The UK’s National Health System is in a war against diabetes, so is the Singaporean Ministry of Health. It is wonderful that governments around the world are deploying free healthy cooking classes and exercise programs in a bid to curb the disease. Diabetes isn’t only a pain in the butt for diabetics, it’s also a life sucking drain on national resources. However, if you or your child has type 1 diabetes, ‘waging war’ on the chronic condition might not be the best metaphor to deploy.
Child Onset Diabetes
Childhood diabetes (type 1) is different to the modern epidemic we associate with an unhealthy lifestyle or old age (type 2). Type 1 is rarer. In America 29 million people have type 2, but only 1.25 million have type 1. Of those 1.25 million only 5% are adults. Type 1 Diabetes is especially dangerous if left untreated in the body of child. Without insulin therapy, diabetes rapidly and literally shrinks them from the inside out. It wastes them till they go blind and disappear altogether in a pool of their own sugary pee. The Romans called diabetes ‘the pissing disease’. It has been killing people for a very long time. When I was eventually diagnosed at age 9, I had the body weight of a 5-6 year old. There is always hope that scientists will soon cure type 1 diabetes, but until that happens, I can’t throw it out of my life no matter how many wars I wage against it.
The Monkey in my Pocket
I’ve mentioned before that I think of my diabetes as the monkey in my pocket. I’d love to be free of the inept, long armed, drooling little ape, but the problem is, he is thoroughly attached to me. Most of the time, he is happy enough to let me do whatever I want. However, occasionally he has a fit of rage and I need to be exceptionally patient and kind to calm him down. I have had to learn to carry him, steady him when he wobbles and teach him to adapt to my ever-changing lifestyle as I drag him around the globe. Monkey doesn’t like to go more than a few hours without food, so I feed him. He doesn’t like to travel, so I coax him. He really doesn’t like to run, so I bribe him. Waging war on him would end in disaster. It would be exhausting and I would effectively be waging war on myself.
Why Words Matter When Fighting the Good Fight
Now I can hear what you are thinking. I know governments and parents are fighting the good fight when they declare war on diabetes. As a diabetic I thoroughly appreciate the hard efforts of Governments to combat the disease. I know diabetes can be struggle, turmoil and heartache so it makes perfect sense to call it out for the shit pile it is, and launch a missile in its general direction. You can’t sugar coat, an already sugar saturated disease. I agree. I agree. But words matter, especially with children. The words we choose to explain the condition affecting young people will guide how they in turn think about it and manage it. Young diabetics have to learn very quickly to carry, accept, and look after their diabetes because until there is a cure, it is part of them. The actions associated with carrying, accepting and looking after are totally different to those associated with struggling, fighting, or war waging. War cannot be the long-term approach diabetics are encouraged to take towards their condition.
Leading Type 1 Diabetes by the Hand
Type 1 diabetics cannot win against diabetes. They can only win with it. The enemy of diabetics is far sneakier then the drooling monkey who lives in their pocket. The enemies are excess sugar, alcohol and a sedentary lifestyle. These fraudsters walk around in shiny packaging, and hang out in all the cool places. So rather than waging war on diabetes, take up arms against these guys and teach young people to do the same. We can throw them out, kick them to the curb, and only let them in on special occasions when with careful insulin adjustments they can be managed and enjoyed. We cannot kick out type 1 diabetes, at least not yet. Unlike type 2, type 1 is not reversible. I believe that until a type 1 cure becomes reality, we need to choose our words carefully. So if you, or your child is carrying type 1 diabetes, don’t wage war on it. Take it by the hand, start peace negotiations, and show your diabetes how you want to live your life.