When living with chronic conditions (for me – celiac disease and type 1 diabetes), burnout from the day to day management is always lurking. But much of what we deal with on an emotional level comes from the perceptions of others. The vast majority of people will never understand what we go through every day. On the positive side, this might lead to observations about how “easy” we make it look. But on the more negative side, we face insensitive or ignorant comments and behaviors.
My celiac disease, for instance, is misunderstood constantly. There is a difference between voluntarily cutting back on gluten, and being gluten intolerant or having celiac disease where gluten presents an actual danger. Not everybody understands this. What’s a little gluten, after all? (“Just take the croutons off the salad,” is a good example of the kinds of comment I typically hear.)
Living with diabetes brings on its own set of misperceptions. Because being overweight is one of the most well-known risk factors for type 2 diabetes, I’ll sometimes hear, “You have diabetes? Funny, you don’t look like you’re a diabetic.” I suppose this is meant as a compliment, but it just serves to reinforce how misunderstood my condition is. It’s the same whenever I hear a comment about how all I have to do is “avoid sugar and take insulin.” As if that’s all it took. I wish!
It’s Wonderful to be Included!
These comments can bring an individual down. I’m sure you have your own stories. For me, the feeling of being left out is the hardest to emotionally deal with. For instance, at celebrations when nobody bothers to ask me if I’d like a piece of cake because the assumption is that my celiac or diabetes prevents me from eating any. Bypassing me when offering cake to everybody else only serves to draw more attention to me. I become the focus of the room. It’s not that I want to hide my conditions. The point is that I don’t want to feel excluded. Offer me cake. Just like you would anyone else. It’s nice to be asked and included. It’s wonderful to be treated like everyone else.
If you’re fortunate like me, these incidents are often balanced with moments of understanding and kindness. There are always people who will make certain an option to the cake is available. These are the moments to focus on.
Focus on the Positive!
And we should be diligent about focusing on the positive. Being aware of all the negatives inherent in living with a chronic condition creates the potential for self-pity. It’s okay to know what you’re up against. But it doesn’t do you any good to wallow and think of yourself as a victim. And yet it’s all too easy to stumble into victimhood, to use your chronic condition as an excuse. But once you begin doing this on a regular basis, it becomes a habit that is difficult to break. And little by little, you’ll cheat yourself out of whatever goals or dreams you might have, thinking that you’re incapable of achieving them because you’re a “victim” of a chronic disease that somehow makes you incapable of living to your fullest. This, not the condition, would be the real tragedy.
Identify Your Triggers!
Do I stumble from time to time? Do I find myself teetering at the edge of the rabbit hole, ready to fall into the grip of burnout? Of course. We all do. So, what can we do? For me, I have come to learn how to identify those times when I might be in for an emotionally tough day. There are triggers, things that set me off and send me downward. You probably have them, too. Comments and behaviors from people – an exasperated person who didn’t want to take the time to ask if a gluten-free option was available, the person making an excuse for me, the being left out – these are the kinds of situations that I know get to me if I’m not careful.
Recognize as well that if you’re having one of “those” days, it’s one of those days. Just one. Tomorrow will be brighter. Your immediate task at hand is simple: just get through the day. Try breaking the day down into smaller pieces. Get through the morning. Then get through the afternoon.
Refuse to be a victim and refuse to make excuses for not enjoying life. Find the ways that work for you. Anticipate the triggers that bring you down. Know that most people do not understand your condition and be okay with that. Be ready for the comments. Refuse to be overwhelmed by the gravity of your chronic condition. Beware of the rabbit hole.
Life is meant to be enjoyed, experienced, and shared.
Additional information on addressing burnout can be found at http://www.diabetesforecast.org/2014/08-aug/5-ways-to-avoid-diabetes.html