Why I’m a Diabetic

Melinda Seed writes for Twice Diabetes

Actually I have no idea why I have diabetes. If I really knew exactly why type 1 occurs I’d be publishing in the BMJ or the NEJM, I just wanted to talk about the language of being a diabetic as opposed to a person with diabetes.

As a word nerd, I appreciate the power of words to shape our thoughts and frame the way we view ourselves and determine how others see and (ultimately) treat us. It’s why I get really annoyed by the misleading term “compliance” when used about the 1000s of decisions, calculations, choices and acts we perform every hour of every day in order to stop diabetes killing us in the short, medium or long term. It is simply the wrong word and it misleads people-as though managing diabetes is just like following a few simple instructions-easy peasy. Not!  So, taking my language seriously I just don’t understand why so many people with diabetes get genuinely offended by the term diabetic.

I  find the arguments put forward to support the strong dislike of this term unconvincing-are we taking on a shame about a medical condition and adding to it through this euphemistic clunky way of speaking of ourselves.

I mean do you refer to yourself as a person who is a doctor, or a person who is an Australian/American/Kenyan etc, what about a person who is a man or a woman or a person who teaches or a person who is a doctor? Why or why not?

  1. I am not defined by my disease/I am more than a disease, don’t refer to me in that way. This sounds reasonable until you really think about it.  We use terminology like this all the time, mother, daughter, AFL-supporter, doctor, lawyer etc.  Why is that sometimes it is completely fine to create a noun about one aspect of our life and this is not limiting at all but not for others?  I have had it suggested that we don’t choose to have diabetes and that is the difference. Again I find that unconvincing, I didn’t choose to be born or choose my gender, but I’m fine with being called a daughter and a woman. Similarly, I’m Caucasian and an Australian I didn’t choose either of these states either but nobody objects to words like British, American, Australian, Somalian, etc.Do you really need to tell someone you are a person-really?? I find it offensive in the extreme to have to tell somebody I’m a person -that is really insulting.  It also seems to me that we’re implicitly accepting that there is something shameful or wrong about being a diabetic-we need to create a weird, linguistically clumsy sort of euphemism.
  2. A slightly stronger argument is that  “diabetic” encourages health care professionals to see you as a bunch of organs, saying “person with diabetes” reminds them you are a person not just a medical condition.I agree with the sentiment underlying this to an extent. Yes, HCPs can tend to minimise so it’s the appendix in bed 4, the broken leg in emergency and the diabetic in ward 9 and this can undermine a wholistic approach to wellness and this is particularly problematic in a chronic condition like diabetes where your whole life is impacted by the condition and you need to be in the right headspace as well.It’s my opinion that replacing “diabetic” with “person with diabetes” doesn’t  address the lack of holistic care, it just makes it sound as though “diabetic” is an insulting term.  Medical training is very focused on organs and the whole speciality system in medicine supports it. Is care for those conditions that lack a “noun descriptor” any more wholistic than for those with one.  Is there any credible evidence that asthma, diabetes and epilepsy are conditions in which people are treated as a bunch or organs any more so than those who have cancer, ulcerative colitis or hypothyroidism?

What do you think?  Is there something inherently shameful about diabetes or something else that means we must treat it in a linguistically different way from other parts of the human condition?

2 thoughts on “Why I’m a Diabetic

  1. I completely agree with you, Melinda! I remember years ago, as a much younger Diabetic, a friend of mine verbally slapped me for calling myself thus. She had Epilepsy, and stated that ‘I am a person with Epilepsy, not an Epileptic’. I replied with ‘Well, I’m a Diabetic, because I cant be arsed with silly semantics’. I was not then, or ever have been, ashamed of having Type 1 D. It’s part of me, and takes up a large portion. I have other things to worry about than word play. I now have Psoriatic Arthritis, so D has had to share space in my personal descriptors. lol

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