Caregiver burnout. It’s very common for parents of type 1 diabetic children. We spend so much time planning, counting, worrying, that we often forget to take care of ourselves. It gets so bad that self-care can seem like an impossible hurdle, like you’ll never be able to care for both yourself and your child with T1D.
By: Melissa Zimmermann, T1D Mom
When we prepared for the birth of our first child, we tried to prepare ourselves to always put the needs of another human above our own. Of course, as naive as all first-time parents are, we could never prepare for how many needs that little creature would have!
We eventually figured out somewhat of a balance between feeding, bathing, burping, changing, swaddling, snuggling, entertaining, and keeping ourselves nourished and alive. We participated in the age-old parenting competition of complaining about how tired we were and how we just wished for a half hour bath alone. In reality, we knew that the exhaustion was normal and short lived.
Or, so we thought.
When our son, Carter, was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes he was only 15 months old and he had just started to sleep through the night. In fact, his sudden waking multiple times a night was one of the only symptoms he had before he went into Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA) the following week. (I’ll save the diagnosis story for another time…)
Suddenly, the concepts of toddler-hood that had been so trying — sleep training, temper tantrums, getting into everything — didn’t seem so difficult anymore.
Our days became filled with counting carbohydrates; chasing down our son to draw blood from his fingertips 5 to 8 times each day; holding him while he cried “Mommy, no!” as he received his 4th or 5th insulin injection of the day; begging him to finish the food he’d been given, then giving in and “feeding” him a juice box just to keep him from slipping into a coma.
Each night, we’d tuck Carter into bed, kiss him, and pray he would live through the night. We checked his blood sugar levels at midnight and 3 a.m. every night due to the unpredictability of his diabetes.
Then we’d repeat it all the next day.
It was about a year after Carter’s diagnosis that I experienced my first burn out. I would get SO ANGRY — at the fact that we had to go through this FOREVER; that he wouldn’t eat; that my husband wasn’t there during the day; that my friends didn’t get it; that family members didn’t care to learn about it. I was angry all the time and would cry about nothing & everything.
Between a 6-month-old and a 2-year-old with T1D, I was averaging about 4 to 5 hours of sleep every night. I was barely eating and what I did eat was left over toddler food or toaster strudels. Exercise?? Not a chance. I didn’t like working out as it was and anyone who might have tried to motivate me wouldn’t approach me for fear of sending me over the deep edge once and for all.
I was so lost, destroying my health and my mind.
Because I’d dealt with depression in my past (I was diagnosed with post-partum depression after having Carter and, looking back, was undiagnosed throughout my teen years), I knew that I needed to do something to change or I’d end up in a scary place that I wouldn’t get out of. I was able to recognize that I needed to start taking some time for myself and that I needed to start taking care of my body.
I reached out to a friend of mine, another mom, that was into health & fitness. She became my weekly gym date and showed me how to do some beginner workouts. She told me how to eat healthy, nutritious food to fuel my body instead of just feeding my cravings.
Slowly, but surely, the weekly break helped me to recharge. The increased energy, improved metabolism, and better sleep I got from improving my nutrition and fitness habits helped me to be a more patient, calm, and loving mother. I was able to deal with the everyday crazy of parenting plus the added responsibility of caring for a child with extra needs.
Now, that my boys are older and they have BOTH been diagnosed with T1D…
Life has gotten a lot more hectic. I now do amazing home workouts and am using a super simple nutrition system to keep myself on track without much added time.
My career as a health & fitness coach working from home allows me to be available for my kids when they need me. Plus, I get to pay it forward by helping other parents to get started on improving their own health, fitness, and lives with the same simple systems I’m using.
The point is that the old saying “You can’t pour from an empty cup” applies to us more than many others. As D-Parents, we live with so much fear every day. Eliminate the fear of burn out or your own failing health by committing to take care of yourself.
You will always be a better parent to your child, living with T1D or not, if you commit to taking care of yourself first.
What do you do to ensure self-care? Share in the comments. And don’t forget to “like” Carb Counting Mama on Facebook!