Someone asking “Is that the type you get from eating too much sugar?”, #diabeteshereicome on an Instagram picture of a doughnut or a news report referring to “obesity, which can lead to heart disease, strokes or diabetes”… I don’t know if I could choose which annoys me most.
If you know me, or if you follow me on any social media platform, you probably know that it infuriates me when people are ignorant about the difference between type 1 and 2 diabetes. And if you don’t know that difference, let’s clear it up…
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease. This is when your body’s immune system attacks something in your body which is not an illness or infection, something which it is not supposed to attack, in this case, your beta cells. These are cells which measure your blood glucose levels and produce insulin (along with some other hormones) to control this. When these cells are attacked, your body cannot produce insulin and therefore cannot convert glucose into energy. This commonly happens in childhood or adolescence but can also happen in adulthood. It is not clear what causes this to happen, theories include viruses or childhood trauma. This is the type of diabetes I have and it can only be controlled using insulin, and is also referred to as insulin dependent diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes is more common, accounting for around 90% of diabetes cases. Unlike in type 1, your body still produces insulin and can be considered a progressive illness rather than an autoimmune disease. Some people do not like to class it as this as you can sometimes slow down or stop it’s progression. Type 2 will start with insulin resistance where your body cannot use the insulin it is producing effectively. This can be hereditary or caused by lifestyle. Lack of exercise, ageing, hormones, certain medications, and most commonly weight gain can lead to insulin resistance. If you are insulin resistant, and your pancreas cannot make enough insulin to deal with this, you will develop type 2 diabetes. Type 2 can be controlled through diet, exercise, tablets and insulin depending on the individual and what stage it is at.
Halle Berry is evil personified in the type 1 community after being misdiagnosed as type 1, when she was actually type 2 and claiming in the media that she “weaned herself off” of insulin through diet and exercise. This is NOT POSSIBLE for type 1 diabetics, and it cannot be cured with cinammon, herbs or a breakthrough pill.
At this stage, it is worth mentioning, there are some other types of diabetes such as gestational diabetes and LADA. Type 1 and type 2 are the two most common types.
So some people don’t see any harm in stating that an unhealthy lifestyle “can lead to diabetes” – Matthew Wright, most channel 4 documentaries and disappointingly, some of my family members included, and I can see why you might not see the problem unless you live with it every day. It is true that unhealthy habits can lead to type 2 diabetes, along with other conditions such as heart disease, cancer or strokes and I do see the importance of highlighting this, to try to encourage people to be healthy. But for me, the importance of referring to which type you mean is huge. The general public think of “diabetes” as a fat person’s disease, something to be joked about on Saturday Night Live. Now you might say, “lighten up”, “take a joke”, but to me this public ignorance is a big part of why we do not receive the funding we deserve. You often see headlines about how much of a drain diabetes is on the NHS, a problem costing the tax payer money all because I ate too many chocolate bars when I was a child… this isn’t the case. I didn’t do anything (or not do anything) which led to my my diabetes and it is a serious illness. Every time you caption a Krispy Kreme photo with a joke about diabetes, you reinforce the stereotype and you cause me another wrinkle!
There has been a lot of debate in the diabetes community about changing the names of type 1 and 2 diabetes. I used to think this was a great idea and would stop me from getting tarnished with the fat brush. I have changed my mind now and think that if the media and general public can’t differentiate between the two types at the moment, what chance is there that they’ll understand a name change. I also don’t agree with a big divide between people with T1 and T2 diabetes… people with type 2 get a hard time too! Firstly, not all type 2 is caused by lifestyle. There are other causes, particularly genetics. And while we’re on this topic… it is not a direct link between sugar and type 2 diabetes. It is carrying extra weight which causes insulin resistance, whether this extra weight comes from eating Nutella with a spoon, or a daily fry up for breakfast!
Secondly, even if your lifestyle did ’cause’ your illness, do you really deserve such a hard time for it? You’re living with something day in, day out which has a huge impact on your health. If you have done something to lead to that, I’m sure you know it and regret it already, you don’t need someone who has no idea what you are going through judging you for it. Other illness can be caused by lifestyle and in my opinion, are not penalised for it. For example, cancer can be caused by smoking , eating too much processed food or red meat, or lack of physical inactivity. Yet cancer is not often joked about (occasionally is, by some sick people), patients are not judged for having caused their illness (and neither they should be) and people generally have more sympathy. I am not asking people to feel sorry for people with diabetes, I am just asking people to take it more seriously, differentiate between type 1 and 2 and stop placing the blame on us!
If you’re anything like me, you will constantly be blaming yourself every time your blood sugar is too high, every time your HbA1c is off target, every time you over-treat a low blood sugar and end up riding that rollercoaster, every time you are late in phoning in for a prescription and every time you run out of hypo treatments on the go. This is horrible to live with, completely exhausting on your mental health and so the moral of this blog post is…
Be nice to diabetics, they put up with enough pricks already