Scared Sick – The Role of Childhood Trauma in Adult Disease

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I must confess I struggled to finish this book. It is filled with numbers and statistics that, while informative, do not account for the human side of each story and the countless variables that may contribute to the development of disease. It is also very gloomy – according to the authors, no matter what you do you will end up scarring your children for life. If like me you haven’t had children yet, you’ll be left with the feeling that you won’t be up to the task. And if like me you have one or more chronic illnesses, you’ll be told it’s all your mother’s fault. I know there were specific events in my life right after I was born that may have contributed to trauma and chronic stress and anxiety, which in turn may have turned my immune system against myself, but that’s likely just half the story. The way trauma, disease, abuse, attachment and relationships are depicted here is just bleak. There is not much room for successful interventions and outcomes.

The most interesting sections I found in this book was one on epigenetics, which led me to search for more on this topic (I purchase more books than I have time to read), and another one on EMDR. I did a session of EMDR at the beginning of the year and this was the first time I read about it in a book as one of the therapies for trauma. Still, this being the second of two books I purchased on PTSD, trauma and disease, I recommend the first one I read, The Body Remembers, as a much better option to understand the neurobiology of trauma and how trauma can be overcome.

Fickle memories and things I need to ask my therapist about

So my friend and I were having dinner and for some reason we started talking about weight. Weight has always been an issue for me, because I’ve always been thin and many people think it’s ok to taunt me about it. No one in my family is overweight, and we’re all those annoying people who eat everything and don’t put on extra pounds. We also tend to lose weight when we’re down or stressed out, unlike other people. Personally, I eat more when I’m anxious and stressed, but everything I eat is burned up by my nervous system.

Apparently though many people think I should conform to their vision of what I should look like, regardless of my genetics and the way my metabolism works. It doesn’t help that it is socially acceptable to come up to a thin person and say, “You’re so thin, did you enter a contest to disappear or something,” (I didn’t make this up, someone actually said it to me once), but if I remarked, “You’re so fat, did you enter a contest to become a whale or something,” then I would be a really mean person. The irony in all this is that I’m not really underweight according to the body mass calculators online. I’m just pear-shaped and people only tend to look at your upper half. 😀

Anyway, as my friend and I were talking, I remembered something rude a mutual friend had once said to me about my weight and mentioned that I was so upset that I didn’t have any reaction to the rude comment.

My friend said, “Oh but you did, I remember you answered in a very dry tone and in a very smart way. [Our mutual friend] was left speechless.”

And I said, “I don’t remember. I believe I froze. I was going through such a hard time at the time and was so sensitive to anything anyone would say to me that I just felt hurt, like I’d been punched breathless.” 

My friend smiled and said, “No, you didn’t freeze. Your voice became cold and you said something like, ‘If weight were easy to control there wouldn’t be an entire industry dedicated to it.’ I thought that was a very smart answer.”

I thought for a second and said, “That sounds like something I would say, yes.”

We proceeded to check if the rest of our memories matched. “Was it at that dinner party at our friend’s hostel?” “Was it in the summer?” “Were there our friends […]?” “Was it before dinner?” They did.

And as I kept thinking about it it slowly came back to me. But it brought up many questions. Why did I just keep in my memory that I felt deeply hurt and misunderstood? Why didn’t I remember that I actually managed to stand up for myself without being rude? Remembering that could have been a great resource in many situations afterwards. Knowing that I can defend myself could have boosted my self-confidence and made me trust myself more. Do I unconsciously want to play the victim? Do I unconsciously go on picking up clues that reinforce my ingrained belief that I’m not good enough and therefore I should feel sorry for myself?

I feel a little disturbed considering this. It’s definitely something I mustn’t forget to talk to my therapist about.