Category Archives: Diabetes

Spare a Rose, Save a Child… From Slavery

Last night, I donated to the Spare a Rose Save a Child campaign. Spare a Rose Save a Child, which is in its third year, collects donations to fund insulin, blood glucose meters, and test strips for children with type 1 diabetes in the Global South. Many of those children suffer from diabetes complications earlier, and have higher rates of early mortality relative to people living with type 1 diabetes in the US and other Global North nations because they don’t have access to insulin and BG supplies, which are lifelong medical necessities for people with type 1 diabetes.

There is tremendous love, energy, and collaboration invested in Spare a Rose Save a Child, an initiative developed and organized by many of my peers in the Diabetes Online Community (DOC). Of all the DOC initiatives I have witnessed, and in many cases, joined, over the years, this one is arguably the most successful, and rightfully so in light of the end result. According to the International Diabetes Federation, “last year’s campaign raised over US$27.000 and this year the aim is to do even better and reach the target of US$50.000.” Considering this is a grassroots effort that began with a bunch of patient advocate bloggers brainstorming about how to make an impact in the world, this has exceeded everyone’s initial expectations by leaps and bounds by improving access to insulin and BG supplies for thousands of children with type 1 diabetes.

The thing is – and if you know me, it’s no news flash that there is always a thing – I’ve been thinking about the enthusiasm in the DOC for Spare a Rose Save a Child, versus the apparent indifference towards the issue of child slavery in the chocolate industry. I’ve been sharing links on Facebook about the widespread use of slavery and human trafficking to harvest cacao by all the big chocolate candy makers for most of the past several “chocolate” holidays – Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and Easter. These posts don’t garner very many likes or shares, and inasmuch as I can tell from looking at FB, no discernible interest in choosing slavery-free chocolate. I am deeply saddened and concerned to see posts about big name chocolate candy shared in my FB news feed, especially during the chocolate holidays, not because I give a shit about PWD eating candy – I loves me a delicious slavery-free chocolate bar as much as anyone – but because I get really riled up when someone’s fundamental rights are negated because someone else thinks they deserve a fucking Snickers. Mind you, FB impressions are far from scientific, but it’s not hard to discern between the things that come to life on social media, and those that no one gives a flying fig about, and in my experience, posts about slavery and human trafficking to make Kit-Kats, Butterfingers, and M&M’s aren’t a blip on anyone’s radar.

I’m not sure what to make of this peculiar disconnect. The DOC really wants to save poor black and brown children with type 1 diabetes in the Global South, but my efforts to compel anyone to save impoverished, marginalized children of color and their families from slavery and trafficking have gone largely ignored, even though I consistently also share a link to the Food Empowerment Project’s amazing free ethical Chocolate List app that makes buying slavery-free chocolate relatively effortless. Not that I expect everyone to publicly swear off chocolate from companies known to use slaves, and become vocal food justice advocates, but something, anything to reflect some iota of give-a-shittedness doesn’t seem like a lofty expectation given the efforts to provide diabetes medication and supplies to these same Global South children. So I’m left with a lot of questions.

Why will people in the DOC fund insulin, but not spend more to buy slavery-free chocolate?

Does prioritizing one, but ignoring the other, have something to do with the ease of using PayPal, versus the perceived inconvenience of locating and paying more for slavery-free chocolate?

Is the experience of continually confronting one’s privilege by regularly considering where one’s food is sourced more visceral and uncomfortable than the experience of privilege when making a single donation to fund insulin and BG supplies?

In the absence of addressing the systemic socioeconomic-political issues that contribute to lack of access to insulin and BG supplies, does funding insulin maintain the historical colonialistic framework of white Westerners saving poor indigenous people, and ultimately maintain the very power structure that leaves these people in continuous need?

What is the purpose of reducing death and disability for these children if they and their siblings end up victims of slavery driven by imperialism, colonialism, capitalism, and consumerism?

Are we providing insulin and BG supplies so they are healthy enough to labor as slaves so Westerners can keep eating cheap chocolate?

What if we stopped buying the chocolate made from cacao harvested by Global South slaves, and instead, bought slavery-free chocolate, so the people who harvest the cacao are paid enough to buy their own insulin and BG supplies?

These are difficult, but important questions. By asking them, I’m not suggesting to not contribute to Spare a Rose Save a Child, lest anyone think that is my intention. The need of Global South children with type 1 diabetes is dire. As a person with type 1 diabetes, it pains me that anyone, anywhere, no matter their age, race, income, or other status goes without insulin and supplies they need to live. However, the fact remains that there are systemic reasons why people in the Global South do not have access to insulin and supplies the way people in the Global North have access, and we have a responsibility to understand the mechanisms that keep this system in place. Advancing money towards it year after year does not begin to address those deeper issues, and isn’t a solution rooted in critical theory that shines light on why this problem even exists.

If people are genuinely interested in changing the system that allows Global South children with type 1 diabetes to suffer and die without ready access to insulin and supplies, then it’s time to stop reducing the problem to that of digging into pockets. If those children with type 1 diabetes remain captive to our willingness to buy insulin and BG supplies because we can’t be bothered to pursue a more nuanced, deeper understanding of how colonialism, imperialism, capitalism and consumerism function to keep them in a constant state of need, then we are no better than Hershey, Nestle, and Mars, who want to maintain the status quo, and keep those children in their current trapped positions. Is it good enough to feel good about doing something, or is it preferable to confront privilege, learn about intersecting systems of oppression, and make some different lifestyle choices in a conscious, committed effort to dismantle the power structure that leaves these children in continuous need?

Please donate to Spare a Rose Save a Child, but put your mouth where your money is, and buy slavery-free chocolate this Valentine’s Day.

Young boy rakes cocoa beans on a drying rack.
Young boy rakes cocoa beans on a drying rack.

Crossfit, Diabetes and Ableism: A Different Conversation

Crossfit is ableist
Crossfit is ableist

People with diabetes (PWD) are in a tizzy because Crossfit tweeted a disparaging joke about diabetes to promote its product. My Facebook feed has been filled with critical discussion and blog post links from people in the DOC who find the Coke bottle image offensive. The fact that I too am writing a blog post is not lost on me, but I’m not calling out Crossfit. I’m calling on PWD.

In my years of participating in the diabetes online community (DOC), I’ve seen this happen time and time again. A media entity – someone who’s famous, a business selling a product, a TV program, etc. – uses diabetes as a punchline. The DOC responds with angry tweets, blog posts, and online discussion via a variety of platforms. In most cases, nothing changes, and everyone goes back to business as usual until the next time diabetes is the punchline. Rinse. Repeat.

Here we are again. Since yesterday, I have seen countless posts about writing letters, blog links, video commentary, etc. People are angry because this image represents a misconception that PWD feel they are regularly trying to correct, the juggernaut of diabetes misconceptions: sugar causes diabetes. This is not to deny that lifestyle choices can be a contributing factor to a type 2 diabetes diagnosis in genetically susceptible individuals, but to misinterpret and distill that to “sugar causes diabetes” fails to capture the fact that diabetes is a physiologically complex disease, characterized by hyperglycemia, metabolic abnormalities, and marked risk for developing specific medical complications. Furthermore, pathogenesis varies depending on the type of diabetes, and as such, not all cases are known to be associated with lifestyle.

Thus, Crossfit falsely reduced diabetes to nothing more than a self-inflicted disease of overzealous soda consumption, so the image is indeed offensive, and the anger it has elicited is warranted. However, based on comparable past occurrences, I’m not convinced that this pattern of responding is effective in that it doesn’t lead to meaningful change. This social media response generates discussion within the DOC, offering the benefit of social support, which is valuable, but that’s an ancillary function. The presumed primary intention seems to be to educate the perpetrator, and in the process, the masses, so they will stop marginalizing PWD, but in light of the fact that this same dynamic is unfolding formulaically again, I’d like to suggest that this strategy is ineffective.

Instead of having the same old hashed and rehashed exchange about how PWD are victimized by misconceptions, can we have a discussion about how marginalizing people with disabilities is part of a larger oppressive system? The fact that we’re doing this yet again, the fact that previous incidents and the ensuing chorus of opposition from the DOC has not prevented this occurrence suggests that this is a systemic problem. As such, a systemic solution is in order.

First, let’s establish that the image tweeted by Crossfit is ableist, so it discriminates against people with a disability, in this case, diabetes. According to Withers (1), “disability is a social construct imposed upon some of us because we are considered unfit or less fit, unproductive or underproductive. Therefore disableism is a form of oppression, because of our social devaluation unrelated to who we actually are, or to our actual capabilities and incapacities as individuals.” I chose this particular quote specifically because Withers uses the term, fit, which under the circumstances, seemed apt. Also, for clarification, although Withers uses the term, disableism, I will use the term, ableism, which is considered synonymous.

Since we are no longer looking at this image as a single non-contextualized episode of disparaging PWD, but rather, indicative of the systemic problem, ableism, then let’s more broadly examine the perpetrator, Crossfit, to identify why they might use an image that is ableist. One could infer that the Crossfit culture, characterized by competition, which suggests domination, thrives on exploiting and marginalizing beings it frames as “less than,” or “unfit.” In fact, this inference proves true when a cursory web search reveals that Crossfit’s recommended diet is essentially a paleo diet, which, in its most popular form, relies on animal products (2). Thus, the CrossFit culture exploits animals through the paleo dietary regimen its adherents follow, so it’s not surprising that they are exploiting people with a disability. At least they’re consistent in applying a paradigm of domination and oppression.

How does naming this image as ableist, and contextualizing Crossfit’s ableism within a paradigm of domination that also creates animal victims change how we might respond? Instead of playing this never-ending game of whack-a-mole, perhaps we should consider closing the carnival where the game is open for business. In other words, by appealing to Crossfit to elevate its level of respect for PWD, PWD are engaging in a socially constructed game of assigning hierarchal value to beings. It’s inherent to the Crossfit culture to delineate who’s fit and who’s unfit, and instead of recognizing that everyone loses when beings are valued as fit or unfit, the current PWD response strategy presumes that PWD want to be recognized as fit. Responding to Crossfit with complaints is essentially saying, “We have value, place us higher on your culture’s hierarchy.” This completely overlooks that the hierarchy itself is a problem.

Is there value to responding to them? Obviously, I can’t say for certain, but I’m inclined to think not, partly because of the aforementioned point that ableism cannot be deconstructed by engaging in their game of assigning value to beings. Beyond that, there is the matter of how Crossfit representatives will respond, if they respond, to the complaints that are currently being directed against them. Like most cases of oppressed person(s) expressing opposition to being oppressed, I’m inclined to think that if the current deluge of complaints is on their radar, Crossfit representatives will roll their eyes, and come to the conclusion that PWD are too sensitive, and can’t take a joke, basically invalidating the opposition offered by PWD. It’s the same response that women receive when they point out sexism, and people of color receive when they point out racism. It’s the same dismissive, apathetic response directed at vegans who point out the systemic violence against animals, a response intended to silence and further marginalize an oppressed group and their allies/advocates. Publicly, maybe Crossfit representatives will completely ignore the complaints, which would be my guess. Maybe they’ll acknowledge a wrongdoing, but even in that best case, yet highly unlikely scenario, what has been accomplished? PWD are assigned value on the fit-unfit hierarchy, which reinforces ableism, and grants the Crossfit culture the privileged power to define who is fit or unfit? What kind of outcome is that?

It also seems that many PWD are now engaging in the seemingly never-ending type 1 diabetes (T1D) versus type 2 diabetes (T2D) debate, grounded in the current clinical assumptions that T1D has an environmental triggered autoimmune origin, while T2D has a combination genetic, lifestyle, and some research indicates, also autoimmune origin. Basically, the understanding of causal factors and pathogeneses is as clear as mud, which reflects the incessant mudslinging within the DOC. For anyone reading this who isn’t familiar with the DOC, let me assure you that this debate is as utterly exhaustive and unproductive as it sounds. That being said, as this debate pertains to the Crossfit image, PWT1D are more represented in the DOC, and as such, PWT1D have more power to control the debate about the Crossfit image, so some PWT1D take offense to the image because their diabetes wasn’t caused by drinking Coke. The implicit, and sometimes explicit suggestion is that Crossfit isn’t altogether wrong, but they should have specified T2D. Of course, this throws PWT2D under the bus by blaming them for a disease that, as much as it’s linked to lifestyle, is also linked to multiple systems of oppression – racism, classism, capitalism, consumerism, carnism, etc. which have intersected to create a society of food deserts, racial disparities in health care, government subsidized animal-based food products that have been linked to disease, as well as other societal problems contributing to the T2D epidemic. The end result is that PWT2D feel further victimized. Furthermore, this debate is also inherently ableist in its presupposition that one type of diabetes should be granted more privilege than another type, which only reinforces the very ableism everyone is blaming Crossfit for perpetrating. It’s a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black.

That being said, do PWD want to continue with these case-by-case responses that never result in substantive change, or do PWD want to change the self-reinforcing, interconnected systems of oppression that perpetuate ableism? The more constructive, yet challenging response to this instance of disparaging PWD is perhaps less satisfying in the short term, but intended to get to the root of the problem.

Instead of contributing to this wave of responses to Crossfit, I suggest learning about and discussing ableism, and how it’s interconnected to other systems of oppression, like sexism, racism, heterosexism, speciesism, etc. We can more effectively identify strategies for advancing social justice for all beings, including, but not limited to people with disabilities, by reconceptualizing what it means to have diabetes in an ableist society. Otherwise, we are participating in the system without fully recognizing the harms it inflicts, as is the case for all unexamined systems of oppression. Rather than using words and actions to better position ourselves on any given hierarchy, we can identify the hierarchies on which we’re positioned as privileged, and then use words and actions to deconstruct those hierarchies. We can be role models for the hard work of changing a system, not by pointing fingers at and engaging with a company that’s exploitative towards all “unfit” beings, but by living values of justice and compassion towards all beings. If we don’t want others being ableist towards us, we can practice not being ableist towards other beings, including animals, who are victimized in countless ways for being perceived as less able. The fact remains that while it’s easy to call out Crossfit for being ableist because we feel victimized, until we reflect on how we are victimizing others because we perceive them as less able, we are only reinforcing the very system we should be working to deconstruct.

______
Notes:
1: Withers, A. J. (2012). Disableism within animal advocacy and environmentalism. In A. J. Nocella, J. K. C. Bentley & J. M. Duncan (Eds.), Earth, animal and disability liberation (pp. 111-125). New York, NY: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc.

2: There are vegans who adhere to a veganized paleo dietary regimen, but it’s my impression that Crossfit adherents can be quite committed to the conventional animal-based paleo regimen. In fact, when GustOrganics, a New York City restaurant that had been very popular with Crossfitters, switched to an all vegan menu, the restaurant actually received hate mail according to its owners.

The Evolving Meaning of Mother’s Day

I spent my mid-30’s to age 40 wishing myself numb on Mother’s Day. All I saw was motherhood being equated to womanhood, and mothers being not merely honored, but elevated to superhuman goddess status, purportedly feeling love more deeply, and glorified as more generous, more selfless, more feminine, more nurturing, more complete. More, more, more. The implicit take-away for me was that women who aren’t moms, regardless of the circumstances, are less.

Yes, it’s true that not having children is a choice I made. Yes, it’s a choice I continue to make since technically, there are avenues for having children that remain open for me. Choosing one thing means not choosing another though. Sometimes I wonder what my life would be like if I had chosen differently – a different college, different career, different partner, different house, different city, or a child. There aren’t true do-overs, and life isn’t as tidy as the choose-your-own-adventure books that I enjoyed reading as a kid, which offered the option of starting over to see where the other choices took me, so I could decide which ending I liked best.

Every time I find myself wondering about the adventure I didn’t choose – the one that requires childproofing our home, a Diaper Genie, little league, Dora the Explorer birthday parties, and college saving accounts – I quickly remind myself of the many reasons I opted to not have children. Concerns about destabilizing my diabetes, possibly exacerbating health issues I’ve finally gotten managed, and putting my life and the life of a child at risk. Yes, I am well aware that women with type 1 have healthy pregnancies all the time, but I wasn’t comfortable with the risks, and that strongly factored into my decision. I also considered my reluctance to pass my disease-prone genetic material to another human. Having a child clearly contradicted my deep concerns about the effects of overpopulation on the environment and society. Even when considering adoption, I admit that my personality and priorities aren’t aligned with parenting. When I get the what-ifs, I review my reasons, and invariably end up at the same conclusion I made 11 years ago when I had my tubal.

Last year marked the first Mother’s Day when I felt at peace with my decision. As I described then, adopting a vegan lifestyle fulfills my longing to nurture, to feel connected to something beyond myself, and to leave a legacy. While I might not have children and grandchildren who will one day remember me fondly, I’m hopeful that humanity will evolve beyond its current consumerist ideology – consuming animals, consuming the Earth, consuming each other. I’m hopeful that Earth’s descendants will live harmoniously with each other and the environment, building on a foundation of conservation, justice, peace, and kindness towards all. I’m hopeful that by living these ideals and sharing these ideas, future generations will benefit. This is how I mother.

I would say that my feelings about Mother’s Day this year are essentially the same, but more integrated and familiar. I relish that I have found meaning in Mother’s Day that resonates in my heart. What I find most revelatory this year is the evolution of meaning, not just for me personally, but what I observe in others’ lives. I have friends who struggled with Mother’s Day in years past, but are currently expecting, or birthed, or adopted children in recent years, and now celebrate as moms or moms-to-be. I have friends who struggle because they’ve lost their mothers. Due to my own relationship with Mother’s Day though, I am especially linked to my female friends without children who are struggling today.

I didn’t really know where I was going with this when I started writing – I just knew I needed to record my thoughts – but I think I most want to make the observation that the meaning of Mother’s Day changes. That seems pretty obvious at first glance since Mother’s Day has a different meaning for people depending on age, gender identity, and life circumstances. However, during the years when Mother’s Day sent me into a tailspin of grief, I was convinced that’s all Mother’s Day would ever be for me. As our circumstances change – and circumstances always change – the meaning of Mother’s Day evolves though.

For anyone who is struggling today, I understand. Our circumstances differ, but I know what it’s like to hurt on Mother’s Day. I hope you get through this one with love, support and validation. I also want to suggest that the meaning of Mother’s Day will evolve for you. There might be years when it feels worse than it does today, although I hope not. There might be years when it feels better, perhaps tolerable. Depending on your circumstances and your journey, the day might come when you even feel good… and rightly so. Your love, nurturance, strength, and generosity towards the world are always valuable and desperately needed.

Grieve if you’re sad, but know that I am celebrating all that you do to mother this world because your nurturing spirit and loving actions deserve recognition. And if the day comes when Mother’s Day has a new meaning for you, meaning that brings peace to your heart, and a smile to your face, we can celebrate together. After all, if motherhood is the epitome of womanhood, let’s not just passively acknowledge the varied ways of being a mother in this world. Let’s explore those ways of mothering, and own them. Don’t let the Hallmark definition of Mother’s Day undermine or deter you. Let’s update its purpose, and give it new meaning, together. The world needs more women like us.

Kisses for Mom
Kisses for Mom

The Liminal Space

“… It is when you have left the tried and true, but have not yet been able to replace it with anything else.  It is when you are between your old comfort zone and any possible new answer. If you are not trained in how to hold anxiety, how to live with ambiguity, how to entrust and wait, you will run …anything to flee this terrible cloud of unknowing.” 
- Richard Rohr

Untitled by Universallyspeaking
Untitled by Universallyspeaking

For years, I’ve been immersed in the Diabetes Online Community (DOC), primarily focused on raising awareness about mental health issues, and advocating for and implementing arts-based initiatives. My interest in the relationship between art and diabetes has been a passion since I was in graduate school in the late 90’s, and has steered my career as an art therapist. More recently, it prompted me to pursue my doctorate, which is currently in process. When I started my doctoral program in 2011, I was warned by my professors that doctoral study changes people. And so it has.

My doctoral experience has been a struggle at times, but remarkably fruitful thus far. Seeds have been scattered, and I’ve managed to cultivate a garden of ideas, connections, and revelations. Once I planted a garden, I became attune to seeds, plants, and horticultural possibilities everywhere, so not entirely inexplicable, but still surprising, and certainly delightful, veganism sprouted and thrived amid my academic oasis. If nothing else, I learned that taking a break from writing a research paper to relax and watch a documentary, Vegucated, can have life-altering consequences. Once veganism took root, I needed to learn how to tend to it, and the more attentively I cared for it, the stronger it grew. I’ve found that the history and philosophy of veganism appeal to my intellectual curiosity, but the ideals of kindness and compassion for animals, Earth and humanity resonated with me spritiually.

I had already been losing steam with diabetes, but since my vegan awakening, diabetes issues have faded into the background, losing the urgency they once held for me. Obviously, I still have to manage my diabetes, but professionally, I don’t know if diabetes is my path anymore. As such, I’m rethinking the direction of my research, which is a profound development, considering I’ve been steadfastly dedicated to developing a career in art therapy for people with diabetes for the last 15 years.

I think this change is good though. Diabetes has consumed my life for years, between day-to-day management and academic, clinical, advocacy, and volunteer pursuits, so following my heart in a different direction has been remarkably liberating. More personally, many of the psychological wounds that festered in my teens, 20’s and early 30’s as a result of diabetes – depression, anxiety, an eating disorder, and the loathsome burden of diabetes shame – feel truly healed.

Between making peace with diabetes, and my increased knowledge and understanding of the suffering of Earth and all her creatures, human and non-human alike, the passion I once had to raise awareness about diabetes has been subdued and usurped by the more pressing need to promote peace through vegan activism. I’m excited and terrified by my impulse to go in a new direction with my academic research as I formulate ideas about vegan activism, art therapy and theories of social justice.

My doctoral work has been at something of a standstill as I’ve contemplated my new visions. Just writing this post, articulating my intentions, and putting the words out there is a significant step in my process of venturing into new territory. On the surface I’ve been feeling stuck, and have no work to show for the last several months. To my advisers, I certainly look completely unproductive. A lot happens beneath the soil though, even when the garden appears dormant. I’m on the verge. The shoots are going to emerge through the soil. Something beautiful is going to spring forth. This is the liminal space.