This month marks Tumbling the Stone’s 2nd anniversary. In the first year of my chronic illness blog I introduced my theories about The Chronic Illness Model and the science showing how trauma is an important and unrecognized risk factor for the development of chronic disease. As such, it also offers new options for working with symptoms. I’ve been filling out more details about the model in the past year as well as sharing how I work with my symptoms from a trauma perspective.
Chronic Illness Blog Year 2
Last May I made plans for the year and have been successful in manifesting a number of them. I talked about my overarching goals for my chronic illness blog here, here, and here as I played around with the layout of the menu headers at the top of the page. These headers turn out to be part of a process of ongoing evolution, like musical chairs, with new names and configurations as I write new posts over time.
Free eBook: The Chronic Illness and Trauma Connection
One of the more exhilarating achievements of the year is that
I’m getting close to completing my ebook I completed my ebook. I wrote it to help you assess if trauma has affected your risk, in which case healing from trauma may offer potent new tools for working with, living with and improving your symptoms. I also wrote it to give you a bigger context for understanding your symptoms and because it might help you make sense of your chronic illness, your triggers and flares, your sensitivity to stress as well as difficult circumstances you may have experienced.
It is the latest synthesis of my theories and the research.
I look forward to your comments, feedback, and questions.
You can download my free ebook here
Other Chronic Illness Blog Updates
In the past year I’ve added more details about chronic diseases with a look at the role of trauma in type 1 diabetes and a post on causes of rheumatoid arthritis/disease (RA / RD) for rheumatoid awareness day. These can be found under the menu header “Chronic Illness.”
And I started telling you my chronic fatigue story. I gave it a home under the new header “My Story,” along with posts about my daily life with chronic illness, working with symptoms and a first post about how David and I accommodate for my symptoms of chronic fatigue while finding ways to celebrate love and life just as it is.
In December I started a new post series called “The Love, The News and The Antidote,” in which I share links that I love – to news and science, fun, and breakthroughs – along with giving you an occasional post that is less than 2000 words long :-).
In January this year I started writing about the very gradual onset of my chronic fatigue. And how I slowly began to learn about the importance of things I had never quite understood before – such as the value of “no” and the support that comes from slowing down. I loved the space that came from reducing the stress in my life and what it was like paring down to work part-time.
I’ve described what it was like to find my life coming more into focus with things that felt meaningful to me in the practice of medicine. One of these was how good it felt when I could truly listen to my patients. As I came to acknowledge the incredible power of listening – in part because of my own experiences of feeling listened to in the most exquisite of ways in a supportive new kind of therapy – I started hearing more of what my own voice was trying to say. It lead me to follow my heart and leave the practice of medicine.
My health didn’t improve with any of these changes, however, and continued to worsen. In the coming year I’ll tell you about the next steps I took in my chronic illness journey, including the Aha! moment when I first saw the potential link between trauma and chronic illness. I’ll share how it started me on an empowering, fulfilling and different kind of journey.
Updates About My Health
My health has been slowly improving from my worst point when I was essentially bed-ridden for almost a year in 2009-2010 with severe fatigue. I am deeply encouraged by my gradual improvements in energy levels even as I continue to be surprised by how slowly this process of healing, to whatever extent it will take me, is unfolding. I am also regularly humbled by the level of nuance and the breadth of the links I keep discovering between my symptoms, my flares, and different types of subtle trauma I’ve had in my life. I saw many of these links in the foodie memoirs I was captivated by last year and I suspect this pattern is common for many of us who are living with chronic illnesses of all kinds.
Although I still rarely make plans with friends or colleagues and don’t go out much, I can now occasionally run errands. I can also sometimes write a little more for my chronic illness blog, and can often talk on the phone for significant periods before tiring. I also often feel a little more rested in the mornings and after taking my daily nap, and I only rarely need to lie down at other times of the day.
In the past few months I have found that I can sometimes recover from a dip in my energy levels – such as when I’m feeling extra tired after writing a lot – by taking my walk. These walks have never recharged me in this way before and it’s been years – 10 years? more? – since I’ve tried to be active when I’ve gotten overtired.
For a person with chronic fatigue who was once bedridden, who needed to rest after taking a shower and who still finds it tiring to blow dry my hair, this is huge. It’s also a shift from the most classic symptom of CFS, which is one of exercise intolerance.
Even though my energy levels have been gradually improving my symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) have worsened in recent years. As a result I dove back into a cycle of more intensive trauma-oriented therapy last summer.
I started with art therapy after finding myself drawn to making containers with boxes and fabric, paper mache and paint. I found unexpected pleasure in the process and it has taken on a life of its own. The theme that seems to be reappearing, over and over again, appears to relate to experiences in the womb. There’s a remarkable amount of research in this field, which I had never heard of when I was a physician, and I look forward to telling you more about it. I shared some of the paintings I created in my therapy sessions on my chronic illness blog FB page and will tell you more about the insights as they become more clear.
Because of the severity of my GI symptoms I also added sensorimotor psychotherapy last fall to work more directly with the effects of early childhood relationships (see my list of trauma therapies for working with different types of trauma). I had occasional small shifts after some of my sessions, which resulted in more movement for a day or three. I also experienced periods of improved energy in between exacerbations and flare-ups (Here’s a June 2016 update on the results of my latest work with my symptoms of IBS).
Despite a number of months with the two new forms of therapy that seemed to uncover and heal old wounds with each session, I didn’t experience any significant or lasting changes in gut function. So in March I stopped my GAPS diet, which I had been on for a little over 2 years without improvement in gut symptoms (It was similar to the autoimmune paleo diet although even more restricted due to food intolerances). I have since started another way of eating. My symptoms of constipation appear to be finally shifting towards more ease and motility and I’ll tell you more once I see how this new process evolves.
Like many of you who follow my chronic illness blog I’ve been curious about how trauma influences the development of chronic illness. I’ve also wondered how healing the unresolved effects of trauma might help to decrease or even resolve symptoms of chronic illness. I wrote about the likely role of epigenetics in the first year of my chronic illness blog, which refers to the effects of molecules that attach to the surfaces of our genes. They determine whether genes are made highly active or quiescent and when genes get turned on or off.
A few months ago I introduced another mechanism known as brain plasticity, which is about the fact that our brains, physiologies, nerves and nerve pathways are shaped and modified by life experiences. These include events that happen in prenatal life, in childhood and into adulthood. They also include life events such as trauma. But our brains and nervous system patterns are also shaped by love, by experiences of support, and by other pleasurable, resourcing or empowering events, including stresses that we successfully navigate and learn from.
Our experiences make some nerve pathways stronger while pruning away others. This is why healing from the effects of unresolved trauma can be a powerful tool for working with the symptoms of chronic illness.
Tips and Tools
In the first year of my chronic illness blog I described 10 tools for working with trauma and chronic illness that I value and use in my own life. These include treatment approaches that address different types of trauma as well as the role of dietary changes, activities that are resourcing, and meditation. I also talked about some of my own challenges with diet and meditation, which are common for many of us who are living with chronic disease.
In the second year I’ve written more about these tools with a look at how activities that are pleasurable are not frivolous but actually support the healthy functioning of our nervous systems. Acting out – which can be a lot of fun and which often wants to emerge in simple, underestimated and surprising ways – is another means of facilitating healing from trauma and for reducing symptoms.
Maintaining Self Compassion
Although I still have days where I get impatient with my process of healing, the experience is revealing remarkably detailed layers of complexity and richness that link trauma and chronic illness.
When I take a step back to look at it all from a big perspective I see more clearly how it seems quite natural that it might take time. This is in part, I believe, because the process that leads to chronic illness develops over decades (I give you more detail in my ebook and will write more about it in a future post).
Standing back and writing on my chronic illness blog helps me to remember that I am forging a new path. A journey into unknown territory that also comes with excitement, anticipation and curiosity. And looking at the big picture helps me to keep coming back to my heart and to trusting my gut. To finding the compassion I would have if my body was a child with vulnerabilities and limitations, yet a little one who is whole and lovable just as she is. I keep whispering into my ear to cut her a little slack and to be gentle with her.
And to keep listening to what she has to say.
We are all doing our best on this journey for which there are no rule books or guidelines or clearly defined paths for improvement or recovery. For which there is no right way to do things.
May we all continue to remember that this is a challenging journey. For anyone.
And that there is no judgment. No blame. And no shame in being sick.
I leave off today wishing you gentleness and compassion for your tender, hard working, earnest, and lovable selves.