What Not to Say to a Diabetic

From my encounters most people are ignorant to diabetes. Yes, they have heard about it. Their best friend's cousin's grandmother has it and sticks her finger, but they do not know much else. General knowledge about diabetes is lacking and it shows in how non-diabetics interact with diabetics in public.

Diabetics have to make almost 200 extra decisions each day to manage our condition. We have to consider what we eat, when we eat, how much insulin to administer, when to administer said insulin, what physical activity are we doing today, what is the day's stress level. The list goes on and on...

The last thing we want or should have to consider is how to respond to some ignoramus we encounter in the restaurant while trying to administer an insulin injection. Let's educate ourselves to avoid awkward or ill-advised questions and comments.

1. "You are going to eat/drink that?"

You are darn right I am! A common misconception is that all diabetes is the same. Type 2 diabetes (T2D) is when the body resists the effects of insulin or the pancreas does not produce enough insulin to stabilize blood sugar levels. T2D results from a combination of genetics and environmental factors (obesity, inactivity, etc.). Type 2 diabetics are generally advised to reconstruct their diet to reduce refined carbohydrates and saturated fats.

Type 1 diabetes (T1D) is an autoimmune disease that occurs when the pancreas stops producing insulin. Approximately 5% of the population has T1D (lucky me). There is no way to prevent the onset of the disease. Since the pancreas does not produce insulin, I have to inject synthetic insulin. In short, I plug the number of carbohydrates every time I eat/drink into my carb-to-insulin ratio to determine the amount of insulin I need to keep my blood sugar in range. As long as I administer the insulin necessary to cover the carbs in this brownie or that cocktail, I can and will enjoy it.

2. "You don't look old/young/fat/inactive/[adjective of your choice] to be diabetic."

You are correct, sir. I am neither fat nor inactive. Aside from T1D, I am a healthy individual. I eat a balanced diet and workout regularly, but it is clear you do not know the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Diagnosis is not a result of lifestyle, but of your body attacking insulin producing beta cells. It used to be called "juvenile diabetes", but that is no longer a fitting name because adults, like myself, are diagnosed with the disease.

T1D does not have a type, a go-to victim. You cannot look at a person and determine if they are or are not a diabetic. Without my diabetes tech adhered to my skin, I look like your everyday 28-year-old woman.

3. "What's going on here?" + [accusatory expression]

For the love of all things, no! No, I am not doing hard drugs at the table in Olive Garden!

I have to inject synthetic insulin every time I eat a meal and for most snacks. Being diabetic does not mean I am skipping out on endless soup and bread sticks. There is no "good" locations to inject in public, but some are definitely better than others. When I was first diagnosed, I would go the restroom to check my BG levels and inject. Have you ever been in a public restroom? GAG! And why should I be embarrassed and have to hide away in a dirty, wet, unsanitary public restroom to inject a hormone I need to survive?!

So yes, I inject at the dining table in plain sight!

4. "I wish I was diabetic so I could eat candy/sweets like you."

I assure you you do not want to be a diabetic. You do not want to have to eat candy or drink sugary juice because your blood sugar is at 40 mg/dL and you are sweating and shaking uncontrollably and cannot get up off the floor. You do not want to have to check your blood sugar and calculate an insulin dose every time you want to put a morsel in your mouth.

You want to be healthy. You want to be able to eat a candy bar without sticking your finger and giving yourself a shot. You want to enjoy food without having to do math. You want to enjoy food without worrying if your blood sugar will plummet or sky-rocket. You want your pancreas to do its job!

I have personally experienced each of these encounters and more. I know my fellow diabetics have too. If you are not a diabetic, I encourage you to educate yourself on the disease - the different types, the symptoms and the treatments. Educate yourself, so you do not offend a diabetic who is making a ton of extra decisions to stay alive, while your body is regulating automatically. Be considerate, have some couth, stop staring and be grateful for your health!

All you diabetics out there, turn these encounters into educational opportunities. The world will remain ignorant to our condition and struggles if we do not teach the world about them. Be honest, encourage questions and be proud of yourself for surviving and thriving!

The information contained in this blog is a compilation of thoughts, opinions, and personal experience.  Information is researched and gathered from reputable sources, but Ice Cream and Insulin is not responsible for errors or omissions in reporting or explanation.  The discussions should not be considered advice, medical or otherwise.  If you have concerns about your health, the information should not be used to self-diagnose or self-treat.  Please consult a physician before making any changes to your medical plan.