Is Type 2 Your Fault?
Blaming yourself for developing diabetes is neither helpful nor accurate. But you can take action to lessen the effect of the disease.
Steve Klopping wouldn't believe it. He couldn't believe it: His doctor was suggesting that he had type 2 diabetes. "I pretty much thought, 'There's no chance this is possible,' " he says. "No way. There's got to be something wrong here." And then the test results came back.
Denial became shock when the doc told him the diagnosis. "I thought he was kidding," says Klopping, 30, of Surprise, Ariz. That was seven months ago, and Klopping is still dealing with the stress, loneliness, and confusion that came with his diagnosis. "Being new, I didn't know what to do," he says. "Nobody in my family has it. I thought, 'Why me?' "
Klopping isn't alone. Regardless of the type of diabetes, diagnosis almost always comes as a shock. It also can come with guilt, denial, depression, anxiety, loneliness, helplessness, and fear. But when it's type 2, diabetes can bring a hefty dose of self-blame, too. Since much of type 2 prevention and management revolves around losing or maintaining weight, many people feel as if getting diabetes was their fault. "People who have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes often feel guilt, that the reason they've been diagnosed is because of what they did, how they took care of themselves," says Mark Peyrot, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and professor in the Department of Sociology at Loyola University Maryland.
And the accusation is not only self-directed. "Type 2 diabetes is one of the few diseases in America where people think it's OK to blame people for getting it," says William Polonsky, PhD, CDE, associate clinical professor in psychiatry at the University of California–San Diego, and founder and CEO of the Behavioral Diabetes Institute. Such blame is not only unhelpful but generally inaccurate. Sure, lifestyle plays a role, but so do genes. That means one person might be able to eat a lot and never exercise but not get diabetes, while another person overeats occasionally and does.
So did you bring diabetes upon yourself? No, says Polonsky. "You didn't do anything wrong. Having diabetes doesn't mean you're a bad person. It means your body isn't functioning right." Plus, there's an upside to type 2's being a "lifestyle" disease: Since diet and exercise have an impact on your condition, you have the chance to change your lifestyle and minimize any complications.
"The bottom line is that diabetes is a manageable disease," says Peyrot. "That's the great thing about it. It is within people's ability to turn their life around."