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.