Abuse = PTSD = Stress on Physical Health

Trigger Warning: I’m in a particularly blunt mood, so here is a warning about topics that may trigger another survivor: PTSD, Sexual Abuse, Suicide, Disease.

One of the ghastly door prizes from childhood sexual assault (CSA) can be summed up into four little letters – PTSD. PTSD stands for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. While the abuse is horrific on its own, the long term struggle comes from the effects of PTSD. It’s like the nagging little monster that constantly undermines and holds you back through everything you do while you try to heal and deal with the trauma that happened.  There have been many times over the last 20 years where I was fully convinced that I would be fine and productive if PTSD wasn’t holding me back in some regard.

Mostly, I’ve overcome most of my triggers and mental spirals, but they will still sneak up on me. Most of the issues I have these days involve anxiety and stress over every single action, thought, and perceived slight I may have inflicted on someone. Here is an example of a trigger sneaking up on me. I’m sitting at a coffee shop just typing away and I hear someone talking to their kid about the movie The Lion King. Cool, it’s a great movie. Until the father says Nala, the name of the female cub. My brain goes from my normal functioning fast track of thoughts to being tackled by a abusive linebacker holding me down and shoving awful memories into my mind.

Photo by Milada Vigerova on Unsplash

The man who sexually abused me for almost 4 years called me Nala as a pet name when he was doing his nasty deeds. I proceed to spend the next fifteen minutes trying to fight off memories of abuse, enduring the trial, all the times I was called an attention seeking whore (I was 12 when we started court proceedings), and almost slitting my own throat in a hallway at my high school. Once I surface from the barrage of horror, I quietly pack everything up and go to my car. I’ve shut off all my emotions and most of my perception. Once I make it home, I’m stuck in a mindless fog anywhere for a few hours to the rest of the day. When these triggers don’t happen, I worry almost constantly that I will somehow trigger. In the last 5 years, I went from 3-4 triggering episodes a week to a single episode every couple of weeks, but that means that now I worry about it far more than I used to.

One of the issues of a constant state of high stress, is that it can have negative effects on your health. There are so many studies linking elevated stress (and PTSD specifically) to a decline in health. Here is an excerpt from The National Center for PTSD which is part of Veterans Affairs. They are one of the leading groups in research of PTSD because of the number of soldiers that return home with it.

Two recent studies found that reports of childhood abuse and neglect were related to an increase in physician diagnosed disorders including cancer, ischemic heart disease, and chronic lung disease. It is also likely that a relationship exists between the experience of a trauma and an increase in utilization of medical services for physical health problems. In addition, health care costs have been found to be higher among women who report a history of childhood abuse or neglect than among women who report no history of maltreatment as a child.

Since this a recently discovered association, there hasn’t been much done as far as studies for populations outside of veterans. According to The Refuge:

The lifetime risk for developing PTSD in US adults is 3.5%… The highest rates for PTSD occur among sexual assault survivors, military veterans who have been in combat, and survivors of genocide.

What studies have started to show is that PTSD has been associated with an increased reporting rate of several health issues:

  • Cardiovascular complications
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Musculoskeletal issues
  • Respiratory Problems
  • Sexual Dysfunction
  • Diabetes
  • Chronic Pain
  • Obesity
  • Increased Inflammation
  • Autoimmune Disorders

Which oddly is almost the same list of health issues that results from prolonged exposure to stress. To be fair, there will always be stress and a little stress is necessary to strive in life. But this stress is minimal, and should be about 3-4 on a 10 point scale. Operating at 7-10 for any length at time can be detrimental to health. Stress accomplishes this by causing your body to secrete too many hormones. In a burst, they can do wonders, but long term they tax your organs and body. This also leads to chronic conditions and chronic pain.

Just the anguish from the physical aspect of chronic health issues is enough to make people feel helpless. Something else that makes it worse?

Being blamed for being chronically sick.

Yes, you heard that correctly. I’ve been blamed for my hearing loss – my hearing loss started around age 2-3 and regardless of surgeries, remains. I’ve also been blamed for needing my tonsils removed at 19 after 15 years of repeated cases strep throat and tonsillitis. The phrase “you should take better care of yourself,” is only applicable if someone has a way to control what they are going through. Exercise, diet, and the sort only affects your health to a certain point. Genetics also has a lot to do with it.

Photo by Cristian Newman on Unsplash

People who have first and second hand knowledge of this are generally more aware of how upsetting a phrase like that can be. Someone who has never seen the effects of abuse may not even realize the connection. To a survivor, it feels like victim blaming.

Long rant aside, this is a friendly reminder that you never know what a person has suffered or survived through. This is a friendly reminder that victim blaming comes in all types of forms. This is also a friendly reminder to try and be more aware of what you say, because every time you speak you have the opportunity to show support or voice blame.

Survivors and victims are every where and we generally try to blend with normal not-traumatized people. Remember 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men are CSA survivors. Next time you are in line at a grocery store, at the DMV, or just in a group of people, count how many people could be a CSA survivor.

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