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Are you a High Functioning Diabetic?

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12 February 2006

Are you a High Functioning Diabetic?

The other day I had lunch with a woman who was recently diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. We both live in London, and are both from the U.S. (she from Minnesota, and me from New York City), and so, we could hardly contain ourselves in sharing information. We discussed managing diabetes in Europe, and the pros and the cons of having to deal with a major illness abroad. Then, she asked me:

“Do you think you are what they call a high functioning diabetic?”

I had to laugh, but it was a very innocent question. I wondered if this was something that doctors in the U.S. discussed with their patients. It occurred to me that my new friend as a very senior professional had discussed her life with her health care teams, and they defined her as a very high functioning person -- now with diabetes. Now, she would have to become a high functioning diabetic.

Which leads me to two questions.

1. Are we defined by our disease? With diagnosis, does our diabetes over-ride (trump) being called a man, woman or child? Does Diabetic become our definition?
2. What is a high functioning diabetic…anyway?

High functioning is a term used to describe people with disabilities such as autism or neurological disorders. This is astounding! I get the sense that the Healthcare community has organically decided to utilize this term for diabetics without any consensus. There is such a thing as a person who has adapted well and a person who has not. Let’s call it…..a diabetes compatibility factor™.



The ability to consistently co-exist with or be tolerant of diabetes.


For me, a high compatibility factor™ is the ability to plan and manage life goals in the same manner with or without diabetes. Obviously, knowledge and fate are going have an impact on this. I work in healthcare communications because I believe working on ways to improve doctor and patient information AND communication deserves my energy. I am committed to it. I am certain, having diabetes as a child had a great impact on why I chose this. Perhaps if I had been diagnosed later in life, I would have chosen another field, but with the same degree of commitment and dedication. It is just who I am. Diabetes doesn’t change that.

The second greatest factor is the ability to accept the fact that having diabetes means accepting not always having control. For me this is KEY. I have learned not to get angry or upset if my numbers are off…either low or high. I have learned that accepting the good with the bad, and not berating myself, doctors or the world for my predicament has made me a happier person.

4 Comments:

Blogger Keith said...

Elizabeth--
I totally agree with your post... couldn't have said it any better myself.

4:01 AM  
Anonymous wilson said...

It also brings up the old question, do you define yourself as a "diabetic" or a "person with diabetes". To be honest I'm happy with neither of these. And I would feel more than slightly patronised by "high functioning diabetic".
Maybe I'm too touchy :-)

11:16 AM  
Blogger Allison said...

I don't think I'm defined by diabetes any more than I'm defined by being Christian (as opposed to "girl who believes in Christ), or being an American (as opposed to "girl who lives in America), or whatever. I mean, I suppose you could get into the technicalities that diabetes is one of the only diseases that actually becomes an adjective and not just a noun. But I don't really care. I say "person with diabetes" because I'm a journalist and I feel like it's better to not offend people. I've gone over this many times with people, and some people are greatly offended to have diabetes become an adjective for a person, and other people are perfectly okay with it.

I'm not sure I really understand the purpose of giving someone a "high functioning level," unless you were a diabetes educator or endocrinologist who needed to structure an education program. But that's the only time I would think of calling someone "high functioning."

8:49 PM  
Blogger Paulasina said...

Your final point really hit home - being a diabetic means accepting not always having control...1 year after T1 diagnosis, I'm still coming to grips with that!

Thanks for all you write and share.

Cheers Paula

11:50 PM  

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