Monday, May 12, 2014

Grass Roots Advocacy

Follow along this week as I participate in Diabetes Blog Week!! Today's post topic is about "Changing the World" through advocacy. 

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I'm so thankful for the JDRF moms and dads who put together walks, I'm thankful for the Type 1 Diabetes mentors who collaborate and organize support groups, and I'm thankful for the online advocates who send out notices to write a congressman or sign a petition. But the truth is, I am none of those people. Don't get me wrong, I am often involved in the get-togethers or signatures they organize, but I do not formally advocate for this disease. 

I think of myself as more of a grass roots Type 1. No one has the bandwidth to support every dang cause or fight every dang disease on this planet. "Type 1 Diabetes" is a phrase more than easy to tune out if you have no connection to it. And thus the essence of my advocacy efforts: make connections from shared interests, and hold back the Diabetes card until the person really knows YOU. 

In 15 years of being a Type 1 Diabetic I am still surprised at the reactions when I tell someone that I have Diabetes. 

"But you're so young."
"You're not overweight."
"My grandpa had both of his legs amputated because of Diabetes."
"One of parents friends went blind because of Diabetes."
"Can you eat that?!"
"How often do you test your blood sugar? Once a day or something?"
"You are the reason my insurance rates are so high."
"Who did you get it from? Your mom or your dad?"
"That sucks."

But this post isn't about dwelling on sometimes offensive reactions, it's about changing those incorrect assumptions one connection at a time. Grass roots advocacy puts a personal face to an impersonal disease. It's advocacy through action - pushing boundaries and never using Diabetes as a crutch. It's about being a good representative for an entire community, and equipping new friends with the tools of understanding and compassion, instead of confusion and bitterness. 

Every Diabetic is a grass roots advocacy specialist - we all know how to explain our busted pancreases, our plethora of blood related electronics, our glucose tabs and food logs, our concerns with stories about amputated legs and blind eyes. The trick is keeping an open mind and kindly sharing this knowledge with new connections; hopefully they will remember how normal you are in every other way and how Diabetes doesn't discriminate the next time you need a JDRF walk donation ;-)