Twenty years ago, a friend of mine stopped being able to walk.
It happened intermittently. She’d be fine for a few weeks or months, then collapse. She had intense pelvic pain that doctors couldn’t find a reason for. Some thought she was faking it and sent her to the psych ward, or gave her a catheter without anesthetic “to teach her a lesson.”
No doctor, as far as I know, asked her if she had a history of childhood abuse.
Then came the CDC’s Adverse Childhood Experience study (ACE), a study of 17,000 adults which correlated long-term health outcomes with childhood trauma. It suggested that certain experiences are risk factors for leading causes of illness and death–as well as poor quality of life, including idiopathic pain. Chronic, high-intensity stress in childhood, it seems, can re-engineer your nervous system, and not for the better.
In my bodywork practice, my biggest source of fascination and frustration is “mystery pain,” often accompanied by “mystery fatigue.” I can get a little obsessed. In trying to solve the problem of why a client is in pain, exhausted, dizzy, depressed, anxious, can’t walk properly, or gets “pins and needles” for no apparent reason, I’ve researched not only musculoskeletal problems, such as injuries, arthritis, disc disease, spinal stenosis and spondylitis, but also adrenal fatigue, chronic Lyme, and any nervous system illness we have a name for, including every type of sclerosis that they thought my friend had, and then ruled out.
And I keep going back to the ACE study. All the TED talks and spin-off studies and New Health Initiatives focus on prevention, which is splendid. But what about people whose nervous systems are already kerflucked? Is there any way to help them?
Answer: I don’t know.
We know the nervous system is plastic; it can be rewired, to a certain extent. We know that PTSD is treatable. Could we develop a protocol in cases of idiopathic pain and fatigue syndrome, otherwise known as Nobody Knows Why I’m Kerflucked?
Because the danger in addressing an undiagnosable problem in a holistic way, is that you may be attacking it at the wrong level. You can’t heal a broken leg by changing your mindset. Too many holistic practitioners make claims that aren’t backed up by research. As a colleague noted when she said, “I don’t know any other massage therapists quite like you.”
So I keep asking questions. I keep reading research. And I keep up my attempts to hack into your nervous system, and tell it there’s no cause for alarm.