Diabetes yes, but I am not a Diabetic!

You have diabetes or you live with diabetes or you were diagnosed with diabetes, but you ARE NOT A DIABETIC! We need to address this terminology error. We need to remember what the word diabetes means: 'to siphon'. The diagnostic name is Diabetes Mellitus which means the siphoning of sweet as honey referring to the polyuria caused by high concentrations of glucose in the blood. In other words, you actually have diabetes when you have the typical symptoms of uncontrolled diabetes. Controlled diabetes leads to no clinical symptoms of diabetes. I am not a siphon and I am clearly not trying to siphon anything, but I do use external insulin to manage my blood glucose concentrations. I do not need to be defined by my friends or family as an insulin user. The only people who need to define people as clinical data, are doctors.

I think we get the idea that we do not want diabetes to be the defining characteristic of our lives. Everybody wears many hats and the common parlance does not imply that any particular hat is the one that defines that person.

I'm thinking of the label, "student." I don't think anyone concludes, for even a minute, that if a person that takes classes and studies then that is the only thing that defines who they are, The same goes for "worker" or "Catholic." Even a school-age child is not thought of as simply a student. People realize that they are also family members, athletes, and friends.

Some of this discussion arises out of a sensitivity from those of us that actually live with this disease. We struggle every day to balance our "real lives" with the demands of diabetes. I don't think many members of the public think that diabetes is the only thing we do, all day, every day. On the contrary, I think the bias in the public's mind is that diabetes only means taking a few shots or pills and then we go on our merry way.

I understand the sentiment but I don't mind the term, "diabetic." Just as I don't mind the term, "driver," or movie-goer," or "writer." I don't think any of theses terms defines me and I don't think that the public thinks that either.

I know I'm going against the grain here and I don't say this just to provoke controversy. I will respect how people preferred to be described but for me I don't care if someone describes me as a diabetic. I am fine with that. In my own mind I also know that I'm a parent, brother, neighbor, professional associate, TuD member, walker, breather, sleeper and eater. None of these terms express in shorthand the totality of my life and I don't think that most people think that. My two cents.

I understand the reasoning behind the terminology as well, and do work to make sure diabetes doesn't define me. But I also am neutral on the phrasing and use them alternately for myself. Though I do agree that language matters in how we think of ourselves.

I do have an issue with the idea that "controlled diabetes leads to no symptoms of diabetes". First of all, controlled is a relative term. Do you mean the ADA definition of under 7.0 or do you mean "normal" blood sugars of 5.0?

And as a Type 1 diabetic I do have symptoms of diabetes! I do not have complications and I spend most of my time in the normal range feeling just like anyone else. But I do (like most type 1's) have variations. I do sometimes go high and I do sometimes go low and those are definitely symptoms (with physical and cognitive correlaries) And bottom line, I am not like people without diabetes. What I do to have controlled diabetes is 24/7. Do people without diabetes limit and count carbs? Do they get up and test their blood sugar and proceed to do so ten times a day? Do they write down everything they eat and all their blood sugar readings. Do they take multiple shots or wear an insulin pump and constantly think about insulin doses just to keep from being severely symptomatic? Nope. You don't stop having diabetes when you are "controlled". I wish.

I understand what you are saying, but I can't say that I mind being referred to as a diabetic. I also really like people first language, but for some reason, the acronym "PWD" has always seemed a little creepy to me. I guess as in all things in life, to each his own!

I personally don't mind the label "diabetic." For one thing, I think there's power in identification. Yes, it's a label, but I'm also female, Jewish, pre-med, and lots of other things. I don't have a problem with all of my other labels, so why should this one bother me? It describes one aspect of my life, the same way all of my other labels do. If others want to use one of my labels to describe me, I don't care--as long as it's accurate and isn't used in a derogatory way.

I understand why some people have a problem with being labeled "diabetic." It just isn't something that bothers me.

I don't like the term "diabetic" either. But it is the most common term in use today, and people don't mean anything negative, so I don't correct anyone. For myself, however, I never use the term. I'll say "I have Diabetes" or "I was diagnosed with Diabetes". The difference is important to me.

I agree with you. I am not a diabetic either. But, you're talking to a wall. People don't seem to care that they use the word incorrectly.

diabetic: Relating to or designed to relieve diabetes:
a diabetic clinic
a diabetic diet

i have diabetes and i am a type 1 diabetic, no way around it, call it what you want. also, whether controlled or uncontrolled, which is totally subjective terminology IMO, i still have symptoms of diabetes. 'clinical symptoms of diabetes'..hum, not sure what that means. i'm a type 1 diabetic, reminded of it every day while I inject 6, 7, 8+ shots of insulin to keep me alive everyday. There's nothing normal about the regime and management it takes to handle (or at least try) Type 1 diabetes. There is nothing 'normal' about having to inject analog (man-made) insulin into subq fat to try and live everyday, compared to what a 'normal' non-diabetic's body does everyday without effort.

From dictionary.com:

di·a·bet·ic [dahy-uh-bet-ik]
of or pertaining to diabetes or persons having diabetes.
having or resulting from diabetes.
a person who has diabetes.
[emphasis added]

I say "I have diabetes" I don't refer to myself as "A Diabetic" As a friend with MS syas, no one calls her a "schlerotic" To be diabetic as a word is an adjective, not a noun. I am also careful to not call people alcoholics, schizophrenics (sp?). The main reason is that in today's world, "diabetic" is a derogatory term - and until the real indfo gets out there, I won't use it as a noun. But that's me. I am not ashamed of have type 1, but there are so many other words that can describe me more accurately.

You're the second person who has said that; just checked my dictionary. "diabetic - adj. having diabetes (relating to or designed to relieve diabetes. Noun: a person suffering from diabetes." Just thought I'd throw that in to be picky. (I do understand why people don't like to use it, but the grammar is not incorrect).

I know that it is in the dictionary as a noun, but I am passionate about avoiding labeling people. It was a challenge when I worked in law enforcement, where labeling was the name of the game. So many others in the dept would just roll their eyes and sigh...

Somehow being called "a diabetic" allows the people without diabetes to assume things that aren't correct, and can be hurtful - in my opinion. But again, that's me.
1 Like

Oops..I didn't notice that Terry had already posted a definition.

And I totally understand and respect your point of view, artwoman.

I use "politically correct" language all the time because it's what's expected of me professionally. But I don't care if people call me "a diabetic" instead of someone who "has diabetes" or "a blind person" instead of "a person who is blind" and so on. To me, this language has no impact on how I actually conduct my life—whether I let diabetes or blindness or anything else define me is up to me, not the language people use to describe me. The language also (from what I can tell) has no impact on how others actually think about or treat me. Often people who stumble over the word "blind" trying to find a suitable alternative are more negative in their attitude about blindness than people who just come out and call me (or themselves) blind.

I sometimes think so much effort is directed towards language—often without consulting the people actually involved in that language (when it comes to disability)—that it makes people feel like they're "doing good" and doing something to change society, when in reality the energy could be spent elsewhere making real change.

Does the language change society? Or do sociological progress change the language? I'm not convinced it's the former.

On thing I don't like about the whole focus on language in disability and chronic illness is that in a sense changing language simply emphasizes that these things should be perceived as negative. Why is "diabetic" not acceptable but "athletic" is? Or "blind" is a problem but "smart" is not? If language is going to change, then references to all of these adjectives should change, not just the ones perceived as negative.

I totally avoid what consider the ontological orientation of "diabetic" vs. "person with diabetes", "people with diabetes", "having diabetes or whatever". The only place that I regularly use it is to market the "diabetics who run marathons" group here, but someone else set up the group and, well, it's sort of about kicking diabetes' â– â– â–  so, well, you know...

Excellent point, Jen!

Jen - You raise an interesting point. Do the collective hearts of people change for the better and that drives language changes or does structural language changes drive people to change their hearts about a social issue? It's the classic chicken and egg argument. Which comes first?

When I wrote my initial response to this post I had not considered the shame and guilt experienced by many people with diabetes. I'm a T1D and never had to deal with that aspect. I never thought of myself as shameful or guilty because I had diabetes. It was just a bad turn of fate, drawing the short straw in the genetic game of chance.

It wasn't until I started participating in this forum that I realized the deep vein of shame and guilt that runs through the emotional makeup of many people with diabetes, especially overweight T2s. That social prejudice is real and daunting. It doesn't bite me but I now finally get it.

I've also read research that suggested that being overweight may simply be caused by the same disorder that causes T2D. In other words, being overweight is a parallel symptom, not a cause of T2D. It may take generations before this fact settles into our social consciousness.

Language does matter. Assigning a label to something is consequential. If the tern "diabetic" carries with it a pejorative payload for some in my community then I have no problem eliminating my use of the term. It does go against my grain as a writer to use a three-word term instead of a one word term but that's a small price to pay.

I don't see this in the context of political correctness, a term often used in a mocking manner. Rather, I see it as being socially correct out of respect for people in my community as well as the larger world.

The reason I try so hard to not use "diabetic" as a noun comes from two experiences. The first, my mother used to introduce me as "This is my daughter, she's a diabetic" That elicited pity or accusations etc..., It wasn't until a good friend of hers then said "A Diabetic, does the "a" stand for Alice" Then in EMS training all too often I heard "diabetics will die early from this or that, said perjoratively". That sealed the deal for me. I refused to approach a person with diabetes ans "doomed anyway".

Kind of off topic, artwoman, but you reminded me of my mother. When I was a teenager and we were at a picnic, she introduced me time and again as "my beautiful young daughter". I finally asked her to stop saying that, so she introduced me to the next person as "my ugly old daughter." That next person was totally confused; I excused myself and disappeared.

As for the actual topic, I never use the word "diabetic", but I don't mind if other people do. They could say worse things.

I wasn't using the term "politically correct" in a mocking way, though I realize the quotes could have given that impression. I used the quotes because I was referring to using this type of language in the sense of its use everywhere, not just within discussions of diabetes.

I think "diabetic" versus "person with diabetes" does fall under the umbrella of political correctness—shifting words around so that the emphasis is supposed to fall on the individual, and not the disability/condition that they have. Sometimes it does involve changing or eliminating words, but often it simply involves changing the order of words. If you look up information on this phenomenon, diabetes and other medical conditions such as asthma and epilepsy are included in discussions and documentation.

As I said, though, I feel as if changing language in this manner actually does the opposite of what it intends and puts the emphasis on the fact that this is a negative aspect of someone and therefore an attempt must be made to hide it. I wouldn't have a problem with this type of language manipulation if it applied to ALL language. But I don't understand why it should be okay to say that someone is artistic but that someone is diabetic. If language changes, then everything needs to change, or else nothing needs to change.

I feel that society itself needs to change. Negative attitudes and prejudice and stereotypes are what create all these negative emotions, whether we're talking about diabetes or any other health condition or disability. I don't think changing language is simply going to make labels disappear. We use labels all the time whether we are talking about characteristics or nationalities or professions or hobbies. I fully agree with what you say about Type 2 diabetes, but I think these negative emotions result from society's prejudices and negative attitudes. What needs to change are societal attitudes, and I'm just not convinced that changing the order of words is going to change society in respect to its attitude toward certain labels. Especially considering that those who take the effort to say "a person with diabetes" rather than "a diabetic" are probably those already involved and aware, not those who need the education and enlightenment.

Of course, everyone should use whatever term they are comfortable with. I would never force a term on someone if it made them uncomfortable. I have worked with clients who refuse to use the term "blind"—and so I use whatever term they use themselves, whether that be "a problem with my eyes" or something else. I always use "a person with ..." language in professional writing, and often it slips into my everyday writing (if you searched my posts on this forum, I probably use "have diabetes" much more than I use "diabetic"). I don't think there's anything wrong with using "have diabetes" if one wishes—I just don't think a concerted effort to make society as a whole use this term will result in any meaningful change with respect to societal attitudes or prejudices and the resulting emotions that result for those living with diabetes.