Diabetes Burnout is promiscuous. Not that kind of promiscuous, but the kind Webster defines as “not restricted to one class, sort, or person : indiscriminate”. Burnout doesn’t care too much about who you are, what you do or what type of diabetes you have. Burnout happens to the best of us. It is not limited to diabetes, you can face burnout in a job, a relationship or a project. But a life with diabetes creates ample opportunities to get tired and frustrated with the lot of it.
Throughout my diabetes journey there have been times where it all seemed too much, too hard, and impossible. The effort to keep myself healthy outweighed my perceived benefits. I knew the risks, understood what I “should” do, but it seemed hopeless. I was stuck on a burnout merry-go-round from hell and nothing was good enough. No matter how hard I tried, or how much time I spent, I just never got it “right.” Being a nurse just amplified the failure since I should “know better”. Thoughts of “why bother” drifted past my consciousness.
I have come to learn that it wasn’t my effort that was causing burnout, but my expectations. A life with diabetes comes with many expectations; from your providers, from your family and friends and of course from yourself. Most of these expectations come from a place of care and concern. People want you to manage your diabetes well, never get sick and be free of complications. No one wants you to suffer. And certainly, you don’t!
Yet when you peel back the layers, expectations are selfish. Expectations are about creating the best-case scenario and the least painful outcome for the person having the expectation.
Doctors want you to be healthy so they feel their services are meaningful and they are helping you. Family and friends want you to be safe because they love you and don’t won’t suffer if you suffer. Of course, you expect perfect control so you live a long and healthy life.
The problem arises because expectations are often rooted in perfection. In that utopia, no mistakes happen, there are no unseen glitches in the machine, the carbs in always equal the medications’ ability to manage them, every estimate is on the money, nothing is forgotten, all the variables are understood and accounted for, and we never oversleep, overeat, get stressed out or forget anything. Expectations of perfection, in my opinion, are how we become burnt out.
No matter how hard we try, diabetes will never be perfect. That is just a fact. No matter how we got here, or what type of diabetes we live with, we are perfectly imperfect creatures. We are trying to manipulate a few small parts in a complex system, that we really can’t see, nor understand. And therefore, we can never orchestrate it perfectly. That is the truth. There is no perfection.
Repeated attempts and failures at perfection can become frustrating and stir up those feelings of hopelessness and despair. For all of us there comes a time when the requirements are too hard, the bar is too high, and the expectations are unreachable. This is “burnout” and it typically in cahoots with its best friend “give up”. A deadly duo for any diabetic.
A Shift in Approach
Diabetes education doesn’t cure burnout, yet that seems to be the typically strategy. “Tell people with diabetes more about all the bad things that will happen and that will spur them into action!“, they say. But you and I both know, it’s not about education. It’s about the burden of it all. It’s your spirit that needs the support, not your brain.
Your spirit needs some hope and a new approach that makes the load a bit lighter. One coaching strategy that I like is focusing on persistence instead of perfection. If my expectation is perfection, failure will happen over and over no matter how hard I try. If my expectation to persistently do the best with what each day throws at me. I can learn, adapt, succeed and fail, but with persistence all those outcomes are a win. Nothing changes except how I choose to see the situation.
It’s like a baseball player coming up to bat. Every swing requires his attention and best effort, but the batter knows not every swing will be a homerun. A batting average of .300 is considered very good. But that is only hitting the ball 30% percent of the time – meaning 70% of the time they miss! The batter is not judged solely on his percentages of home runs or perfection. They are judged and valued for their ability to perform persistently overtime, even if they miss the ball or only get a base hit.
Choosing to focus on persistence instead of perfection, for me, means that nearly every day I win! Because I’m always aware, I’m always noticing, and I’m always trying to orchestrate this invisible system that keeps me alive. Even if they numbers aren’t always perfect (or even understandable some days!). It’s persistence, not perfection, that lifts my spirit so I can keep playing this game every day.
Be well and keep swingin’,
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