Diabetes burnout

By | 4 January, 2011
Obligatory image of flames when talking about burnout

Obligatory image of flames when talking about burnout

Looking around the interweb, there’s a lot of it around. I haven’t had a full on burnout but I’ve certainly had times when I’ve felt severely scorched by the whole diabetes thing and in desperate need of some time away from the flames. At the moment things are going okay diabetes-wise (she says, clutching her lucky rabbit’s foot, touching wood and frantically searching for a lucky leprechaun) other than a bit of general diabetes boredom, but it hasn’t always been like that.

Many moons ago in my early 20’s I had a period when I just didn’t want to be diabetic any more. I felt I’d done my time. I’d lived with a broken pancreas for 18 years and it should really be someone else’s turn to deal with it for a while. If I’d murdered my pancreas aged 4 there was a good chance I’d have been out on remand after 18 years yet I still had a lifetime of pancreas impersonation ahead of me.

I’ve always been a bit dull when it comes to diabetes rebellion. I’ve never been into the not injecting for days and ending up in a coma thing, it all seems a bit too unpleasant. But I did reduce how much I tested, I did react less to highs and I did see my HbA1c go up higher than I was happy with. More than that though, I just felt an overwhelming sense of frustration and sadness. I was angry that I was stuck with this illness. Frustrated that it didn’t play by the rules. Irritated that my life should have to involve those rules when my friends’ lives didn’t. Convinced that my healthcare team couldn’t help because I knew all the theory, I was just sick of having to put it into practice. Sad that I could see no way out of it, no day off, no short break to look forward to, nothing.

This dragged on for several months while I carried on with normal life at the same time. I pretended everything was okay, but I certainly wasn’t happy. It culminated in me sitting on my dining room floor one night with a bottle of red wine sobbing at my husband that I’d had enough and that I just didn’t want to be diabetic any more.

It certainly looked like I was heading towards depression (as a brief aside, why do people act surprised when researchers publish studies showing that diabetes increases your risk of depression? Of course it does, anyone living with something like diabetes 24/7 will tell you it is a mental challenge and you can’t be strong forever). I like to understand the mess I’m dealing so with some encouragement from the husband I went to the library. I borrowed some excellent books on coping with depression and cognitive behavioural therapy. There was no rocket science there, but there was plenty of common sense that I just couldn’t see on my own.

I’ve always believed that diabetes is as much about the brain as it is about the limelight-stealing pancreas. I can’t choose whether or not to have diabetes, but I can choose how I react to it. I can choose my own attitude. To do that though, you need really good support. My diabetic clinic at the time didn’t have any access to psychological support like counselling or therapy which is madness. Having seen friends and family use counselling support, I think it’s a real positive and I really think it would have helped me.

As it was, I had excellent support from my family and I made an effort to spend more time with other pancreatically challenged types. Being with other people who understood really helped. It’s the usual stuff, you feel less alone, you realise that you’re not the only one dealing with this.

If you’re feeling like this there is no easy answer but you can do something about it. If you can find the energy, do some reading about mental attitude and practical ways to improve it. If you get a sniff of some counselling support being available, bite their hand off, I’ve seen it work and it really helps. And don’t beat yourself up, you’re doing the best you can to replace a pancreas that walked off the job. Keep going!

Finally, for a bit of light relief, take a look at Tim’s take on diabetes fatigue or read our job advert for what we all really need – a diabetes manager

Category: Living with diabetes Tags: ,

About Alison

Diagnosed with Type One in 1983 at the age of four, Alison's been at this for a while now. She uses Humalog in a combined insulin pump and continuous glucose monitoring system and any blood glucose meter as long as it takes five seconds or less.

12 thoughts on “Diabetes burnout

  1. Donald Thomson

    Hi Alison. You must have been reading my mind! Feeling very overwhelmed by the whole diabetes situation at the moment and may act on your advice. It all started with some innocent blood pressure tablets before Christmas which sent my sugars skyrocketing up into the high teens / early twenties. Coping with this as well as irregular mealtimes, increased partying / booze etc. over the festive period has left my control completely out of itself. 4 night-time hypos in 5 days, and an all-time post breakfast record high of 23.6 this morning. I’m a strong person who tends to deal with whatever life throws at me but this is testing my patience at the moment. I’ve had more correction doses in the past week than ever before so I’m hoping things will settle down and I can enjoy a settled and stable 2011. Reminds me, I must treat myself to a new lancet as well . . .

  2. Lolz

    I’ve also been feeling a bit down about the diabetes as just before Christmas, I reached 10 years of being diabetic. I’m getting over this now though as I normally try not to worry too much over things that can’t change . However what really puts me into one of these diabetes hating moods is the hospital appts. where some lovely Dr feels the need to remind me that I’m supposed to live the rest of my life in fear of ‘complications’.

  3. Hairy Gnome

    What a great article @Alison, even us lowly T2s feel the stress at times, I know, having just gone through an,”I don’t really need to test,” phase myself. I shudder to think how much more soul destroying it must be for you hypersensitive T1s.

    @lolzess – For what it’s worth, (little or nothing) my advice to you would be to try and put the horror stories to the back of your mind, and only bring them out when you feel like giving up. Instead of dwelling on them focus on the positive of keeping your HbA1c below seven! 🙂 And remember! Don’t do as I do, do as I say! 🙂

  4. Rohan

    Huh, you DEFINITELY read my mind! I’ve been trying to ignore it for, oooh, actually longer than I thought! I was gonna say 3 months, but when I was with my ex I was terrible too (what can I say? Hypos during sex are decidedly off putting, combined with unusual meals and meal times, I just aimed for rough BGs), and that makes it about 6-8 months of bad control!

    Worst thing now is that I have been given notice on my flat, and work is undergoing a certain amount of upheaval (read: Large amount of redundancies for proper employees, and all us apprentices being moved to Derby, or if I can swing it, Bristol), and I am many miles away from most of my best friends and all my family. Oh, and I don’t have a husband (or indeed wife 😛 ) to cry at.

    Heh, enough whingeing from me now, I think. Time to get back to planning my life Bristol *crosses fingers* Oh, and being happy that I have finally seen a physio, 5 months after realising I needed one… It’s never all bad! 😀

  5. Tim

    I couldn’t agree more Alison (we *do* agree sometimes you know!) In my view diabetes is like a life long marathon, slightly reminiscent of Sisyphus and his boulder (only slightly, mind).

    Of all the members of the pancreatically challenged army I’ve met either online or in the flesh not one had not had difficulties with dealing with it. Diagnosis is obviously a difficult time and 5 year, ten year and fifteen year marks seem to land killer blows too.

    Despite some wonderfully shy and self-effacing articles like “Bask in my magnificence” (http://www.shootuporputup.co.uk/2009/10/bask-in-my-magnificence/) I find diabetes very difficult quite frequently. As I’m sure @Katie will attest, I go through periods of being totally fed up of the day in, day out, endless boring routine of it all – always knowing that if you do take a day off you’ll feel crap and your feet will rot off. It’s not fun.

    In my view, the NHS is generally great at patching people up and spitting them out healthy in body. What it is not good at is the long term care of the mind of those of us with chronic conditions. I know that a lot of Shoot Up readers are tough old cookies and can put up with a lot of crap, but sometimes it does all get a bit much.

  6. Tim

    @teloz – I don’t think you should class type two as “lowly” either (good Lord, I’m sticking up for you!). Frequently, I think, type two is shrugged off as not serious while type one is always considered serious.

    Certainly quite a few of the type twos I’ve met weren’t very well equipped to deal with diabetes – even in a purely medical sense let alone in a mind sense. They seemed to frequently be sidelined with no good diet advice, exercise advice, drug advice and so on. There’s one person I know who’s been given a diagnosis of type two – but given absolutely no help with it whatsoever – at least with type one they’d be given a handful of leaflets and some insulin.

  7. Tim

    @neobrainless – apprentice / Derby / Bristol – I think I can guess who you work for! I would go for Bristol too – that’s my home town and @mikeinspain (despite the user name) is also a Bristolian originally.

    That aside, there’s nothing wrong with whingeing (not that you were) on Shoot Up – at least you’ve got an audience that’ll understand what you’re banging on about!

  8. Tim

    @lolzess – ah yes, the joys of the sympathetic doctor! I always enjoy the Catch 22 of the A1C results – too high and you get told off and too low and you get told off. I have my latest hospital appointment in a week or two – I can hardly wait!

  9. Stephen

    @neobrainless – Derby isn’t that bad, I’ll even take you out for a pint/short/shandy (whatever floats your boat) if you want 🙂

  10. Rohan

    @Tim – Heh, I was wondering if I might have given it away 😛 Lol, I figured that was the case, but the fact the diabetes is really only part of it all made me feel a little excessive. But then all of those things on their own would be fine – yet such things always seem to come along in groups, don’t they?!

    @Stephen – I may well take you up on that offer. I’m not too un-happy with Derby, but I’m a Devon lad originally, and most of my friends and family are still there (or visit regularly). Plus there is an awesome music scene… Career wise Derby is the better choice probably, but who cares about a career when you can have FUN?!

    Oh, and @Teloz – I agree with @Tim on the support for type 2’s, at least here. I’ve met lots at work (ageing workforce and all) and they all say ‘Ooh, I’m type 2, well, borderline’, or similar which seems to suggest that standard treatment for them to ease the blow is to say ‘Don’t worry, you’ve not got it yet, and as long as you do all these things you wont get it!’

  11. katherine cromwell

    Hate to say it guys but Diabetes is life!
    We all go through good and bad times and consultants (those good few) know that we are all trying the best but sometimes life just gets in the way of great control.

    I was diagnosed at 9 and my mum died when I was 11. Thank God I had her wonderful support early on she taught me to carb control and in dying also made me realise that if you want to have a long and relatively healthy life just be sensible. Yes I’ve phases of WHY ME especially when there is no reason for highs or lows. Thankfully if you try and manage your control to the best of your ability and you have support either from home or hospital or indeed this website then I believe you can’t be expect to do any more. (That goes for T1 and 2)

    Thankfully you can live with diabetes and enjoy life. There are some diseases that you can’t.

    However, everyone does need a good rant and rave at times. I think I’ve just had mine!

  12. Cecile

    No chance of burn out here, thanks to some lovely “practice” pens a doctor gave me years ago – she got them from a rep and thought they contained the real thing, but on closer perusal, they were filled with sterilised water 😉 (quite suitable for citrophilic diabetics who might think it cruel to inject into an orange?)


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