If you are a parent of a child, teen, or young adult with Type 1 diabetes, you have likely found yourself in one of the following situations:
• It is late at night, and you realize you forgot to call for a refill on your child’s insulin prescription. The pharmacy is closed, and you need the refill tonight.
• Yesterday, your child’s blood glucose level was 140 mg/dl before lunch. You gave him his insulin, and he ate his meal. Three hours later his blood glucose level was 130 mg/dl. Today, he had the same blood glucose before lunch, took the same amount of insulin, and ate the same meal, but his blood glucose afterward was 320 mg/dl.
• Your child had low blood glucose readings all evening long, so you checked his blood glucose every hour throughout the night. You napped a little bit between checks, but at most slept two hours. Now it’s morning, and you’re facing a full day.
In any of these situations, it would be normal to feel panicked, confused, frustrated, or completely worn out. Thoughts running through your mind might include, “Diabetes is wearing me out,” “This shouldn’t be this hard,” or “I feel like I do the same thing over and over again, but we’re not getting anywhere.” If you have said these things or felt these feelings, those are good signs that you are experiencing diabetes burnout.
What is diabetes burnout?
At the core of diabetes burnout is a feeling of doing the same thing over and over again and being frustrated that it is not producing the desired outcome. When a person has diabetes, there are a lot of “things” that must be repeated over and over again, such as checking blood glucose levels, administering insulin, and coordinating the timing of insulin with food and physical activity. Most of these tasks are carried out for the desired outcomes of maintaining near-normal blood glucose levels, preventing hypoglycemia, and preserving long-term health.
However, if the desired outcomes are not reached or seem out of reach, having to constantly and repeatedly perform diabetes management tasks can feel more and more burdensome and eventually lead to burnout. When parents experience diabetes burnout, it not only makes it harder to find the energy to do all they need to do for their child’s diabetes management, but it may also generate poor communication patterns, conflict about diabetes, and feelings of depression.
The fact that parents of kids with diabetes experience burnout is perhaps not a surprise. Although ultimately rewarding, raising a child can be exhausting, all-consuming, and just generally hard. Pair all of that with managing your child’s diabetes, and it can sometimes feel overwhelming. We have heard from parents that “parenting a child with diabetes is like having two full-time day jobs plus pulling the graveyard shift!”
Many parents feel burned out, but diabetes burnout is not a personality trait, or something that sticks around forever. It is an emotional state: something that you will sometimes experience and at other times be free of. There will be times when you feel completely burned out, and other times when you feel on top of all the things diabetes requires. The key is knowing the signs of burnout so you can keep the state of diabetes burnout as short as possible.
Signs of burnout
Each parent–child relationship is unique, and some parents may notice only one of the signs described here, while others may notice them all. However, the more warning signs you are feeling, the more likely you are experiencing or nearing diabetes burnout, and the more you would benefit from bringing up these feelings with a family member, friend, partner, or health-care professional. While there may be other signs of diabetes burnout besides those listed here, the following are some of the common ones: