How to Deal with Diabetes Burnout
I don’t usually write about diabetes products, but I recently read a book I that I thought I’d let people know about it.
The book is Dealing with Diabetes Burnout, and it’s by Ginger Vieira, a former blogger for HealthCentral and onetime power lifter who could lift an impressive amount of weight while keeping her blood glucose (BG) levels in range. An amazing feat.
Ginger is dealing not only with type 1 diabetes but also celiac disease--both autoimmune diseases and often occur together--and now fibromyalgia as well (which is why she had to abandon the power lifting). Just thinking of all that would make me burn out. But Ginger keeps going.
The great thing about Dealing with Diabetes Burnout is that it’s not a “rah-rah you can have perfect BG levels 24/7 if you just follow a few simple rules” book. No, what makes this book so meaningful is that Ginger is willing to share her failures as well as what she’s learned about getting through diabetes burnout. She also has lots of comments from other patients, both type 1 and type 2, so a reader knows that he or she is not alone in hating diabetes or failing to be perfect all the time.
Let’s face it. Controlling diabetes is not easy. If you’re type 1, it’s hard to take a vacation from managing the disease. Sure, you can occasionally let up a bit but you can never do anything like stopping your insulin for a month or week or even a few days, or you’d end up in a hospital. We all hope a cure--or at least a closed-loop insulin pump--will be available soon, but people have been hoping for that for decades and it hasn’t materialized. So most of us will have this unpredictable yo-yo of BG levels for a lifetime. No wonder people burn out.
If you’re type 2 and not dependent on insulin, you can sometimes relax your vigilance. But then what often happens is you gain weight, and because the increased weight increases your insulin resistance--which is partly what causes the disease--and because it’s very hard to lose weight when you’re insulin-resistant, you end up much worse than when you started. That can cause burnout, too.
People without diabetes may have empathy, but if you haven’t walked the walk, you really can’t understand. Ginger does. And she doesn’t sugar-coat the disease. Like most people, she hates having diabetes. She’ll commiserate with you. And she understands that sometimes you’ll need to do a little venting. Reading about other people’s experiences really does help.
But she also asks you to try to figure out why you’re burned out and how you can get through it. She has a chapter titled, “I Want to Be Perfect by Tomorrow (or I’m Giving Up),” in which she points out that setting your goals too high sets you up for failure.
And she raises a point that often bothers me: We are continuously getting “graded” on our diabetes control with tests like the A1c, as if we were back in school. If the numbers aren’t good, the assumption is that it’s our fault, that we’ve been cheating on our diets or not doing our exercise. If a person gets lab tests and some number is a bit high or a bit low, they don’t usually get a lecture, such as, “I see your vitamin B12 is low. What did you to do cause that?” Instead, the doctor usually tries to find out if there’s an infection or if some drug is causing the problem.
So the book’s overall message is that we’re all human trying to manage a disease that can be extremely difficult to manage, and if we’re not perfect, we shouldn’t feel shame. Instead we should be proud that we’re managing it at all. Knowing that other patients, even diabetes experts like Ginger, can mess up sometimes should be comforting to a lot of us.
Because Ginger is type 1, parts of the book pertain more to type 1 than to type 2 patients. But I think type 2s could also benefit from reading it. Learning about type 1 patients’ experiences brings home the lesson that managing BG levels when you’re insulin sensitive can be very difficult—particularly when you’re eating away from home and don’t know the carbohydrate counts of what you’re served. As we all know, just a small change in insulin levels can make a huge difference.
There’s another book on diabetes burnout by William Polonsky, titled, Diabetes Burnout: What to Do When You Can’t Take It Anymore. I’ve heard good things about it. Polonsky has a lot of empathy for people with diabetes.
But Polonsky doesn’t have diabetes. Ginger Viera does and she knows what she’s writing about.