ACEs – The Link Between Trauma and Chronic Illnesses

I know what some of you are probably thinking but just stick with me here. When I told my therapist I was going to tackle mental health on my blog she asked me if I was going to do a post on ACEs. I had NO IDEA what this was, she gave me a brief overview and I was hooked. When searching the internet about this thing I hadn’t heard of the term before but I knew there were studies relating trauma to chronic illnesses so of course I decided to break it down. There are a lot of people who want the summary and don’t want to do all the internet sleuthing that gives me a sense of control over all the things I cannot actually control, after all, knowledge is power right?

ACE stands for Adverse Childhood Experiences. The breakdown of this includes but is not limited to:

  • Abuse: emotional, physical and sexual
  • Bullying, Violence of or by another child, sibling or adult
  • Homelessness
  • Households with substance abuse, mental illness, domestic abuse, incarceration, parental abandonment, divorce and loss
  • involvement in child welfare system
  • Medical trauma
  • Natural disasters/war
  • Neglect: emotional, physical or both
  • Racism, sexism or any other type of discrimination
  • Violence in the community

Now you are supposed to count up how many of these things happened to you (there are technically 10). Here’s the thing though, trauma is anything that is a perceived threat to a person’s physical survival, overwhelms the ability to cope, causing a lack of power or makes them feel isolated and alone.

Studies have been done regarding the link of childhood trauma and future health issues. Two thirds of people reported at least one traumatic event in their childhood. 40% reported two or more and 12.5% reported more than 4 traumatic events during their childhood. When the researchers looked further they were able to link traumatic childhood experiences to adult diseases including cancer, heart disease, chronic pain, autoimmune diseases, diabetes, bone fractures, depression, obesity, smoking, substance abuse, high blood pressure, and the more trauma experienced the sicker the person was.

When I count mine up, it’s 7, 7 of the 10 experiences I had as a child. Seven is A LOT. That is not even including the things I grew up in Southern California being told that terrified me and kept me in a constant state of anxiety about my safety and well being. It also does not count separations like in the abuse section there are three types listed, am I supposed to count 1 for each type I experienced, I didn’t. Now I wonder if I am inadvertently causing my children adverse experiences because I am sick. Before the guilt spiral starts I am going to move on to more research data.

Oh good, there’s hope. If you are a person who experienced one or more (or many) of these you can work with a mental health professional and there are techniques to work through this. Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing (EMDR) is one of them, it takes about 20 sessions and it desensitizes you to the memories so you are more like viewing it from a third person’s perspective and no longer have an emotional reaction to the memories. Somatic Experiencing, Advanced Integrative Therapy, EFT, Psych-K and Rapid Resolution Therapy (RRT). I actually had a RRT session with my therapist for my standard PTSD and it worked and it was amazing. I noticed a huge difference on the second day after the process. She did warn me that all my Complex PTSD may rise to the surface once it was resolved though.

Standard talk therapy can do more harm by re-traumatizing a person when discussing these childhood events though so you must have a person you trust who can help you address the issues with care in a safe environment.

Here is where removing the stigma comes into play again though. People who feel shame about getting help can get all sorts of illnesses, and autoimmune diseases from the trauma you try to bury deep, very deep down and then it’s not correlated. Lack of good, standard mental health care is an issue in the United States for sure, I can’t speak for other countries but I know how difficult it is to find a person you feel safe with and you can afford to see on a regular basis. My therapist originally didn’t take insurance so I paid for all my session out of pocket. Then she did take insurance but she was technically out of network and the insurance company wanted me to try the 100 people in network first. Uh, what the fuck? No, I had been seeing her for more than two years by that point and I sure as shit was not going to change who I talk to because she already knows all my issues.

ACEs can be worked through and if you are a parent and want to help your child who many be experiencing some of these life events, you can. There’s all sorts of websites that teach you how to make your kid resilient to the traumas. Provide a safe place for them to feel their emotions and discuss what’s bothering them. You may need to work hard at it though, I never told my parents any of my fears because I didn’t want to be a “bother” or seem weak. Kids pick up on more than you know so it takes intent to help, but it can be done.

 

https://www.acesconnection.com/g/resource-center/blog/parent-handouts

Essential Guide to Chronic Illness, Trauma and The Nervous System: Keys to Quelling the Volcano

https://wakeup-world.com/2017/07/25/the-unmistakable-link-between-unhealed-trauma-and-physical-illness/?platform=hootsuite

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