'Against all odds' is a phrase I can too easily relate.
"Wow, I am still here...despite a ton of adversity." There are many factors that lay a foundation for disease--it is rarely just one. In my case, I had many knockouts, starting in childhood. Any one of the knockouts had the potential to do a lot of damage to my physical and emotional body. Therefore, the cumulative blows placed me at a much greater risk for disease and made the act of recovery much more difficult. I forged ahead, "against all odds." After I found my voice in my own healing and a fusion of approaches that represented my individual healing wheel, I didn't progressively worsen (a prediction of many physicians). My quality of life improved. Arriving at this point was not possible without honest reflection on my history. It was within my own history that I started to find solutions to my problems as well as an understanding of why I was so sick. It wasn't easy, but it was up to me to get to know "me." I had to be clear that this process wasn't about BLAMING--it was about me taking responsibility for my life and learning how to be an expert on me. It was an EMPOWERING PROCESS.
Life in the womb
The foundation for a disease process began before I was even born. Studies confirm that even while in the womb, an infant's nervous system, brain development, and immune system are impacted by the mother's response to her environment. After all, the infant begins to learn about the environment through his/her mother's perceptions and visceral responses. Therefore part of getting to know "me" meant acknowledging that before I was even born, I was exposed to stress and learned responses to the environment that began shaping the way my brain and body were programmed.
Trauma is damaging on many levels
There is no doubt in my mind that the stress in my environment hurt me in ways that were difficult to see on the surface. Instead these stressors silently burrowed and trapped themselves in my cells and psyche, gradually weakening my body. I learned at a young age to FEAR my environment, protect myself, hide my feelings, and to disconnect from my body. Fear feeds the stress response in the body and I marinated in stress hormones. These stress hormones were harmful to my immune system and my fight-or-flight response stole energy away from vital growth and development.
Casey's Explanatory Model for autoimmune disease
Mental Health symptoms
A natural result of trauma is to develop mental health symptoms. When it is not safe to express feelings and thoughts or to transition through normal developmental milestones, what else is the body going to do? It expresses these feelings through mental health symptoms: anxiety, depression, panic, obsessive thoughts, distressing images, low self-esteem, to name a few. I had all of these symptoms and many others.
My first year of life I was healthy but after year one, I suffered from an assortment of childhood illnesses that impacted all organs of my body. I had respiratory infections, severe food and environmental allergies, digestive issues, fatigue, rashes, and migraines. As I approached adolescence and my body changed, I was told I had polycystic ovarian syndrome. During my college years I suffered from interstitial cystitis, disabling gastrointestinal pains and bleeding, and a host of neurological symptoms. My symptoms were complex and all over the map and so were my diagnoses. Eventually, I was diagnosed with Crohn's disease, an autoimmune inflammatory bowel disease.
My environment was burdened with socioeconomic obstacles, many due to poverty, which impacted my health and immune system. Knowing how my environment influenced my health was an important step in healing. Cultivating a current environment that was nurturing and less survival oriented was essential.
- Mold illness
- Financial stress due to medical expenses
- Tragic loss of a pet companion
- High conflict familial relationships
Resiliency: There were strengths in my life that helped me overcome obstacles
I know I seem to be mentioning all of the barriers to healing. I am doing this to show that despite having everything appear to be "against" the healing process, even the most challenging cases are capable of turning around. If I was able to turn around the trajectory of my disease process and begin to heal, then I have no doubt anyone else struggling is also capable of healing.
The American Psychological Association defines Resilience as:
The process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress — such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems or workplace and financial stressors. It means "bouncing back" from difficult experiences (www.apa.org)
Despite adversity and barriers challenging health and well-being, everyone has strengths. These strengths or "assets" can provide protection from the "blows" of trauma and adversity--they help us "bounce back." In fact, adversity is not all bad. Adversity can cultivate strength and resiliency in all of us; when it is redirected in a positive way, it can enhance the ability to adapt, learn and make accurate attributions, and build confidence-- "I know that I can overcome obstacles and reach my goals."
In my life, I had assets that helped cultivate resiliency in me. Resiliency can be built, increased, or enhanced at any time in one's life. It is never too late.