The following is an excerpt from the book, “Dealing with Diabetes Burnout,” by Ginger Vieira.
It’s hard to give just one definition for “diabetes burnout” because what that looks like in your life compared to mine or anyone else’s can be drastically different. And the phase of burnout you feel this year could be very different from a phase of burnout you experience seven years from now.
This year it could be about occasionally skipping your insulin doses, while seven years from now it could be about just feeling really down and stressed even though you’re doing everything a “perfect diabetic” would do. There is no specific behavior, length of time, or intensity of burnout that qualifies it as “real burnout.”
First, let’s try to give some clarity to what “diabetes burnout” can or might look like. Keep in mind that the following examples can qualify as “burnout” whether they last for a day, a week, or a dozen years:
- Feeling sick and tired of diabetes management as a whole because it’s never-ending
- Lying to your spouse or parents about your blood sugars because they won’t wanna hear the real digits
- Eating lots and lots of candy (or some carbohydrate-packed food) just to spite your diabetes
- Drinking lots and lots of soda, beer, and cocktails because everybody’s always telling you not to drink those things
- Feeling like you want to give up completely
- Going a few days without taking your oral meds, or taking them hours later than scheduled
- Purposely running your blood sugars high because the idea of experiencing another low blood sugar is too stressful, scary, and really inconvenient
- Being careless with carbohydrate counting because you just don’t have the energy to measure it all out and do the required math for insulin dosing every day
- 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”
- Feeling stressed-out and frustrated because you can’t figure out why your blood sugar is always high after dinner (or lunch or breakfast or whenever!)
- Feeling annoyed that you’re the only person in your classroom/office/house who has to poke their fingers, take injections, take pills, and watch every little gram of what they eat all day long
- Spending a week overwhelmed by sadness after being told by the eye doctor that your retinopathy has progressed or being diagnosed with neuropathy or any other complication
- Feeling frustrated with trying to manage something that doesn’t have a perfect solution, always presents new variables, and constantly disrupts your day
- Hardly ever checking your blood sugar, if at all, because you just don’t freakin’ want to
- Taking just enough insulin to barely keep yourself alive
- Feeling constantly angry and drained around the everyday work you do to live a healthy life with diabetes
To feel burned-out in diabetes management doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re not taking care of yourself. Instead, it can simply mean that while you go about checking your blood sugar, counting your carbs, taking your oral meds, and taking your insulin, you feel incredibly stressed-out and tired.
For others, diabetes burnout can absolutely mean you’re neglecting your blood sugars, harming your body, and struggling so much on an emotional level that you’re putting your physical health in danger. And then there’s somewhere in between: where your body isn’t exactly in grave danger because of your burnout, but you’re definitely not making diabetes a priority, and your blood sugars are paying the price.
All forms of burnout matter because how you feel matters, and most importantly, you matter.
Working Through Your Burnout
Before you try to “get over” something, it’s important to really understand where you’re starting from and what’s currently going on in your life (and your head) around your diabetes. Just like planning a cross-country road trip, you can’t start driving to get there until you know the location where you’re starting from (and, of course, where you really want to go).
Digging deeper into your burnout is about being very honest with how you are currently managing your diabetes on a day-to-day basis, how you’re eating, how you’re taking your insulin and exercising. Digging deeper is about creating a very clear understanding of what life with diabetes looks like in your actions and behaviors today before trying to move forward and achieve a specific goal.
There are two key things I’d like you to keep in mind while you read this chapter and begin to acknowledge the details of your diabetes burnout:
- You should not feel as though you must overcome your burnout today, tomorrow, or even next month. It’s a process, and that process can take a short amount of time or a longer amount of time—and that’s okay. Your experience is your own.
- Overcoming burnout this month or this year does not mean you or anyone else should expect that you will never encounter burnout again in the future. You’re human, and until they find a cure to help this ol’ pancreas, you have every right to experience burnout.
If you do think you’re ready to start digging into your own burnout and working through it, here are 5 basics tips to help you get started. (For more detail on each of these steps, I’m afraid you’re gonna have to read the book!)
With the 5 tips outlined below, think about one small and specific thing you’d like to start doing within your life with diabetes to begin moving through your burnout.
- Understand where you’re starting from. If you don’t sit down and really ask yourself the hard questions of why and what and where you’re at in your current health, your life, your emotional well-being, then you can’t move forward! Gotta know where you are, shining a light on all the stuff in the corners that you might not want to acknowledge, to truly understand where it is you want to go and how you’re going to get there.
- Be super, extremely, incredibly specific in what your diabetes management looks like today and what you’d like it to be instead in the future. Write it down! This is about more than just being a “good diabetic” or having a “better A1C,” it’s about who you are as a person and what you want for your future.
- Make sure you create a goal that allows you to measure your progress. In other words, a useful goal wouldn’t be “I want to check my blood sugar more often,” but instead, “I’m going to start checking my blood sugar every morning before breakfast for two weeks.” Little steps for big progress.
- Ask yourself why this matters to you. Why do you want to change or improve this part of your life? How will it impact every other part of your life? Why do you care?
- Create a Pick-Up Plan. One of the most underrated skills a “successful” person has acquired and fine-tuned is the ability to pick themselves up when they get thrown off their track. The path is not going to be free of mistakes or self-doubt or moments of feeling like a failure…so how what will you do to recover from those moments in order to ensure that you don’t give up completely just because things got tough?
Diabetes burnout ain’t a simple thing. It’s different for each of us and it’s usually made up of a lot of different emotions, real-life issues and situations, and personal obstacles. Working through it isn’t an overnight thing. The more freedom you give yourself to evolve at your own pace, to adopt new habits or new ways of thinking in your own time, to be imperfect and make mistakes…the more likely your burnout will become a smaller and smaller part of your life with diabetes.