Why Word Choice Matters to a Person with Diabetes

Read the following five sentences. Can you tell what’s wrong with them?

  1. She’s a diabetic.
  2. He’s testing his blood sugar right now.
  3. Her diabetes is out of control!
  4. Isn’t that a really bad blood sugar?
  5. He suffers from diabetes.

Have you figured it out?

The language in those five sentences is extremely negative. “Bad,” “out of control,” and “suffers” are obviously gloomy and cynical words to use when referring to diabetes – you don’t need to be a wordsmith make that connection immediately. But what’s wrong with “diabetic” or “testing”? It’s the connotations around those words. Calling someone with diabetes a “diabetic” is labeling them with the disease and removing the actual person from the equation. Saying that a person with diabetes is “testing” their blood sugar makes it sound so…clinical. It also implies that the person could pass or fail the so-called test, adding pressure and guilt to the situation.

Choose your words wisely.

In my real-world, full-time job, I’m an editor, so it gives me great pleasure to amend those above sentences into more positive, empowering language:

  1. She has diabetes.
  2. He’s checking his blood sugar right now.
  3. She’s having a tough time managing her diabetes.
  4. How do you handle high or low blood sugar?
  5. He lives with diabetes. (Or even better: He THRIVES with diabetes.)

Ah, much better. Never underestimate the power of words.


One thought on “Why Word Choice Matters to a Person with Diabetes

  1. I’ve got a thick skin or hard hearing, one of the two. I’ve heard or been told most of these things and they don’t bother me. I’m not saying your wrong just that people have different views on the words. I guess if I had to label myself it would be a non-conformist. I don’t care how someone sees me or what I wear or what I do. It is all part of me, take or leave it. Someone says I’m testing my blood I am. I’m testing to see how much sugar is in my blood. In my mind people put too much into what words ARE said instead of HOW they are said. Maybe that is your point with this blog. It is hard to hear innuendos and tones of voice in a written sentence. I hear the person’s voice and how they say something before deciding if it was just lack of knowledge or straight malice that being pushed at the time. Again thick skin or thick head, I don’t let a matter of the words used get me down. I’ve survived over 40 years with this disease and no one, absolutely no one can take that from me or make me feel bad about it. A story that shows my line of thought maybe more clearly is this. Years ago I worked at a mental hospital with kids, up to 19 years old. I was attacked by a 219 pound pissed off kid because I had given him a punishment. I got smacked several times before anyone could get there to help. All I could do was grab his hand that was on my shirt holding me still as he hit my in the head with his other hand and try to pry it loose. I’m not by any means small but he was over the edge and his adrenalin made him so much stronger. The first person top get there was a women how was neither small nor unfit. She wrapped his free arm up to stop him from hitting me but he just looked at her and flicked her off against the wall like she was a speck of dust on his arm before hitting me again. It took 7 people to just get him pushed back against the wall. They never got him to the floor. I was told to leave and as soon as I was out the door he calmed down and walked into the secure “side room” as we called it, on his own. I was later moved to another unit as they did not want to restart the issue again. A team meeting was held on what was to be done with him and I as far as working together after this aggression. I was not allowed into the room for the meeting. I was not happy when they told me that to protect me from being victimized by him I was to be moved downstairs until farther notice. I argued with the nurse that I did not feel victimized and rather that this would be lead him to feel he had won rewarding his behavior. The next 2 weeks were not good. Not just this kid but the others on his unit started acting more aggressive. The decision was made to move me back as things were getting more out of control day by day. Was I nervous? Hell yes. I had my butt handed to me on a silver platter by him 2 week ago. The very first day in no more than 3 hours ones of his buddies set us up again over a drier use issue. He was not happy and he looked at me straight in the eyes as he walked past me to remove his clothes from the dryer. No retreat no surrender ( movie from forever ago). That was the moment things got back to normal. I was not a victim and he had no control or power over me. Sorry, long story to a short point. You only feel a victim if you let yourself become a victim. Assault, robbery, or name calling it does not matter. I refused to be a victim. It does not bother me to be called a diabetic because I am. I am a person with diabetes. If someone uses that to try and demean me, lol, good luck. I wear my diabetes with a badge of honor. Testing blood sugar vs checking? Both fit well enough so I don’t care. The suffering comment is a weird pickle. To me, it means more about how the person sees themselves than the other person. I’ve never thought of myself as suffering from diabetes. Does it make life harder? You know the answer to that one. lol It has made me stronger and more willing to stand up for myself with others. lol I’ll stop here before I reach novel size. It’s just my opinion. Like I said you are not wrong that some people will use terms to demoralize us at times and not just over diabetes. I choose to ignore them. Best way to get under a bully’s skin is to not let them change you.


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