People Treat You Differently With Diabetes

“You know what bugs me?” asked Michelle. “People who think they know what’s good for me when they have no clue.” I can relate. Sometimes, medical problems aren’t as bad as how other people react to us. Have you had experiences like these?

• Discrimination: “Oh, we didn’t invite you to go out with us because you can’t eat that kind of food.” Some prejudice can be seriously harmful, as when you are denied a job because of diabetes. Other times, it just hurts emotionally.


• Food police: “Should you be eating that?” People who think they know better than you what you should eat and aren’t afraid to tell you.

• Food sabotage: People who seem to think it’s their job to get you to “lighten up” about your diet. “C’mon, you know you love cheesecake. At least you used to (before you stopped being fun)…”

• Needle phobia: Kind of like breast-feeding mothers not being welcome in some places, some people find it hard to be around people who are injecting insulin or checking their blood sugars. They hate needles and blood and will tell you so in words or nasty stares.

• Dating issues: This is really hard and deserves its own column. Worrying about how to discuss diabetes with potential loved ones or friends can be stressful.

• Knowing what you should do: People who consider themselves diabetes “experts.” They have cures they found on the Internet or warnings about complications (that you already know about, of course). They think they know diabetes better than you do and know you better than you know yourself.

People like that might often remind you to check your blood sugar because of something you said, when you’re legitimately annoyed about what they are doing.

One problem here is that sometimes these folks DO know something you haven’t found yet. I can imagine someone telling a friend with diabetes about bitter melon, based on this blog entry. I would hope the friend listened. But people always need to ask, “Are you interested in hearing something good I found about diabetes?” or something like that. Don’t just start in giving unwanted advice.

• “Helping” that makes things worse: People always want to open doors for me when I’m in my wheelchair. Many times they are blocking the doorway that I need to get through. Similar things can happen with “helping” diabetes. Of course, not helping when help is needed can be worse.

It’s hard for others to know when help is needed and how to give it. We should help them help us by telling them what works for us and what doesn’t.

• Seeing your diabetes and not you: That’s one of the hardest things. People who have known you for years start treating you like you’ve changed. People who don’t know you may be afraid to get closer. How do you remind them you are still a person like them?

Good things people do
People are usually good for us. They can give practical or financial help, emotional support, and useful knowledge. They can give us a sense of connection and something to appreciate about life. An occasional hug isn’t bad either.

Also, I wonder how often what we see as other people’s reactions are actually our own fears and doubts coming back to us. Or how often we let other people annoy us when they are just being themselves or having a hard day. Maybe it’s the way we react that makes the problem worse.

It’s not about putting people down. We need them. But how can we get them to react to diabetes in more useful, happier ways? What have been your experiences with other people’s behavior toward you and diabetes?

  • Joe

    Add to the list the “diabetic shamers and blamers” who are constantly telling people that they must have caused their own problen by drinking soda and eating bread.

  • Lisaann

    I’ve experienced a lot of these same things. As far as people with needle phobia, etc., I’m the type who doesn’t give 2 hoots. I’m the one who has to take it, not them. I take my insulin wherever I am. Yes, even in restaurants at the dinner table. What really bothers me the most is listening to other diabetics significant others telling them what to do & what not to eat, etc. That just irks me to no end for so many reasons I can’t even begin to write the book on them. And the other thing at the top of my list is when a type 2 diabetic starts telling me what to do (in a type 1) & our diabetes are just 2 completely different things.

  • tb

    The shamers! Indeed! Or the ones who are just diagnosed and leave their meters out where everyone can see them, or lament about all of the foods they can’t have. They have a “specialness” issue that I find difficult to cope with.

  • Linda McCravy

    First of all dating is a nightmare. Men see me as just plain fat and they don’t understand why I can’t just loose weight. People don’t understand that when you have diabetes loosing weight is like pushing a boulder up the side of a mountain. Second you are judged before people know your story. People assume your fat, they have no idea you are battling a disease. No many times do they care, people like me shy around because we know we are not wanted to be seen with.

  • Mark

    I have found ignorance is bliss. Why should you have to explain that you can eat cheesecake if you compensate for it? Why should an absence from work be automatically explained with, “he’s a diabetic.” Why should a job interview not get a call back, because the employee health care costs may rise? Why do relatives constantly ask how I am doing with this concerned look on their face? Why do I see other diabetics display their pumps like badges of honor or use their diabetes to get out of work or make excuses?
    Diabetes is not who we are and should not control our lives. We should control it. We don’t run out and tell people we are hypertensive, or bipolar or have incontinence. Why diabetes?
    I usually wait at least 5 years until I will tell someone I know that I am a diabetic. They are usually so surprised they immediately lose all of their biases. Twenty five years into it, I have broken many a bias and have some great friends.

  • joan

    I enjoy dining out with friends and at their homes also. My friends know I am diabetic. They ask what I can eat and I asked what they are serving – it usually fits into my meal plan; I just eat far less [1 Tbsp] of a food choice I know will cause some trouble for me and may boost my insulin amount by 0.1 to 0.5 units as needed. I do my best with choices available and sometimes whisper in my hosts ear the issue of eating lighter that evening or at a lunch meal.
    I have no personal problems with friends or family living with T1D. I keep my approach positive which I believe helps everyone!

    At restaurants I may have to ask for an alternative which is done without any issue developing.

    Besides T1D I have food allergies which creates interesting food choices at times but with T1D I sure can keep my figure looking good for many years! :0))

    Oh and if anyone says something to me about my diabetes I just smile and ask them how their liver is – that usually stops the questions. My friends and family do not often make suggestions to me but as they develop Type 2, they ask for my help.

    I have lived life to its fullest for 57 years and am still moving forward!

  • Sandra

    In admitting to myself that I have to be totally responsible for my diabetes, I now do what I need to do when I need to do it. If that means a glucose check in a public place or eating a snack in front of others or even, if I have to, giving myself a shot in public. People who criticize or create problems are incredibly selfish and thinking only of themselves. It is in the end more embarrassing and hurtful for everyone if I have a low sugar meltdown or get sick.

  • P.A.Sanco

    I am the mother of 12 children, each of whom think they have to continually remind me “did you take your insulin?” or, “isn’t it about time for you to test your blood sugar?” or, “Mother! You shouldn’t be eating that!” I know my children love me, but it gets so tiring for them to be THIS concerned about me.

  • Don

    I am sure that I have been discriminated against job wise because I have insulin dependent diabetes because when they ask why I am not driving a truck over the road anymore I tell them why and then I never hear about the job anymore. But I am not ashamed to tell them I have diabetes but I also tell them that I walk between a half mile to 3/4 of mile each way to library every day and have lost 13 pounds since July! still have a long way to go but I am trying!

  • Lee Ann

    I’ve gotten some lovely and effective advice; other times I’ve seen even non-diabetic friends getting told that everything that they like turns to sugar so they shouldn’t eat it (and often the advisor IS diabetic and eating enough to feed a horse!)

    Well, then, there’s the issue of how the individual diabetic reacts to certain foods that others do not react to so badly.

    And then there’s the occasional break from the diet you follow — and friends looking at you like you’re committing suicide!

    The loving thing to do is to keep your nose out of their business unless they ask for your comments and/or advice, especially when the diabetic person is an adult. We usually know what we have decided on for a meal plan, medication, and treats. We also know what the consequences of our decisions will be. And, if we don’t know, we can recommend and use “Diabetes Self-Management” as a guide!

  • Jon Frierman

    Everbody is always interested in how I deal with what the numbers mean and can I check there blood? lol I am not over weight and in shape, but diabetic via genetics. So dating not an issue and i use a one touch insulin once in the morning do testing randomly during the day with a very cool meter that tracks trends on my phone

  • Steve

    I am often at odds with other diabetics who firmly believe that their regimen is THE ONLY ONE to use. I am continually coping and doing some adjustments as time goes on. It works well for ME. But I would never tell anyone that this is THE way!
    The “Of COURSE you can eat that” and “But it’s GOOD for you” comments are counterproductive. It does not stop them, however!
    I’m always wary when my relatives say that they cooked this dish JUST for ME! UGH!! It’s a dilemma!

  • Camille LoParrino

    When I admit I have diabetes I receive concerned looks and helpful advice. For example, when I mention my condition while eating out, I have found the staff to be very informative and accommodating so that my intake of food is safe.

  • Ken

    I am a diabetic. Get over it. Those who can not then tough beans!

  • JT

    I was using an insulin pen in the break room and had a co-worker ask if I shouldn’t do that in the ladies room so I told her if she didn’t like it, not to look! The bathrooms at work have no counter space for supplies to be put on. Also, I was injecting the pen, not using a syringe and vial of insulin. If I was testing which involves blood being taking from a lancet then maybe their concerns could be considered valid (blood is a hazardous waste)but it was an insulin pen being used and I always take the needles back home to dispose of!

  • Eileen

    It always amazes me when the very same “diabetes police” who will say “should you be eating THAT?” will immediately follow that statement with “here, have some of this, you can surely have a bit of it!” and the 2nd food will be much worse for me than the 1st!

  • Diane

    When I was working and ate a snack on my breaks, people would say “oh, she has to eat because she has diabetes.” Or when there was birthday cake being served to celebrate someone and I didn’t eat a piece, people would say “Oh, one little piece won’t hurt you.”

  • Regina Perry

    I am a member of the Bay Knoll 7th Day Adventist Church. My church members are aware of my condition and they go out of the way to assist me, if necessary, I have access to the kitchen if I need orange juice to help spike my blood sugar. When we have our fellowship luncheon, the allow me to be served first ! Do they treat me different? You bet they do !

  • Anne

    I was sitting in a restraint after ordering dinner
    and was taking my insulin injection, privately
    I assumed, when the manager approached me and said
    he ran a family establishment and did not condone
    drug use, and to leave before he called the police. I showed him the insulin pen and explained about the diabetes. He became very embarrassed and explained another customer had told him I was shooting heroin in front of her
    children, and he had assumed she was correct.
    He apologized, but I felt singled out and upset.
    I know it is partly my responsibility to do public
    awareness of diabetes. That day I just wanted to eat dinner.

  • Al F

    I had one acute incident of someone thinking he knew what was best for me (after I shared that I was diabetic), and taking action on his belief. I ate at a small non-chain restaurant/bakery that I found had delicious walnut-raisin bread. I told my waiter that I wanted to buy a loaf of it to take home, and asked how much it cost. He nicely said that he’d get me a loaf at no charge. He brought a medium-sized paper bag that was open at the top, and I happened to look inside it before I left. The loaf of bread inside did not seem to be my walnut-raisin bread, and I asked him about it. He said that because I was diabetic, the walnut-raisin bread had too much sugar for me, so he was giving me a loaf of olive bread instead. Well, not only did I not appreciate the unwanted and unrequested switch; I don’t like olive bread. But since I was getting something free, I didn’t share that I was a bit miffed, and politely asked him if he would just give me the walnut-raisin bread anyway. He did.

  • Donna

    My problems have always been boss-related in the last 2 1/2 years. I have been told that I can only take my blood sugar once a day and only at the time that they designate. I have been told that I must have a different conference period than the one that I have had for the last 30 years. The written request of one of my doctors was ignored even though the higher-ups had approved it. I have had my room arranged 3 times in a month without anyone consulting me about how it affects mobility because of my visual limitation. The list is endless, but all issues have been resolved.