Tuesday, February 12, 2013

My Experience with Diabetes Burnout

I have been writing this piece for awhile. It's been hard to write, sometimes I get embarrassed about my experience with burning out and I don't want to let others know that I had a moment, a year..maybe two years of living with a mental illness that nobody recognized as a mental illness....not even therapists.

So I will give you a bit of a run down of what I feel led up to my diabetes burnout.

As a child I was very happy, athletic and did well in school. I never let diabetes get in the way, I took my insulin in the morning and at night and that was it for me. I don't remember often when it was n issue. Maybe a sleepover here and there, or a class trip where my parents had to be educators on my behalf, but all in all it was a non-issue for me. I didn't feel sad or depressed as a kid. I pass a lot of this on to my parents.They never let it show that they were sad or frustrated by diabetes. There were a few lectures about em sneaking treats and how important it was for me to disclose, but their lives didn't revolve around illness. Their lives revolved around our happiness and our strengths. I had a wonderful childhood, I know it's not common for people these days as there are so many struggles people can go through but my parents were and are fabulous parents. I am lucky that I now call them two of my closest friends. I think that a lot of how I developed rests in their hands and overall I am happy with me.

I always try and pinpoint the moment where I started to fizzle, burn out and just lose interest in my future me. I went through a very difficult time with an ex-boyfriend that involved cheating, and overall being emotionally and financially drained. I kind of lean towards that time when I started to burn out because every ounce of my mental strength was being used in holding myself up from crashing and feeling sorry for myself.

My self care and awareness in diabetes started to slip. I went from checking my blood sugar 4x a day to...maybe 4x a week to 4x a month if I was lucky. I wore my pump, but sometimes I would go to school with just my basal insulin running and I wouldn't remember to bolus or check...for days.

This is really hard to admit. As an advocate for living well and happily with diabetes, putting on the Internet that you were, for a lack of better terms a fuckup in your diabetes care is so hard. We always try and project these images that life with diabetes isn't as bad as the media makes it out to be. And usually it isn't. Usually we live happy and normal lives with a few extra steps.

There needs to be more discussion about burning out because of diabetes, and that is why I am sharing with you my story.

So during these days and months I floated through, I never had lows, and I didn't feel highs really. I worked out at the gym a lot, and on the outside I looked like normal old me. What was happening inside...I really don't know. My body was churning mentally due to my outside stresses and my internal stresses were just starting to make me break. I sought comfort through food, and constantly being surrounded by friends and people. I was always trying to meet new people, date new men and do everything and anything to get my mind off my past and what diabetes was doing to me.

For these months I wanted to not be diabetic. I wanted to not be tethered to a pump or glucose or to be different. I was already walked all over by my ex boyfriend and at the time i felt walked all over by my professor in school, my family was giving me a hard time because I was slipping and gaining weight again.

This burnout didn't happen at one moment, it happened over time. It happened after 20 years of juice boxes at 2 am, it happened after 20 years of needles, and insulin, and dead batteries and forgotten injections. It happened after 20 years of me asking for a restaurant to make sure I have diet pepsi not regular, 20 years of me saying I'm not diabetic because I am fat, I am fat because of my diabetes.

This burnout happened after 20 years of my endocrine system struggling and grasping for breath.

The thing with burnout, at least in my case: it didn't manifest as depression. In fact, I was so social, had so many friends and was so with it otherwise, I was told by two separate psychologists there wasn't a whole lot they could do for me. Because in the fields they knew: I was happy. I don't deny the rest of my life being happy. I bought my first car, I dated around, I had great times with friends...it was by all definitions a normal way for a mid-20s girl to live.

I changed in one day. I remember when everything hit me. It hit me hard. I was starting to check my blood sugar more and I kept running high, my A1C through my endocrinologist was 8.9 and I got lectured, and I always had a yeast infection. I Googled everything and I stumbled on the book Diabetes Burnout by Dr. Polansky. I purchase dthe book and within 1 day of receiving it I felt the world around me melt.

I knew what was happening to me. I knew I wasn't alone, but most importantly I knew there was hope.

That night I jumped on twitter and Google. I stumbled on the #dsma twitter chat and Kim Vlasnik's blog at www.textingmypancreas.com

In those few days I turned. I re-grasped my diabetes and decided in that moment that I needed to live and advocate for people with diabetes. We need better access to mental health initiatives, and doctors who understand that diabetes has a massive effect on our brains as well as pancreas'.

It's who I am. Diabetes Burnout is part of my story.


  1. You are so brave to share your story, Alanna. And by doing so, you're helping countless numbers of people who may be feeling the same way right now.

    Thank you for having the courage to tell a story that many of us share (raising my hand here...).

    In fact, might I be so brave as to say that if a PWD told me they never went through (or go through) burnout, I'd call them a liar. Too much?

    You are not alone.


    1. Thank you, Scott. Your words always ring true for me!

  2. Scott is absolutely right. You're telling your truth and that's nothing to be embarrassed about. Some day, someone else will stumble upon your blog - much in the same way they found Kim's - and will stop feeling alone and will start feeling hope. You can be someone else's inspiration and life-saver.

    Maybe you already are.

    1. Thanks, Scott. I always like to daydream about people reading my blog and actually finding it useful.

  3. That was such a good read. so honest and truthful.
    really... nothing to be embarrassed about. As for dealing with depression as a result of diabetes, I feel you on that one.
    So many of us feel you on that one.

    I hope you have found your happy with diabetes spot again.

    1. I am in my d-happy place again. I hope I stay here, but I am armed with knowledge if I ever have to find it again.

  4. As I read your post I thought about my own daughter. I questioned whether she will feel as happy about her childhood as you did. Am I half the parent your parents are? And still with great parenting pwd can slip. Will my daughter slip? Will my son slip? Are either of them already feeling burnout? What can I do? Im not trying to make your post about me and my kids - what I am saying is the Scotts are right - your blog post - while difficult for you to share - helps others. It will help me. It will help my kids.
    Its why I will share your post with my 13 year old now so she will know how sneaky the slip could happen and maybe she will recognize it happening. I don't think any mental health illness happens overnight - it is something that steals away a little part of us when we aren't looking. and while I think more and more people are educating themselves about depression and diabetes burnout it is still not something even the pwd or parent of cwd wants to admit to easily. A saying I remind my kids of frequently is "Courage is not the absence of fear but the ability to act in the presence of it" - which I believe was said by Bruce Lee but others claim credit for it too. This post took courage - the strongest type of courage because this post admitted what you believed to be weakness or failure. Your strength lies in the fact that you recognized the slippage and shared it with others which allows us to learn. Thank you Alanna - thank you for your courage and strength.

    1. I think that burning out if inevitable if you live with diabetes. There will always be times in our lives where we are sick of dealing with the hand we have been dealt.

      I think it's really important to educate your kids about burnout, what the symptoms are, and how it's ok if it happens as long as they disclose to someone they trust.

      As a parent you have to provide them the ability to care for themselves and the ability to trust others enough that they can disclose to. You and your husband are not always going to be the top priority for them, they may have partners, teachers, friends or even therapists that they talk to more than you. It's up to you to explain that it will be ok, if and when that happens, and it's even better if they have someone outside the family unit.

      I have been truly, truly blessed with how lucky my life has been. Honestly diabetes has been the only major bump for me, and I have hardly suffered. Your kids may not be as lucky, they may go through great loss, bullying, who knows what can happen, so setting them up for that to be a potential issue is the best thing to do.

      It's really important that you also don't own your kids diabetes. I think that is something that I see more and more in parents of kids with diabetes, they are not able to separate them selves from the disease and it brings them down, which in turn brings their kids down. I am not saying I see this in you as I dont know you well, I am just saying it's a trend.

      I have a lot of theories of developing into an adult with diabetes and going through childhood/young adulthood with diabetes on the forefront. If you ever want my full two cents I would be happy to share.

      Your daughter is definitely at a critical time, the rest of her life will come first and that is ok! She is allowed to hate her diabetes, but she still has to treat it.

      If you ever want an ear, or more explanation on my experiences of going through what your kids are going through I would be more than happy to share with you. I am only a click away on Facebook.

      Sorry for the cusswords, parental guidance for your kiddo ;)

    2. Hey there lady. I saw your reply the day you wrote it but it was on my phone and my phone doesn't let me comment. I got caught on the merry-go-round between then and now so sorry it took me so long to say thanks for the reply and advice.
      I certainly don't own my daughters D, she has been very independent since diagnosis. I do likely do more than I should for my son. He is my baby and regardless of his increased hight and use of $5 words - he is still my baby toddlering around. Im thank for for the offer of an ear to bounce things off of. I am so impressed with you and your parents must be very proud. Thanks again for the long and thoughtful response. Also - I assure you my kids have heard a few cusswords in their lifetime. #mommyhasapottymouthsometimes

  5. I have been diabetic for 45 years now and burnout happens and did so last year. I actually cancelled an appt with my endo - and he is the best thing who keeps me on track with life and health and diabetes..but pity party done - back to see him later this month - and I can't wait - we need time to deal with all we do day in and day out and I thank you for being bold enough to share this. I have to say when I was 17 and 18 I did not think much about my diabetes..yet once my twin sister got really sick (she was dianosed 1 day before me) I took notice and turned into a TypeA/Type1. My own endo has told me not to stress as much about things..and he finally ( after a few years) got through to me. Keep up the good work, we need to get our stories heard and let ppl with T1 know that we are not perfect and we have days we want to forget we are Diabetic.

  6. As a oral-meds-only Type 2, my situation is quite different from yours in a number of ways. I'm not even entirely comfortable with calling what I experience 'burnout'. But I too experience periods when I don't test, don't attempt to moderate my eating, don't exercise. Periods when it doesn't seem worth the bother, even when -I- don't seem worth the bother. Thank you so much for sharing honestly.

    1. Hi Bob,

      I think it may be different you're right, but burnout is still very real and normal with T2. It is still an invisible chronic illness that can really wear you down. It's not less, just different. Thanks for sharing :)

  7. Alanna, as the mom of a T1 9 year old, I definitely want your full two cents--the two you offered Christina in the comment, above:"theories of developing into an adult with diabetes and going through childhood/young adulthood with diabetes on the forefront."

    And this: "20 years of me saying I'm not diabetic because I am fat, I am fat because of my diabetes." <---I don't know anything about this! Do Type 1 people typically tend to become fat? All of the T1 teens and adults I know seem super-fit. I hope my question isn't too idiotic. I tend to avoid thinking about the long-term consequences of D.

  8. You're so brave to share your story. Not everyone can just share this to millions of strangers over the internet. But, writing about it and posting it will make people more aware and end up saving lives. People should educate themselves more about this before it's too late. Keep up the good work and thank you for sharing your story.Juliana Vanslyke