November is National Diabetes Awareness Month and many diabetes advocates will be working very hard to raise awareness of diabetes; what it is and how we live with it. When I began writing about diabetes I never thought of myself as an advocate. Advocates are those people who go to Capitol Hill and speak with our legislators about making changes to diabetes care or medications, or carrying signs attempting to educate others, right? According to Dictionary.com, advocacy is “the act of pleading for, supporting, or recommending”. When I looked at that definition I realized that advocacy can take many forms; advocates can have many faces.
So, what does advocacy mean to me?
When confronted with someone who is obviously ill-informed or just plain uneducated when it comes to diabetes, advocacy can be as simple as correcting the misinformation. For instance, I once overheard someone say near Halloween: “We can’t hand out candy to our employees, they’ll get diabetes!” That is an opportunity to explain to that person that eating sugar does not cause diabetes, of any type, and that diabetes is a very complicated and serious disease that doesn’t deserve to be the butt of a joke. Setting just one person straight can make a difference.
Discussing our diabetes care plan with our healthcare providers is another opportunity to advocate. Not all doctors are up to speed on the newest information regarding diabetes. Add to that the fact that many general practitioners haven’t studied extensively about diabetes. Being an informed patient and speaking up when we’ve heard of a new treatment plan or dietary change that you’re considering, is a form of advocacy. It’s important that healthcare providers realize that diabetes is not a one-size-fits-all disease and that we each need different approaches to living with our diabetes. Speaking up is a way of advocating for yourself.
Attending a support group or participating in an online forum about diabetes is another form of advocacy. Supporting those who have diabetes is a very valuable form of advocacy. At times we just need to know that we’re not alone in our struggles.
I try to live my life with diabetes in as “normal” a fashion as possible. I go about my days like anyone else, the only difference might be that I have to pay more attention to what I’m eating and how much I’m moving. By living my life in a way that should dispel myths about people with diabetes, I feel that I’m advocating for us all. Advocating and myth busting by example.
There is no doubt that people who approach our elected officials about policies that affect people with diabetes are advocates. People who blog about their lives with diabetes are advocates. Those who attempt to educate and inform the general public are advocates. But to me, advocacy doesn’t only look like those things. Advocacy can look like the examples I’ve listed up above. If you live with diabetes and are doing your best to live a healthy life, then you look like an advocate to me. If you try to correct just one misinformed person about life with diabetes, you’re an advocate. Advocacy means asking for help, recommending alternative ideas or something as simple as supporting another person with diabetes. That’s what advocacy means to me.