Many people feel that the daily struggle of caring for diabetes is likened to a battle, they must arm themselves every day to fight the war. With no time off for R & R it’s not unusual to sooner or later develop battle fatigue or as we call it “burnout”. Do you often find yourself experiencing these type of feelings:
- Feeling overwhelmed and/or defeated.
- Feeling angry and frustrated and other strong negative feelings.
- Feeling as though diabetes is controlling your life.
- Knowing that you aren’t doing what you should to care for yourself but also feeling unmotivated or unwilling to act.
- Trying to tell yourself that complications will not happen to you, and yet knowing that they are a real possibility.
- Stopping your efforts, not thinking about care, and thinking that high numbers are the “norm” for you.
- Stopping all activities such as testing or doctor visits, anything that will supply feedback of the consequences of your lack of care.
- Feeling alone without support from friends and family who just don’t understand.
- Feeling ashamed because you feel that having diabetes was your fault and you deserve what you got.
These are some of the major signs of Burnout. Joan Williams Hoover is the author who first developed the concept of diabetes burnout. She stated ”few things generate burnout like the awful frustration of having followed instructions and done everything just right and still fail to get diabetes under control. Think how discouraging it must be to fail at something you really wanted, and then think about what it’s like to have diabetes and fail at something that you never wanted in the first place”
Given all of the work and daily decisions involved in diabetes self-care, not to mention the unexplained occurrences and frustrations, it’s not hard to fall victim to burnout. For some people the frustrations can lead to feelings of helplessness and depression. If not dealt with the depression can become even worse and effect every aspect of a person’s life. Then there are also the physical and psychological effects of uncontrolled diabetes. It’s a down hill spiral. There are ways to stop the spiral however, and steps you can take to not fall victim to the process again.
Let’s face it, you won’t get any medals for taking good care of yourself. Most people aren’t even aware of the work it requires, and the sacrifices too. When your efforts meet with constant failures and frustrations it seems so easy to just give up because of feeling that nothing you can do will help.
Complications are a very real threat with diabetes. I’ve heard some horror stories over the years that actually made me cry, such as people who had developed gastroparesis so severe that they were no longer able to eat solid food and had to have a feeding tube installed. Then there are the awful pains of neuropathy, kidney failure, blindness, amputations……….
The problem is that most of these conditions take years and even decades of poor care to develop. It’s very difficult for some people to concentrate on something decades in the future when the present moment is more real to them.
You must remember, however, that until quite recently (and even now) many people weren’t actually diagnosed until they had diabetes for 5 to 10 years. That’s a long time for damage to start to take root. Many people were diagnosed when they started having symptoms bad enough for them to finally seek doctor’s care, but for many, especially now when the criteria has been lowered, they feel fine and it comes as a complete shock!
Fear of complications might be enough for many people, but fear does not work for others. As I’ve said they might feel that they are fine and it couldn’t happen to them. Or they might be worried but unable to gain control and feel helpless. There are also people who perhaps unconsciously feel that these things are inevitable, perhaps they watched family members go through this. They feel that they are doomed and there’s nothing they can do to stop it. Unconscious thoughts and feeling are a big factor in not taking control. A person really needs to examine their thoughts to uncover some of these “hidden” thoughts and attitudes that could be undermining their motivation.
Let’s face it, I don’t know any perfect people, although many try to constantly tell me how perfect they are! I spoke of constant decision involved every day in diabetes self-care, and we face them many times each day. Most people live moment to moment, it’s also an “instant gratification” world. Think of the people in deep debt now because of things they had to have “now” instead of saving for. When we look at that delicious dessert bar do we think “oh, that would taste soooo good!” or do we think “I will not succumb to this temptation because it will cause me to have horrible complications 10 years from now”. Most of us have alternatives for temptations or plan for them, but we do on occasion give in to the temptations (lack of perfection boo hoo)from time to time. If you’re already suffering from the symptoms of burnout it’s much easier to give in again and again, until finally you give up altogether.
In my opinion the greatest obstacles to overcoming burnout are depression, feelings of helplessness, frustration and unconscious thoughts that hinder our efforts.
I’ll be addressing all of these factors more in upcoming posts. For now I’ll leave you with the thought that you are not alone, many of us have gone through this situation and have overcome the obstacles.
Hang in there!
Recommended Reading: “Diabetes Burnout” by William Polonsky, PhD, CDE
© EMO 6/12
Knowledge is Power