What we can learn from the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) Study.
By Anne-Marie Taylor
When we get sick with a chronic condition or an illness or experience chronic pain, we don’t often consider how trauma or adverse experiences in childhood could have contributed. Well, it is not usually our go to, and it is not usually our GPs or specialists go to either.
In my recovery from post-viral chronic fatigue over a seven-year period from 2010 to 2017 the bio-medical model did not have much support and help for me. My blood tests were normal, I didn’t have any comorbidities and there were no medications that could be prescribed. I attended a Clinic for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome for a period which focused on pacing, CBT psychology sessions and moderate exercise but I can’t say it made that much of a difference and at no time in my engagement did anyone ever talk or ask about trauma.
“at no time in my engagement did anyone ever talk about trauma.”
We often also only associate trauma with mental illness, for example we think of PTSD, depression, anxiety and BPD being connected to past trauma and life events. However, even with a recognition of this connection many mental health services still don’t screen or ask you about your ACEs.
When we think about trauma in childhood, we have only just begun considering the physical implications in the last ten to fifteen years as the research on trauma and its impacts, as well as treatment has boomed and people started talking trauma and ACEs in TED Talks.
I can’t actually remember how or exactly when I stumbled upon the book Childhood Disrupted How your Biography Becomes Your Biology, and How You Can Heal by Donna Jackson Nakazawa, but it was a light bulb moment where I started to piece together how adverse childhood experiences and trauma in childhood and adolescence had resulted in me finding myself with chronic fatigue as an adult.
In fact, as I found out experiencing adverse events and circumstances in childhood increases your chances of having chronic fatigue syndrome as an adult by six times.
When I connected the dots, I really found out firsthand that knowledge is power. With the surge in new research and treatments for the impacts of trauma and working with the nervous system I became hopeful that I could work to heal the impacts of trauma while also work on healing from chronic fatigue.
At first connecting ill health in adulthood with childhood adverse events and trauma may feel overwhelming. It may feel like you are living a life sentence, a common experience people with PTSD and chronic mental and physical health conditions have had. However, what has now become clearer is that it doesn’t have to be.
Over a number of years, I worked on healing from chronic fatigue via working with the impact of ACEs and trauma on my nervous system and I went on to be well enough to have my daughter in 2018. I now no longer think of myself as someone who is ill, in fact, I have been able to reframe my experience of illness and feel better for it.
I have also been able to go on and use my insider knowledge of living with chronic illness as well as my training in Narrative Therapy and mindfulness to support others with chronic mental health and physical conditions in my role as a counsellor.
To read more about this topic I suggest starting with Childhood Disrupted: How your biography becomes your biology and how you can heal by Donna Jackson Nakazawa
For more about ACEs go to: