The Narrative of Type 1 Diabetes

I was in a Sport Sociology lecture on Sport and Disability, and I’m keen to share a few lingering thoughts with fellow Type 1s.

During the lecture, we talked about society and disability; specifically, how society shapes how we see things, how we think, and how we perceive disabilities. How we view disability is portrayed through a ‘grand narrative’.

Grand narrative: General theme through which a story is written or shaped.

I’m usually quiet on the topic of disability in context with anything, because I’m not 100% sure of my thoughts on it. I stayed quiet and observed through the duration of the class. There were minimal heated discussions and/or strong opinions, we watched a few heartfelt clips about the Paralympics, a young boy with cerebral palsy, and two TED talks by Aimee Mullin; yeah, it was a tear-jerking morning.

Naturally, this had me thinking about Type 1 diabetes (T1D) and our community, and how we are perceived outside of our community, in the grand scheme of things.

There is some obvious stigma around diabetes. I’ll date back to about 12 years ago, when I’d share with someone that I’m a T1D, the reactions I’d get include: “but you’re not fat”, “is it the bad kind?”, “you don’t look like a diabetic”, and my personal favourite, “did you get it from eating too much sugar?”.

To me, this meant two things:

1. Generally, people have preconceived ideas of what my condition is all about.
2. A lot of non-type 1s have zero understanding of my condition.

I could guess where these ideas may have stemmed from: media (mostly) and ignorance from not trying to understand the condition before expressing insight, comments, or questions about it.

About 7-8+ years ago, I started seeing a lot of Type 1s initiating a mass push towards raising awareness and erasing the stigma of T1D. With this ‘push’, I started seeing tons of pro athletes coming out and publicly talking about their condition, how they manage, what it actually means, and more. Some athletes include:

1. Sebastien Sasseville (Ironman athlete, ran across Canada to raise awareness, and more)
2. Kris Freeman (Olympic Skier, silver medalist)
3. Missy Foy (Olympic Ultra Marathoner)
4. Jay Cutler (quarterback, drafted by the Broncos)
5. Steve Richert (Climber, check out his project 365)

The list goes on and on and on and on. I started noticing a lot of – what I know now as – ‘quest narratives’. Everyone was overcoming their condition, fighting the odds, battling their bodies, and proving the stigma/preconceived ideas wrong.

Quest narrative: Reframing adversity as a challenge that hinges one’s personal reaction to it; self-reconstruction (ex: new meanings of one’s body).

I started seeing a shift in the way we were being treated. This may be because I’m on the inside looking out, but I still see a lot of spotlight on Type 1 athletes and non-athletes doing pretty amazing things.

During my first semester back to school, when I told others I was a T1D, the reactions I received were “what is that?”, “is it the bad kind?”, “do you have to poke yourself?”, “do you take insulin?”. During my third semester back, when I shared it with others, the general reactions I received were “oh I have a friend who has Type 1”, “do you have an insulin pump”, and my personal favourite: no reaction. My condition seems to be a little more common, and my characteristics (sport interests, body composition, etc) seem to fit people’s idea of T1D.

Personally, I think there’s a lot of variability in my observations – maybe I’ve recently lucked out by talking to people who know about diabetes, maybe the media coverage on research is raising awareness of the condition, and maybe all the quest narratives we hear about are collectively causing a shift in people’s perception – which is changing our grand narrative in society.

What are your thoughts on the grand narrative around Type 1 diabetes? Do you think quest narratives can collectively change the grand narrative? – I do.

What’s your narrative? (Comment below!)


– Ash 🙂

2 Comments on “The Narrative of Type 1 Diabetes

  1. Wow, Wow, wow! Great coversation openers, thank you. I’m particularly struck by the preposition of the ‘Quest narrative.’ What happens if you’re not a physical (body control) challenge addict? Are there other Quest narratives for people that hinge on creative, spiritual or cultural challenge as as exploration of what it means to live with T1?

    • Hi Cath, thanks so much for touching base! Before writing this, I looked online for a definite description of ‘quest narrative’, but didn’t find too much info. Drawing from the example our instructor used, “Quest narrative: Reframing adversity as a challenge that hinges one’s personal reaction to it; self-reconstruction (ex: new meanings of one’s body).”, I’d say that’s wide open for interpretation. You don’t have to challenge yourself physically, you can do it mentally, culturally, spiritually, etc. I used sports as an example because it was the main focus for our lecture. I think the ‘quest narrative’ can be applied many different ways.

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