“What’s that blue circle on your Facebook picture?” is always a loaded question.
Firstly, as the international symbol of diabetes, the blue circle is like the communal social media head nod which symbolizes, “I get it,” to others like us who encounter the image.
Not everyone chooses to flash the blue circle, and that is okay, too. We all cope with this disease in our own ways.
Secondly, let’s be honest. The blue circle magnifies the attractiveness of any picture. It’s an unwritten rule. Blue circle = automatically cool.
Thirdly, there is a tale of strength and perseverance behind every blue circle. The story goes something like this:
When speaking to someone not intimately familiar with diabetes, I want that person to know that diabetes is not anyone’s fault. If you want to blame something, point the finger at rebellious islet cells, environmental factors, viral triggers, genetics, and the perfect storm of other elements. But please, do not blame the human being.
Society preaches the message that diabetes is a disease brought on by poor choices. “You ate too much sugar, so you are to blame for your type 2 diabetes. Just lose weight and you’ll be fine.” Phrases like these are tossed around daily in the movies, in comic strips, and in casual conversation. Yet the reality is that if any type of diabetes were so simple to acquire, the whole world would be diabetic.
Type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disease, does not discriminate according to who collected the most Swedish Fish from the birthday party piñatas as a kid. Instead, it strikes us innocently and without fair warning. We have lost children with their whole lives ahead of them this year because our healthcare system failed to identify the warning signs of diabetes in time. Extreme thirst, blurry vision, weight loss, frequent urination, and other symptoms should ring a “diabetes bell” in your mind after reading this. When in doubt, we implore you to play it safe and see a doctor immediately.
There are other types of diabetes, too: gestational diabetes during pregnancy, cystic fibrosis-related diabetes (CFRD), latent autoimmune diabetes of adults (LADA), maturity onset diabetes of the young (MODY), and other offshoots of the disease process.
Allow me to play devil’s advocate for a moment. Although no one singlehandedly causes any form of diabetes, let us pretend that the overly-simplified media theories are correct: Ally eats a cupcake, so Ally deservedly acquires diabetes. I “deserve” to take ten shots a day for the rest of my life. I “deserve” to wake up at 4:23 am with a blood sugar of 52 mg/dL, half the normal value, fighting to live- if I am even lucky enough to wake up before it is too late.
Now, substitute someone you love in place of our fictional Ally character. What if Ally was your sister, your father, your favorite high school Math teacher, your best friend? Can you accept the status quo of a world in which someone you love has to go through all of that to survive each day? Could you handle the emotional burden? Wouldn’t you get upset, too, when the severity of the battle was diminished by a corny joke on a TV show? Isn’t the pain still there no matter what caused the disease? Aren’t these people still important to their loved ones?
But, it’s no big deal because fictional friend/sister/father/teacher chose to eat the cupcake, right? (I’m taking my coffee with a heavy dose of sarcasm today.)
When we rationalize away the seriousness of this condition by poking fun of Wilford Brimley commercials, what we are really saying is that this is too much for our society to handle. If we laugh it away, we mistakenly presume that diabetes will not touch our lives at some point. Statistically and scientifically-speaking, that is a losing bet to make.
We must, instead, be brave and face the truth that defines this disease: Diabetes is no one’s fault, it is a profoundly-complex condition which is difficult to tame, and we owe it to ourselves and to future generations to lessen its toll by advancing technology and research.
The blue circle represents any of us and all of us. We have endured thousands of needles in our lifetimes. Diabetes changes its mind every day. Given the same scenario, what works on a Monday may not work on a Tuesday. Insulin sustains life, but each dose is an educated guesstimate. One miscalculation can be deadly.
We do not tell you these details because we want you to have a pity party for us. We can do anything. One of us, Sonia Sotomayor, sits on the Supreme Court of the United States. Others have run marathons, graduated from medical school, or written books. We have an enduring human spirit which rises to the occasion of fighting this disease every morning.
This November 14, when you see a blue circle on World Diabetes Day, do not simply scroll right by it. Pause and look at the faces behind the superimposed shapes. Recognize the human being who is affected by diabetes, who is more than a blue circle can ever truly describe. Marvel at his or her resilience. Perhaps donate your weekly coffee fund money towards a diabetes cure effort. Walk with us. Pray for us.
And the next time you hear, “What’s that blue circle all about?,” respond with a story about one of the strongest people you know- someone you love who lives with diabetes.
^ Longtime type 1 diabetics, having fun despite diabetes ❤