Childhood Disrupted: How My Biography Became My Biology

By: Kerry Smith

I am no electrician but I can certainly replace a wall switch if I have to. But I have one switch in our home, the light over our mantle, that, when it is turned on and even sometimes when it is turned off will come on without any prompting and turn itself off. I am perplexed, and after throwing cuss words at it, which I have yet to figure out why that doesn’t work, and replacing the switch with a new one, it is still coming on and going off. I think it is haunted frankly or as “Paw-Paw” used to say, “hainted”!

I have noticed that the stuff of life, sometimes, does mimic our own inner turmoil. After a few days of dealing with anxiety attacks, I too have a faulty switch.  PTSD is happening with me as discs above and below some of my spinal fusions are going bad, and I have what scientists termed as a fight or flight switch that was flipped on years ago deep within the recesses of my being, and I am having one hell of a time figuring out how to turn it off.

Many of us, according to a book titled “Childhood Disrupted; How Your Biography Becomes Your Biology, and How You Can Heal”, have the fight or flight switch that was turned on from our childhood and now as adults, it is still on.  A point of interest from the aforementioned book is being noticed in a number of settings and it is giving us all a closer look at disruptions in childhood and their effects years later in adulthood. The author of the book, Dr. Donna Jackson Nakazawa, herself, was in the throes of a number of chronic illnesses. She came across what is known as the ACE study or Adverse Childhood Experiences research that was being done and it caught her attention. The book Dr. Nakazawa has written includes a test and after getting the book and taking the test, I then started looking more closely at how my own negative childhood experiences have affected me.

The test is one that asks 10 questions regarding negative experiences as a child, rating 0, as having no negative experiences as a child to 10, having many negative experiences as a child. The term negative is used to mean deep impact kinds of negative experiences. So, I took the test and made an 8 out of 10, which by the way does not mean I get a gold star. The higher the score, the higher number of negative experiences, which means the potential of a higher incidence of chronic illnesses experienced later in adulthood. And, due to these experiences and our brains soaking up as much of life as we can as children, the flight or fight switch is flipped on and it is not turned off even in adulthood. As you can imagine as well, this switch, this fight or flight switch, is just not easily flipped off. And now, it is not as simple as flipping it on or off as I grow older or running down to the local home depot and buying one to replace the faulty switch. For me, it is hard wired on and wow is it ever on!

A few days ago, I was standing within feet of the pharmacy in our grocery store, the pharmacy that had given me medicine for several of my fusions. I am now having issues with those fusions and it could mean more surgery.  And there, right there next to that pharmacy, my switch was on and I had a panic attack. Right there, in front of God and everyone, I was having an anxiety filled, PTSD, high blood pressure, fear soaked, panic attack. I gathered myself enough to call my wife, went and sat down somewhere against the wall away from everyone, and we worked on the switch enough to get me the hell out of there.

I had a number of deep negative impact experiences as a child, enough to give me ulcers in my early years, experiences similar to those described in Dr. Nakazawa’s book and I am sure those have led to my own struggle with chronic pain. As the author describes, “the chronic stress of emotional and physical adversity that we adults have experienced while growing up is making us ill all these decades later, even if we are trying to eat better and live a healthier lifestyle” and this description is spot on for me. And for someone to say, “oh, just move along and tough it out” or as some family members have said, “We all have problems so just get over it!”, is not helpful nor does it get at the complexity of our needs and healing. One doctor the author quotes says it best: “Time does not heal all wounds. One does not ‘just get over’ something-not even fifty years later”. Instead he says, “Time conceals. And human beings convert traumatic emotional experiences in childhood into organic disease later in life.”

The book sheds light on the roots of the chronic adversity many of us are facing and shares how the tool of meditation and mindfulness can help us heal. I recently purchased a device known as a “Muse” which is a tool that makes meditation easier. It is a head band that reads brain activity and monitors when you are able to calm that activity. For me, I have noticed a calming effect and an ease of tensions.  Or as in my case, to help fix a switch that for some reason turns itself on in the damnedest places.

Kerry Smith is an artist and chronic pain patient who lives in Tennessee and is a frequent contributor to the National Pain Report. His work can be seen at birdcarver.com.

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