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Childhood Trauma, Complex PTSD, and how it is connected to autoimmune diseases and chronic illness

There is a distinct connection between the mind and the body. I find it most fascinating how childhood trauma creates an inflammatory response, specifically, the autoimmune response. Wait, what? That was my first reaction when I started learning more about how the two were not just related, but a cause and effect. Like you, I had trouble believing this, so what do I do when I have trouble believing something? I go down this research rabbit hole and read every credible source that I trust to find answers. I expected to find confirmation that this was just nonsense and that autoimmune diseases were really what I was told all along, which is something that is inherited from our family and unfortunately was passed down to us.

Well, in a way, I guess that is right. Autoimmune diseases can be "passed down" to us, but not for reasons I once believed. Autoimmune diseases are passed down through childhood trauma, which that trauma can actually alter our DNA. Like some of you, I didn't really pay attention much in science class, but this didn't seem right that your DNA can be altered after you were born. Well, not only can it be altered, but believe it or not, we weren't "born with" these autoimmune diseases, we probably weren't even diagnosed with an autoimmune disease until adulthood.

Before we proceed, What is an Autoimmune Disease?

An autoimmune disease is one of the 80 (or more) different inflammatory disorders that affect more than 50 million people in the United States. When someone has an autoimmune disease they produce antibodies that attack their own tissue. Some of the most common autoimmune diseases are rheumatoid arthritis (this was the most interesting to me), type 1 diabetes, celiac disease, psoriasis, hashimoto's thyroiditis, crohn's disease, grave's disease, lupus, multiple sclerosis, ulcerative colitis, and vasculitis.

The most common symptoms of nearly all these autoimmune diseases are fatigue, joint and/or muscle pain, muscle soreness, numbness, weakness, changes in weight, changes in bowel movements, abdominal pain, and skin rashes.

Have you been diagnosed with one of these autoimmune diseases? Than keep reading to find out more about the science behind these diseases.

How is childhood trauma and Autoimmune related?

The CDC has actually been conducting research on how childhood trauma and autoimmune diseases are related for decades. Each study that the CDC has conducted all had the same results, that childhood trauma leads to autoimmune diseases later on in life. In the book "The Body Keeps the Score" by Bessel van der Kolk, one of the world's most famous expert on childhood trauma, mentions many of these studies that the CDC has conducted over the last several decades.

Why isn't this something that we have heard of then? Well for one, it would be damaging to the pharmaceutical companies and our economy if there was more awareness around this subject. For two, it would be a gigantic feat to try and address the mental health crisis in this world, prevent childhood trauma from even happening, and it just isn't something that most people or companies would want to take on. Where would someone even begin? Well, I am beginning with this blog and a vision to make a large impact to do my part to stop the cycle of childhood trauma.

Back to childhood trauma and autoimmune diseases. So how are the two related? Research has found that people with an ACE (adverse childhood trauma) score of 2 or more they had a 70-100% increased risk of developing an autoimmune disease in adulthood. Individuals that had an ACE score below 2, well they don't have any autoimmune diseases. There are other factors that I won't get into with this blog which consist of diet and the makeup of the bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract, exposure to toxins, and other factors that can make a person more susceptible to autoimmune diseases. However, those additional factors are always combined with an ACE score of 2 or more in all the research that I have read up until this point.

A Personal Note

At the age of 24, I was diagnosed with Hashimoto's, an autoimmune thyroid disease. I also have an ACE score of 2 or more and at the time I was diagnosed I weighed approximately 130lbs. After being diagnosed, I admit, I ate my feelings often, part of self-pity, and another part of just having the "love of my life" break up with me at the time.

I truly believe that the sequence of events is what led to my early diagnosis of Hashimoto's. The short timeline went something like this in a very short time of less than a year:

  1. All new management at my job

  2. New managers mistreated me for being gay (sexual orientation discrimination was legal until June 30th, 2020)

  3. Doctor prescribed me Xanax for my anxiety

  4. I didn't like being on pills and started looking for a new job

  5. Gave my notice at my job

  6. Started a new job 2 weeks later

  7. My girlfriends dad is diagnosed with cancer

  8. Another doctor said I would likely not be able to have biological children (due to another autoimmune disease, endometriosis)

  9. Girlfriend breaks up with me

  10. I move in to my own apartment

  11. My niece passed away from cancer

  12. My new job is so much stress and I hate it

  13. A chocolate cyst ruptures while I am at my stressful job

  14. I have surgery to remove endometriosis

  15. I have a horrifying experience during that surgery and can hear everything while under anesthesia (What I could hear sounded like I was sexually assaulted....but I suppress that until 2021)

  16. I seek counseling to help with the stress

  17. I leave my job (the new job I started not long before that)

  18. I jump in to a new relationship when I obviously wasn't in the best place

  19. I have horrible hyperglycemic attacks where my blood sugar drops in to the 50s despite eating small meals throughout the day

  20. I am diagnosed with Hashimoto's

Wow, even typing that all out shocks me that those 20 major events were in such a short period of time! No wonder the poem that I wrote that correlates with this blog post is called "Survival"! If you are ever doubting yourself, just write out a timeline like I did above, then pat yourself on the back for surviving. YOU ARE STRONG! YOU ARE A SURVIVOR!

Today, I do not have Hashimoto's. I am now starting my second year of not taking any thyroid medication and my thyroid numbers are beautiful. What did I do? I addressed the trauma, I acknowledged my trauma, I became vegetarian (not saying this is necessary to overcome this), I am very mindful about what I eat, I meditate, and I practice self-care. I am not 100% sure if it was just one of these things or all of these things that contributed to overcoming this autoimmune disease, but I can tell you that listening to your body goes a long way.