Posts Tagged ‘fibromyalgia’

Is there a connection between having an unhappy childhood and having a chronic illness as an adult?

Wednesday, October 31st, 2012

With very few exceptions, everyone I’ve talked to who has a chronic illness (and I’ve talked to LOTS of people who do) has wondered why they got it. I have too. Many of them believe what I do: that one of the main factors that caused their illness, was having an unhappy and often traumatic childhood that included not getting nearly enough love from their parents or caretakers.

I believe there is a strong connection between our childhoods and our chronic illnesses for several reasons. The first is that the majority of the people with chronic illnesses I’ve coached over the past 10 years have told me that their childhoods were emotionally traumatic and that they didn’t feel very loved by one or both parents.

One recent client, whom I’ll call Lillian, is a good example. Neither of her parents was emotionally there for her when she was growing up, especially her father. And she’s had cancer – not once, but twice. She was diagnosed with lymphoma was she was seven years old. It responded to treatment, but she never fully recovered her health.

Then, 10 years ago, when she was 38, Lillian was diagnosed with leukemia. She had to undergo a bone marrow transplant. That cured the leukemia, but her body, including her immune system, were severely damaged and she hasn’t felt well or had what she considers to be a good day since. Is is just a coincidence that she didn’t get the love she needed (and still longs for) and that she has had cancer twice. I sure don’t think so.

The second reason I believe in that strong connection is because researchers have been finding more and more evidence that people who’ve had unhappy or stressful childhoods are much more likely to be diagnosed with chronic illnesses (and also chronic pain) as adults. The illnesses include fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and many others.

The third reason I believe in the connection between an unhappy childhood and developing a chronic illness is my own experience. As I’ve written elsewhere, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease when I was 47. I feel strongly that having an unhappy childhood was one of two main causes (for reasons I won’t go into here, I believe that the other main cause was my many mercury-amalgam fillings).

There is one more reason I think there is a connection between having an unhappy childhood and developing a chronic illness. It comes partly from what I have learned and understood about  my clients, but more than that it comes from my own life. As a child, I developed a serious chronic illness that resembled polio, but wasn’t. I eventually recovered from it.

In a therapy session many years later, I had the profound but completely unexpected realization that I had deliberately but subconsciously acquired the illness to get  attention and love from my parents that I desperately wanted and needed, but wasn’t getting.

I wish I knew and could explain how I acquired the illness, but I don’t and can’t. But more than enough corroborating evidence came along with the realization to convince me that, beyond a reasonable doubt, it was true.

If, after reading what I’ve written, you suspect that you may have unconsciously decided to acquire a serious chronic illness, please don’t blame or criticize yourself for having done so. If you did that, it was because, like me, you had an unmet need. What you needed and didn’t get then was lots of compassion and understanding, and what you need and deserve now is lots of compassion and understanding. Please give them to yourself.

You also need lots of compassion and understanding if you had an unhappy childhood and there is a connection between it and the chronic illness you have now. Please give them to yourself – as much as you possibly can. Doing so helps bring about physical and emotional healing.

What You Do Know Can Hurt You

Tuesday, June 1st, 2010

Before I tell you why what you know can hurt you, I want to explain why I chose the title that I did for this post. It’s a variation of the proverb “What you don’t know can’t hurt you,” which has been around for over 400 years. Many people have changed the proverb to “What you don’t know can hurt you” as a headline for articles about many dangerous or harmful substances, such as second hand smoke and monosodium glutamate (MSG). I’m using it because I want to talk about things we “know” that prevent us from seeing or seeking out solutions to our problems or improvements in our lives.

I recently coached a woman with fibromyalgia and several other chronic illnesses and conditions. Nancy, as I’ll call her, went through a divorce, lost her home to foreclosure, and now lives with some relatives who are hostile to her. They either criticize or fight with her much of the time. And because the apartment is small, she has to share a small bedroom with one of them..

Nancy “knows” that no improvement is possible in her living situation. She “knows” it because she can’t work and her disability income is much too small for her to be able to afford an apartment or even a room.

Clearly Nancy’s living situation is very difficult. I have lots of compassion for her. However, it’s very possible that there is a solution to her problems that she will never see or find out about because she is convinced that none exist. I would like to see her acknowledge that she think that no improvement in her situation is possible, and then tell herself, “I wonder if there is a solution that I’m not aware of.” I don’t know if she would find one if she did that, but I do know beyond a shadow of a doubt that miracles do happen, and they happen much more often to people who look for them and who are open to them.

My next Coaching/Support Group for People with Chronic Illnesses will start this coming Thursday, June 3rd. For more information, go to Coaching/Support Group information.

Highly recommended book: Cure Unknown: Inside the Lyme Epidemic

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

I send out bi-weekly tips for living well with a chronic illness to people who sign up for my free report, and for one of my October tips I wrote about a former client who had chronic fatigue syndrome. A woman wrote back to ask me to let my former client know about the book Cure Unknown: Inside the Lyme Epidemic by Pamela Weintraub. I did that and I also got the book myself, and have just finished reading it.

In the book, the author recounts her family’s harrowing ordeal with Lyme disease that began after their 1993 move from New York City to a nice house next to the woods about 50 miles away.

I highly recommend this book, especially if you have or know someone who has Lyme disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, lupus, Parkinson’s disease, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease). The author makes a very convincing case that Lyme and other tick-born diseases are often misdiagnosed as one of those other illnesses.

The following excerpt was especially eye-opening for me: “Even the campus green at Brown University, surrounded by city streets near downtown Providence, had Lyme ticks: One friend sitting on the green had pulled a tick from her leg only to find, a short time later, an erythema migrans* in that very spot. She later tested positive for Lyme disease.”

I have a friend who was diagnosed with lupus not long after she attended Brown about 25 years ago, so I couldn’t help but wonder when I read those two sentences if my friend’s lupus and other health problems are actually due to Lyme disease. I sent my friend an email with a brief summary of the book. If she decides to be tested for Lyme, I will write about her diagnosis, treatments, and results in future posts.

As the author describes the devastating symptoms, the progress, and the setbacks she, her husband, and their two sons experienced from Lyme and other tick-born illnesses, she makes it strikingly clear how serious and complex these diseases are. But what made the ordeal many times worse for them and countless others was the turf wars that continue to rage within the medical community. They pitted doctor against doctor and doctors against government agencies, and resulted in some doctors whom patients felt were the only ones treating their illness effectively either stopping treating Lyme patients or risking losing their medical licenses.

The author was able to cure her Lyme disease, and her husband eventually recovered and stayed relatively well as long as he continued to take his medication. At the time Weintraub completed the book, one of her sons had recovered, been re-infected, and had recovered again, and the other was finally regaining his health after being gravely ill. She had much more to say, but I don’t want to spoil the ending for you.

* Erythema migrans is the name given to the rash, frequently target like, that often appears after a person is bitten by an infected tick.

Acknowledging That Things Suck Can be a Good Thing

Saturday, April 18th, 2009

A while back, I had a session with a woman–I’ll call her Susan–who was dealing with some extremely hard challenges. To begin with, she’d had arthritis her whole adult life, and had been diagnosed with fibromyalgia (a painful and often debilitating chronic illness) six years earlier. On top of that, her marriage was rocky, money was tight, and her relationship with the owner of the small company she worked for was very strained. She said she was depressed and exhausted.

When Susan told me her story, it sounded to me like she was fighting a war. I didn’t try to minimize the difficulties she faced. I told her that I completely understood why she felt depressed and exhausted.

You might think that telling her how bad her life was would make her even more depressed. It didn’t. Instead it did the opposite. When she fully let in the circumstances of her life, she stopped feeling bad about feeling bad – and a space opened up to look at steps she could start taking to make her life better. By the end of our call, Susan told me she couldn’t remember the last time she had felt so hopeful. Susan wasn’t able to afford my coaching. But she did take steps to improve her life. Acknowledging that things suck really can be a good thing.