Complex Trauma, Autoimmune Disorders, and Psychosomatic Illness

Updated: 4 days ago

Lately I can’t escape the fact that young folks all around me are afflicted with the same taxing health problems — acid reflux, insomnia, digestive failure, oral infections, muscle tension, migraines. Over and over again, I hear about the same ailments from friends and fuckers who seem too healthy to experience so many complications.


Twenty-somethings suffering from debilitating stomach pains, sleepless nights, and untreatable aches. Young adults developing sporadic food sensitivities, crippling should pains, and unexpected immune responses.


What TF is going on?


Is our entire population — even the ones who appear fit and health-educated from the outside — spontaneously falling apart at an early age?


Yes, and no?



My experience with emerging trauma and physical breakdown


A few years ago, I made the same health complaints... plus a few extreme ones. Between the ages of 23 and 28, at the peak of my life, I was suddenly not physically capable of functioning.


I went through a terrible couple of years at 23 when my body spontaneously decided it was intolerant to gluten without my knowledge (read more about that here). And I spent a lot of time essentially bedridden while I sorted out what the hell was going on with my abrupt inability to digest foods and fight off infections. It was the worst time of my life. I'll spare repeating all the details.


The point is, with my entire body failing, I was turned away from doctor after doctor, specialist after specialist, until I independently weaned myself off everything in my diet and found the answer my damn self. (Thanks, also, to my late grandpa with celiac's disease who provided the first clue.)


Even after I figured that glutenous problem out (with no doctor's assistance) and began living a wheat-free life, I spent years reeling from seemingly unrelated issues that came and went without warning.

Even after I figured that glutenous problem out (with no doctor's assistance) and began living a wheat-free life, I spent years reeling from seemingly unrelated issues that came and went without warning.





From the exterior, I was always very slim, fairly clean, and dressed nicely enough. I showed up for work as a laboratory manager on time, I took college courses for fun, and I walked over 10 miles each day. I went to raucous concerts, I enjoyed road trips, and got into general hooliganry with my buddies.


I didn’t appear to be struggling through every waking moment with debilitating pain, discomfort, and exhaustion. Between clothes that camouflaged my distended stomach and makeup tricks that brightened my dark eyes, I pulled myself together enough to pass as a real, live, human.


I didn’t appear to be struggling through every waking moment with debilitating pain, discomfort, and exhaustion. Between clothes that camouflaged my distended stomach and makeup tricks that brightened my dark eyes, I pulled myself together enough to pass as a real, live, human.

When I wasn’t at work, I was a shell of a creature. I carted myself home at the end of the day walking through the beautiful brownstones and cottage-style homes that lined the historic brick streets towards my meager apartment, and quite literally collapsed as soon as I made it inside the door.


My heart beat out of my chest. I felt light headed and winded. Oftentimes, I had to sit down in the middle of the floor as my peripherals closed in from all sides. As the world spun around me, I threw something in the microwave and began my next nightly routine; snacking.


The only thing that dulled the constant, burning pain in my stomach and esophagus was to continually fill it with “buffering” foods (carbs, bananas, milky substances). The only thing that distracted my brain from my painful muscles and head was lying in place, with a slow calorie drip of highly-regulated foods and a quick injection of muscle relaxers.


I had no motivation to do anything. I was exhausted and uncomfortable all the time. The only thing I had to look forward to was (hopefully) knocking myself out with enough Ambien and Nyquil so I could get to sleep for a few hours, before imminently waking up in the middle of the night and starting my torture all over again.


The only thing that dulled the constant, burning pain in my stomach and esophagus was to continually fill it with “buffering” foods. The only thing that distracted my brain from my painful muscles and head was lying in place, with a slow calorie drip of highly-regulated foods and a quick injection of muscle relaxers.

For about 5 years, I lived on as much Tums, Ibuprofen, and Cyclobenzaprine as real food. I rarely slept, I could barely think, and when I did have electricity coursing through my brain-box, the circuitry was unpleasant and uncontrollable.


The continual physical pains created immense difficult in my head. Once laser-focused, now I struggled to think clearly at work, in my relationships, and on the road. I made poor decisions and had limited impulse control in most areas of life, especially where willpower was required. I lacked the capacity for big picture thinking, committing to goals, or planning for a future. I was making good money, but spent my cash in foolish ways, like attempting to find comfort through online shopping and spontaneous food purchases.


I spent all of my energy trying to numb my universal discomfort and worrying endlessly about the mysterious health problems that plagued me for so long — the issues that no doctor wanted to touch with a ten foot pole.

I spent all of my energy trying to numb my universal discomfort and worrying endlessly about the mysterious health problems that plagued me for so long — the issues that no doctor wanted to touch with a ten foot pole.


Why?



Doctors without mental health information or interest


My illness was born from anxiety and it’s bigger brother, C-PTSD. And, apparently, if your suffering originates in your brain, Western medicine doesn’t have much to say.


Time and time again, from the onset of my illness at age 23 until I gave up seeking professional medical care years later, I was turned away from doctors with nothing more than a shrug and a non-committal, “It might be psychosomatic.”

Time and time again, from the onset of my illness at age 23 until I gave up seeking professional medical care years later, I was turned away from doctors with nothing more than a shrug and a non-committal, “It might be psychosomatic.”


Relentless insomnia — Psychosomatic.

Inability to digest food — Psychosomatic.

Fire torching stomach lining — Psychosomatic.

And, therefore — Helpless.


So, I left each doctor’s office more defeated than the last, doomed to continue down the lonely path of experiencing failing health in a healthy body, shouting for help and hearing nothing in return. Feeling like I was "crazy" and that served as an explanation to the medical community.


So, I left each doctor’s office more defeated than the last, doomed to continue down the lonely path of experiencing failing health in a healthy body, shouting for help and hearing nothing in return. Feeling like I was "crazy" and that served as an explanation to the medical community.

Every appointment ended with being handed prescriptions for allergy pills, sleeping aids, acid reflux prevention, and muscle relaxers as I was ushered out of the room by bored eyes.


No one ever addressed the stress, depression, and anxiety that I admittedly suffered from.

No one examined the panic that kept me up every night.

No one seemed concerned about the agoraphobic life that I described, either as a function of my ailments or as a symptom of my perpetual fear.


Even after a week-long stint at the world-renowned Mayo Clinic, I left with more questions than answers. I cried in the doctor's office on the first day I arrived as they disregarded everything I said. They designed my week of focused doctor's appointments based on their own assertions, which weren't based on my own accounts of the ailments that had plagued me for more than 2 years at that point. Needless to say, after days of trying to insist I had forgotten how to defecate (???) they didn't discover a single thing.


All of this is to say, in doctors' eyes I was just one suddenly-sickly high-achiever in my early twenties with a bad background and a family history of mental illness; I could be written off as a neurotic type-A without the skills to live a chill life.


Lord knows, at the time, I probably didn’t stand up for myself enough and in my exhausted stupor, I was easily bowled over and dismissed by medical professionals. I understand what they saw and how they were trained to respond. I was just one person, and they were an entire field of experts who didn’t care about brain health or the physiological effects of trauma.


Lord knows, at the time, I probably didn’t stand up for myself enough and in my exhausted stupor, I was easily bowled over and dismissed by medical professionals. I understand what they saw and how they were trained to respond. I was just one person, and they were an entire field of experts who didn’t care about brain health or the effects of trauma.


Millions are being affected


If a huge portion of our population is falling to pieces these days, unable to carry out the basic functions necessary for a responsible adult life… Don’t you think it’s probably time that we start talking about Psychosomatic Illness as a real medical consideration, rather than using it as a euphemism for “hysterical hypochondriac?”


Things have changed. I’m not alone anymore. I’m not the only relatively fit 20 year old, mysteriously suffering from ailments that one would expect from an obese 50 year old with a fast food diet, 4 kids, and a large mortgage. I was just a few years ahead of the times. A real trendsetter.


Things have changed. I’m not alone anymore. I’m not the only relatively fit 20 year old, mysteriously suffering from ailments that one would expect from an obese 50 year old with a fast food diet, 4 kids, and a large mortgage. I was just a few years ahead of the times. A real trendsetter.

While I was embarrassed and isolated by my struggles, clearly I wasn’t actually part of a disparate population. Now, you hear of PhD students who visit the gym every day and manage to pen peer-reviewed articles, until they can’t push through the pain another day and fall apart from the inside out. There are young media marketing directors, failing to make deadlines because their physical discomfort ruins plans and makes detailed scheduling impossible. There are ambitious heads of finance, laying debilitated in bed thanks to inexplicable stomach pain and acid reflux.


There are young adults, fighting the indisputably difficult professional climate of our generation while barely managing to care for themselves. Heads spinning, nights sleepless, thoughts preoccupied with financial and social concerns… now also wrapping their belabored brains around unpredictable sicknesses and exclusion diets. And we expect them to flourish. Follow their dreams, set realistic goals, and change the world. Just don’t let them talk about how they feel while they do it.


There are young adults, fighting the indisputably difficult professional climate of our generation while barely managing to care for themselves. Heads spinning, nights sleepless, thoughts preoccupied with financial and social concerns… now also wrapping their belabored brains around unpredictable sicknesses and exclusion diets. And we expect them to flourish. Follow their dreams, set realistic goals, and change the world. Just don’t let them talk about how they feel while they do it.


It’s time that we put our fear of Psychosomatic illness to rest


Our generation has reached a breaking point, where mental illness and external stresses are adequately destroying our internal worlds. We joke about the prevalence of “anxiety” in modern communication. We scoff at snowflakes with unresolved traumas. We tell depressives to stop being so dramatic.


We have barely scraped the surface of acknowledging mental health in our “woke” world — but there’s no time to delay.


There is evidence of the link between fear, stress, anxiety, and bodily deterioration. There are studies on the pro-inflammatory effects of mental illness. There are case studies on the long-term manifestations of childhood trauma and immune system failures.


It’s time to stop writing off the biological basis of our bodies and to see ourselves as intricate systems, impacted by internal and external variables that we have yet to fully name. The longer we wait to develop the right language, the longer our generations of young folks will suffer and stagnate.

We are surrounded by evidence and tidbits of conversations that make us uncomfortable. We choose to turn the other way and keep our categorization game strong.


As our mental ailments snowball into physical manifestations of stress and exhaustion, our society lurches farther and farther away from progress. We’re raising generations of sleepless, hopeless adults, and asking them to kickstart the economy, rethink the universe, and save the planet.


As anxiety, restlessness, and work expectations continually rise, so must our commitment to treating sickness that originates in the brain, not only cheeseburgers.


As anxiety, restlessness, and work expectations continually rise, so must our commitment to treating sickness that originates in the brain, not only cheeseburgers.

It’s time to stop writing off the biological basis of our bodies and to see ourselves as intricate systems, impacted by internal and external variables that we have yet to fully name. The longer we wait to develop the right language, the longer our generations of young folks will suffer and stagnate.


No tubs of Tums, regimented exercise plan, or bottles of melatonin can silence the neurological circuits being stimulated by a chaotic world of social inequality.


As someone who (generally) no longer suffers from physical ailments after dutifully repairing mental processes for years, I can tell you, it’s best to handle Psychosomatic Illness head-first.



Have you or someone you know suffered from a psychosomatic illness? What has your experience been? Write in! traumatizedmotherfxckers@gmail.com



Traumatized Motherfxckers

Not doomed. Not damaged.

Not dead yet.

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