Staying Focused When Faced with Stigma

Diabetes is unrelenting. It requires lots of attention, focus and determination. Dealing with all that diabetes requires can be difficult enough on its own but it is even more difficult when you add judgement; judgement from others who know nothing about what it’s like to live with type 2 diabetes.

In my opinion, the stigma that surrounds type 2 diabetes should be added to the list of complications. Fighting the stigma that we are faced with, sometimes on a daily basis, is taxing, depressing and it complicates our lives with diabetes.

Are you thinking, “What is she talking about? What stigma?”? If so, you are lucky. But think about the things that the general public and media say about people with type 2 diabetes. “Obesity causes diabetes.” “If you’d just stop eating junk and begin exercising, it will go away.” “I don’t feel sorry for you, you did this to yourself!” “Johnny has 36 candy bars. He eats 32 of them. What does he have? Diabetes, Johnny has diabetes.” “People who have diabetes are just fat, lazy slobs.”

Let me say right up front: NONE of those statements are true, none of them. Eating sugar and becoming obese do not cause diabetes. Improving your diet and adding exercise will help you attempt to control your diabetes, but it won’t go away. The rest are just plain mean things to say. We did not do this to ourselves and we are not fat, lazy slobs. We have a disease; one that we did not cause or ask for.

One of the dangers of stigma is that it may cause you to become depressed, begin to believe the lies and possibly pay less attention to your care. So how can you stay focused when faced with stigma?

  • Educate yourself. A person who is dealing with diabetes will stand a much better chance of leading a good, healthy life despite their disease if they take the time to learn about type 2. If you arm yourself with the truth, then the lies can’t affect you. If you know that you didn’t cause your disease it may help you deal with the frustration of hearing others spout untruths.
  • Don’t read the comments. This is something I need to learn. Stigma and hateful comments are most often found after an article or Facebook post that talks about type 2 or obesity. Hateful people find it easier to be hateful when they’re hiding behind their computer screen. Some of the worst stigmatizing things that I have read online can be found when people make comments. Don’t read the comments! Why put yourself through the frustration?
  • Be an example. If the general public thinks that people who have type 2 diabetes only eat junk and never exercise, then let them see someone who eats healthy foods and gets regular exercise. Be an example of what someone with type 2 really looks like. Sure we can all eat things “we shouldn’t” but if you are living a healthier life, despite your diabetes, then you will help to dispel the myths. (And it will be great for you as well!)
  • Take time to educate others. Not everyone can do this, nor do they necessarily want to, but if one of your friends, colleagues or family members says something untrue about type 2 diabetes in your presence, take a minute to set them straight. Use the information you’ve learned (see the first item above) to nicely tell them that they are wrong. No, sugar doesn’t cause diabetes. Everyone should reduce the amount of added sugars they consume! If someone thinks that being overweight or obese causes type 2 diabetes, then ask them why everyone who is overweight doesn’t develop the disease? Currently 35% of American adults are overweight or obese and yet “only” 8% of American adults have diabetes of any type. Have them explain that!

Living with type 2 diabetes is difficult enough so do what you can to avoid the stigma that is attached to this disease by educating yourself, being an example and doing what you can to educate others. So many factors come into play in order for someone to develop type 2 diabetes, some of which even the doctors and scientists don’t yet understand. Don’t let the bullies stop you from doing all you can to live a great life with diabetes. Together we can make a difference.

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