As a diabetic, feeling diabetes burnout is one of the roughest, most discouraging experiences I ever go through. When I’m feeling burnt out in other areas of my life, it’s easy to just step back from them for a while and take a break. With diabetes, however, you can’t just take a break, or decide to ignore things for a while. I’ve tried this approach before (in fact, ignoring my diabetes and trying to pretend it didn’t exist was my main method of management for a very large portion of my teenage years), and I can guarantee it does not work.
Frustration can come from so many different aspects of diabetic life that it’s incredibly important to work to understand where it is coming from in order to move past it. When I look at the times when I have been the most burnt out, their widely varying root causes make it seem like pushing forward and getting past the feeling would be impossible. However, there are some things that each have in common that are important to understand in order to regain power over this disease.
I Just Want to Eat What I Want
Healthy eating is important for everyone, and trying to follow all of the suggested guidelines can be an incredibly difficult proposition. For those of us with diabetes, however, this effort reaches an entirely different level. While someone on a diet may have a cheat day or meal, we do not have the same luxury. We cannot take a break from paying attention to everything we eat. This has led to some of the most frustrating things I have ever experienced as a diabetic. Even as a type 1 diabetic with an insulin pump that makes it much easier to eat what I want without restrictions, sometimes you miscalculate carbohydrates.
Or, as I once experienced, you have a bad pump infusion set and don’t get the insulin you need, leaving you sitting at Thanksgiving dinner, sick to your stomach with painfully cramped muscles, watching your family eat while you hope for your blood sugar to start dropping soon. I would challenge anyone to experience that as a constantly hungry teenager and not feel like lying when your parents ask about your blood sugar after that.
I’m Tired of Feeling Held Back
Growing up, I was incredibly obsessed with playing sports. At times, I was participating in organized football, basketball, track, and baseball in the same year and was also frequently skateboarding and snowboarding as well. I had less than two months total where I wasn’t in the midst of at least one sports season (and two seasons simultaneously where Baseball and Track would overlap for almost two months). Despite the toll this took on my body, and now dealing with a wide variety of chronic aches and pains, I truly think that participating in sports at this level when I was younger had an incredibly positive impact on my life, and I am thankful that I had the opportunity to do so. When it came to my diabetes, however, there were times when sports were frustrating and contributed to some of the worst instances of diabetic burnout I experienced.
Athletics present very different challenges for diabetics than other people would ever have to consider. Not only do you have to put in the same effort to be physically and mentally prepared to play, but you also have your diabetes to worry about. Even if you follow a strict diabetes management routine, sometimes diabetes simply doesn’t cooperate. In high school, I once had to miss one of my basketball team’s games following a disastrous day of diabetes management where two consecutive insulin pump infusion sets went bad and I was ended up hospitalized with severe hyperglycemia and dehydration. To this day, this is one of the most infuriating experiences I can remember.
These past instances have been centered on diabetes getting in the way of doing things that I enjoy. After being told since my diagnosis that I would still be able to accomplish anything I want and diabetes wouldn’t hold me back, it was these moments where it felt that I had been lied to. I felt like I no longer had the power to make my own decisions or do the things I wanted to, which left me wanting to ignore my disease. In my mind, if I pretended that there was nothing to worry about, then I wouldn’t have anything standing in my way anymore.
I Just Don’t Want to Be Diabetic
Sometimes, however, my feelings of frustration and anger toward diabetes came from a very different and unexpected source. Sometimes, it wasn’t some motivation outside of my diabetes management, but my actual efforts towards better management, themselves, that were so agonizing.
I recently upgraded to the MiniMed 530G insulin pump and with it was finally approved to start using a continuous glucose monitor after being denied by insurance on two different occasions. I have twice previously participated in short-term CGM trials, and had very positive experiences both times, where I felt my management was undoubtedly improved, but my insurance did not believe that using a CGM was a necessity for me, and denied my request to cover one. Because of that, I was pleasantly surprised when I received approval less than a day after submitting my request.
I was excited to start using a CGM. Whether it was the result of feeling burnt out, or other factors like struggling with undiagnosed ADHD, I will be the first to admit that my diabetes management history is far from perfect, and that I have not always done everything I could to improve it. I have been working hard to change this, however, and I saw the CGM as a great tool to help with this. I felt positive and motivated about the steps I was making toward better control. What I did not expect, though, was the level of frustration that this transition would bring.
Using the CGM very immediately revealed trends and patterns with my blood sugar that I was not previously aware of, and I was excited to take necessary steps toward correcting them. As I did this, however, I ran into different problems. In places where I had struggled with high blood sugars, I was suddenly experiencing lows, and vice versa. Between this and still adjusting to the routine of calibrating my CGM every 12 hours, I didn’t have a single night of sleep not interrupted in some way by my diabetes for the first week of using it.
This was incredibly frustrating and disheartening, especially in combination with already having a busy, stressful schedule and a job that starts at 7 AM. Some days, I missed hours at work in order to catch up on sleep before going in late, and felt completely exhausted and unproductive on the other days. Unlike the other times I have experienced burnout, I wasn’t frustrated because diabetes was getting in the way of other things I wanted to do, but because I was trying so hard to take better care of myself, and it was hurting other parts of my life.
I Won’t Let Burnout Win
Each of these times I have gone through diabetes burnout have been incredibly different from each other. Looking at each situation, however, I see one very important constant. In each of these occasions, whatever was at the root of how I was feeling was not impossible to overcome. This is not to say that the work necessary to do so has been easy, or that feeling sick and tired of being diabetic is anything but valid and understandable. I truly don’t care what anyone says about this disease “not being so bad” or how much better technology and understanding of managing diabetes has gotten (which is true, and I am thankful for that), I personally hate having diabetes, and I don’t believe anything could ever change that.
However, instead of letting this feeling of defeat be a reason to giving up, or rebel against my diabetes like I have in the past, instead I now see that I need to use it as a motivator. The only way to truly get past the obstacles that diabetes presents in the way of doing these things that I want to is to remain motivated to take the steps necessary to improve my control. This time around, that’s exactly what I have done, and now I am starting to see the results and better blood sugar control that I was so excited for when I found out I would be getting a CGM. If I had simply given up, maybe I would have gotten better sleep or felt better in the short term. By staying committed to the process of making these changes, I know that I have been able to improve things for myself in the long run.
Yes, sometimes diabetes will interrupt life, regardless of how perfectly we manage it. The best way to keep this from being a common and defeating occurrence is through routine victories toward better control and management.
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