Today, I am honored to have Susan Weiner and Paula Ford-Martin contributing a guest post to SUM, writing about diabetes burnout and their new book, Diabetes 365: Tips for Living Well. I’m pretty biased, as I used to work for Paula at dLife (and with Susan), but their book and their message are a tremendous resource for newly diagnosed and veteran PWD alike.
I’m also excited to host an opportunity for three folks to win a copy of the book. To enter to win, please leave a comment with your best tip on dealing with “diabetes overwhelmus.” (Be sure to include your email!) The giveaway will be open until Thursday night at midnight EST, and winners will be announced on Friday morning.
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Overcoming Diabetes Overwhelmus
Guest bloggers Susan Weiner and Paula Ford-Martin
The late, great Dr. Richard Rubin had a great knack for turning a quality phrase. “Diabetes overwhelmus” (a.k.a. diabetes burnout) was one of our favorites. Layman’s definition? When the continuous demands of diabetes, and the non-stop flow of diabetes-related information, simply become too much to deal with and you’re ready to throw up your hands and have a mad as hell moment.
The side effects of diabetes overwhelmus are a tendency to become less active in one’s own self-care. So diabetes management starts to slip, stress goes up (along with stress hormones and blood sugar), and then you’re caught in a vicious cycle of bad feelings – both physical and emotional. It’s a crappy place to be.
Now we want to take a moment to pause for a disclaimer here. We both work in diabetes, we support friends and family with diabetes, and we know a lot about the academics of the disease. But neither of us can say we have the intimate knowledge of knowing what it’s like to live with diabetes 24/7.
But stress, the broader idea of “life overwhelmus,” and the negative impact both have on the human body? We’ve got loads of personal experience there. The busier life gets, the harder you need to work to maintain your physical and emotional well-being. Yet most of us let life’s obligations push those things down in the priority list. And even though we’ve both worked in the health education field for many years, we admit we have let stress get the better of our health and well-being more than once in our lives. In fact, we wish there was a frequent flyer program for hospital visits and doctor’s appointments – we’d be Platinum Club Members.
A survey on stress in America found that almost half of the population has experienced a major stress in the prior twelve months, and health problems were cited as the most common source of stress. Thirty-six percent of people living with a chronic illness reported high stress levels in the prior month, with a whopping 60 percent of those in “poor health” reporting those same high stress levels. That’s probably not a surprise to anyone reading this blog post. Being “sick” makes you stressed, and stress makes you sick.
Susan has a patient, Tess (not her real name). Tess has type 2 diabetes, works full-time, takes care of a family, parents teenage children, and is the primary caregiver for her live-in mom, who was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Over time, she found herself completely overwhelmed and bombarded on all fronts. Eventually she stopped taking care of herself. She ate food on the run, sometimes skipped her meals completely, didn’t refill her medications, and didn’t keep doctor appointments.
Tess felt terrible and had high blood sugars. But she went to visit Susan because she was ready to take one small step to get out of her diabetes rut. Susan listened to what Tess’s biggest stressors were and her desire to address them, and they started with one simple goal focused on an issue plaguing Tess – taking time each night to pack up snacks and plan the next day’s meals. Over time, they added more small goals based on Tess’s real life problems, and now she feels in control of her life and health again. She isn’t eating out of frustration or anxiety, and is starting to gain better control over her blood sugar.
It was this small step approach that inspired our latest project, Diabetes 365: Tips for Living Well (Demos Health, 2015). We wanted to help people like Tess come at diabetes from a less intense, more manageable angle. Our intent was not to offer a soup to nuts guide on treating your diabetes; instead each day of the year offers a new start and a focused tip, idea, or action you can take to improve your health and happiness. In other words, it’s not the OED of diabetes, it’s daily Cliff Notes. As our friend Jim Turner says, “Diabetes is complicated and overwhelming enough. I like simple, straightforward suggestions.”
“Bite sized” diabetes goals may be your way out of diabetes overwhelmus. Or, you may find relief in other ways – diabetes support groups, meditation, or reading a daily dose of inspiration here at SUM. But at the root of it all is not letting life get in the way of living, and finding a way to co-exist with all of those personal, professional, and diabetes challenges. In the words of our gracious host Kerri: “I need to remember that I can do this. I can conquer this. I can design this and devour this and delight in this.”
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Susan Weiner is owner of Susan Weiner Nutrition, PLLC, in New York. She is an award-winning author, registered dietitian-nutritionist, and certified diabetes educator. Susan is the 2015 AADE Diabetes Educator of the Year, the 2015 Diabetes Health Monitor LifeChanger award winner, and the 2014 Alumna of the Year for SUNY Oneonta. She is also the 2015–2016 editor for On the Cutting Edge, a peer-reviewed journal for the Diabetes Care and Education practice group of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Susan advises several nonprofit groups devoted to diabetes advocacy; she is on the advisory board of Diabetes Sisters, and is an educational advisor for Marjorie’s Fund. She is also the diabetes medical advisor for Healthline.com and is on the medical advisory board for dLife. www.susanweinernutrition.com.
Paula Ford-Martin is an award winning health writer, editor, and content producer. She is the author of more than a dozen consumer health and parenting books, and currently works as a freelance content strategist and consultant. Paula was part of the core team that created and launched dLife, a groundbreaking multimedia diabetes consumer resource. She served as the Chief Content Officer of dLife for eight years, and her work on CNBC’s dLifeTV—the first and longest running primetime diabetes television show—garnered her 26 Telly Awards. You can learn more about Paula and her work at www.wordcrafts.com.