When most people are diagnosed with a Chronic illness, there is a moment of disbelief. On one hand, you are hearing the doctor. On the other, you just can’t wrap your head around it. As reality sinks in, fear and anxiety often accompany it. Life is, to say the least, changing fast. And at some point, rest assured, you will say, “How did this happen to me?” That’s a good question. But the answer may not be what you suspect. Chronic illness has long been attributed to things like an unhealthy diet, a sedentary lifestyle, tobacco use, alcohol, infectious agents, some environmental factors and genetics. But we also know that trauma, experienced before the age of 18, is linked to it as well.
This trauma, known as an Adverse Childhood Experience or ACE, is an encompassing term for numerous traumatic experiences from childhood cancer to sexual abuse. Severe traumatic events are believed to have the greatest effect on our long-term health. The toxic stress that they create within a child’s body is consuming and powerful.
In fact, your risk of having mental and physical health problems goes up with the number of events that you have experienced. For example, your risk for health problems is much higher if you’ve had three or more of these ACEs:
- physical abuse
- sexual abuse
- emotional abuse
- physical neglect
- emotional neglect
- witnessing domestic violence
- substance abuse within the household
- mental illness within the household
- parental separation or divorce
- incarceration of a household member
Other traumatic events may not meet the exact criteria of an ACE, but still have life-altering consequences. For example, a car accident or school shooting can lead to health issues beyond the initial injuries, i.e. depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A 2010 study, published in the journal of Clinical And Experimental Rheumatology, noted that Holocaust survivors were twice as likely to have fibromyalgia than individuals who had lived in Europe during the Nazi occupation.
This does not mean that every Chronic illness can be linked to an Adverse Childhood Experience. It’s just not that simple. There are other variables. But we do know that the biological impact of childhood adversity is real. It can also be difficult, sometimes impossible, to reverse. Experiencing two or more ACEs significantly places a child at a higher risk for developmental, behavioral, or social delays. Sadly, it can even place them at a greater risk for committing acts of violence. And these risks follow them into adulthood.
If you are looking for answers as to where your Chronic illness came from, talk openly with your doctor. If you or your child has experienced an ACE, discuss that trauma/s candidly. It will help your doctor/s to better treat your condition. Whether you are the patient or a concerned parent, it just may offer some insight that can help you to understand, cope, even manage Chronic illness. With any Chronic disease, management is the key to better living. And it starts at home — with you!
May God Bless …
*Photo by Chinh Le Duc on Unsplash