The mind grows sicker than the body in contemplation of its suffering.

Ovid, (43 BC – 17 AD), Roman Poet

There are many things about life with diabetes that get me ranting (see: well, pretty much everything on this blog). But I think the thing that makes me see red more than anything else is the language used when talking about diabetes.

Yesterday, there was an article in The Age newspaper about type 1 diabetes. The article was focusing on an important fundraising initiative that I support 100 per cent.

I love it when type 1 diabetes is in the media – and not just as an adjunct to an article on the diabetes epidemic. But what I don’t love is the way that diabetes (type 1 or type 2) is reported. There are very few cases of accurate coverage about diabetes and this gets me frustrated beyond belief.

So what was it that got me irritated? It was the use of the words ‘suffer’ and ‘sufferer’, which appeared three times in the very short article. As in: people who ‘suffer from type 1 diabetes’.  Now in all honesty, this was a piece of pretty average reporting and the laziness illustrated by using the same terminology three times is evidence of this. However, it got me angry. Really angry.

Let me say this here and now and in capitals. I LIVE WITH DIABETES. And I will add to that that I LIVE WELL with diabetes.

That doesn’t mean that living with diabetes is all fun and games. I know it isn’t and I write about that frequently. But equally, it’s not all doom and gloom.

Here is what I think about when I see the word suffer: I think helplessness, I think powerlessness and I think a lack of ability to take control and responsibility of a situation. I think that others will see it as an excuse to discriminate and as a reason to pity.

I am not helpless, I am not powerless and whilst diabetes doesn’t play by the rules, I take responsibility for and control of the way I live with this condition. Discriminating against me because I have diabetes is not an option and don’t you dare pity me.

Clearly, this has really upset me. More so than usual. I suspect that’s because actually, I am having a tough time with diabetes at the moment. I’m slipping into a sense of burning out. But even when I’m doin’ it tough, I still don’t consider myself as a ‘sufferer’.

Last year, Diabetes Australia released a position statement about the language used when speaking to and about people with diabetes. I don’t think that it’s been particularly widely read by journalists (obviously, the writer of this particular article hadn’t seen it). When we released the statement, a lot of people rolled their eyes and dismissed it as political correctness gone mad.

But it’s not. And while you may not agree with everything outlined in the position statement, it is important to understand the reason for such resources. Language is important. When we were getting ready to launch the statement, I did a little exercise and asked those nearest and dearest to me to use a word (or a couple) to describe me. No one said ‘sufferer’. Is that how you would like people to describe you?

I understand that not everyone with diabetes agrees with me – and that’s fine (although it would be easier if everyone did!). Some people do feel like they are suffering. I did what I always do when I want to get a gauge on how others feel – I put it out on social media and I annoyed the poor people who I work with.

The responses were mixed with some saying we need strong language to illustrate what our conditions are all about. They felt that by tiptoeing around language we are dismissing the seriousness of what we live with. Others agreed with my feelings. Of course, there is no simple answer. But for me, just for once, I’d like to see diabetes reported in an accurate way and people living with diabetes represented truthfully. Just once!

So, is it just me? Are you bothered by the words ‘suffer’ and ‘sufferer’? Or is there other language used about diabetes that drives you nuts?

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