Have you ever felt like you were the focus of someone’s joke? It’s not a fun feeling, even if it’s not intended to be hurtful.
I was thinking about an experience I had a couple of years ago when Kaitlyn was going to her first church summer girls camp. She was almost 12 and not quite ready to take on all of her own diabetes care, so I volunteered to come along to help out. I quickly remembered, though, how different middle-school-aged kids are from the sweet elementary-school crowd.
On the first day, we were sitting on the bus driving out to the camp, and there was a girl in the front seat who started drawing pictures and writing notes and passing them around the bus. When one of the pictures came to our row, I took it and saw that she had doodled a picture of a disproportioned and overweight person with a message about having diabetes. I folded it up quickly, but not before Kaitlyn, who was sitting next to me, saw it. She kind of shrugged her shoulders and didn’t say anything, but I could see that she was embarrassed.
Later, when we arrived at camp, I took the note over to the artist girl and explained that the picture was hurtful and that there were girls at camp and on the bus who had diabetes. She said sorry and looked a little embarrassed that I called her out. But the problem was, it seemed as if she had no idea in the world that something like that could hurt someone’s feelings.
Most people, especially teenagers, don’t know the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes either. But that’s not the point I’m trying to make. We live in a world where it’s commonplace to make fun of diabetes. It’s in the media, on TV, and on the lips of students on high school and middle school campuses everywhere. How many times have you heard people say, “If I eat this piece of chocolate cake, it’s going to put me in a diabetic coma.” Or, “This dessert is diabetes on a plate.” It seems harmless, but imagine if you were a person with diabetes in the room when someone said this. For kids with type 1 diabetes, there was absolutely nothing they did that gave them this disease. But not everybody knows this, so it can still feel embarrassing.
Back when Kaitlyn was in the early grades of elementary school, she would tell everybody about her diabetes. I would bring a book for the nurse to read to the classroom so the kids could understand a little bit about what diabetes was, so they wouldn’t be scared or disturbed by anything. Kids were curious but always kind. They would volunteer to be her buddy to walk to the office and back, and she would show them her pump and testing kit and how it worked. It was no big deal. Fast-forward a few years, though, and Kaitlyn has become self-conscious about her diabetes. She tries to hide her pump and tubing under her clothes, and makes it a point to only test her blood sugar when she’s out of sight. Only her close friends really know about what she does for her diabetes care.
I guess it’s only natural for teens to become more self-aware and self-conscious, but she shouldn’t have to be about her diabetes! If anything, diabetes has made her a more amazing human being — not someone who should be made fun of. Please, from the bottom of my heart, and as a type 1 mom, can we stop the diabetes jokes?
Disclaimer: The experiences and suggestions recounted in these articles are not intended as medical advice, and they are not necessarily the “typical” experiences of families with a child who has type 1 diabetes. These situations are unique to the families depicted. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding the treatment of type 1 diabetes and the frequency of blood glucose monitoring. Jen and Kim are real moms of kids with type 1 diabetes and have been compensated for their contributions to this site.