I speak and write about language a lot.
I will continue to do so, because I truly believe that the words that engulf us when we speak or hear about diabetes have a direct impact on how we feel about our condition. The emotion cannot be removed from it and negative or judgemental, stigmatising or blaming words make us feel…well….negative, judged, stigmatised and blamed.
I frequently point my finger at healthcare professionals for their use of judgemental language and the media for their use of poorly researched facts and sloppy language. And I note lazy jokes where my health condition is considered a punch line.
You may have read it here or heard it when I have given a talk (it will probably get an airing tomorrow!). And if you follow me on Twitter, it is highly likely you will have seen me tweet the link to the Diabetes Australia Language Position Statement to someone who hasn’t quite got it right.
But I have never ever been able to put into words how I feel about the language that some of our loved ones – or caregivers – use when speaking about diabetes and how it can – completely unintentionally – be damaging.
My dad – love him to pieces – sees my diabetes as an illness. He thinks that I am sick. I have spoken with him over and over about why that is not the way I see my diabetes and that I am actually incredibly healthy, and he absolutely means to harm when he uses the words he does. But they do affect me.
I sat in a meeting while low – managing perfectly well, but having explained the reason I was munching on glucose tabs – and my manager at the time asked if I needed a nurse. He was concerned, but I realised he also didn’t trust my ability to look after myself when I am more than capable – something I had demonstrated to him over and over again.
I am not the parent of a child with diabetes, so I don’t get to play in that space and comment. But I do have real concerns at times. I worry about the language that is used around kids and the way that the child’s diabetes is being represented.
So that is why when I woke this morning and read this piece over at A Sweet Life from Moira McCarthy Stanford, my words stopped. I couldn’t even think straight for a moment because every single thing she wrote resonated so strongly. I actually burst into tears. (I was low, so there was that too. But honestly, I just couldn’t believe how clearly and articulately she put into words my thoughts.)
Moira’s blog post should be required reading for anyone around someone with diabetes. She nails it. Perfectly. I urge you to read it. I urge you to share it. If you are part of a family support group, send it to all members of the group and discuss is amongst yourselves. You don’t need to agree with it all, but it is definitely worth having a robust and honest discussion about it.
If you are a parent (my parent!), I hope that you understand why these phrases and words have the potential to be damaging.
At no time would I ever dismiss the difficulty of having a loved one with diabetes. I can’t imagine what it takes to watch us living with it and not really be able to do something. I would never underestimate your role.
But sometimes, the words you use underestimate ours. Moira – thank you for not doing that.