Growing up in a chaotic and unpredictable home environment made me feel constantly anxious—and often scared. Even though my mother and I were very close, and my basic needs were always met, she worked almost around the clock to make ends meet and I was often left to fend for myself.
As a kid, I was sick a lot. Initially, I mostly had persistent gastrointestinal issues, but then I developed other problems too, and became a frequent flyer at the emergency room. The doctors suspected that my many illnesses were probably physical manifestations of the traumatic stress I was experiencing.
Like so many other children who have to deal with traumatic experiences, I coped as well as I could and tried my best to power through my fears as I grew up. When I got a little older, I seemed to be sick less often as I became braver in the world.
But then… Fast forward to my mid-twenties…
I noticed I hadn’t been feeling right, was unexpectedly losing weight, and had developed a slight tremor in my hands. Three days after going to the doctor to get my symptoms checked out, I got the diagnosis: thyroid cancer.
Though the road to recovery was very rough, I eventually got through it and the depression that threatened to take my life. In time, I was also able to embark on a journey to heal from my traumatic past.
How Adverse Childhood Experiences Impact Health and Wellness
Over the years, as I have learned more and more about the impact and consequences of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) on mental and physical health, it is no surprise that, not only was I sick all the time as a child, but that I developed more serious health problems as I got older.
In a nutshell, ACEs refer to these traumatic childhood experiences:
- Emotional, physical, or sexual abuse
- Emotional or physical neglect (i.e., a disengaged mother/caretaker and/or lacking basic necessities like food and clothing)
- Mental illness, substance abuse, or suicidal behavior in the household
- Household member(s) being incarcerated
(FYI: You can find an ACE quiz online if you’re interested in identifying your ACE score)
Mental and Physical Illness from ACEs
When children grow up with persistent chaos and trauma, they are living in a state of chronic stress, which causes their fight-or-flight system to be overactive. When this happens, the brain and body are flooded with stress hormones, and because of how trauma affects the nervous, metabolic, and immune systems, it can wreak havoc on a person’s health.When children grow up with persistent chaos and trauma, they are living in a state of chronic stress, which causes their fight-or-flight system to be overactive and can wreak havoc on their health. Click To Tweet
Once I understood this, it made total sense to me. I was always so stressed out until I came to terms with my past. Fortunately, I became very invested in natural ways to stay healthy and was vigilant about my diet, exercise, and stress management. However, I continued to learn more about the long-term consequences of ACEs and the numerous ways they can impact a person’s emotional and physical health.
Not surprisingly, many people who endure childhood trauma are at risk for mental health problems such as:
Because of these consequences, trauma survivors—especially people without positive role models or adequate emotional support—are vulnerable to engaging in unhealthy coping mechanisms like smoking, overeating, and using drugs or alcohol, which (aside from addiction) can lead to serious and long-term physical health problems, including:
If any of this applies to you or to someone you care about, I want you to know that treatment is available and can make all the difference in the world. I understand that it isn’t always easy, but it is possible—and worth it.
I believe that if I hadn’t taken the path that I did to get the help I needed to heal from my trauma and change my lifestyle habits to become physically healthier, there’s no way I could be where I am today.
It really is possible to get better, and I encourage you to reach out for the help you need so you can begin the journey to heal the wounds of your past, improve your health, and start living the life you want.
To learn more about how I overcame my past trauma, order my recent memoir, The Relentless Courage of a Scared Child: How Persistence, Grit, and Faith Created a Reluctant Healer.
If you’re struggling with mental health issues and need professional help, Amen Clinics is here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, remote clinical evaluations, and video therapy for adults, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.