Day 3 of #dblogweek2016 has a very important topic : The language we use when talking about diabetes and those who live with it:
There is an old saying that states “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”. I’m willing to bet we’ve all disagreed with this at some point, and especially when it comes to diabetes. Many advocate for the importance of using non-stigmatizing, inclusive and non-judgmental language when speaking about or to people with diabetes. For some, they don’t care, others care passionately. Where do you stand when it comes to “person with diabetes” versus “diabetic”, or “checking” blood sugar versus “testing”, or any of the tons of other examples? Let’s explore the power of words, but please remember to keep things respectful.
I am very particular about the language I use when referring to diabetes or the people who have been diagnosed with it. Start with the word that will likely get the most attention today, to me diabetic is an adjective to describe a disease, not to describe a person (who is not, by definition, a disease). It is not a noun. I expect to see a scientific paper confirming that with better insulins and access to treatment, diabetic retinopathy is on the decline. I don’t expect to tick (or want to accept) a box on my insurance or driver’s licence form that categorises me as diabetic.
It is not that I’m offended when people use the term diabetic. And I certainly don’t judge others for preferring it or simply having no opinion on the matter. People are free use whatever words they want to describe themselves. However, for me, it’s about seeing people with diabetes as individuals not as a collective statistic. It’s about reducing stigma on a disease which already carries far too much of it.
I feel judged enough as it is without testing my blood sugar to find out it’s bad and that I can’t control my diabetes. I am never high or low.
But even when I manage my diabetes to the best of my ability, my blood glucose levels are sure to be outside of my target ranges at some point on most days.
I also don’t want to be told that I suffer from diabetes. Yes, diabetes makes me suffer at times, but certainly not all the time. Besides, how on earth can someone other than me decide if I am suffering or not?? And don’t even talk to me about non-compliance, which implies fault on the part of the individual if expected or desired results are not systematically obtained. I could go on and on, but I’ll get off my little soapbox now.
What I hope for in using less stigmatising and more person-centered language is support in dealing with this difficult and frustrating disease that nobody ever choses. Using language that underlines difficulty, guilt and helplessness will neither help to raise awareness about diabetes nor support people who live with it.
If health care professionals, insurance companies and media were reminded that we are, indeed, individual people who have different backgrounds, preferences, views, hopes and experiences then we each might feel more empowered and capable of dealing with the crap that this disease throws at us. Ultimately I believe that the language we use can improve our health and wellbeing.