Paula Deen’s diabetes announcement should be applauded, not criticized

Reading the tweets and news stories condemning Paula for not disclosing her diabetes sooner, and accusing her of doing so for personal gain, I’m reminded of the old American Indian Proverb:

Never criticize a man until you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins.

She was incredibly honest with Al Roker on TODAY for her reasons to stay quiet initially: “I came home, I told my children, I told my husband, I said, ‘I’m gonna keep this close to my chest for the time being’ because I had to figure out things in my own head.”

And, in the same interview, she noted changes she’s made since her diagnoses in her diet and in exercise and in what her show does and doesn’t promote:

“I have always eaten in moderation….You know, people see me on TV two or three times a day and they see me cooking all these wonderfully Southern, fattening dishes. That’s only 30 days out of 365….And it’s for entertainment. And people have to be responsible.”

Did you know that when a person gets diagnosed with a chronic condition, the person experiences the same 5 stages of grief as when a loved one dies? Noted by famed physician Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, they are:

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Depression
  4. Bargaining
  5. Acceptance

As with all grief, moving through these stages takes time. There are many starts and stops and it’s easy to get stuck along the way. Having experienced first hand all of these stages when I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis 2 1/2 years ago, I can tell you the process is incredibly intense, not at all easy and slow. So, 3 years may seem like a long time to you, a person without a chronic condition, but to someone learning to adjust to a new normal, it’s actually not that long at all. Remember, this process becomes the start of the rest of someone’s life.

The reality of chronic diseases is they are much less like the American Indian Proverb I quoted initially and much more like this Dutch Proverb:

Sickness comes on horseback but departs on foot.

One reason I’m stepping forward to support Paula is because I’ve seen how powerful celebrity and expert spokespeople can be in the world of chronic conditions. In the arthritis world, pro golfer Phil Mickelson has had a very well received campaign sponsored by Pfizer for psoriatic arthritis and Enbrel. His campaign and ads helped me enormously even though I have a different form of arthritis.  They came on TV when I was facing a particularly though time with my RA and gave me just what I needed to feel more hopeful and positive about the future , the medications I found myself on, and the activities I put on hold. Incidentally, no one questioned why Phil waited over a year to come forward with his story or why he was partnering with Pfizer to help others with arthritis. If Paula can do that for diabetes, more power to her!

We live in a media world where the glass is always half empty and reported that way. How about we start looking at the glass as half full and start giving people trying to help others the benefit of the doubt for a change.


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