I don’t have to like someone just because we have one thing in common

This is likely to be a bit of a controversial post, and one that might not win me too many fans, but it’s something I’ve felt and believed for a long time, brought to the forefront by current events. And if I’m coming back here, perhaps I ought to do it with a bang.

So here is the truth: I don’t particularly feel that it’s “great” that Theresa May has diabetes. I don’t think it’s a bad thing either. I mostly think it’s an irrelevant thing. I definitely think it has received a disproportionate amount of attention from some of the diabetes population. I don’t, (gasp), feel immediately drawn to her, or anyone really for that matter, simply because of our mutual diagnoses.

It’s not her (or my) defining characteristic and I cannot base my feelings about someone in such a complex position entirely on that. There’s not even a tale to tell of her having risen up the political ladder “despite” diabetes, as she was already the incumbent Home Secretary (almost inarguably one of the toughest jobs in Westminster) when she was diagnosed three and a half years ago. What I’m saying is that I can’t have an opinion on a person simply because we have the same chronic condition. And I’m completely leaving the politics aside – as are so many of the pro-she’s-a-diabetic commentators. Which is really my point. I wouldn’t suddenly feel different about any politician because of their endocrine issues, it wouldn’t matter if they were the leader of the Monster Raving Looney Party. (If you’re interested, though, I was In. A staunch Remain supporter from the outset, although more vocal over the fact that it is not a question that ever should have been put in the British public’s hands – more on that another time, perhaps. And I was also firmly in the Anyone-but-Boris camp.)

From a wider perspective than Theresa May alone, I’ve often noticed a feeling amongst the diabetes community that we’re all instant friends. And I can’t subscribe to that. That we’re all in this together I do get, to a degree. We face some of the same challenges. Only someone who has experienced the fear and confusion of a middle of the night low, the raging thirst and sickness of extreme high blood sugars or the frustrations of continually getting different results despite doing the same things can understand what those experiences are like. And our voices are stronger together in campaigning for things like better access to technology (I’m currently a trustee for a charity doing just this). It’s also true that I do have something in common with all of the millions of other type one diabetes suffers.

But in the vast majority of cases, that will be the only thing I have in common with them. It doesn’t mean that I have to feel a kinship to each and every one of them, or even to like them, nevermind liken them to me. It’s no sole basis for a friendship. Because by the same standard I have something in common with somewhere around half the world’s population in that I’m female. (I have that in common with Theresa May too and it also doesn’t mean we’re at all alike. And whilst she may only be our second female Prime Minister, and that is noteworthy in itself, it’s equally not the most important thing to focus on. After all, Andrea Leadsom is also female. [And for what it’s worth in relation to that, I think that whatever was said, however it was written and reported, what she probably wanted to say was that she could demonstrate that she doesn’t want to fuck the country up because she has a vested interest in the future of the nation by virtue of the fact that she has children who will live with the legacy of the decisions that her party, or any government for that matter, makes. In other words, she wants a secure future, even if that desire is born of the selfish motivation to support her own offspring. Whether her version of a secure future would have meshed with anyone else’s will never be known] Wow, what a digression!)

Back to the matter in hand, I have my hair colour in common with countless others. I share my birthday with millions of people and I do the same job as thousands of others. None of these things alone instantly link me to those people, and neither does my malfunctioning pancreas form the basis of an instant relationship. Making it clear that I’m still leaving Theresa May and politics aside, but as a general observation, I also don’t have to instantly like or respect another person because an – albeit unpleasant – aspect of their life is similar to mine. For let’s not forget too that we all have different experiences of diabetes. It’s a bigger part of life for some than others. Some struggle more than others and many, many thousands of people still don’t even have reliable access to insulin, nevermind worrying about complications the psychosocial side of chronic illness or advances in technology – things which, at times, could be considered the diabetic equivalent of middle class problems.

There are potential positives, of course, to a Prime Minister with diabetes. It may help keep the issue front and centre in the minds of the government, the media and the population at large. But notice that I said “may” (no pun intended). Because it is equally possible that Theresa May will go on being a private person and little will be said. It’s possible that diabetes policy will actually be pushed down the agenda either because her own experience of living with diabetes is not troubled by issues that policy can fix, or because she doesn’t want to be seen to be focusing too much on the things in which she has a vested interest. It’s also just as likely that her diabetes will not surface and this in itself will help to cement the idea to the media and general population that diabetes isn’t that much of a big deal. We’re caught constantly between wanting to prove that we can follow our dreams and achieve our aspirations despite diabetes, but wanting people to realise that it’s still a difficult and dangerous condition. But the way people could easily perceive it is that if you can be Prime Minister with diabetes, you can do anything and it isn’t necessarily more challenging than for anyone else.

That latter point is dangerous in itself. Sometimes I think there is a lot of pressure on people, particularly young people, with diabetes to “achieve despite diabetes”. To stick two fingers up and say “Look what I can still do”; Climb mountains, fly a plane, break marathon records or whatever else. Sometimes simply living a normal life, and living it well, doesn’t seem to be enough, even though that is what most of us do. Diabetes brings enough pressures without people thinking they have something to prove.

At the end of the day, we have a new Prime Minister. There remains just as much uncertainty, both in Westminster and the nation at large, as there has been since this whole mess started. And there is as much uncertainty as there always is with a change of leadership. What Theresa May can, and will, do in office remains to be seen. But her being diabetic is not a special reason to support her, or admire her or even like her. It’s just part of the package of who she is.

It may horrify you, but I don’t feel an affinity to every person with diabetes. Some of my friends happen to have diabetes, but they are friends – and people that I admire and respect hugely – for reasons other than that. People with diabetes are from the same diverse community as people without. It pays for people to be kind and tolerant and to get along – life would be so much simpler if we could all just do that. But we’re all different and we’re no more defined or bonded by that one characteristic than by anything else.

I guess I’ve devoted a lot of words to the simple belief that Theresa May’s type one diabetes makes no difference at all to how I feel about her or her appointment to the biggest job in Britain. And no person’s diabetes makes the slightest difference to how I feel about them at first sight either.

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4 Replies to “I don’t have to like someone just because we have one thing in common”

  1. I am sooooo glad someone wrote this. I have apparently been on the outs with a few different diabetes bloggers over the years to my utter confusion. I mean, I think I’m a really nice person! But whatever. I realized throughout my 20s as I met more and more people who I really liked and then discovered painfully that they don’t like me back. And there’s really nothing I can do about it. And then I learned it’s actually perfectly normal to not get along famously with everyone you meet, even when you have loads in common. Some personalities just don’t mesh! A broken pancreas can’t overcome that. Anyway, I completely agree and understand, even though it’s sometimes a tough pill to swallow.

    Now, politically speaking, I don’t know that much about Theresa May or anyone else you mentioned, but I agree, I wouldn’t vote for someone just because they have diabetes. I mean, if someone told me Donald Trump had type 1 diabetes, I would still be all “fuck no he’s cray-cray.”

    1. Thank you. (I’ve just rescued this comment from the spam filter where it ended up for some reason – I wan’t ignoring you!) But yes, it would be odd to get on with everyone you meet, it just sucks when you feel like you have a lot in common with someone and they don’t reciprocate. Sadly that is life. Having lots in common with someone often isn’t enough, so just having diabetes in common certainly isn’t enough!

  2. Like, like, like. I think this is relatable to the US at this time, because there’s an assumption, oh…you’re a Democratic woman, so you should be voting for Hillary and not ignoring the real facts. (In the end, I probably will, but she wasn’t my first choice.)

    1. Your comment also ended up in the spam filter, so I’m sorry I didn’t see it sooner! It’s a similar thing, in that people think you should support someone for just one reason, when that usually isn’t enough. British and US politics are very different, of course, but same general idea. And outwith politics too!

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