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.
Semantics matter. Subtle variations in language can entirely change meaning, and by extension, understanding. Consider these:
“…my diabetic daughter…” vs. “…my daughter with diabetes…”
“…she’s high again…” vs. “her glucose level is high again…”
“…the meter says you are 305…” vs. “…the meter says your glucose level is 305…”
For me, it’s important to recognize the difference between someone being a condition and someone having a condition. My daughter is not diabetes. She has diabetes; this is only one of many important characteristics that makes up her identity. She is so much more than diabetes, and to define her primarily in the context of diabetes is to diminish her as a person.
I’ve been considering the raging debate about the “titles” used to label diabetes. Type 1, Type 2, LADA, and most recently Type 3…there is so much confusion inherent in these labels, which leads to misunderstanding, which leads to judgment, which leads to resentment and even anger. I will admit feeling frustrated when people think that I somehow caused my daughter to develop diabetes because I fed her poorly, or didn’t keep her active enough, or birthed her by C-section, or immunized her, or whatever other “mistake” by which people judge mothers whose children are not “normal.” Maybe redefining the labels used to distinguish different forms of diabetes would be helpful in minimizing that judgment, but in the end, the reality is that any label ends up being used to separate out the good from the bad, the worthy from the worthless, the valuable from the disposable. Whatever we call T1D, it will always be known as the “your-immune-system-shit-the-bed diabetes.” Whatever we call T2D, it will be understood as “you-caused-your-own diabetes.” And how about T3D… “your-gut-ruined-your-brain diabetes”?