The Diabetes Mystery

When I was getting to know a new girlfriend, she praised me repeatedy for not minding her having diabetes. Huh? If you're into Bon Jovi, then we're talking, but having diabetes? That is pretty much the most uninteresting thing about a human that I can imagine. I know people get stigmatized for sitting in a wheelchair or having AIDS, but it seemed to me that suffering from diabetes is similar to suffering from hayfever in that respect. She, however, could come up with stories about discrimination.

I put that down to a mixture of bad luck and paranoia until I was sitting at a bar and overheard what the woman next to me said to the bartender:

"You serve those alcohol-free cocktails, don't you?"


"Do you also have something for... [starts whispering] something for diabetics?"

Is discrimination on the basis of diabetes common? And if so, why on earth?

P.S.: This is now the third ex-girlfriend I mention in a post in a relatively short while. This may give you an inaccurate impression of the wildness of my lovelife.


pj said...

Type I diabetes has an appreciable effect on life expectancy and has associated medical problems when you've had it for a while - so it isn't like hay fever.

On the other hand, there's supposed to be a significant stigma attached to epilepsy, which doesn't make much sense either.

LemmusLemmus said...

The larger question, of course, is why some qualities get stigmatized but not others. If I'd ever read a general theory on that, I'd let you know. It's safe to say, though, that people seem pretty volatile in that respect.

I think the thing about epilepsy is that it is "freakish". Weren't epileptics often accused of being possessed by the devil in past centuries?

Mike Kenny said...

maybe when people have to make adjustments for diabetics they project a sense of 'oh what a pain' that is maybe a bit more plain self-centered-ness rather than some prejudice against diabetics as somehow bad people.

Anonymous said...

First, pj is rigth, type 1 is nothing like hayfever, it's a pretty serious illness. Wikipedia has a short summary:


Second, I've never experienced any amount of significant discrimination because of my diabetes, and I have lived 21 out of 23 years with the disease. I live in Denmark though, things might be very different in the US. My grandmother didn't want to have me sleep over at her house during my early childhood because of my diabetes, as she is somewhat risk averse and couldn't handle if something were to happen with me while I was with them. But nothing much else has ever happened.

Btw. I don't think the woman managed the situation in the bar very well. There was no reason to whisper, and if she was an experienced diabetic I'd think she should have known better than to phrase the question like that. If she wanted a 'drink for diabetics', she should tell the barman what 'a drink for diabetics' is, she knows that way better than he does.

Incidentally, when I drink alcohol, I always mix the strong stuff with ie. ordinary (sugar content) cola, combinated with higher doses of fast-working insulin taken beforehand (when I'm having the evening meal). Strong alcoholic beverages lowers the blood sugar in the short run both much and fast, and if you don't counteract that effect somehow, it can easily cause hypoglycemia (that also a reason why it is _very_ dangerous for diabetics to drink on an empty stomach). I add the fast-working insulin because the ratio of sugarcontent-to-alcoholcontent in a standard drink is never optimal.

The above example is meant to illustrate a point I find important; that many of the times where diabetics demand 'special treatment', they are doing themselves a disservice. Often they could do just as well without it, and as Mike points out, by demanding unnecessary adjustments from other people they give these people a reason to be annoyed.

LemmusLemmus said...


I've never been to the US; I'm in Germany and the examples were from Germany.

I didn't say that type 1 diabetes is like hayfever; I said that I had expected diabetes to be like hayfever "in that respect", i.e., with respect to discrimination.

Just to clarify, I certainly didn't mean to belittle anyone's suffering from an illness!

Anonymous said...

LemmusLemmus: Thanks for the reply.

As to the first part, I didn't know you were German - I guess I just jumped to the wrong conclusion, I'm not a regular reader of this blog. Sorry about that.

As to the second part, after a second reading, and after reading your answer, it's quite clear that the hayfever part was solely directed towards the level of discrimination, not the severity of the disease. Point taken.


Just to add a little more I didn't think about before related to the potential motivation for discriminating against diabetics: Diabetes is not one disease, it's two (well, three if you count GDM). Type 1 is a serious, chronic disease, the outbreak of which you could have done nothing to prevent, and the cause of which is still pretty much a big mystery. I'd hardly learned how to walk when I got diagnosed, I'm pretty sure obesity didn't have a lot to do with it. Type 2 is also serious, but here it's well established that your own choices are linked to the disease risk, for instance more than half of all type 2 patients are obese.

Now, what I think is this: If people discriminate against diabetics, and perhaps some people do even if I haven't noticed, they discriminate against type 2 diabetics, because this disease is perceived as the patients' own fault - cynically put, just as smokers shouldn't expect any sympathy when they get lung cancer, type 2 patients shouldn't expect much sympathy from people when they go blind or lose a leg, because "it's their own fault". This theory could explain discrimination against type 1 patients and otherwise healthy type 2 patients as well: If the people who are discriminating do not realize that there's a difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes (I've seen a lot of people confuse them myself) and/or they don't realize that not all type 2 cases are life-style related (there's a strong genetic component to type 2 as well), some people will get caught in the crossfire. More than 90% of all diabetes patients have type 2, so it would be quite natural for people to just think 'type 2' when someone says he or she suffers from 'diabetes'.

Sorry about the long comments.

Anonymous said...

Oh yes, I didn't come around to the question as to why the fact that a disease is your own fault would to some people make you a legitimate target for discrimination? This is the harder question, most people would probably say that the disease itself is punishment enough. I don't know.