I did not know I was suffering from PTSD well into my 30s. Fortunately, once I was able to identify that the vivid waves of flashbacks were PTSD induced and discussed it with my therapist, I was able to push the tide back so they became less frequent, and eventually disappeared altogether.
Sadly, I know this is not the case for everyone. Yet in coming to terms with my childhood trauma, while progressively getting more unwell—it has become increasingly clear that there is some connection. While there is awareness that traumatic experiences can influence mental wellbeing, emerging research from the past decade reveals the potential of Adverse Childhood Events (ACEs) in shaping physical health outcomes later in life. ACEs are traumatic experiences from our formative years. These range from witnessing or undergoing abuse to experiencing various forms of familial dysfunction. A 1998 Kaiser study, found a direct correlation between the number of ACEs a child faces and major adult health risks, including conditions like heart disease, cancer, and liver disease. Additional research indicates that those with high ACE scores might also be more susceptible to autoimmune diseases, headaches, insomnia, depression, anxiety, and immune system alterations.
My own ACE score is 8/10. One of things that particularly resonates with me about the connection between ACEs and chronic illness, is that I know I became hyper vigilant from a young age due to being co-opted into parenthood by both my parents. My mother was a narcissist, and my father, while being the more stable parent had a degree of covert narcissism that meant neither of them were emotionally available. Instead, they demanded this emotional support from me. Things only got worse, when my mother got remarried to a violent drunk more broken than she is, which meant I was treading on at least three layers of eggshells every day of my young life.
The impact of emotional trauma in our early years, can lead to significant physical changes mirroring those observed in PTSD patients. Specifically, trauma can change the size, shape, and connectivity in areas of the brain such as the amygdala, hippocampus, and ventromedial prefrontal cortex, which regulate emotions, stress, fear, and memories. These changes can perpetually activate the body's stress response system, leading to heightened inflammation, issues such as sleep disturbances and gut dysbiosis, that can pave the way for a tsunami of other physical ailments.
When I look back on my health journey there were signs from early on in my childhood, that were ignored. While my mother loved going to doctors, and I think she had some form of munchausens by proxy, her particular fixation was chest infections and little else. I have a vivid memory from my early teens of damaging the cartilage in my right knee that was hot to the touch, and inflamed for almost a year… I ended up saving my pocket money and buying a knee guard as the only form of self treatment that I knew how to offer myself. Then there were the frequent nosebleeds that started when I was about 9 years old. Again, no trip to the doctor. These episodes were viewed as an inconvenience, but one that would inevitably pass—so I guess it was not deemed worthy of further investigation or treatment.
As I write this, it becomes poignantly clear that through my parents’ lack of concern for my health, I learned to simply ignore physical discomfort. Establishing a pattern of self neglect that would take me until my 40s and a breaking point in my health, to finally prioritise my own wellbeing above all else.
Recognising these far reaching implications of childhood trauma and neglect on adult health underscores the urgent need for comprehensive mental and physical healthcare that acknowledges these connections, is the support we all need and deserve. Unfortunately, I think we have a long way to go before this kind of integrative healthcare happens. In the interim, I can only offer this advice: if you find yourself with toxic people in your life who are not concerned about your well being, and take more than they give, the sooner you address these dysfunctional relationships, the better.
Trust me I’ve done the wheelchair work… and perhaps the most important thing I learned from the experience was this: my unstable childhood made me incredibly resilient to life’s many storms, and far too quick to share my umbrella with others. This was an unconscious choice to begin with, but now I’m aware of it, I’ve consciously uncoupled myself from this unguarded openness, and quietly traded in my umbrella for a much smaller one ☂️
#PTSD #Anxiety #PostTraumaticStressDisorder #Trauma #ChronicFatigue #MyalgicEncephalomyelitis #Fibromyalgia #Abuse #Depression #Insomnia #PTSDSupportAndRecovery #Selfcare #NarcissisticPersonalityDisorder