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Shedding the diabetes stigma: Say no to blame and shame

You're already checking your blood sugar, seeing doctors and educators, and watching what you eat. Anyone who wants to judge you—including yourself—should be impressed by what you're getting right, not looking for ways to criticize.

If you ever feel down on yourself for having diabetes, or worry that others might, try to do four things for yourself:

  1. Believe you didn't cause diabetes. You've most likely been told or read that diabetes isn't your fault, but do you believe it? Whether you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, you didn't do this to yourself. Diabetes is a complex condition with a strong genetic component. While many people continue to think that diabetes is the result of being overweight or eating sweets, many overweight people don't have diabetes, and many slim people do.1 You cannot see the cause of your diabetes in the mirror.

  2. Know that diabetes doesn't define you. When diabetes care takes up a good portion of your time and energy, it can be easy to feel like it's taking over. Try not to think of yourself as "a diabetic." Rather, consider yourself as a great parent who happens to have diabetes. A hilariously funny friend who manages a medical condition. A fabulous, multifaceted human being who loves to sing, read and swim (see? diabetes doesn't even have to make the list). The point is, labels tear down your self-image and self-confidence, so try to focus on the things you love about yourself.

  3. Take care of your mind, too. People with diabetes are more likely to experience depression and anxiety than the general population.1 It makes sense—the 24/7 nature of diabetes management, the physical impact of high blood sugar and the attitudes of others can all wear you down. So if you're feeling low or overwhelmed, that's normal. The good news? You can get help dealing with the social and emotional burdens of living with a disease people often don't even try to understand. Talk about it at your next appointment with your regular doctor, and they can point you in the right direction.

  4. Keep up the good work. It's easy to let your self-care slip if you're feeling down on yourself, or you're worried about what people will think if they see you checking your blood sugar, taking medication or injecting insulin, or eating virtually anything. However, you have to live with the short- and long-term consequences of those decisions—not them.

    You have enough to think about without worrying about other people's perceptions. Set them straight, send them to Google or walk away. But don't take uninformed, negative perceptions on board. You know that you're doing a good job, and your opinion is the only one that matters.

1Diabetes Canada. Stigma should not be part of a diabetes diagnosis. Available at: https://www.diabetes.ca/managing-my-diabetes/stories/stigma-should-not-b.... Accessed June 24, 2019.

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