What's Wrong With People?!? (and what to do about it...)

There was yet another harrowing story in the Seattle Times today about a vile creature with a history of abusing women:


Fortunately this case didn't end the way Richard Speck's attack on a dormitory full of innocent young women ended on July 14, 1966.

Those of us old enough to remember 1966 have been thoroughly terrorized by today's news, despite the happy result of this more-recent monster being arrested before any of the young women were physically harmed. Physically they are OK, but the psychological harm is more insidious, and will take a very long time to heal. In fact, some of these young women will find their personalities permanently altered. They will never feel quite as easy, as free of fear, as relaxed when falling asleep -- they may have nightmares, panic attacks, anxiety for months or years to come. One or two of them may find herself becoming dependent on a drink before bed "just to relax" or longing for a new prescription of sleeping pills long after her doctor thinks she should stop taking them. One or two of them may start curtailing their out-door exercise, especially during the too-dark hours of Pacific Northwest early mornings and late afternoons in the winter months. A couple may find themselves inexplicably binging late at night, unwilling to put the food away and just go to sleep.

Stranger-danger and the fall-out from sexual assault and sexual predation can have life-altering effects on survivors. It raises cortisol and adrenalin levels, it interferes with exercise activities and social activities, it triggers emotional eating, it triggers agoraphobia and other phobias.

How do I know this? Well, in case it isn't obvious, I have first-hand knowledge of the vicious impact of assault on every aspect of mental and physical health.

Diabetes doesn't happen in a vacuum. Some percentage of those obese Type 2's that everyone loves to criticize and disparage are sexual assault survivors who are AFRAID to walk through the gym parking lot after dark, AFRAID to go for a before-work walk or run, AFRAID to go to sleep at night and stay up late binging instead, AFRAID to wear form-fitting workout clothes and lie down on the floor in a mixed-gender yoga class, AFRAID to be physically attractive because of the attention they get from men they don't know -- and feel safer wearing a bit of "body armor" in the form of body fat and loose-fitting, body-covering, layered clothes.

Sometimes counseling helps. Sometimes taking self-defense or martial arts classes helps. Sometimes a support-group helps. Sometimes a course of anti-anxiety medication helps. Sometimes survivors end up outfitting a home gym or investing in a stack of exercise and relaxation DVD's so they can do their exercise in the safety of their home when it's dark out. Sometimes getting a big, protective dog helps. Sometimes buying a weapon and learning how to use it helps. Sometimes the only thing that helps is "Tincture of Time" and a character-building period of mustering up great fortitude and courage.

The last time I was assaulted, I had actually gone to do my evening walk inside a large indoor mall because it was getting dark out and I thought I would be safe inside the mall. Instead, I was assaulted right in the center of the mall, not in the dark parking lot, on the main concourse, with open stores and shoppers all around me! I found myself devastated by the toxic thoughts that "no place is safe" and that "I will never be safe". This event had a distinctly corrosive impact on my diet, exercise, self-care in general and diabetes control for a long time afterwards. Again, diabetes doesn't happen in a vacuum and sexual assault doesn't happen in a vacuum, either. There are no neat silos in our bodies -- stress hormones, insulin, food, exercise, sleep and every other biological process within us happens in concert together. It can be a beautiful symphony or it can be a crashing, screeching cacophony.

Getting support and counseling, doing exercise inside the relative safety of my locked apartment, "Tincture of Time", weaning myself off of emotional eating, improving my blood glucose control (again!) -- all of these things have helped, but it's a long row to hoe -- and this wasn't my first time to get trampled at the rodeo.

Jean, I hate to say this is a beautiful post (because of the subject) but it is. I'd love to see it posted somewhere permanently. Thank you for your openness and honesty, as well as the superbly written/thought out information. I am also a survivor of sexual assault (when I was a teenager). I blamed myself, and didn't tell anyone until many years later. I remember Richard Speck's atrocities clearly.

You hit the nail on the head when you said Diabetes doesn't happen in a vacuum. We have no reason or right to judge others, or to make assumptions about them. I include in that statement the attackers - my son was falsely accused of sexual assault; you never know! We all walk in our own shoes that don't fit anyone else. I wish there were a simple answer to the question of what to do about the many ills in our society ;(


I don't see a lot of information about how things like violence, sexual assault, car wrecks, etc. impact diabetes control, but of course they do, just as a death in the family, an ugly divorce, losing your job, etc. can also have a profound impact on diabetes control. I think it's very important that we as diabetics become aware of and sensitive to how stressful life events might push our diabetes control off-balance and how important it is to not just let ourselves wallow in poor control for a long time, but get back to excellent control as quickly as possible, using whatever resources we can marshall to help us accomplish this goal. Maybe I should write a book about it?

>> Diabetes doesn't happen in a vacuum.

In 1982, just post-dx, I attended a week-long seminar hosted by Dr. Peter Forsham, the man behind SFSU's Metabolic Research Unit. He told us the story about he 'became' diabetic: His family was traveling in Sweden when he was 9. His father was driving, when they were approached by two men, one from either side of the car while his dad was stopped at a light. One of the men reached into their car and grabbed young Peter, putting a knife to his neck while the other demanded money from his parents. The money was paid, and the men ran off into the city. Peter was hysterical, and remained so for three days. When he finally came around, he was ill. His parents took him to a doctor, and they found out he was diabetic.

Dr. Forsham told us this story because he was absolutely sure there was a tie-in between that awful experience being held at knife point (at 9 years of age...) and his immediate, three-day-long collapse into diabetes. This story was especially poignant to me just post-dx because there is no diabetes in my family. None whatsoever. I am Patient Zero in my own bloodline. Where did mine come from? I am convinced it came from within somehow, and I only wish I had been a bit kinder to myself back in those days. Maybe I would not be where I am today had I not been so stressed all the time back then.

It's awful to read of your getting trampled at the rodeo, but even your referring to it in this slightly funny way means you have indeed come a long way.


You should write a book! Your writing is superb.

Thank you for the interesting, poignant story about Dr. Forsham -- and the kind words. I'm imagine that the triggers for diabetes vary from patient to patient. Whether viral, bacterial, severe stress, chemical, nutritional, etc. or some combination of factors.

Wow, Jean. What a powerful piece! Truly.... this is awesome (a word I am reluctant to use because it's so rarely used well).

I've become interested in the theory that chronic inflammation may be the nexus for many physical conditions including neurological disorders, cardiac problems, cancers and diabetes. One of inflammation's contributing factors is stress. People who are forced to deal with an inordinate amount of stress--including traumas of all kinds--may be much more likely to be dx'd with something like diabetes. I'm not saying this is true, but it intrigues me and would explain a lot about me and many people I know.

Thank you for voicing your passion and deep compassion in your writing here. Your honesty, clarity and willingness to take on a sensitive and troubling issue is a blessing for the rest of us.


Thanks, dear heart. Very kind of you to say so.

I'm serious.

Hi Michael M. You sound as if you blame yourself for triggering Diabetes, but please don't. It wasn't your fault. Thinking that way can cause continuing stress, totally undeserved. Best wishes.

Hi Jean. This is such a powerful post. There's not much we can do about the kind of people you describe, but you are clearly doing all the things necessary to leave the past behind in favor of a great future. Congratulations for taking charge of your life, your diabetes. Best wishes.


I am also Patient Zero in my family. My diabetes suddenly appeared during post-chemo /radiation treatment while getting high doses of steroids on top of moderate doses on and off for months. I have no doubt the assault on my body was the trigger for me

Thanks, Ann. Based on my (non-scholarly) research, I assume that one in three of females and one in ten of males has been subjected to some kind of sexual abuse in the past -- it makes sense that this would be just as true in the diabetes community as in the rest of the world. (The figure on males is probably very conservative, by the way.) Stress can be debilitating to anyone with a chronic illness, but when you throw in all the ways that our stress hormones interact with insulin and our blood glucose, it can become a deadly brew. Conversely, anything we do to heal the stress/inflammation (antioxidants, meditation, high-quality rest, therapy, exercise, organic produce instead of processed junk, etc.) is also very healing for our diabetes. Synergy is not just a buzz word!

I think yoga is great if you can avoid the urge to go too fast or be too competitive about it -- it takes years to get to the human pretzel stage, but the relaxation, stress relief and heart healing benefits start accruing right away. I would love to take private lessons from an older woman teacher with a bad back. She'd be the perfect mentor for me.

Oh, and regarding the urge to beat 'em up, that's what the heavy bag in the dojo is for, right?

Thanks, Trudy. You're best wishes are most appreciated. I know that we all have great challenges, tragedies and triumphs in our lives. Somehow or other, we have to paddle through calm water and hurricanes, keeping our BG's in check. It's quite a challenge, isn't it? Best wishes to you, too.