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Looking Back: Understanding Pity.

Today is a BSparl day, and I'll be at the doctor's office for the majority of the day, having blood work, attempting to depuff Le Puff, and spying on my baby girl as she goes her moving and shaking in there.  I wanted to revisit a post from almost three years ago about the delicate balance between advocacy and pity

I love me some advocacy, but pity?  No thanks.  I'm all set with that.

*   *   *

Pity party?I see a lot of marketing materials from various diabetes organizations, publications, and websites.  The messages are varied, to say the very least.  They're all are asking for your support, most often financially, to either raise awareness of diabetes or march towards a cure.  That much is definite.

The variances are to be expected, though.  This disease doesn't follow many rules.

The curious thing to me, after having seen hundreds of these materials, is how different companies chose to portray diabetes.  Some companies show the 53 year old man sitting next to a dialysis machine.  Others show a small child, running in a playground, smiling despite their diagnosis. A crying child being injected in the arm with a syringe, clutching their teddy bear?  A smiling, healthy-looking person testing their blood sugar?  Or a sullen, sad person taking their medications as a tear of hopelessness runs down their face? 

Mixed messages ranging from "I can do anything!" to "I can't do a damn thing."  Ah, the many faces of diabetes.

I can understand the "pity ploy," because if you show the face of a small, hopeful child with their whole life of promise ahead of them, it's a bit easier to ask for money.  "How can you sit there and not help the children," sort of endeavor.  From what I've seen, people don't feel as pressed to donate towards a cause that shows images of people living healthy lives with diabetes.  It's the proverbial pain and suffering that draws people in and tugs at their wallet. 

It's just a strange thought that portraying myself - ourselves- as healthy people may actually keep people from supporting our cause.  "She doesn't need our help.  See, she's just fine with her insulin pump and exercise regimen and doctors.  She's fine." 

What these marketing documents can't convey is the constant thread of "make sure you" that runs through my mind. 

Make sure you bring your meter in case you need to test.  Make sure you have juice and insulin, for either a high or a low blood sugar flip.  Make sure you go to the doctor to have your A1c taken to keep you on track.  Make sure you have a job with good medical insurance so you can afford all the supplies you need.  Make sure you have friends and family who can support you on your journey with this disease.  Make sure you don't overindulge/undereat/over-compensate/under-estimate. 

Make sure.

I'm confused at times, because while I'm young and healthy and in control now, I wonder what my future will hold for me.  I hope I'll always be healthy.  But I'm never sure.  I can't really "make sure."  I can just keep trying.  And hoping.

Can marketing materials tap that uncertainty?  Can they show the efforts we put forth to achieve good health?  What kind of picture or tag line or template would they use to show our lives?


I saw a neat campaign described on a LinkedIn thread regarding a new logo for diabetes awareness. It didn't answer the logo issue but seemed to be a cool ad campaign suggestion. It was to have a placemat with a typical "kid meal", say grilled cheese and tomato soup (one of my faves-kid at heart) with a place setting including a syringe. Another, a crowd after soccer gathering for snacks and the snack mom passing out an orange and a syringe to one kid. Like that. Emphasising that kids with type one can't eat a thing without considering the disease.

That's a great post, Kerri! So much of what we do day-in-day-out is internal, in our heads. It seems me that would be hard to show visually in an eye-catching manner

Outstanding post from the past, Kerri. Thank you so much for tapping into this central theme that I've so often wondered about (as far as the D-Cause messages. Absolutely right - there's a fine line to balance between Advocacy and Pity. Thanks for doing your part.

Well said! PWDs run across the spectrum~ One thing we all share besides diabetes is that we are FANTASTIC!
Kelly K

Thank you, Kerri, for this very accurate and very eloquent post. My pump broke last night, and the past 24 hours have been a whirlwind of doctors, pump companies, UPS delivery trucks, and insurance agents trying to get my new pump to me. The event has stirred up a lot of negative feelings towards my diabetes, turning my usual "I can do anything" attitude into the dreaded and defeating, "I can't do a thing" attitude. Your posts always make me feel better, just knowing there's someone else out there who "gets it" is both a comfort and an inspiration.

Last year on Army Wives when the main character was diagnosed, she was devastated and didn't want anyone to know. She passed out when she went too low because no one knew. She was embarrassed. Part of me understood. And part of me wanted to say, get up and live! Eventually she did - which is makes it a good show. lol

I love that so often when I am done reading your posts I feel like I have just read one of my own exact thoughts. The thing that I hate is all of that literature jumping out at me in the exam room as I nervously wait for my A1c result. I am never really in the mood to read up on Diabetic foot problems or the percentage rate of complications at that exact moment. I do understand the whole "Scare them into compliance" thing but maybe they could try to right a brochure on the flip side of things for once. A positive motivation for us to read so when we get our A1c back and it is under seven we can take a deep breath (for three months, or for us pregos one month) and know the future is bright!

great old post, Kerri! i love reading your stuff. i sit back after reading ones like this and think "yes. that's exactly it." a confusing disease made more so by the multitude of marketing campaigns, for sure.

Kerri, I always appreciate what you have to say. Thank you for making the most of you visability.

Your post was about the qualities of the message.
I would like to know who the audience is for those messages? It would seem that those already touched would be the most attentive.


My personal opinion is that by portraying ourselves as a-OK despite not having any functioning beta cells, there is no need to replace an organ that we are saying we can live/survive without. I use the term "live" loosely.

So no real incentive for a cure for this terrible disease. Type 1 is the orphan disease...everybody thinks of Type 2 when they hear "diabetes", and most people realize that Type 2 is largely lifestyle related and
therefore "manageable".

Everyone else who needs an organ gets sympathy, I don't follow why we should be any different. For the small percentage of T1s who have perfect control and can live a normal life being a perfect pancreas 24-7/365, I'm happy for you, now please stop reading now.

For the rest of us, take the sympathy,and the ploy for it. When you've had a lifetime of T1 diabetes, your body is full of scar tissue and holes (where are you going to inject if a cure doesn't come in 20 years? 30?), every waking hour is spent keeping yourself out of a seizure or coma, every food choice is measured and weighed, every calculation checked twice, at any time, your body is tired, and perhaps even falling apart, despite years of needles, strict diets, and your best efforts, you will WANT the sympathy.

Right now all we have is the "blame the diabetic" or "it could be worse" mentality. No other disease puts this much expectation and pressure on the the patient and then has the nerve to BLAME them when things go wrong. And they often do go wrong.

My opinion is, sympathy for us is a good thing. It's one thing we don't have enough off. Compared to other diseases (AIDS, Breast Cancer) there is LITTLE to no compassion or support for T1 diabetics from the public at large. And if they don't care, they're not donating to help cure us. They're not showing compassion if we have a low.

Nobody knows that for every 6 "healthy" T1s living their lives, 4 died young from T1 diabetes. The public needs to understand that this disease can KILL. How many more kids have to die in their sleep from lows or kidney failure at 30?

Bring on the pity please...if not for me, then for the kids. I used to recall older T1s who would cry when they saw young T1 kids. Since I WAS one of those kids, I never thought twice. Now that I'm older, and still struggling (it doesn't get any easier with age), I totally get how they were feeling. I now feel it too.

Hi Kerry,
It is the first time when I write on your blog. I am not diabetic but I’m the father of a 10 yrs old diabetic daughter. She has got it when she was 5 …some sort of fiveuntilme. The reason of this comment is to let you know about another point of view regarding the success stories about diabetes. I think they help the people with diabetes… but I’m sure they are more helpful for those who actually live with and for those people, especially for the parents of the diabetic children. We, these parents, love to see that is possible that our children will be able to do whatever they want in their lives - even to go to the moon - with… some more attention to details.
Regarding the future - all of us (with or without diabetes) are in the same boat, all of us wonder what our future holds, hoping that it always will be something good.

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