How I Deal With Periods of 'Diabetes Burnout'

Brianna Henderson
woman in gray t-shirt with her hair in a bun looking out over trees

The last thing on my mind when life gets a bit hectic is my diabetes. It seems I have 100 things going on at once and I’m so tired of diabetes and dealing with it every day. My condition becomes less important, which I know is detrimental to my health but it is very difficult (an understatement) to manage the condition on a good day. Diabetes is a full-time job, so it’s no wonder I’m experiencing an episode of burnout when I’m trying to finish my final year of university and work two jobs, alongside general daily life.

Some people (without diabetes or a chronic illness) joke about how they manage to juggle employment, eating healthily and exercising, socializing, sleeping and their hobbies. But imagine having diabetes on top of that?

Diabetes burnout is defined as a “state of disillusion, frustration and somewhat submission to the condition of diabetes.” It means a diabetic is going through a period of not particularly caring. It may mean missing doctor appointments, “forgetting” to take insulin, or engaging in unhealthy habits, such as eating anything regardless of rising blood sugar levels.

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When I’m struggling, I don’t check my blood sugars as often as I should, I either don’t eat enough or eat too much, and I sometimes forget to insulin altogether. I find myself eating whatever I want, forgetting what it may do to my sugars and the consequences, such as long-term complications. When I have other things to think about, such as work and university deadlines, I quite frankly don’t care for my diabetes. It’s almost freeing just to stop thinking about it for a while. It’s like I don’t have the condition anymore if I don’t think about it or look after myself. I know I should take care of myself, so it makes me feel guilty and ashamed about neglecting my condition.

But it’s worth remembering it happens to all of us. We can’t be perfect. Our blood sugars will never be perfect. And life can sometimes get in the way.

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The best thing is, to notice the burnout. Being aware of how you’re feeling and what’s contributing to these emotions is important in understanding how to get back on track. If you’re experiencing burnout, there are a few things you can do. Like, contact your diabetes team and be as honest as you can. Often I have shied away from talking to my team about how I’m feeling because I feel embarrassed, ashamed and guilty about my condition. The reality is that your team wants to help you. It’s their job to help you.

Other things you can do are take it slow. Getting back on track with your blood sugar control is difficult, so take small steps, such as living exactly in the moment and checking your blood sugar and dealing with it then. Don’t think about what your next reading might be. Think about what you can do now to make it a little bit better.

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You can write a diary. Many diabetics find this useful, keeping a diary recording what you’ve eaten (or anything that might help with your control) is helpful in noticing patterns in your readings. You can identify exactly what raises your blood sugar, whether it’s food intake, time of day, or even your emotions.

Diabetes is a tough condition to contend with, it’s no surprise that most of us have experienced an episode of burnout. I’ve experienced many over the last six years and it never gets easier, but you learn to deal with it differently. You learn not to immediately panic, instead you take it slow and attempt the slow ride back to good control.

Remember there’s no such thing as a “perfect” diabetic.

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