As longtime readers of this column know, I’m a Type 1 diabetic, formerly known as “juvenile” diabetes. Medical officials changed the name when they realized how mature I am – right after I made a poop joke.
For the 30-plus years that I’ve had diabetes (which I unsuccessfully tried to have named “Stanhope Syndrome” in 2002), I assumed that a potentially shortened lifespan and the threat of low or high blood sugar were the biggest problems. Turns out I’m wrong.
Turns out the big problem is the stigma of having a disease.
That’s what I learned recently while reading the informative health column in the Daily Republic by Dr. Scott Anderson. I like Dr. Scott. I read his column every time it appears. He has a big-picture view of the medical field.
But when he recently questioned whether obesity should be considered a disease, his main argument wasn’t that people would walk away from responsibility (“Give me another donut! It’s not my fault, I have a disease!”) or that it would lift a lifestyle choice into a medical issue (“Why are you in the emergency room? A chainsaw cut? Well, I’m here because I have a 48-inch waist. I have a disease! I get to see a doctor first!”).
No, Dr. Scott’s concern was that obesity would “be stigmatized as a discrete disease.”
He proceeded to give some good reasons, including the need to treat specific afflictions from obesity rather than looking at it as an overall single problem, but he concluded with this question: “Do such persons deserve to be stigmatized by the AMA?”
Having a disease is a stigma?
While I always presumed that people see diabetes as a hurdle for me, did they see it as a stigma?
My co-workers said yes. They assured me that it was a stigma and added that they make fun of me when I’m not around.
Oh, the stigma!
I can imagine the following discussion about me while I’m out of the office:
“Hey, has ‘Sugars’ been in yet?”
“I doubt it. He’s probably off somewhere, wandering around with out-of-whack blood sugar levels.”
“Yeah, well I heard ‘Wilfred Brimley’ is coming in later, but what would you expect?”
“Yeah. He works about as often as his pancreas.”
And then they throw their heads back and chortle, further stigmatizing me.
Apparently, having a disease – something that I’ve lived with since I was 14 – is worthy of shame. It’s a stigma, something that, according to a quick Internet search, applies to Dumpster diving, addiction and suicide (but not, curiously, stigmata). I’m shocked that my disease may be on the receiving end of such thought.
But I have to admit that I like the idea of people talking about me when I’m not around.
Even if it’s calling me “Sugars” and comparing my work ethic to my pancreas.
You can stigmatize me, just don’t ignore me.
But could the desire to have other people think about you be considered a disease? And if so, is there a stigma to it?
That would be glorious!
Reach Brad Stanhope at 427-6958 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bradstanhope.