Despite the undeniable alarming statistical evidence of a global epidemic of diabetes, the subject of this potentially lethal disease has never reached the hearts of our rock stars or entertainers in anything like the same way as AIDS, and I can't help wondering why.
An idea of the situation can be obtained here: http://www.idf.org/node/1354
I have type 1 diabetes. I developed it in late 1995 for reasons which the medical profession were unable to fathom. I wish I'd never bothered developing it! At the time (and in subsequent years) the answer to my "What caused this?" question has invariably been "We don't know; it could be viral, traumatic or hereditary - or all three, or of course something else entirely.". My doctors over the years have been so uniform in their response I have at times entertained the notion that there exists a stock answer to this question which they all learn from a website somewhere.
I didn't fit the stereotype for diabetes which is currently being propagated today. Shortly before beginning to write this article, I checked the web for images connected with diabetes. Along with with pictures of healthy foods and needles and insulin, the predominant images of people were - are - of morbidly overweight individuals. I'm not very happy about that - and here's why. When I developed the disease (perhaps in order to make myself 'interesting'?) I was an active, sporty thirty year - old. I didn't smoke, I didn't drink to excess, and I wasn't damaging my body in any other way.
Regardless of this, I began to find that after playing rugby matches I was feeling shaky, after a tough game of squash I would be weak and trembling. I started to drink a lot of fluids - at first this coincided with me deliberately drinking more water on a health basis, but soon I began to develop an almost insatiable thirst. The thirst crept up on me, a little at a time, so that other people were far more aware of it than I was. I was still eating normally - not a brilliant diet, it has to be said, but lots of fruit and veggies (because I like 'em) mixed in with the usual western European stuff.
In short, when I developed this flippin' disease, I wasn't fat and I was quite fit. Yet diabetes still arrived in my life. It is NOT simply a disease of the obese. I don't fit the stereotype simply because the idea of diabetes being a disease 'of the overweight' IS a prejudice - and prejudice creates stereotypes. Obesity is a major risk factor of course, but I know a great many morbidly obese people who are not diabetic. One does not follow the other, but I sense that the media are pushing that very idea. I wonder what would the reaction be if each time an AIDS story arrived on our screens, it was accompanied by images of drug users, flamboyantly gay men or African children? Each of these associated images would of course be stereotypical, disrespectful and harmful to a great many people - I'm sure that there would be a justifiable outcry. In the meantime, however, diabetics will have to cope with the visual bias of ill-informed video editors. According to them, we're all grotesquely fat.
What is diabetes like?
I can only speak for myself because each of us has different experiences as well as common ones. It's frustrating because I can never get away from it, I can never eat a meal without thinking of it, and in my own particular situation, sticking a needle into myself beforehand. Think about it; that's a lot of injections I have to give myself. Without going into the details of everyday life, diabetes is a bloody nuisance. There are lots of features of the disease which affect me in a great many ways, too many to go into now. The common experiences include sore fingertips from testing our blood sugar levels, bruises around our injection sites, occasional periods of poor health and hypoglycaemic episodes (my 'U.S English' spell checker hates me using 'ae' where it can only think of 'e'). The latter is by far the most dangerous feature - and judging by the words of some of my friends in the past, the most fundamentally misunderstood.
If I'm having a 'hypo'
Most people seem to think that 'hypo' means that I or one of my peers has not had enough insulin. That is the opposite of the truth. Any attempt to give me insulin under those circumstances will probably kill me quite quickly. If I'm having a 'hypo' (or of course, any other diabetic person) and I'm able to tell you that's the case, I need quick-release sugar, in the form of pop, any other sugary drink, honey or in the absence of liquid; sugary solids. basically I need sugar - and fast. A hypo puts immense stress on the heart and the system in general as adrenalin tries to take the place of the missing sugar in my bloodstream. If I don't get sugar quickly, I can fall into unconsciousness and if alone, may ultimately slip away completely. DON'T give me insulin!!!!
So diabetes is a very serious issue for individuals and for the world - left untreated (documented from medical records of a time before synthesized insulin was available) people used to die within a couple of years - a slow, wasting and uncomfortable way to go. In developing countries where the appalling western crappy diet is now being pushed at poor populations, it is still the case that many sufferers go undiagnosed and untreated. The deaths from diabetes are at a level which are keeping pace with (and, I suspect, overhauling) the deaths from HIV/AIDS. This is major nastiness.
Even living as I do in a developed country with plenty of medical resources, there is a reasonable chance that diabetes will negatively affect my life expectancy.
It's about time society took it seriously.