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!