This is an edited version of a blog post I wrote over three years ago, but refer to frequently. Because it seems that there is a human need to force people to feel that their lives could be worse – so much worse – so they should be grateful that it’s only diabetes they have to contend with. Or that they only have a certain type of diabetes, because the other one is worse. Or that they were diagnosed at a certain age or in a particular decade, which is (somehow) better/easier/less crap than a different age/different decade. Oh, and of course…at least it’s not <fill in the blank>… because that would be worse.

I say, fuck that.

I get that people genuinely are just trying to make others feel better about a situation. Here’s the deal though – no one really expects that. At least, I don’t. I don’t need anyone to try to buoy me up or make me feel better. I don’t need anyone to point out others have it harder (yeah – I know that…). I just need people to nod. Aaron really has it nailed,  and I tell everyone that he knows just what to do in those moments when diabetes is pissing me off: offer a cup of tea, some chocolate, and loudly pronounce ‘Diabetes sucks‘. I don’t think he realises just how validating that is and how much more meaningful it is to me rather than insisting I look on the bright side and be all Pollyanna-ish about my screwed beta cells. 

Next time you are tempted to say ‘…at least…’ to someone with diabetes (or, for that matter, someone who is having a rough time about anything at all), stop for a minute and think about what you are really saying. Because honestly, you’re not helping at all.

For the sake of my own mental health, I have learnt to not compare myself with others.

I was thinking of this the other day when I was involved in a conversation with a woman newly diagnosed with diabetes. She told me that she was really upset at the response from a close family member who, when told about the diagnosis and how distressed she was, responded with ‘It could be worse. At least it’s not cancer.’

I’ve had that said to me. Several times. And it is one of the most offensive things I have heard. I don’t really know how to respond to it, because it’s true, I don’t have cancer. But I do have diabetes and that is pretty bloody horrible sometimes. (For the record, I equally dislike the idea of responding with ‘At least it’s not cancer? There is a chance of remission with cancer; type 1 is for life…’)

I get just as annoyed when it happens in our community. ‘At least it’s not type 1,’ is something I have heard said to people with type 2, diminishing the challenges they may face. A woman who had just been diagnosed with gestational diabetes told me that people kept telling her that at least her diabetes would go away when her baby is born. Sure, that may be the case, but right here and right now, this woman is pregnant, thinking about her baby and wondering just what diabetes is doing to her growing bub.

When I was anxious about my impending cataract surgery a few years ago, I was told ‘It’s nothing. At least you don’t have to have laser or have your eyeball injected.’ Again, that’s true. But I was still terrified and had every right to be.

When discussing a nasty hypo ‘At least you didn’t lose consciousness and wake up to a roomful of paramedics.’ Sure, I remained conscious throughout that unpleasant and seemingly endless low. But I needed help to treat it and it happened in front of my kid. She was scared, which really upsets me and makes me feel guilty.

When our experiences are belittled or minimised, it means we may stop sharing them. No one wants to be told they are being a drama queen and that it could always be worse. Of course it could be worse, but that doesn’t mean what we are dealing with doesn’t suck.

I have had diabetes for 21 years now. I have not had to deal with debilitating complications. I have not had to spend weeks in hospital because of my diabetes. But does that mean that my fears and concerns and anxieties are any less relevant than someone whose experiences are different?

And that’s why you will never hear me say to someone newly diagnosed ‘At least you have just been diagnosed. Just wait until you have had diabetes as long as me and <this or that> happens,’ because everyone’s experience is different and that newly diagnosed person may have their own concerns at that particular time. Or not. Which is also fine.

I had a healthcare professional once tell me that at least I didn’t have diabetes ‘too terribly’, because I worked, had a child and travelled. It was one of those (incredibly rare) moments where I was stunned into silence. I was torn between wanting to say  ‘Well, surely that makes what I’ve achieved all the more incredible‘ and stabbing her with a fork. I said (and did) nothing.

There is no ‘at least...’ when it comes to diabetes. There is no discussion about how it ‘could be worse’. Because the truth is, it could be a whole lot better. I could NOT have diabetes.

The perfect Effin’ Birds response (because there always is one!) if someone says ‘At least….’ about your diabetes. (For more of these wonderful sweary birds, click on the image. And buy the book!)