Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Words We Choose.

To the marketers, communicators, fundraisers, educators, healthcare providers, medical students, and everyone else who wants to talk about diabetes in a public way:

Please choose your words wisely.

When your "awareness" pitch uses language like suffers from, I have to assume that you have little to no idea what living with diabetes is really like. I'll clue you in: we don't want pity. Most of us are not suffering. We want empathy, not sympathy.

I've had type 1 diabetes for 26 years. Do I look like I "suffer" to you?

When you talk about diabetes in generalities; when you fail to specify the type of diabetes you're talking about; when you use one word to try to encompass and summarize the colorful spectrum that is diabetes - you sound ignorant. And we stop listening.

When your header image pairs up a familiar diabetes awareness logo with a guy holding a triple cheeseburger, I'm disgusted and ashamed... for you. Not for me.

When you communicate, you need to know your audience and how they want to be communicated with, and then follow that. It is your job to enlighten without offending. It is your duty to advocate without resorting to fear and shame. You must be more mindful because what you say and how you say it has far-reaching implications on how everyone views diabetes.

When you communicate, you are positioning yourself as a voice of authority. You are trying to speak for me even if I don't know that you are or want you to, and there are ways to do that which won't degrade me or my disease. Want to know what they are? Go peruse the diabetes online community. Read some tweets and blogs. Watch the videos we make. Or, I don't know, crazy idea here: go find some actual people living with diabetes and talk to them.

Empathy, not sympathy.

Words are important, and you need to choose yours oh, so carefully. Otherwise I'm voting that Diabetes Awareness Month needs to be followed by Blood Pressure Awareness Month.

The next time you go to write one of these things, let me suggest something: try a little more hope and encouragement. Try using facts without layering them with blame, and address us and our condition respectfully. Try talking about people with diabetes as if they are just that... people.

A little respect goes a long way.


  1. THANK YOU!! The only thing I suffer from is exposure to too many people who think I'm suffering.

    (And to make this comment more relevant to the day: why does the word "suffrage" mean "the right to vote"? I never understood that one -- it sounds as if it's something nobody wants.)

  2. I randomly came across your blog when I was searching for info on Dexcom coming to Canada. Somehow I found your video on inserting the Dexcom sensor in your arm and then this led me to your blog. Anyway...

    Well said! I've been T1 for almost 22 years, and I don't want pity or sympathy, but sometimes a little empathy goes along way! I have my good days and I have my bad, but I never feel like I'm suffering.

    Thanks for writing this :)

  3. YES! There are so many awareness campaigns and blogs that I can't read because they are all about the terrible stuff. It's a giant pity party- I want to focus on the positive :)

  4. Yeah... what she said. Thanks Kim!

  5. Preach it!

    I'm reminded the time a few months ago when, as I was soaking in a hot tub, I noticed that the big sign of medical warnings said that the hot tub was not for people suffering with diabetes. I decided that since I was not suffering with diabetes that the warning obviously did not apply. ;)

  6. Stuff like 'suffering with diabetes' makes my inner mama-bear get all sorts of pissed off and want to rip someone's head off. I hope that by the time Bean reads this stuff for herself they will have figured out how to better represent themselves and choose more accurate words.
    Thank you for paving the path my 8yearold will walk. *hugs*

  7. If there was a "love" button, I'd hit it.

  8. Thank goodness we have you to speak for us, Kim. You do it well!

  9. Powerful Words! Gosh I wish I could write like that! Just hope that those who need this, actually will read and contemplate on it! Congratulations on a beautiful rant! Well done!!


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