What is diabetic burnout, and why is it important and dangerous?

Imagine, for a moment, that you are the main character in this story. 

You’ve just turned fifteen.

For the past few weeks, you’ve been feeling lethargic, have had to pee a lot, and your weight has dropped considerably more than would otherwise be considered normal. You’ve also been suffering from brain fog, and your grades are in danger of slipping.

Your parents notice and are very concerned.

What could possibly be causing all these symptoms? It’s not flu season, and you’re not presenting with a fever or chills.

But all those midnight trips to the bathroom. And 3 AM trips to the bathroom. 

Your parents finally have had enough and take you to the ER. Something’s not right, and they have a gut feeling that it’s going to be serious.

Your mom feels like there’s a pit in her stomach, because she’s heard whispers of the symptoms of diabetes, and you’re checking all the boxes.

The doctors do not have good news.

You, an otherwise normal fifteen-year-old, have been diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes.

Your life as you know it is effectively over.

No longer can you have that bar of chocolate without thinking about what it will do to your blood sugar.

Every action or inaction you take will affect something that has to do with your diabetes, and it will take months, if not years, to fully accept and settle into your new reality.

When you go back to school, you’re embarrassed and try to hide your new disease, but it’s hard. People ask questions. People gossip. And people bully.

You get into the hang of things for a while. You can eyeball the carb count in a slice of bread. You’ve figured out your insulin ratios for a sedentary day versus a sports day.

But nothing is constant.

You can do the exact same thing on two different days, and have wildly different blood sugars.

It begins to take a toll on your mental health.

Why you? Why did you get stuck with this stupid disease? You didn’t even do anything to get it! You just want to be NORMAL again.

And that thought takes hold. Grows roots.

By age seventeen you’re just so DONE with all things diabetes. If you have to look at another test strip again, you’ll lose it.

So you stop testing. And soon thereafter, you stop correcting for the food you eat.

You just stopped caring.

You got burned out. 

Now, let’s take a moment to pause and talk.

Diabetic burnout is very real and very common among diabetics, especially those who were diagnosed later in life when they can remember what it was like before the daily insulin injections and blood sugar checks.

It’s a very tough pill to swallow, going from a normal kid on the block to that kid who needs to count her carbs before every meal and give insulin for it.

It can feel extremely restricting.

A lot of people end up using it as an excuse to stop participating in things.

I know I used it as my trump card to get out of PE activities that I hated, soooo there’s that…

Kids are sneaky and can hide a lot of their burnout and lapse in care from their parents.

But kids who burn out are at a high risk of developing ketoacidosis, which is basically your blood turning into syrup and slowly, painfully, killing you from the inside out.

Burnout is not a joke, and it’s a phase in diabetes life when the person needs support and encouragement, not scolding and discipline. They need doctors and friends and parents who are sympathetic and want to help. 

You start to feel pretty shitty but muster through because you’re determined to be normal again.

But your body rebels.

You land in the ER again, this time with ketoacidosis. Your blood sugar is climbing into the 600’s, and your parents are frantic and desperate.

When your number is brought down to a more respectable 200 (remembering that the normal range is 80-120-ish), the doctor advises your parents that you should speak with a therapist and endocrinologist and figure out how to combat the burnout.

Sometimes it’s okay if all you can do is take it one day at a time.

This disease is a marathon—a lifelong marathon—not a sprint.

It is our normal. For some, it’s a new normal, and a difficult normal to adjust to.

Everyone is different in this respect. As someone who was diagnosed so young that I don’t remember anything else, this has been my ONLY normal.

This is just one of the reasons I think it was better to be diagnosed early. Burnout is just a little less likely when diabetes is all you’ve known. Having never known anything else, what other reality could I have for comparison?

I have thought about what it would be like to eat a doughnut and not worry about how high my blood sugar will spike afterward. Or what it’s like to go out to a restaurant and choose whatever I’d like without worrying about nutrition information.

But I have no memory of ever living life without diabetes being a part of it.

Others are not so lucky.

Burnout is a very real thing to watch out for, especially if you or your children were diagnosed at an age when they can remember what it was like “before.”

10 Responses

  1. Be encouraged. God is your strength. I have just been diagnosed with type 2 and I too get fed up with monitoring but I know it is the only way to go if I want to beat this disease. You know you can stay stable. You have done it all these years so you can do it. You may have momentary weaknesses and that’s ok. Just shake yourself off and begin again. Hang in there as long for as you do so you can win this battle. Stay strong. God has got you.

    1. Thank you for your encouragement. This story is not mine, though. It’s what it looks like for many type 1’s diagnosed later in life. I received my diagnosis at age two, and so have known nothing else–and have never become burned out as a result. This post is to increase awareness among those who do know people diagnosed later in life, so as to know what the warning signs are should burnout be in progress or approaching.

      1. I know I’m a year late to this. But, I would have to disagree that it only happens to those who are diagnosed later in life. I was diagnosed at age 3 and I can tell you I’m tired of it and have been for the past 5 years. I see my family and friends not caring, getting to live a carefree lifestyle, where as I’m struggling to survive. I can’t find the motivation to care at this point, I feel as if my future is doomed due to the complications of diabetes. I’m not taking away from those who have been diagnosed later in life, but to say that those who have had it most of their life don’t, is wrong. Diabetes is exhausting and never-ending and I’ve had and still have extreme struggles with it. If anything I would have preferred to be diagnosed later in life because then the complications of diabetes would seem less daunting.

        1. I’m so sorry you’re going through this. While I do think it’s more likely for those diagnosed later in life to experience burnout, I’m not trying to say that all those diagnosed young will never experience it. I agree, diabetes is exhausting and it is never-ending. It’s hard. I would encourage you to seek support from fellow diabetics, and not as much from your family which you described as not caring. 🙁

  2. I know people that were diagnosed with diabetes later in life and I can tell how tiring it can be to always be texting and wondering and worrying. I’m sure being a teenager and just starting to deal with it would be even tougher.


  3. I am so blessed to have have ever encountered any real medical issues in life, but it makes me incredibly sad that other people do. Thank you for sharing this perspective, especially touching for someone who has no idea what it is like. Bless you.

  4. I remember being in middle school and everyone kept talking about a classmate who was missing school and had been diagnosed with diabetes. I am sure it was a hard time for her, however I never judged since my grandma had diabetes most of her life and I understood what it was like. Now my mother has diabetes and I always try to make sure that her diet is consistent.

    Thank you for sharing,

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