Ressy says:

    Thank you for those words! I was diagnosed as a type 2 many years ago before everyone came to their senses and said…nope…you are a type 1.5 and will be a type 1 soon…It was very soon.

    I did all the activities, lose weight, eat better, take meds that made me violently ill…can we say lactic acidosis with metformin??

    I could not make it better by any of those methods and was always made to feel like it was my fault. I just swam in the wrong gene pool! My mom was a type 2 and my dad a type 1.

    I got the best of both worlds….

  15. k2 says:

    Like George, I am also recovering asshole/schmuck/bitch. OK, I’ll always be a bitch, but nor regarding type 2 diabetes!
    Really wonderful post Jacq – thank you for writing it!!!
    Kelly K

  16. Bob P says:

    Thank you so much. I deeply appreciate it.

  17. melissamashburns says:

    As a type II who has been the brunt of so many insensitive comments, Thank you.

    I admit there are things I could have done to reduce my chances of developing it…to some extent, however in my family it seems almost everyone has type II and several of them are super stick skinny. So obviously there is more in my genes then my butt.

    I get so mad at people who say, just eat better and your sugar will be just fine. They seem to forget the massive amounts of steroids I have to be on because of my frequent asthma flare ups.

    Oh and guess what, my antidepressant, the medication that literally keeps me from having a mental breakdown, messes drastically with my blood sugar. So badly in fact, that I am now having to do a cold turkey withdrawal from it, because of how detrimental it has been to my physical health. Including not be able to keep my blood sugar below 300 on a good day.

    I am one of those type II’s who seems to be sucking the system dry, and of course everyone who has the least little bit of knowledge about diabetes knows so much better than I do about what causes me to have bad sugar days. I try hard not to be resentful, I try hard not to lash out, but there are days when it is so hard.

    Do people think I enjoy feeling like death warmed over because, once again, steroids and an anti-depressant have caused my blood sugar to be over 400? Or that I do not worry that my internal organs are turning into mush as they soak in the sugar filled toxic soup? Or do they not realize that losing my vision is my worst nightmare and my once clear world is already more blurry than it used to be?

    Thank you again, this has really helped.

  18. Abbey says:

    Thanks for lending some perspective!

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