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“Can’t forget ’cause the memory lingers” (RHCP)

March 10, 2008

Ah, the normative power of the media. Maybe it shouldn’t by now, but it keeps catching me by surprise.

A couple of weeks ago, I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. This was not entirely surprising, since it runs on both sides of the family, and I suspected some insulin resistance was setting in–but finding out has still been quite a shock. It certainly explains a lot of the problems I’ve been having lately, including being tired and achy. My mom’s also lurked for years, then suddenly became a noticeable problem after she started working a particularly physically and mentally stressful job; I can only assume that, after a certain point, something has got to give. Given the family history–and the number of factors the medical folks don’t yet understand, why we Indian types have such a high rate of diabetes–I am not surprised that I couldn’t dodge this particular bullet. Intellectually, at least.

What was my first response, trying to explain the situation to myself? I automatically focused on all the conceivable ways I could have brought this upon myself. There is a lot of stigma and blame attached in popular culture, and I’d internalized more of it than I suspected. Sure, I know that any causal relationship between fat and insulin resistance tends to go precisely the other way from how it’s usually presented, and I’ve been trying hard to break out of my conditioned response to fat, into a saner (and less blatantly manipulated) way of looking at things–but still I blamed myself for being “fat”. Never mind that my body fat wasn’t high before the diabetes made the pounds fly away, and never mind that I keep a BMI of at least 28 from muscle, regardless. (Just try dealing with medical professionals who are hung up on BMI and are of a very different, more gracile, ethnic group. Argh.) I blamed myself for being heavy, for eating pasta, and for not being in active triathlon training–though I was keeping up a high level of physical activity when diagnosed.

In my more rational moments, I became very frustrated and crushed by futility; I knew I had been doing what I was “supposed to”, and felt frantic every time I contemplated what level of physical activity and disordered eating might constitute “trying hard enough”. I briefly considered taking medication as a sign of my personal failure, and the early side effects as my due. Yep, I deserved the explosive GI symptoms, and the sensations of a highly unpleasant boozing session.

I knew, on a rational level, that I was not responsible for a wonky endocrine system–and could enumerate a shedload of reasons that was absolutely wrong, and makes no sense whatsoever–but those “It’s all my own fault, because I’m fat and lazy and stupid” pathways are pretty ingrained by now.

I can’t thank a couple of people on LJ (you know who you are!) anywhere near enough, for pointing out what I was doing–and the stigma that feeds it. Without help, I’d have likely snapped out of it eventually, but having someone else who had been there point out exactly how I was letting myself get jerked around was invaluable.

It’s amazing just how effective that societal tactic can be. I knew better, and I got sucked in by it. In any number of situations, how handy it can be to feed existing prejudice, and deflect any possible responsibility you might have! Just get people to throw a truly scary proportion of the time and energy they might otherwise use to, you know, try and change the status quo, into blaming their own (prescribed) deficiencies for any difficulty they might encounter. If possible, convince them that there is something inherently wrong with them–never the situation!–and they should take their medicine without complaint, literally or figuratively. Make a lot of their fellows so insecure that they’re quick to place blame, as well, as a combination of whistling in the graveyard and stomping to keep the elephants away. Convince them that they need someone to look down on, and a lot will jump to find someone. (Yet another response that is not inherent, though some would like us to think so.) Like so many other sleazy societal control tactics, it’s self enforcing after a while. It’s hard to question what you can’t even see. It’s also really easy to look down on groups of people you perceive as embodying these awful qualities, such as us fat, lazy, diabetic Indians/white trash/hillbillies/choose a label.

In other words, I know it’s just another face of the same old beast. That doesn’t make it any less insidious and occasionally tempting; it’s just so familiar and comfortable a pattern to fall into, in Western society.

Not too surprisingly, I’m still fighting aspects of this load of internalized crap. I’ve found myself falling into depression, because it’s still hard to deal with this magnitude of change to one’s life and one’s self image. It’s hard not to get some grief going, for all the ways you imagine your life would have been different without diabetes–and to feel like your body has shown itself to be anything but trustworthy. And I do recognize that the whole concept of your body as a balky piece of equipment, just waiting for the most inopportune moment to crap out, is another peculiar Western notion which has been pushed pretty hard. This is the sort of cognitive/moral dissonance I find myself dealing with a lot.

At any rate, I have found myself defaulting yet again to the repetitive thought that I am a hideous, sick old woman who has finally realized just how decrepit and unappealing she is. (Throw in the general purpose insults “fat” and “stupid”, sometimes.) Yeah, I can see that there are just so many things wrong with that one, it’s hard to know where to start. It’s a jumble of intrusive concepts which just don’t fit with my worldview in any way, besides just not making any bloody sense. But it still keeps going through my head, and affecting the way I deal with other people.

The last couple of weeks, I know I have gotten clingy–I may try not to show it, given my tendency toward attempting the stiff upper lip, but it’s definitely there. I have found myself interpreting a number of things in accordance with the “hideous sick old woman” fallacy, and those were just the instances which struck me as so wrong I noticed them. There was an incident last night which got me thinking about the whole situation. DH (hate the term, but can’t think of a better one right now!) has borne the brunt of some of this, and I have felt guilty, even though I know I’m entitled to be a bothersome ass sometimes. Assuming I were doing so, in the first place! Some further implications–with the Clash of the Societal Expectations–would require a post of their own, which I may well write next.

It’s also hard not to blame myself for being gullible, and buying into a colossal load of crap. That’s just one more manifestation of the same thing. This whole experience has really brought home to me just how insidious and persistent a lot of the indoctrination we’ve received can prove to be.

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