We Are Survivors - Gemma Wells: Choosing recovery!


February 04, 2012



On 2nd September 2002 I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. I was 9 years old. I remember the day like it was yesterday. I had always been a healthy child, rarely picking up the bugs and colds that would circulate around school and wasn’t one to complain even if I did! I was an outgoing and bubbly child and would take up any opportunity that would come my way. I enjoyed performing arts and would be chosen for lead parts in the school plays and attended stage school at weekends. When I began to show symptoms common before being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, my family put it down to the flu and thought I would be right as rain in no time.

As the weeks turned into months gradually it became apparent that something wasn’t quite right. I would spend most of the day sleeping, my body weakened and a continual thirst could not be quenched no matter how many glasses of water I drank. I withdrew from all the activities I enjoyed and I lost a substantial amount of weight. My parents saw this as a positive as I was at that “puppy fat” stage but little did they know my body was in fact eating itself to death. The day before I was diagnosed, my family and I had gone out for a meal at Pizza Hut. I could not eat anything the only thing I was interested in was the refillable drinks that would be replenished every five minutes. My Mum and Dad looked at each other whilst I gulped down my 8th glass of Diet Coke.

The next day it was clear that I was not well at all and my mum rushed me to the emergency doctors. He took one look at me and tested my blood sugar which just read “Hi” and also did a ketones test that also read “Hi”. At this point I was rushed to hospital, my body slowly shutting down. I was extremely tachycardic, vomiting uncontrollably and I was in complete agony. For 2 painstaking hours they tried to find a vein which was virtually impossible as they had all collapsed. I was covered from bruises head to toe where they prodded me like a pin cushion. One of the junior doctors had to leave the room in tears as I lay there lifeless. That is where my parents were called aside and told that it was unlikely that I was going to survive and to expect the worst. Astonishingly through sheer perseverance the consultant finally found a vein in my foot; I really do owe him my life. I was given IV fluids and sliding scale insulin and at last my body was finally able to receive the lifesaving therapy it needed. I remained in hospital for several weeks and was so grateful to be alive that I took all the doctors instructions on board. I would test my sugars 4 times a day, inject before meals and ate all the right foods. I was a compliant and well controlled diabetic. Ten years on and how life has changed…

Although appearing to have a happy childhood, a dark secret haunted me for five years. I was repeatedly sexually abused and raped by my nanny’s son. I was six when the abuse started and it ended when I was eleven. At the time I did not understand what was going on. It wasn’t until I was about thirteen, when I was no longer within the care of my nanny that I began to see what had happened from a more adult perspective and I registered the seriousness of what had gone on; I became very depressed as a result. At this age I also became aware of my own body image. I was full of disgust and self-hatred. I hated myself with a passion, comparing myself to my peers and wanted to punish myself in some way. I felt diabetes was my punishment and I began to rebel against it. I became extremely introverted and no longer wanted to socialise with friends. I withdrew from any activity that I enjoyed and spent my time comforting myself with food. It wasn’t long before I began to associate insulin omission with weight loss. I would spend hours in the kitchen followed by days of purging the calories through self-induced vomiting and insulin omission. The weight began to fall off me and I felt proud of that I was achieving something.

It was at a diabetic appointment that my consultant became very concerned. He said I had lost my sparkle; I was pale, quiet and depressed. My Hba1c had come back as 14.9, whereas three appointments previously I was congratulated on being the diabetic in his clinic with the best controlled diabetes and Hba1c level. It is then that he referred me to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health service. I attended weekly appointments with a psychiatrist and psychologist who were baffled by my depressed and pitiful self-esteem. They put me on antidepressant medication and watched as I got thinner and thinner. I was diagnosed with A-Typical anorexia. I hardly ever did my insulin injections and refused to eat much at all. I had many hospital admissions with diabetic ketoacidosis but no one suspected a thing. I was at breaking point and wished I would just disappear or die. I hated myself with a passion.

One day my psychiatrist asked me “Has anyone ever hurt you?” I said “No” instinctively, but as soon as I got home I confessed everything to my Mum. I told her everything from the abuse, the insulin omission and the bulimia. My family were absolutely distraught and I had to make a statement and have a police video interview. I was asked intimate details that triggered flash backs and memories I had kept in the back of my mind for years. It was the worst Christmas ever; full of anxiety and stress. I was only 15 years old. To make it even worse the man who abused me was let go as there was insufficient evidence to take him to court as I was so young at the time it occurred. This accentuated my feelings of hatred towards myself; I felt like they thought I was a liar.

In April 2009, I was admitted to the local hospital for a month as my psychiatrist became concerned about my suicidal tendencies. I was still in denial about my diabetes. All my diabetic care was taken out of my hands.

After being discharged from the hospital I began seeing a wonderful lady named Dallas who is a counsellor for the NSPCC, an organisation for the protection of cruelty to children. She has helped me to realise that what happened in the past was not my fault and I have overcome so much with her support - she really has been a life saver! I took a year out from education to try and gain back some normality and work with Dallas. I was referred to an adult eating disorders service in 2010. The staff there where extremely concerned about my self destructive behaviour.

My eating disorder therapist gave me details of a charity called “DWED” (Diabetics With Eating Disorders). The founder Jacq and the members of the group have changed my life. I have made friends that understand and can empathise entirely with my situation. I don’t feel judged or alone and without their support I may not have taken the vital decisions that may change my future…
I have finally agreed to accept inpatient treatment for EDDMT1 and Bulimia. At first I declined the offer, but I have come to the point where my life needs to change and I need to stop simply surviving, and start LIVING!

I hit my lowest point in November 2011 when I attempted suicide through taking an insulin overdose. I never want to enter such a dark place again. I deserve to have a future and I feel that now is the time for change. Despite my problems I am doing really well at college where I am studying Animal Management. I have been offered a place at university to study Animal Behaviour for September 2012. One of my biggest achievements is writing a letter to my abuser. I even hand delivered it to prove to him that I am not going to live in fear of him anymore. What happened in the past was not my fault and I have nothing to be ashamed of. I have accepted that diabetes is not a punishment. My social life is beginning to flourish and I am developing friendships I will hang on to for my entire life.

I have finally accepted in-patient treatment and I am waiting to hear my date of admission. Although I’m scared I know this is what I need. I pray that finally I will get the intensive support that will lead me toward a happy, healthy and successful future.



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