Defined By Diabetes?

“Diabetes doesn’t define me.”

That phrase has been on my mind lately.

Does it, or doesn't it? And honestly, do I want it to define me or not?

I'm not sure.

Some people don’t like the use of “diabetic” in describing themselves or their Children With Diabetes because they feel it implies someone is defined by diabetes. So they go with Person With Diabetes instead. Others don’t talk openly about their diabetes or share stories, for the same reason of not allowing their condition to dictate their lives.

Two athletes come to mind specifically. They are about a decade apart in age, one in the late 20s and the other in the teenage years. Both in the same professional sport. Yet they differ on how they treat diabetes when it comes to their athletic experiences, for the sole reason of how it might be viewed and if they’ll be defined by it. One is a vocal advocate about diabetes and doesn’t hide that it’s a part of the athletic experience, and makes a specific point to say how diabetes doesn’t limit the ability to successfully participate. While the other doesn’t make it known, out of fear of being defined by diabetes and designated as someone who might not have won as a result of this condition.

I agree with one approach more than the other, but really it’s tough to fault the other perspective.

In my mind, I think there’s a fine line between being defined by diabetes and how it’s a part of your life.

It’s an interesting two-sided coin. On one hand, we work tirelessly to be “normal” and not be seen as the “diabetes person.” But then at the same time we so openly and honestly share our good and bad D-life experiences and highlight the fact that we are, in fact, Living With Diabetes. Can we have it both ways? Can we define ourselves as diabetes patient-advocates as part of a Diabetes Community, and not be “defined by diabetes”?

I think it depends on the context of how we’re being defined.

If diabetes defines me, then I want it to be on MY OWN TERMS.

No, I don’t want it to define me in ways that aren’t on my terms. Lost time because of Lows or Highs. Complications that steal aspects of my happiness. Opportunities or experiences denied or fine-tuned because of my health, rather than my qualifications or experience. Being treated differently.

But if and when I share details of my health, I want to be able to. I don’t want to be forced to hide or down-play my diabetes.

For more than two decades growing up with diabetes, my health wasn’t the focus of my life and I wasn’t very open about it. Diabetes didn’t dictate the direction of my life, at least at the conscious level, putting me into a D-related field or turn me away from one. Even though I wasn’t hiding it for the most part, I just didn’t wear it on my sleeve. Blood testing, insulin-taking, the D-life routine were still parts of my life. Obviously. But my D-Management wasn’t as much an open-focus as it is now, and because I wasn’t thinking and communicating about it all the time, it was almost less of a dominating force in my life.

These days, I openly write and share stories and am proud to be a member of the Diabetes Community. Communicating about diabetes is a regular part of my life now. But that doesn’t mean I allow diabetes to “define” me, as far as limiting non-diabetic world opportunities and experiences.

With such a diverse Diabetes Community, many people have different views on this specific issue. Some see that not talking about their diabetes at all is the way to go, to ensure that they aren’t “defined” by their diabetes. While others choose to share, and

It’s our own choice, in the end. How someone may or may not be defined by diabetes doesn’t mean the same thing for everyone. As the mantra says, “Your Diabetes May Vary,” as does the way you make it a part of your life and share that with the rest of the world.


I agree. It is like always saying my numbers do not reflect how I am doing but our numbers are how we measure our success.
Kate Cornell said…
Nice post, Mike. I also think it depends on where you are, physically I mean. I'm open about the fact that I have diabetes but don't discuss it much with people who don't. They don't get it. I answer questions when asked but don't go on and on about it. On the other hand, here in the DOC I talk about all of it because there are people who understand. My blog has really helped me stay on track. Finding other like-minded people has been great! It helps me to handle things better when I'm out in the world.
Kelly said…
Loved reading this post today!
Jaimie said…
I go back and forth with this all the time...well written post!
victoria said…
Thanks Mike! This was a great post and very, very true. I agree wholeheartedly that it's a fine line. I know many know me only as a diabetic, and I'm OK with that because if we were to ever engage in another arena, they would clearly know it doesn't define me.
Meri said…
We are a diverse community, I competely agree. If we were all the same it would be boring. Great post Mike!
Cara said…
I love this! I actually had the very thought this morning "how would I deal with the mental fallout if there was a cure??"
Not to say I don't want a cure. I DO! But I've been a diabetic (yes, I use the term), that I have no idea who I am without it. It's kind of scary sometimes.
kim said…
i hid my diabetes for many, many years. i didn't want anyone to "feel sorry" for me. i wanted to be "normal". it took a long for me to realize i am "normal", and this is just a part of me, not the whole of me. it does define part of what i do, and some of the decisions i make, but overall, i don't let it dictate the things i choose to do or not do. i believe i would make those same choices whether i was diabetic or not. l love reading others blogs, as it makes me feel not so alone. it is easier to realize that the things i am going through are "normal" for some others as well.
Anonymous said…
Interesting discussion. I can see the two sides to it as well.

Personally, I don't mind being called a diabetic. Of course that we, and all others with an illness or a disease, are much more than our conditions. However, I also want to face the problem straight on, and not shy away from it. Diabetes won't go away if we don't unite and fight against it - fair enough, some may say there will never be a cure at all, but I don't believe in not trying and pushing for change. So perhaps let me revise - I don't mind being called diabetic who is fighting for a better life for diabetics. An advocate, more simply.

- Stoyan
Diabetes311 said…
I control my diabetes by keeping my carb intake less than 30 carbs a day. When I exceed that diabetes defines me. My numbers surge and I feel overwhelmed. Low carbing has given me my life back. Good luck to you. J.
Natalie said…
I have always been very open about my diabetes and my major depressive disorder. Each one of them COULD carry a stigma, and the depression is by FAR more disabling than the diabetes, but I always figured that those who care to understand will be my friends, and I don't really want to have anything to do with those who don't wish to understand. And I DO feel that if people don't know about my chronic diseases, they will not appreciate how hard I struggle, and how much a person with chronic diseases CAN accomplish!
Nathan said…
I think it depends on how you handle your condition. If you are proactive and tirelessly look for the best results, you can be proud of who you are with diabetes. I feel that it's an important aspect of my identity and not some hardship that was thrust on me.

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