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

 

 

 

 

Motherhood & Chronic Illness

I once saw a t-shirt that read “Motherhood: It’s more than a job, it’s an adventure!” And I had to buy that shirt. If you’re a mother, you understand why. Sometimes, I think we don’t fully appreciate our mothers until we become one. There is nothing easy about the detail. Motherhood is fascinating and scary … fun and frustrating … rewarding and overwhelming. Yet, I wouldn’t have traded the experience for the world. Some of my most treasured memories in life involve my child. When I look at him, today, I beam with pride. I did a good job, despite my Chronic illness. Though, back in those early years, I often wondered if I was measuring-up. Or if, heaven forbid, he was getting short-changed. 

 

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Let’s be honest; shall we? Motherhood is demanding. Chronic illnesses are, too. And, sometimes, what we want to do conflicts with what our bodies will let us do. Try explaining that to a toddler.

As mothers, we take care of our children. That’s the job. And it’s a 24/7 duty. When we are sick, our responsibility as a mother doesn’t magically go away. It’s still there — packing a lot of guilt. You learn quickly to have a “Plan B”, because that beats doing nothing at all. Think of it as a negotiation, between your condition and motherhood. For example, it’s a snow day. The flakes are falling. And your little one is just dying to play in it. A part of you wants to go, too. Unfortunately, you are aching … stiff … or worse. Reserve such times, for snuggling under a warm blanket … reading a stack of books … or watching a favorite DVD. Maybe, you can even pop some popcorn or make some s’mores (fireplaces do come in handy)? This too is quality time. Sledding can be done with Dad, or cousins. In a day or two, you might even feel like joining in the frosty fun. Until then, be patient. Make the best of the situation. Enjoy every moment — even if it isn’t your “Plan A”.

If you manage your Chronic illness, it will provide you with the best results for living life to the fullest — including motherhood. So, please, keep your appointments with your doctor. Take your medications. Eat healthy. Exercise. Yes, changes in your routine and/or your child’s will take some getting used to. That’s okay. Don’t beat yourself up about it. As strange as it may sound, our children learn from us even when we are sick. If we neglect our health, we send a negative message that tells them it’s okay to neglect theirs. When we take care of ourselves, we send a positive message. That’s a good thing.

Kids understand what “feeling bad” means. They understand terms like “hurt” and “tired”. And they will ask questions. When your child becomes inquisitive about your Chronic illness, be honest with them. Brief answers are usually best, for younger children. So, keep it simple. Teens are capable of understanding more. Then, of course, there is the internet where your child may read anything about your illness (factual or not). Prepare yourself for that, too. Help them find reputable resources online that can provide the best information. Talk openly. It’s good for them and you.

Last, but not least, stay positive. Optimism is key to managing any Chronic illness. It’s good for your health as well as your child’s. Kids aren’t as naive as we’d like to think they are. Our children pick-up on our emotions. If we show fear, they become afraid. If we are depressed, they too can show signs of depression. So, live fearlessly. Live strongly. Live fully. Chronic illness isn’t who we are. It’s just part of the package. We are women. We are mothers. And we are blessed. Happy Mother’s Day!

 

 

Reference Links:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2017/03/03/how-to-talk-to-your-child-about-your-serious-illness/?utm_term=.f8f4df873208

https://www.fmcpaware.org/why-does-mommy-hurt.html

http://www.igliving.com/magazine/articles/IGL_2013-08_AR_Chronically-Ill-Parents-Helping-Children-Cope.pdf

http://www.copmi.net.au/parents/helping-my-child-and-family/talking-about-mental-illness

https://www.nccn.org/patients/resources/life_with_cancer/talk_to_children.aspx

https://www.accu-chek.com/life/explaining-diabetes-to-your-children

http://talkaboutit.org/how-talk-your-kids-about-your-epilepsy-roger-cross-wendy-miller-phd-rn

https://www.webmd.com/rheumatoid-arthritis/features/ra-explaining-pain#1

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23510498

*Photo of the author & her son at an airshow, Myrtle Beach AFB, 1992.

 

 

Smile: It’s Good For You

Sometimes, we overthink things. This is often true with Chronic illness. We overlook the simple, yet effective ways to help us feel better. Why is that? Are we looking for more difficulty? More expense? More drama? Surely, not. I think, just maybe, we are skeptical of simplicity. In this modernized society, we have somehow conditioned ourselves to believe that we need all the latest gadgets, gizmos, treatments and meds. We tell ourselves that if it’s “new”, if it’s advertised, then it must be better. Yet, in reality, we actually benefit from very simple things … free things … easy, natural things. And the perfect example of this is a smile!

 

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When you smile, you activate neural messaging in your brain and chemicals are released, i.e. Dopamine, Endorphins and Serotonin. Your brain is basically having a party and your entire body is invited to join the fun!

Smiling wards off stress. It relaxes you, if only for a few seconds. It lifts your spirits. You are happier. You feel better. That smile also lowers your Blood-pressure and your heart-rate. It can even relieve pain. Imagine that!

Each time you smile at someone (even a stranger) and they smile back, you both have created a symbiotic relationship. And both of you reap the benefits. In that moment that you exchange smiles, each of your bodies releases those feel-good chemicals into your brain. In those few seconds, both of you feel happier … more attractive … even more confident. This actually increases the chances of living longer and leading happier lives, in both individuals. And it wasn’t difficult or time consuming. Heck, it didn’t even cost a dime!

If you can share a little laughter, the benefits are even greater. In the short-term, a smile that ripples into laughter releases more of those feel-good chemicals … fills your lungs with oxygen-rich air … stimulates your heart and your muscles … relieves stress … and just makes you feel good. But in the long-term, it can improve your immune system … relieve pain … boost your mood … and increase personal satisfaction. Remember that old cliche, “Laughter is the best medicine”? As it turns out, there’s medical proof to back it up.

Now, granted, there are times when it’s hard to smile or laugh with a Chronic illness. But did you know that even a fake smile can trick the brain into releasing these feel-good chemicals? That in turn can have the same positive results on the body and emotions. So smile, even on the bad days — reap the benefits. In the long run, you’ll be glad that you did!

 

 

Reference Links:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/cutting-edge-leadership/201206/there-s-magic-in-your-smile

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress-relief/art-20044456

https://www.nbcnews.com/better/health/smiling-can-trick-your-brain-happiness-boost-your-health-ncna822591

*Photo by Eye for Ebony on Unsplash

It’s That Time Of Year, Again …

It’s Spring aka Hay Fever season. And sufferers surely know it. But they also know it can strike in Summer as well as Fall. Despite its name, Hay Fever doesn’t require hay or cause a fever. It can be rather inclusive that way. Its symptoms are usually caused by allergic sensitivity to airborne mold spores and numerous pollens. Allergic rhinitis, as it is medically known, is a significant Chronic disease that often effects the healthier population. In fact, in the past century, its prevalence has increased 10-fold. Some patients even experience symptoms the year-round, i.e. Perennial Allergic rhinitis.

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While Hay Fever symptoms vary, from patient to patient, the most common are:

  • Runny nose and nasal congestion
  • Watery, itchy, red eyes
  • Sneezing
  • Cough
  • Earaches
  • Fatigue
  • Postnasal drip
  • Swollen, blue-colored skin under the eyes
  • Itchy nose, roof of mouth or throat
  • Headaches  

If you or a loved one is suffering from one or more of these symptoms, talk to your doctor. It might even be time to see an Allergist. Once you are properly diagnosed, you can work toward managing your Hay Fever. This is especially important, if you are already living with an illness that can be worsened by the symptoms of Hay Fever, i.e. Stress, Asthma, Lung Diseases and Heart Diseases.

Life does not stop, because you have Hay Fever. That’s a no-brainer. You have things to do, work to finish, plans to keep and dreams to chase. To get you started, here are a few simple tips for managing your illness:

  • Start medications before peak pollen times (1-2 weeks if possible).
  • Wear a hat and wrap around sunglasses to protect your eyes from pollen.
  • Use a nasal allergen barrier to protect your nose from pollen, i.e. Vaseline.
  • Monitor your local pollen count and stay indoors when levels are high.
  • Keep windows and doors closed.
  • Consider purchasing a humidifier for your home.   
  • Keep your appointments with your doctor, even when you are doing good.

There is no cure for Hay Fever, but there are ways to keep it from controlling your life. So, talk to your doctor. Take your medications as directed. Implement these easy tips. Make smart decisions. It’s Spring. Enjoy it! You don’t have to be in misery!

 

 

Reference Links:

https://www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/library/allergy-library/allergy-sinus-headaches

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hay-fever/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20373045

https://acaai.org/allergies/types/hay-fever-rhinitis

https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/is-stress-making-your-allergy-symptoms-worse

https://health.clevelandclinic.org/5-ways-you-can-fight-hay-fever/

https://www.allergyuk.org/about/latest-news/648-top-tips-for-managing-your-hay-fever

https://medicinetoday.com.au/2015/october/feature-article/hay-fever-%E2%80%93-underappreciated-and-chronic-disease

*Photo by Jason Long on Unsplash