Hello and welcome to A Fork In Time’s 3rd Guest Blog! One of my oldest and dearest friends has also been struck down by chronic autoimmune illnesses, and she shares her personal story here. Thank you for your bravery and honesty Kate, I know it will help people out there.
Roots and Branches: How Chronic Illness Can Follow Trauma
I’ve been thinking quite a bit about this guest blog and what I could possibly bring that would do justice to what Jen has created here.
What I’ve noticed as I looked over the site again just now is that my story is different in that there hasn’t really been a stereotypical health issue that has kicked off my CFS/ME. No virus or infection I can trace it back to and hold to blame for this bloody awful condition we share.
My chronic conditions are ME and Fibromyalgia – essentially I’m tired and I hurt…and in all likelihood the reason for them is somatisation.
A somatic disorder is a long-term (chronic) condition in which a person has physical symptoms that involve more than one part of the body, but no physical cause can be found. The symptoms are real but there is no physical cause.
So why does this happen?
Patients who have a somatisation disorder seem to experience pain or other symptoms in a way that increases the level of pain. Pain and worry create a cycle that is hard to break.
It’s more common in people who have an experience of trauma.
Like one in four females and one in 10 males, I was sexually abused as a child in the UK and in Ireland. There was more than one perpetrator, multiple incidences and I was groomed over a period of three years. The majority of it was perpetrated by employees of the Church and had been covered up by them when I attempted to report it in my early 20s.
At the time that the physical symptoms of my illnesses started to rear their head, I had been perusing a criminal case and had heard that a series of jurisdiction and financial issues meant that my case would not be taken to court. My ‘primary’ abuser would continue to hold his OBE.
I was 29 when I made my police report, determined not to carry this secret into my 30s. It meant telling family, and friends (there was potential for media attention and I didn’t want them to find out that way). Going over the details of the abuse time and time again was re-traumatising! When it happened all those years ago, I didn’t allow myself a reaction. I kept it all bottled up for the most part. So this time round, I really lived the whole experience. It was the hardest time of my life.
As a result of the abuse I developed depression, anxiety and a veritable cornucopia of unhealthy coping strategies (alcohol, recreational drug use, sex with unsuitable people), some of it I had worked through in therapy, but because my abusers held positions of authority, I could never tell any therapist the whole truth or they would have had to break my confidentiality. Keeping control of all of that took such a lot of energy!
So no surprise that when I didn’t have to hang on so tightly to the reins, there was a physical response from my body.
For me, the hardest part of recovering from abuse is not the actual events. Those are long gone, dissociated from my awareness a long time ago. What I’m left with now is mostly sadness, anger (though that isn’t so all-consuming any more) and a body that has had enough.
So now what?
Well…therapy helps! As a counsellor and trainee psychotherapist myself, I’m a huge advocate of investing in your mind. But just as importantly, it’s time to nurture my body. Take care of it, listen to it, feed it well, rest it, detox it. It’s taken a beating!
This illness is terrifying at times. There are moments when I worry that I’ll never be well again. But deep down I know that I and others in my position will recover. Because our bodies and minds are incredibly resilient. We have a 100% success rate when it comes to survival! Nothing we’ve ever encountered has ever been too much, even when we’ve thought it would be.
We’re survivors. We will be thrivers.
Not to get too BBC disclaimer on you, but if you’ve been affected by any of the issues raised in my blog post and want to have a chat, do feel free to get in touch. And if you’re a survivor of childhood abuse I recommend these two things:
http://www.napac.org.uk – NAPAC – (national association for people abused in childhood) they have a helpline, a database of therapists who will work at low cost or for free and run lots of support groups.
http://www.laurakkerr.com/2014/02/05/dear-survivor/ – an open letter to survivors of abuse written by trauma specialist Laura Kerr.