Abuse = PTSD = Stress on Physical Health

“You should take better care of yourself,” is only applicable if someone is in control. Exercise, diet, and the sort can only do so much. Genetics also has a lot to do with it. To a survivor, it feels like victim blaming.

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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.

Guest Post: Therapeutic Literature – Reading and Writing to tackle life’s major challenges

Writing to help you overcome your problems.

There are countless examples of authors who have used writing as a means of coming to terms with major psychological traumas in their lives. There are many well-known examples. Joyce Carol Oakes wrote of the loss of her husband in ‘A Widows Story’. John OatesTornado DownNicol, the navigator of the RAF aircraft shot down during the Gulf War, relived the horrors of his captivity in ‘Tornado Down’. We can find some examples even among the contributors to the Voice of Literature e-zine. Amanda Whitbeck writes about abuse and Keith Guernsey writes about his recovery from serious illness in ‘Fathers and Sons- Sports and Life’. But although writers claim to have benefited from these activities, is there any real scientific evidence that writing about your problems helps you overcome them?

The Theraputic Potential of Creative WritingThere is some. Gillie Bolton’s book ‘The Therapeutic Potential of Creative Writing’, a how-to book on writing for therapy, has received the support of medical practitioners. There are a number of counsellers in creative writing for therapeutic purposes and it is practised in many countries, including the USA, UK and France. The Metanoia Institute, in Bristol UK, offers M.Sc, courses in it, validated by Middlesex University. It seems, however, to be thought of more as an alternative treatment rather than part of the mainstream of psychological counselling.

 

Can readers benefit as well as writers?

Not everyone is motivated to write about the major crises in their lives, but is there any benefit to be gained by reading about the experiences of others? While ‘Bibliotherapy’ developed out of the introduction of hospital libraries after World War I, the use of reading as a help for people with troubles goes back to the middle ages. In modern times reading is used in various ways in the treatment of psychological disorders, and scientifically controlled trials have demonstrated its efficacy for various disorders such as bulimia, alcohol addiction, sexual dysfunction and insomnia.

What kind of books?

There are three kinds of book which are in common use for therapeutic purposes. There are memoirs or journals, where writers write about their personal situation. This allows the writer to come to terms directly with their fears and feelings, while readers who have had or are having similar experiences can get some relief when they see others in the same position. Then there are self-help books, which offer specific advice on how to deal with what is causing the difficulties. These are of use in cognitive treatments, where the sufferer is encouraged to face up directly to their problems and work out solutions logically.

On the other hand, fiction books, prose or poetry, work in a different way. They use an ‘Affective’ approach where the fact that the victims of the trauma are not real people allows the sufferer to approach their difficulties less directly, thus reducing the emotional involvement and allowing them to discover a path to recovery more easily.

How does it work?

Serious psychological problems ought to be dealt with using professional counsellors, who may employ the techniques of therapeutic writing and reading as part of a programme of treatment. But if you are just finding life a bit difficult at the moment, can you turn to reading and writing to help you get over it? There is plenty of anecdotal evidence to say it can help. It perhaps works as a kind of self-psychoanalysis, helping you bring the causes of your unhappiness and unease to the fore, accepting them and allowing you to move on.

Is it worth a try?

I think it is pretty well a truism in psychological healing that if you think it is working, it is. My advice, as a complete non-professional, is that if you find reading or writing makes you feel better about your problems, keep doing it.       

Contributed by  James Gault

 

James Gault

 

Links for James Gault:

Amazon Author Page; Facebook Author Page

James Gault Book Links:

Ogg; The Redemption of Anna Petrovna ; Teaching Tania