About that blame and shame…

I mentioned in the last post the blame and shame surrounding diabetes, how it’s unlike any other medical condition. Patients are often targeted by media, friends and family for being the victim of their own poor choices.

The blame/shame game is part of the emotional issues that can increase your emotional response and heighten your glucose. It’s that old fight or flight response we feel when cornered, and it’s really bad for those of us whose health suffers when we feel under attack. This whole issue is more complicated than you’d think at first.

This is Thanksgiving weekend in Canada, and families and friends will gather around dinner tables with a bounty of food that may be off their regular diet plan.

“But it’s Thanksgiving!” You’ll hear this from either that voice in your head or the loving enablers in your life. You dump a dollop of carby mashed potatoes on your plate and cover it with gravy. You opt for ice cream on top of the pumpkin pie.

I guarantee that most people will rationalize their food choices in an attempt to deal with guilt, but will it make that guilt completely vanish? I doubt it. That little voice in our heads will tsk tsk us and we’ll try to drown it out by a loud, “I want this, I deserve it — it’s Thanksgiving!”

The other source of blame I mentioned is media. You see those magazines at the grocery checkouts, urging diabetics to get off the couch and eat a vegetable or two. The inference is that if we all stopped being so lazy and gluttonous, we’d be healthier. They suggest these little tips they provide us will quash a worldwide epidemic of diabetes. Yeah….no.

The only emotional response I feel to these “helpful” magazine articles is a burning, seething anger. But this editorial direction reflects a greater misunderstanding of the role emotions play in glucose control. Articles like this don’t help. They convince the family and friends who may read this crap that a few life adjustments will help us back to better health. Oversimplifying the whole situation. It’s wrong in so many ways.

The most powerful source of blame we face is the one coming from that voice in own heads. Early training may have us believe that everything that happens to us is our own fault. In part, we’re conditioned to believe comments by those around us that we’re too fat, we’re unsuccessful in life, that we really don’t need that second helping of pie. Healing is our own responsibility, is the message.

I guarantee this weekend will result in more use of anti-anxiety medication due to diabetic patients’ expectations of unwanted comments from family. Or they’ll just drink a lot of alcohol. Neither makes us healthier, they just numb us to feeling joy and love.

So what’s the answer? The first is realizing we have a choice on how to handle these targeted attacks. We can internalize them immediately as though the words are true or we can shrug them off.

How the hell do you shrug off a deliberate dig?

I studied conflict resolution a few years ago and learned that blaming usually leads to defensiveness. In his book Mediating Dangerously, Kenneth Cloke writes, “Everyone in conflict views the world from the inside out, and finds empathy and honesty difficult with those they detest or by whom they feel detested…Everyone in conflict wears a mask that can only be observed from the outside.”

Many people in conflict, he says, suffer from silent self-doubt, poor self-esteem and denial. Their feelings are too important to risk discussing opening so they don’t let them show.

The way out of this is exhibiting honesty and empathy, and the place to start is with yourself. Give yourself a break. Getting frustrated or angry at another person isn’t going to make you feel good inside. So go for a walk and or go play with kids — make a conscious decision to release that anger. Don’t do it for the other person. Do it for yourself.

I’m working on these principles myself. Thanksgiving is one of those family holidays where I feel left out and often succumb to self-pity with a bit of resentment. My parents are dead and I’m not close to my siblings. I used to enjoy Thanksgiving with a friend’s family in Victoria but haven’t been to a family meal since Covid. I’ve had four vaccinations but there’s still a lingering fear I’ll get infected.

If I think about it too much, I end up blaming my whole family including those people who raised my parents to under-appreciate strong family connections. It is what it is. I have to let the bad feelings go.

Instead of the usual Thanksgiving activities, I plan to put the kayak in the ocean and paddle my way to joy. It won’t take long to fill up my heart. I might get some insights I can share with you later. Enjoy your day, wherever you are.

2 responses to “About that blame and shame…”

  1. Best wishes for a serene and joyful Thanksgiving!

    Thanks for writing this post! It is so true.

    I have a friend who was diagnosed with Type II Diabetes in her mid-twenties (as a result of ending up in hospital suddenly blind with blood pouring from her eyes). It took weeks for the hospital to stabilize her (nearly 20 years later she’s still trying to pay the hospital bill off), and the damage to her kidneys meant that eventually she had to get a kidney transplant (from her husband), and there was and is a lot of other damage: she is now legally blind, etc.

    The strange thing is, she was raised eating lots of vegetables, a little meat and very tiny helpings of rice (2 tablespoons per meal, if that) and Absolutely No Sweets Ever. She never developed a taste for carbohydrates and never changed her basic diet. She was never “overweight”. She did everything “right” and still got diabetes.

    And yet all the health care workers assume that her diabetes is her own fault, and they treat her horribly because of it. The person in charge of finding her a kidney donor, for instance, felt such contempt for her that she deliberately withheld the information that my friend’s husband was a match–for over eighteen months! In that time, my friend went from 15% kidney function to 7% and was on death’s doorstep when they finally got the transplant arranged (and then only because someone else took over her case). And of course none of that stress helped lower her blood sugar.

    Articles like the one you mention have inbuilt misleading assumptions that hurt every one of us, diabetic or not, and tear away at the social fabric, compassion, and goodness.

    1. Thank you Ginger, and I’m so sorry about your friend. Sorry, but not surprised. This reminds me of my experiences while in hospital for a diabetic related illness. I overheard the doc complain to the nurse that I was being difficult. (I was questioning why the diabetic diet in hospital included ice cream, pineapple and turkey sandwiches with white bread — I ate what I felt I could, which wasn’t much) The nurse said to him “She’s not difficult – she just knows her body.”
      I hope that enough of us raise our voices things might change. Happy Thanksgiving, and I had a lovely day on the water.

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