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Breaking the D-Stigma

Kerri Sparling tackles type 2 diabetes myths and misconceptions

Laura Kolodjeski of Sanofi US DiabetesLaura Kolodjeski

When I started this blog, there was much to learn about diabetes, the community and its contributors. And, over the years I’ve met wonderful people and heard inspiring stories – but the biggest impact is how it has educated me about diabetes and how it influences so many.

I hear type 2 diabetes misperceptions and myths often, and am appreciative of the diabetes online community (DOC) as they work to fight those stigmas and stereotypes. And one champion in the type 2 community corner is heavy hitter and diabetes advocate, Kerri Sparling. After admitting not knowing much about type 2 diabetes, Kerri decided to “beef up” her knowledge as well as speak out against the stigmas.

Kerri Sparling
Kerri Sparling

Blazing Trails in the DOC

Kerri isn’t new to the DOC – you can even say that she is a DOC pioneer, entering the space in 2005 to share her stories on her blog Six Until Me. Living with type 1 diabetes since the age of seven, Kerri felt there wasn’t anywhere she could turn to, to talk about her diabetes. “I felt alone, and it’s about alleviating the emotional burden of diabetes,” Kerri said. “There’s a lot more help working to maintain my A1C’s and going to my doctor.” It turned out Kerri wasn’t alone.

A New Voice

As the DOC grew, so did its audience and contributors. While the DOC seems to still have a focus on type 1 diabetes, people living with type 2 are slowly entering the space and are encouraged to join the conversation. “I’m hoping that they would reach out and say, ‘Yeah, we do feel empowered and we want to throw more of our story into this mix,’” Kerri said. “But if they’re not, I want to know. I’d love to get to the root of what keeps people from connecting or from sharing.”

The Root of the Problem

That root could be the stigmas or stereotypes suppressing type 2 voices. “I’ve learned a lot about the origin story of type 2 and feel the societal perception is unfairly that type 2 diabetes comes from eating too many donuts or too many sweets and being sedentary and lazy,” Kerri said. “I think there’s a lot of perception of character flaw built into a disease diagnosis. Seeing that they felt stigmatized, that they weren’t even encouraged to talk about their condition for fear of being blamed for it.”

Having lived with diabetes since she was a young child, Kerri didn’t experience the same stigmas as a person with type 2 diabetes may have — and she even believed there should be a separation between the types. “I had always felt that there was this chasm between type 1 and type 2,” Kerri said. “It was an us and them type thing, which is such garbage because that’s not the case. It’s an us thing. There’s no them.”

Bridging the Gap

There is a slow influx of type 2 bloggers in the DOC – and that is what contributed to Kerri learning about her counterparts, as well as starting to understand that they may have more in common than not. “It wasn’t until getting involved with the diabetes online community and hearing from people who live with type 2,” Kerri said. “It was getting to know what life with their disease was like and how much we truly had in common that I felt really deeply ashamed of having blamed them for anything.”

Kerri has worked hard to not only change her perceptions about people living with type 2 diabetes, but also wants the community to come together. “I want to bridge it,” she said. “I want to find a way to make people feel better about saying, ‘Yes, I have type 2 diabetes,’ just as people hopefully say, ‘Yes, I have type 1 diabetes,’ without a shred of shame.”

Bucking the System

Since the DOC has started to change the narrative surrounding type 2 diabetes, some of those voices have been heard. Every story Kerri reads gives her hope and acts as an inspiration for her. “Every single person who has dedicated themselves to sharing their type 2 story inspires me because I think they are brave,” she stated. “They’re bucking the system. They’re letting their story fly in the face of everyone who said, ‘No, you’re supposed to be quiet. This is your fault.’ They raise their voices to assure everyone that, ‘No, it’s not, and my story is worth sharing and it’s worth hearing.’”

Removing the Stigma

Kerri is currently involved in a DOC initiative, #WalkwithD, to help raise awareness. “I think that’s pretty cool because it’s not ‘Walk With Type 1 D’ or ‘Walk As a Parent of Type 1 D.’ It’s ‘Walk with Diabetes,’ in general, to help remove the stigma, and to retain dignity. I think people with type 1 need to be more actively supportive of people with type 2. Let’s all show one another what this journey is really like.”

Connecting with Type 2’s

Conferences have helped put faces to online names in the DOC and the opportunity to interact not only with other type 1 bloggers but also type 2 bloggers. Kerri got to meet Sue and Kate, both type 2 diabetes bloggers, at the recent MasterLab advocacy event. “It was just so strange because Sue said that she felt a little out of place being at a type 1 conference and that she wasn’t sure how welcomed she felt,” Kerri said. “It was really weird for me to remind myself that, ‘There is a little bit of a perception problem. There are things that are geared towards type 1 and type 2, and that seems to be inherent in the DOC.’”

Those interactions helped Kerri connect with people living with type 2 and have changed how she sees them. “Those are the people that I’m like, ‘You have changed my perception of what type 2 diabetes is,’ and I am forever grateful for their contribution.”

It’s great to see the evolution of the community, and to be able to be a small part of it feels wonderful. My many thanks to Kerri for sharing her story and adding her voice to this important conversation.

All the best,

Laura K.

Disclosure: Kerri Sparling received no compensation for this post. All opinions contained in this post reflect those of the interviewee, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies or affiliates.

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  1. Scott
    October 30th, 2014, 7:21 PM

    Thanks for this, Laura & Kerri. I’m so thankful for those who so bravely share their stories. I really think we all have a lot to learn, and one of the best ways to do so is through others like Sue and Kate (and Mike, Sir Bob, Rachel, Ashley Ng, David, and the many many more).

    1. Laura
      October 31st, 2014, 10:02 AM

      Thank you Scott! We are so grateful to Kerri and all in DOC for the perspectives and stories you share. We have learned so much from you!

      Laura K.