There’s no smoke without fire – Diabetes burnout

Diabetes burnout 

….. something that many of us living with Type 1 Diabetes have experienced at some point in our lives, linked in with the pressures of replicating the job of an organ (to put it bluntly). But what is Diabetes burnout? Based on my own experience…. I would define it as a point when we get to the end of our tether and think "What is the F***ING point" (excuse the language but I am sure you can all relate). Why? Well let's look at a handful of the things we have to do as someone living with Type 1 Diabetes on a daily basis:

  • Checking glucose levels
  • Carbohydrate counting
  • Identifying how we are going to respond to certain food choices made
  • Planning meals in advance
  • Identifying how activity may impact glucose levels
  • Treating highs
  • Treating lows
  • Putting on a brave face
  • Injecting insulin
  • Changing needles
  • Changing pump sites
  • Worrying about what our glucose levels are
  • Picking up prescriptions
  • Putting diabetes first 

……the list is ending. In fact, if you haven't already, read my blog about the 'Daily thoughts of a Type 1 Diabetic'…. I bet you can relate! For me, burnout happened as a teenager. When I first went to high school, I tried my best to do all the above, but after many failed attempts to keep my blood glucose in range, I hit a brick wall and snapped.

"That's it, I am done!"……… 

I am quite open about my experience of Diabetes burnout as a teenager, as the whole of my adolescence seemed to be one big forest fire! I had had enough…….I was sick of the injections, sick of the glucose monitoring, sick of the carbohydrate counting, sick of the guessing, sick of having to make 'better' food choices, sick of people looking at me injecting in public and most of all, sick of being told how much I wasn't trying. Yes, maybe I wasn't trying hard enough, but I was a rebellious teenager at the end of the day……

Burnout for me involved a lot of neglect towards my diabetes control, a lot of suppression, and a lot of poor food choices. Basically, I just didn't care. I became used to having high glucose readings. I got used to the thirst, used to the tiredness, used to the nausea, and used to the constant nagging from my parents (sorry mum and dad). When my mum informed me my Diabetes appointments were coming up, I never wanted to go, but she managed to get me there some way or another. I became in denial at these appointments, telling myself and my endo how much I was trying, whilst deep down I knew I wasn't. I would lie about my glucose levels, make up how much insulin I was having and how great my diet was. But to be honest, looking at how high my Hba1c was back then, she knew this wasn't the true.

Burnout for me made me defensive towards my control, both to my nurse, endo and parents. I made myself believe I was doing my best, when really I wasn't. In a way, it made me believe that what I was doing was ok, when in fact it was causing more and more damage. If my parents questioned my behaviour towards my Diabetes, I would put my shield up and fight back….. "YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT IT IS LIKE TO LIVE WITH THIS!!!!". I was the same with my diabetes team, defending myself over and over again.

Burnout for me involved rebellious behaviour. If my mum told me not to do something, I would do it, because I didn't want Diabetes stopping me doing anything and I wanted to show to her that I could still do what everyone else was doing my age. One night, she saw I was gulping a glass of pure orange juice (BG was already at 20mmol), and because she told me to not have that due to the sugar content, I had 3 glasses in front of her (brutal). What I didn't realise back then was that anything is STILL possible living with Type 1 Diabetes, it is just making sure we have enough insulin on board and sugars are in range.

Burnout for me involved avoidance, avoidance of checking my blood glucose levels, avoidance of healthier food choices, avoidance of my parents questioning what I was doing. For me, the number on the meter became aversive and punishing every time I checked (nobody wants to be faced with 20+mmol EVERY. SINGLE. TIME), meaning I stopped doing it. I had it in my head that "If I don't check, the number doesn't exist and neither does my Diabetes".

Oh how wrong I was. 

Unfortunately, for me, what helped me come out of my long bout of burnout was not psychological support (that is for another blog!), but the shock tactic…. the shock I experienced when I got told I had retinopathy and I was on the way to losing my vision before the age of 30. That was the last straw for me and the bucket of water I needed to throw over the fire.

"What are you doing Vanessa!?!? Pull yourself together", which is exactly what I said to myself. I was NOT going to let this defeat me. 

So I started to make changes. Slowly and steadily, I plucked up the courage to check my blood glucose levels. Don't get me wrong, the high readings were still VERY aversive, but rather than ignore them, I tried to take a step back and identify WHY…..WHY was I so high, and what could I do to correct it. But for me, the game changer had to be when I accessed my Freestyle Libre sensor and monitor. I remember hearing about it during a peer support call and I couldn't believe what I was hearing, a device that monitors glucose levels without needing to draw blood! So, I decided to purchase a sensor and monitor. I remember crying tears of happiness when I first started to use it, due to the fact I was presented with so much useful information regarding what was happening with my glucose levels, including what my levels had been, what they were and most importantly, the direction they were going in, information I had never had accessible to me before. For me, the Freestyle Libre has been the fireengine I needed to put out the fire I was experiencing as a teenager, and I will be forever grateful. I now have the honour of being an ambassador for this amazing company.

What is important is to understand that at some point, we may experience diabetes burnout and that this is normal, especially considering all we have to put up with on a daily basis. But my advice would be to seek support from others, both professionally and socially, as this is something I never had the opportunity to do (no social media back then and very little psychological support). This is also what led me to do what I do today………helping, coaching and supporting others going through a tough time with their Diabetes. If you would like more information on my Diabetes life coaching services, please click here for more information.

Overall, my Diabetes journey has not been plain sailing, but one thing it has given me is a purpose….. a purpose to help, motivate and support others living with the condition. To all my Diabetic followers, you are all incredible……keep fighting! 

My experience with the FreeStyle Libre 2
A letter to my 16-year-old self

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