Diabetes Burnout: Why It’s Absolutely Normal & How to Work Through It - by Ginger Vieira
When you’re trying to get a good workout in. It’s there when you eat dinner, when you go to sleep, and it wakes you up at night whenever it needs to be fed or gets thirsty.
It needs your attention every day and all day. Ignoring it only makes it cry for your attention more loudly.
I’m not talking about a newborn baby. At least a newborn baby takes a lot of naps, giving you a bit of a break. But type 1 diabetes? Nope, that’s full-time. It makes your actual “full-time” job look like part-time.
At least a newborn baby is cute and smiles at you on occasion. Type 1 diabetes leaves half a dozen new holes in your fingers every day to satisfy its endless craving for your blood. A hungry vampire would make for a better companion.
Despite how obvious it is to those of us with type 1 diabetes that this disease is a relentless amount of work and responsibility and even physically painful on a daily basis, we still seem shocked and ashamed when we find ourselves running out of energy and strength to face it.
Burnout Comes In All Shapes & Sizes…
When you hear the phrase “diabetes burnout” you probably think of the most extreme version: when a person is purposefully taking just enough insulin to survive and hasn’t checked their blood sugar in weeks—but burnout comes in all shapes and sizes, for any variety of reasons.
Maybe you’re sick of diabetes because your blood sugar keeps plummeting during the workout you’ve been doing for three years, and all of your adjustments aren’t working. Or maybe you’re in the middle of a divorce and one of the places in your life it’s stealing attention from is your diabetes management.
Or maybe you’re just sick of it because you’re sick of it. The carb-counting, the infusion sites, the finger sticks, the numbers, the lows, the highs, the continuous glucose monitor that wakes you up at 3 a.m. when all you really care about is getting some sleep.
And the way you express that burnout could be anything from severe neglect to actually continuing to manage your blood sugar tightly while you’re falling apart emotionally. Here are just a few of the ways you might express or “let out” your own burnout:
- Lying to your parents about your blood sugars so you don’t have to deal with their disappointment and worry
- Eating anything and everything you want, no matter what it does to your blood sugar
- Drinking soda, beer, booze…you name it…because you just don’t care anymore
- Contemplating the idea of giving up completely
- Taking just enough insulin to keep yourself going each day
- Purposely running your blood sugars high because the stress that comes with low blood sugars is too much to handle
- Ignoring carb-counts and taking insulin when you feel like it, and in random doses, because paying attention to the finer details feels like too much
- Avoiding fresh vegetables and fruits because you know they’re good for you but you’re so tired of everybody telling you to be a “good diabetic”
- Avoiding taking your insulin or checking your blood sugar in front of classmates or friends because you’re tired of feeling like the “sick one”
- Spending a month wallowing in sadness after being told by the eye doctor that your retinopathy has progressed or being diagnosed with neuropathy or any other complication
- Crying at the end of every day when you’re alone and no one is looking because, right now, the weight of diabetes feels like so much more than you can handle
- Continuing to do everything you’re “supposed to do” but dreading every morning and quietly crumbling on the inside, too ashamed to ask for help
In fact, sometimes burnout results from doing everything right, getting the perfect A1C for several years in a row all while pleasing your parents or your partner or your doctors. Sometimes burnout is the result of just living with diabetes and asking for help is the hardest part because it can feel like you’re admitting defeat, like diabetes has won.
5 Steps to Working Through Your Burnout (rather than hiding from it!)
- Acknowledge your burnout. This first step sounds simple but it’s possibly harder than the rest, because acknowledging burnout means acknowledging a struggle, a kink in your armor. Acknowledging it means asking for help and letting yourself actually feel it, and that’s never easy—even if you’re the only person you’re asking for help from.
We’re so busy trying to cope with the demands of diabetes and trying to please our doctors, our partners, and our parents that we don’t always let ourselves really feel what it is. Letting yourself “feel” your burnout means being okay with it. Giving yourself permission to feel that way, whether you’re pissed off, exhausted, depressed, overwhelmed, or just plain old angry that diabetes is one of the challenges you have to face day-in and day-out.
Give yourself a chance to feel it: as long as you’re taking care of your diabetes well enough to be safe (which doesn’t mean perfect) and keeping yourself healthy enough that you don’t end up in the emergency department, you deserve to feel burnt-out. Anyone with any type of diabetes has a right to be sick and tired of it!
- Give yourself a timeline. This next step is about creating a real plan for moving through your burnout. As important as it is to let yourself experience your version of burnout, it isn’t healthy to stay in that zone forever. Ask yourself, “How long will I let myself stay in the burnout zone?” Maybe you need 1 week, maybe 2, or maybe 3 months!
By giving yourself a timeframe you can think about moving through your burnout more constructively, because the next part of your timeline is about creating changes. But this step isn’t necessarily about making changes in how you manage your diabetes, it might be about making changes in other parts of your life so you can lighten the load on your entire life, making more room for diabetes management.
If you’re a busy parent, maybe lightening the load means hiring someone to clean the house once a week—at least for a few months while you get back in gear. Or maybe you’re a college student and you’re working two jobs—it might be time to create a little more downtime so you can focus on school and your health. Or maybe you’re in a job you hate, you’re working non-stop, and it’s impacting every part of your life, especially your diabetes. Think about the bigger picture and figure out what changes—large or small—you can make it in your life to find more balance.
- Give yourself achievable nutrition and exercise goals. One of the biggest reasons we all feel endlessly burnt as people with diabetes is because we face constant pressure to make perfect choices around food and exercise. And everyone around us thinks it’s their job to tell us how to eat. (News to them: they probably “shouldn’t” be eating that donut either!)
Trying to go from totally burnt-out to the perfect diabetic nutrition and exercise guru isn’t realistic, and it usually only sets us up for further feelings of failure and exhaustion. Instead, when you’re ready, choose one new thing you’re going to do for your health. Maybe you’re going to walk during your lunch-break or go to the gym immediately after work Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays. Maybe you’re going to commit to eating a fresh breakfast every day or limit your sugar-intake to one treat a day. Whatever it is, make it simple, specific, and small. A month or two later, you could think about adding a new habit to your personal diabetes evolution.
- Give yourself comfortable blood sugar goals. The idea of creating a new habit that is simple, specific and small is important for your blood sugar management, too. Again, don’t try to be the world’s most perfect diabetic overnight. Instead, think of one thing you can start doing to improve your blood sugars, like: checking your blood sugar every morning when you wake up, dosing your insulin for dinner more carefully so your blood sugar is in-range while you’re sleeping, or maybe all you need to focus on is keeping your glucose monitor kit with you during the day and the rest all falls into place.
Simple, specific, and small. Bit by bit. After a month or two—when you’re ready—think about the next new habit you’d like to incorporate. Oh, and…ask your doctor and certified diabetes educator for help! If you don’t feel comfortable asking them for help then it might be time to find a new doctor and/or certified diabetes educator. Don’t settle—create the healthcare team you need.
- Give yourself credit. This is not easy. Even when everything is going smoothly and your blood sugars are nearly perfect, it’s because you’re working so hard to make them that way. Even if your blood sugar is high you’re still working so hard to keep yourself alive each day! Give yourself credit for what you carry on your shoulders every day, because living with diabetes is more work than anyone who doesn’t have it could ever understand.
You deserve to feel burnt-out, and you deserve the chance to work through it, too. Take a deep breath—and remember you are definitely not the only one with a lousy pancreas on this planet.
Disclaimer:The views and opinions expressed in this testimonial and article are those of the patient interviewed and do not necessarily reflect the official position or product claims from Medtronic. Writing this article has not created any obligation or expectation for the patient to use, promote or purchase Medtronic products.
This patient testimonial does not contain all the information necessary for the proper care and treatment of patients with diabetes. As such, no individual may rely on the information presented herein in forming a comprehensive treatment program or in treating any patient with diabetes.