When Childhood Haunts You: ACEs & Chronic Illness

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.

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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 … 

 

Reference Links:

https://www.who.int/chp/chronic_disease_report/media/Factsheet1.pdf

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3153850/

ttps://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/past-trauma-may-haunt-your-future-health

https://www.healthline.com/health/chronic-illness/childhood-trauma-connected-chronic-illness#7

Trauma-Responsive Schools Must Be the New Gold Standard in Education

Chronic pain and childhood trauma

*Photo by Chinh Le Duc on Unsplash

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More Than A Headache: A Migraine

Headaches, like the common cold, happen. We have all had them, at one time or another. But a Migraine isn’t your garden-variety headache. It’s much worse. In fact, it’s a form of Chronic Illness. Approximately, 1 in every 4 American households has a member who suffers from them. Globally, Migraines are ranked as the third most prevalent illness — effecting one billion people. And the impact that this neurological disease has on patients is real. It’s more than a headache. It’s a constant battle that requires treatment, patience and perseverance.

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Migraines usually begin in childhood, adolescence, or young adulthood. When one strikes, they progress through stages, i.e. Prodrome, Aura, Attack, Post-Drome. The symptoms of each stage are distinctive. But not every patient will experience all four stages. If you or a loved one have been diagnosed, you know the symptoms all too well:

  • Prodrome begins 24-48 hours before the migraine occurs. During this time, patients may experience constipation, moodiness, food cravings, neck stiffness, increased thirst and urination, or frequent yawning.
  • Aura can occur before and during migraines. They are reversible symptoms of the nervous system and usually visual in nature, i.e. seeing bright spots, flashes of light, or experiencing vision loss. But Auras can also include other disturbances, i.e. sensations in the arms and legs, weakness/numbness in the face or on one side of the body, difficulty speaking, hearing noises, or uncontrollable jerking movements. These begin gradually and build over several minutes.
  • The Attack, or Migraine itself, lasts from four to 72 hours if left untreated. Frequency varies from one patient to the next. For some, the occurrence is seldom. For others, it may be numerous attacks each month. During this stage, patients experience severe pain (usually on one side of their head). Some patients say that the pain is all over their head. They are sensitive to light, smells, even touch, during this stage. Nausea and vomiting are also common.
  • Post-Drome  is the time following the attack. Typically, it lasts from an hour to a day in length. The patient often feels drained of energy. Others may feel relief that the attack is finally over. Confusion is also common. And many patients report that any sudden head movement brings back pain, temporarily. 

Living with Migraine is difficult. This neurological disease is very incapacitating. In fact, about 90% of patients are unable to work, or function normally, during an episode. Depression, anxiety and sleep disturbances are also common with Migraine patients. And many have a family medical history of the illness. Maintaining a job, let alone building a career, is a challenge. As many as 20% of Migraine sufferers become disabled. All of these factors also impact daily living and relationships.

Despite the strides that are made yearly in medicine, Migraine remains a very misunderstood disease that is often undiagnosed and untreated. Most patients suffer in silence. This could be the result of escalating healthcare costs, limited access to medical care, or too little (if any) support at home/work. Another sad fact to consider is that many patients (25%) would actually benefit from preventative treatment, but only a few (12%) seek it. We need to change that and we can!

If you or a loved one has Migraines, or you suspect that you do, then it’s time to see a doctor and get help. You have options, from holistic treatment to medication. Put an end, or at least limit, your suffering. It’s time to start living, again!

 

Reference Links:

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/migraine-headache/symptoms-causes/syc-20360201

Migraine Facts

Living with Migraine

*Photo by Anh Nguyen on Unsplash

Finding That Silver Lining …

Believe it or not, there are silver linings that come with having a Chronic illness. You may not readily spot them, upon onset of your disease. It may take a while. But, rest assured, they are there. For me, personally, it came through enduring five years and eight months of chemotherapy. Even now, just typing the sentence gives me pause. Five years and eight months? Yes, I freaking did that!

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The old me, or pre-chemo me, was a driven perfectionist. I had to be the best, at literally everything, i.e. writer, mother, wife, daughter, neighbor, etc. I had to do better. I pushed myself physically, emotionally and professionally. Each morning began at 4 a.m., even on vacation. I would cycle 5-10 miles. Next, I made breakfast & got the rest of the house going. With them out the door on time, I took a shower and sat down in my home office. There was research to do … rough drafts … final drafts … queries … phone calls, etc. And heaven forbid, if I suffered a little writer’s block. If that wasn’t demanding enough, I had to volunteer. I had to cook and bake like a master chef. I had to have the perfect garden bursting with blooms. Looking back, I wonder how my poor husband maintained his sanity. It had to, occasionally, drive him a little crazy. Yet, he never complained. He was as laid-back and relaxed as I was tightly wired. But change was coming.

Two days after my 50th birthday, I was smacked with reality. Or should I say my diagnosis? While still sitting in the exam room, trying to grasp the situation, my doctor began to talk about immediately starting chemo. It was surreal — like a bad dream. Yet, it was happening. My life, health, everything was turned upside down, in that moment. For those who have experienced it, you know what I mean.

Chemotherapy, no matter what you are being treated for, is a brutal journey. The drugs used can do harm as well as good. And the side-effects — OMG! For me, the nausea and vomiting was intense. At times, it took my husband and son to hold me up. Then, the fatigue would hit — days of it. By the time this subsided, it was time for another treatment. I lived in my pajamas and rarely left the house. My hair became thin and half of my eyebrows fell out. My body became sensitive to hot weather and cold. I began sleeping with a heating-pad, even in the summer. I couldn’t do research, or write. I didn’t even have the strength to sit at my desk, let alone be productive. Every ounce of me was fighting something bigger and stronger. And survival became my sole focus. I lived one day at a time. There were no lofty ambitions, no grand dreams, or fanciful plans. 

Yet, in that painful and mundane existence, I found my silver lining … a new perspective. One that is kinder and gentler. Dare I say it? More reasonable. One that makes living more worthwhile.

The new, or post-chemo, me is motivated by joy. I don’t sweat the small stuff, anymore. It’s a waste of time and energy. The new me is content to simply do her best, whether it’s perfect or not. I now realize what is most important is my happiness. I have become even more trusting of my faith. I am more compassionate and more understanding. I’m a blogger and speaker, because it allows me to write about and support issues that truly interest me. Those that can be helpful to others. The kind that stir passion. Perhaps, inspire? I even returned to the business-sector where I work part-time, for an international company. A change in scenery and/or pace never hurts. It can be pretty interesting … even exciting … without a corner-office. The ability to work is gratifying in itself. I don’t need to climb the ladder of success to be content. I end most days, with the zen of Tai Chi. I volunteer, if and when I can. If I can’t, I don’t beat myself up about it. Believe it or not, saying, “No” can be very therapeutic. The result is a more fulfilling life with less demands and less stress. More family time. More me-time. More smiles and laughter. I love myself and who I am.

In our deepest adversities, we actually grow — mentally and emotionally. It doesn’t take a PhD to realize this. Eventually, it dawns on you. We discover things about ourselves that we never knew. We conquer problems that we never imagined possible. We manage our illnesses and we live. And, in the midst of it all, we find a silver lining. I know that I have.

God Bless …

 

Reference Links:

https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/chemotherapy/about/pac-20385033

*Photo by Jason Kocheran on Unsplash

Heat, Meds & Chronic Illness … Oh, my!

Being diagnosed with a Chronic illness isn’t the end of the world. But it does change your world rather quickly. Most patients will tell you that finding the right doctor and medication/s were difficult. And adjusting to those medications? Honey, that’s a completely different story. Still, it’s a must-do. So, instead of wallowing in denial, play it safe. Ask questions. Read labels. Use commonsense. And avoid those medical setbacks. You don’t need the hassle.

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In the summer, we can get very hot weather. It’s the nature of the season. Even the flowers in my garden are praying for a little relief! How that heat can negatively effect you is important. Hot weather puts added stress on your body.

If you have a Chronic illness, you’ve probably been instructed to do some form of exercise. And kudos to you, if you are! If your exercise can be done indoors, i.e. Pilates, Tai Chi, yoga, swimming, etc., heat is not a concern. You are utilizing a climate-controlled environment. Just don’t overdo it. Always respect your body’s limits. For those who are exercising outdoors:

  • Monitor the weather. Exercise in the coolest times of the day & avoid that mid-day sun.
  • Dress appropriately. Lightweight clothing helps sweat evaporate & keeps you cooler.
  • Wear Sunscreen.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. Dehydration is a key factor in heat-related illnesses.
  • Have a Plan B. When the weather is flirting with triple digits (or the heat index is already there), find an indoor alternative. It will come in handy, in the worst of winter too!

Next, you must respect your medical condition & medications. Many can increase your risk of a heat-related issue, i.e. Heart disease, Obesity, Lupus, Graves disease, Lung disease, Kidney disease, Multiple Sclerosis, Epilepsy, Hypertension, Diabetes, etc. Medications usually have warnings right on the label. So, by all means, read yours. If in doubt, talk to your doctor or pharmacist.

Yes, you have a Chronic illness. Approximately, 133M Americans do. But you still have a life; remember? Your illness shouldn’t define you. It’s just a part of who you are. So, learn to work with it. Manage it. Enjoy life. Because you still have a lot of living to do. And because it’s summer … glorious, fun-filled summer … with longer days … vacations … explorations … weddings … cook-outs … weekend plans … beautiful, sunny mornings … and romantic starry nights. Don’t miss a thing!

 

 

Reference Links:

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/exercise/art-20048167

https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/extremeheat/medical.html

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/325232.php

https://www.goodrx.com/blog/avoid-the-sun-if-you-take-these-drugs/

https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/heat-exhaustion#2

https://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/sun-sensitizing-drugs#1

*Photo by Sarah Cervantes on Unsplash

 

 

 

 

Watermelon Goodness

Summer is here, in all its glory. And many of us are taking advantage of the warm weather to enjoy cook-outs and picnics. If you are one of the many planning an event, take a look at your menu ideas. Is there something for everyone? Are there healthy options? If not, it’s never to late to add a sure-to-please favorite … watermelon!  

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Enjoyed by all ages, watermelon is a healthy choice. And for many, that’s important, i.e. dieters, diabetics, cancer patients, those with autoimmune illnesses, etc. Beneath that inviting deep-red color, watermelon offers more lycopene than any other fruit or vegetable. Lycopene is a nutrient and antioxidant. Studies have shown that it helps minimize the risk of some chronic illnesses. The seedless variety actually has more lycopene than melons with seeds. But watermelon is also an excellent source of vitamins A and C, magnesium, potassium, iron, fiber, folate, etc.  And let’s not forget the “water” involved. In the summer heat, watermelon provides a tasty way to stay hydrated. If that’s not enough to convince you, then consider that a mere cup of diced watermelon has less than 50 calories. So, pick a bright red one and share the goodness!

Even if your plans involve a more refined gathering, there are ways to implement watermelon. The recipes are endless, from a Watermelon Salad with fresh mint and feta cheese to a frozen Watermelon and White Wine Granita. Your guests will be both impressed and refreshed!

It’s summer. It’s hot. And planning your celebrations shouldn’t make you sweat. It doesn’t have to be that hard, or expensive. There’s a lot to be said for simplicity. Aside from all the healthful benefits, nothing seems to bring back our memories of childhood like cutting open a watermelon. Think of it as our summer comfort-food … inviting us to walk down memory-lane … conjuring up stories of summers long past … with every sweet, delicious bite … igniting laughter … lots of laughter. And that may just be the healthiest benefit of all. Enjoy it, again!

 

Reference Links:

https://www.webmd.com/diet/ss/slideshow-health-benefits-of-watermelon

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/266886.php

http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=31

https://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/watermelon-salad-feta-and-mint

A Frozen Watermelon-White Wine Dessert

https://www.gourmettraveller.com.au/recipes/recipe-collections/watermelon-recipes-14712

*Photo by Neha Deshmukh on Unsplash

 

 

Friendship, Health & Healing

Friendships can be a mysterious thing. I’m not talking about those on social media. I’m talking about real friendships that involve shared life experiences. Some can, well … not be the best of choices. We’ve all had at least one of those. And they should be tossed like bad fruit from the fridge. But most friendships are wonderful, enriching relationships. So much so, that they are literally beneficial to our health and well-being!

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               “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.”                                   — Proverbs 17:17 (NIV)

Friendships have a way of lifting us up, inspiring us and keeping us sane. That’s not my opinion. That’s medical fact. Friends provide social support, during difficult times. Talking with a friend is a way of coping, though we may not see it as such. That alone makes us more self-sufficient, resilient, etc. We are more hopeful — happier. Less lonely. Less stressed by whatever drama is unfolding in our lives. And that leads to less anxiety, less depression. We have better feelings of self-worth, purpose, etc. Overall, better mental health.

Friends can encourage us to live healthier. Friends share things like exercise, hobbies, even diets with us. Friends know our weaknesses. They understand our strengths. We understand theirs. We all benefit from a healthier lifestyle, i.e. weight loss, lower blood-pressure, more energy, better mobility, etc. If your Chronic illness is effected by one of these (and many are), imagine how much better you’ll feel. Friendships have this ability. The Journal of Oncology even published a study of women with breast cancer. Those who had 10 or more close friends were four times more likely to survive their illness than those who did not. Wow!

As we age, friendships become even more vital. Research tells us that seniors with an abundant social life are more likely to live longer. Being socially connected even protects the brain from developing dementia. That translates to a better quality of life — a healthier one.

So, stay in-touch. Re-connect with old friends. Get out and meet new ones. The effort is well worth it. And remember … quality friendships are more valuable than quantity. This isn’t a sports competition. If your “meeting skills” are a bit rusty, try these options:

  • Look for groups/clubs that have an interest or hobby you share. These groups are often listed in the newspaper or on community bulletin boards.
  • Volunteer at your place of worship, museums, community centers, charities, or other organizations. We can build strong connections when working with people who share our interests.
  • Invite a friend/acquaintance to have coffee, or go to lunch. They will usually return the favor. Accept invitations to social functions.
  • Start a new hobby, exercise, take a college class, etc. It’s a great way to meet people.
  • Go for a walk. Take your pet to a dog park. It allows you to interact with others and make new friends.

It’s never too late in life for friendships. In fact, their fun and rewarding. And, as we now know, they’re also downright healthy. So, go for it!

 

Reference Links:

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/friendships/art-20044860

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/nourish/201003/the-healing-power-friendship

https://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-12905/why-friendship-is-great-for-your-brain-a-neuroscientist-explains.html

https://www.anxiety.org/friendship-can-improve-mental-health

https://www.integrativenutrition.com/blog/2019/02/friendships-can-improve-your-health

https://www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/social-ties-16/rm-quiz-health-benefits-friendship

*Photo by Omar Lopez on Unsplash

 

Sun Exposure & Chronic Illness

Nothing says summer like a day at the beach … or several. The warmth of the sun and the sand beneath our toes is intoxicating. Add the right music … a good friend or two … and it becomes a real treat. So much so, that many of us became “sun worshipers”. And that’s when the problems really started!

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The sun is an excellent source of vitamin D and that’s a good thing. But it doesn’t take a tan, or excessive time in the sun, to reap that benefit. For a fair-skinned person, it could take as little as 15 minutes. For darker skin, it takes about 2 hours. 

Often times, we think that tanned skin looks healthy. In reality, when we over-expose our skin to the sun … we do damage. The sun’s ultraviolet light, or UV,  damages the fibers in our skin called elastin. As these fibers break down, our skin begins to sag, stretch, etc. It also bruises more easily and takes longer to heal. A sunburn does even more harm. Research has shown that if you have had five or more blistering sunburns in your life, you have more than doubled your risk of melanoma. In fact, most skin cancers are the result of chronic sun exposure.

When we spend excessive amounts of time in the sun, through work … sports … or tanning … we age our skin. This primarily happens by causing destruction to the collagen. As a result, our damaged skin changes, i.e. wrinkles, leathery and/or rough texture, mottled pigmentation, lentigines or freckle-like spots, sallowness, etc. There’s nothing healthy, sexy, or glamorous about it.

Chronic conditions (think auto-immune) react badly to sun exposure. That’s because they create Photosensitivity, or an allergic reaction to sunlight. Patients with diseases like Multiple Sclerosis, Lupus and Scleroderma are at risk when temperatures spike with intense sun.  For others, i.e. Rheumatoid Arthritis patients, medications carry warnings about sunlight.  

So before you go to the ballpark, or head to the beach, please take the precautions necessary to protect yourself. One sunburn is one too many. And, as we now know, the effects go far beyond the initial pain. Anyone over six months of age should use a sunscreen (SPF 15 or higher). Even those who work outside should use one, daily. Your health depends upon it. But sunscreen alone cannot eliminate your risks. There are additional ways to protect yourself:

  • Seek the shade, especially between 10 AM and 4 PM.
  • Avoid sunburn.
  • Avoid tanning, and never use UV tanning beds.
  • Cover up with clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.
  • Keep newborns out of the sun.
  • Examine your skin head-to-toe every month.
  • See a dermatologist at least once a year for a professional skin exam.

Exercising prevention steps now can prevent a Chronic illness, i.e. skin cancer, in the future. You and your loved ones are worth it!

 

Reference Links:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8881669

https://www.skincancer.asn.au/page/2215/sunburn

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/skin-cancer/symptoms-causes/syc-20377605

https://www.webmd.com/beauty/sun-exposure-skin-cancer#1

https://www.benaroyaresearch.org/blog/post/getting-outside-summer-autoimmune-diseases

https://www.uspharmacist.com/article/chronic-and-acute-effects-of-sun-exposure-on-the-skin

https://www.skincancer.org/prevention

https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamadermatology/article-abstract/2475007

https://www.nras.org.uk/photosensitivity

https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/dermatologic-disorders/reactions-to-sunlight/chronic-effects-of-sunlight

*Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash