A few days ago I found myself waking up at 4 am and being unable to fall back to sleep. The night was filled with vivid dreams, full of grief. I woke with thoughts about my parents being close to passing. I also had thoughts of children and sadness that I was not a mother. My morning consisted of cloudy vision, a headache. craving for sweets, continued thoughts of all the negative that was happening and to come. I scrolled through instagram reels of children and cried. I messaged a friend and told him all the wrongs that were happening. I ignored emails, phone calls and messages. My speaking voice was short and abrupt in answering questions and speaking to others. I replayed different scenarios in my mind with friends and family, envisioning times they hurt me and having pretend dialogues expressing this. My body felt weaker. My vision was blurry, and I was inward for most of the day. The night came with difficulty falling asleep. And again, when I finally fell asleep, I woke a few times with the same kind of dreams and my state was similar as the previous day.
I lived in an extreme version of the state I was experiencing for many years, so it all felt very normal and natural. In fact, even though it was a darker version of who I had worked to become, I welcomed it. There was a comfort in the negativity. I also had every reason to feel as I did. Circumstances in my life were not perfect, and there was truth to all I felt. But, I also knew that this was a dramatic shift from a few days before. Since retraining I had not really felt much sadness, was able to regulate, and lived in the present more than the past. I knew I was seeing the world through a lens I was no longer using, but gave myself grace because “I am allowed to feel negative emotions. ”
Three days into this shift I became very, very weak, and was constantly urinating. I knew something was wrong and went to a clinic for a urine test. Sure enough, I had a urinary tract infection. I began to explore further what happens in the brain to cause the mood shift I had experienced, and how this tied into the extreme mood shifts during my chronic illnesses and psychiatric diagnosis. I had the same burning in my brain I had felt during my chronic illnesses and knew this as a release of cytokines to fight the infection. I also knew that stress released inflammation. I wanted to understand if it was known how trauma from childhood fit in with all of this. I knew that it was inflammation disrupting normal functioning that led to my psychiatric diagnosis and chronic illnesses by my own observations. But, I didn’t really know if this was something science had linked together.
Not surprisingly, it is.
A traumatic childhood causes inflammation and an overactivation of the immune system. Overactivation of the immune system has been linked to psychiatric disorders including schizophrenia, bipolar, anxiety. Elevated levels of hsCRP was linked to sexual abuse, separation trauma, verbal abuse and physical abuse. Stress (trauma) causes the release of inflammation to attack the invader that is threatening , and when the invader is on the outside, ends up attacking the body.
Growing up I had experienced trauma and by adolescence I exhibited symptoms like depression, intrusive thoughts, OCD, anxiety, fainting, nightmares, headaches, stomach issues, some food sensitivities, weakness, and anemia. One of my first diagnosis ws graves disease, my body had begun to attack itself in search of the “threat.” In my early twenties, I would complain of chest pain to my doctors. Often, I could not breathe and had terrible pain. She would test my heart with an echocardiogram and always found that everything was fine. Around the third time I went to her for this, she had the office staff tell me she would no longer see me, because there was nothing wrong. About a year later after going to a different doctor I was given the diagnosis of graves disease and told I could have a heart attack if I continued without treatment. Treatment meant destroying my thyroid, after it had become too advanced. Situations such as this of course further traumatized me. I had learned that I was not worth hearing in childhood and seemed to be replaying that part.
Of course as I got older, and left vulnerable due to an inability to regulate, traumatic events (physical and emotional) and increased stress that pushed my body and brain beyond its threshold, I developed more extreme symptoms and diagnosis as I have talked about throughout this blog. I received many diagnosis and was given medications to help the symptoms. Medication like klonopin led to further stress as I developed tolerance, paradoxical effects and even withdrawal when taking it once a day without knowing it. Therapy helped to make me a bit more self aware, but it also cemented in the idea that I was flawed and I would only be able to manage my symptoms. These symptoms were no longer just bouts of depression and anxiety, I was in a high inflammatory state and my body and brain were suffering. No one ever tied in my psychiatric diagnosis to my family life or my physical symptoms, that I complained of a lot. In fact, therapists often wrote it in their notes that I was preoccupied with physical symptoms. Again, I was not heard and the retraumatization fueled. I also spent many years talking of the same events over and over, cementing the stories deeper and deeper into my nervous system.
It would make sense that I was always at a doctor trying to get relief. Decades of inflammation dysregulating the nervous system, interrupting the normal functioning of hormones and neurotransmitters, manifested in an array of physical and psychiatric illnesses that compounded stress and therefore the inflammation. For example, I was already in a highly dysregulated state when I began to react to environments. My mood became dramatically worse each time I entered an environment that my nervous system registered as a threat. I could feel the stress response being activated and inflammation running through my brain and body. Upon entering and with the inflammatory response I would see a dramatic change in my thoughts. The activating of my immune system seemed to need thoughts to justify the reaction, subconsciously. This was labeled chronic inflammatory response syndrome.
I was already in a dysregulated state when I began reacting to foods, and a small piece of avocado could lead to a panic attack. This was labeled Mast Cell Activation Syndrome. And, I was already in a dysregulated state and full of inflammation when my period would come each month leading to more inflammation causing more suffering. This was labeled Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder. The list of physical illnesses was longer than this, and cost thousands each year to try to help. Until, I learned how to turn off the immune activation. The list of psychiatric diagnosis was just as long, until I learned to turn off the immune activation.
Chronic illness was just prolonged stress, manifestng in the body. By age 40 after decades of this prolonged stress, my body could take no more, and my symptoms became extreme. The chronic stress leading to illness does not have to be from childhood , it can be a shock trauma. One big event can lead to dysregulation and dysregulation, as found in war veterans returning with PTSD and disabilities. In my experience however, people misunderstand the word trauma. Stephen Porges describes trauma as a chronic separation of connectedness. Once traumatized the individual is not able to access social engagement and can get stuck in the other polyvagal states.
My activation and dysregulation may have started before birth. My grandmother talks about how much I cried as a newborn. I was in a state of dysregulation from the womb possible due to my own mothers anxiety.
High levels of anxiety, during pregnancy, have adverse effect on mother and baby (3, 9, 10). Anxiety, in early pregnancy, results in loss of fetus and in the second and the third trimester leads to a decrease in birth weight and increased activity of the Hypothalamus – Hypophysis–Adrenal axis (3, 4). It causes a change in steroidogenes, destruction of social behavior and fertility rate in adulthood. Also anxiety during pregnancy is accompanied by emotional problems, hyperactivity disorder, decentralization and disturbance in cognitive development of children (4, 1)
Without a supportive environment this fear and dysregulation continued. How could I be connected when I was born afraid and dysregulated into an environment with a family who could not help me regulate?
While learning more about this, I found myself upset at the medical system that tried to medicate each of these symptoms, there was a different pill for each diagnosis. And after being even further hurt by these medications, the result was complete destruction. My question is why, if this is known, why not advise the patient to reduce this inflammatory response? Why not help patients turn off the overactive immune system and the genetic expressions being influenced? Why not teach ways to calm the autonomic nervous system which controls the immune system and inflammation? I do not mean to imply that all illnesses can be reversed, I only know that those I was experiencing can. Through consistent retraining practices to elicit positive neurotransmitters like dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin and endorphins, I was able to stop the inflammatory response. Inflammatory markers all decreased, and I began to meet my authentic self underneath all the gunk.
This afternoon , I felt the urinary tract infection begin to clear up, and I felt my nervous system shift back to calm, I was reminded of when I first began to shift out of my chronic states into these windows of calm. They were only moments at first, and I would quickly return to the fight or flight state activating the immune response. I was reminded of my first full days after retraining out of chronic states meeting my higher self, the self that was clear of inflammation, underneath all the “mud” and months of bliss I experienced as a result that I speak about here.
This higher self felt the same this afternoon, light, clear, vibrant, full of possibilities, hopeful , happy, confident and healthy. And I hope that all those suffering from labels meant to explain inflammation as a result of childhood trauma or even shock trauma later in life, can somehow come across this information and learn to turn off the activation. I also hope that the lack of adequate care from doctors and therapists, somehow improves because in my opinion the damage that has been done is huge.