When we think about the word “prejudice,” we mostly think about race, culture, ethnic background or religion. To name a few. But in reality, the term “prejudice” refers to preconceived notions or opinions about someone else, based on something that is KNOWN about the person. This opinion or notions, however, are never based on fact or actual knowledge. Having someone be prejudice against you for any reason can be hurtful, harmful and cause damage to a person’s self-esteem and even prevent certain advancements on life.
I bring this up because believe it or not, I’ve spent a good portion of my life having folks be prejudice against me, because of my Diabetes. Hard to believe? I know. It SHOULD be hard to believe because it isn’t something that should occur. But believe me when I say that it has happened to me far too many times to recount, for a variety of different reasons. I started being “pigeonholed” at a very young age; essentially being dropped into a category that defined me according to my condition as opposed to who I was as a person or what contributions or goals I could achieve.
This started extremely early; as far back as when I was first diagnosed. I was part of a younger group of Scouts, called Beavers (let’s keep the NSFW jokes to a minimum, shall we?). I joined this group when I was 4 years old, and believe me when I say that I was pretty excited about it. Then I was diagnosed with Type-1 Diabetes. A group “camping” event, which entailed staying in the community hall with sleeping bags over a weekend, was denied me on the basis that I had Diabetes. My parents objected to this and tried to do everything possible to allow me to attend. At the end of the argument, my mother even volunteered to attend and stay the weekend as well, in order to deal with the Diabetes aspect of the issue. I was still refused.
I know what you’re going to say; as an adult I understand what the Scouts’ view of the situation might have been. There are risks and liabilities and issues that Scouts Canada simply wouldn’t have wanted to take responsibility for. I get it. But I probably would have been far more understanding at the time, had they made an effort to understand what was going on rather than simply say, “Sorry, we can’t accommodate him.” Effectively, my time as a Scout was over before it began. It shouldn’t have been a big deal. But given my age, it set the tone for all the things that would follow through my life.
My diagnosis came while I was attending kindergarten. This was the big one, because it set the tone for the next decade, in terms of who befriended me and what groups I could have been part of. I still remember the embarrassing “speech” the teacher gave about how I was a “special kind of sick,” and that the children had to treat me gently and tell her immediately if I was found to be acting strangely or seemed too sleepy. ARE YOU FUCKIN’ KIDDING ME???? Setting aside the fact that I’m already weirder than a pillowcase full of angry ferrets, this basically told a bunch of 4 and 5 year olds that there was something strange and different about me. The effect was that most of the kids avoided me unless they were forced to join me for a group lesson during class.
All throughout my formative years in school, I was denied certain group activities, sports and/or teams on the basis of my Diabetes. Some years, I was automatically excused from gym classes and given a basic passing mark for sitting on the side while the rest of my class would play ball, run and exercise, leaving me to rot as opposed to growing my physical capabilities. One would be inclined to think that teachers and adults would be more enlightened and ask certain questions about my condition before simply writing me off. After all, this was well before the snowflake generation of getting offended at everything, so my parents and I would have gladly answered any questions got assuage any concerns.
But instead, it was easier for all of them to live within their (incorrect) preconceived notions and cats me aside, refusing to take responsibility or take a chance on the possibility that something could happen to me while I was in their care. And I get that. Now. Back then, it was a constant feeling of being rejected and segregated. No wonder my health waned and I took a downward turn when I was nearing 10 years old. I was never allowed the opportunity to participate in sports and be a part of the group. If this happened now, there’d be an uproar! People would mount protests, parents’ groups would petition the school board, people would lose their jobs… Anarchy! But I just took it in stride.
I’d like to say that when I finally joined karate that things turned around. And yes, they turned around from a health standpoint, but even karate was a problem. Because my parents refused to let me join, thinking I’d get hurt or that my blood sugars wouldn’t allow me to survive a 2-hour class. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I had to join in secret, using my merger allowance to pay what tuition I could. Sensei was really good about never asking questions and trained me no differently than anybody else. That’s when I started to accumulate some mass, gained strength, speed and reflexes and discovered that I could have potentially have had a different path if I could have started to gain these benefits at a younger age as opposed to having everyone simply sit me on the side to watch. After all, life isn’t a spectator sport.
It’s extremely important that you never assume something about someone else’s condition. For my specific example, I may have had a rough start during my childhood. But once I took control of my health and fitness, I took huge strides and have suffered almost none of the usual complications associated with Diabetes. And what’s more is I’ve trained in the martial arts for over three decades, still have all my toes and appendages and have fathered two children. Many said I’d never accomplish any of that. Shame on them. ☯