Childhood Disrupted: How My Biography Became My Biology

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

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Authored by: Kerry Smith

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In my pursuit of pain relief from RSD, a few years ago I came across a pain clinic that was building a practice based on biology resulting from biography. No insurance coverage for their twchniques, and on top of that, no pain meds prescribed to assist survival of horrific pain flairs or baseline pain while relentlessly digging up past events tjat cumulatively led to a vwry high ACEs score…

In a nutshell, one visit involving laying on of hands on
my knee led the practitioner to claim the emanating pain she could feel coming off from tjat knee was overwhelming…and she asked about possible childhood events involving that knee. I shared one, and she felt the knee become BLAZING hot. Freaky experience, and remwmber, zero pain meds. Could barely hobble for 2 weeks after that. I tried repeatedly to explain to the doctor in charge of the pain clinic that there was NO way I could expect to survive thw enormity of the horrific pain we would uncover (in my pat) without continual very strong pain meds .. no way… and the doc straight faced suggested i ‘meditate the pain away’… asserting it would eventually get better. I never darkened their doorstep again. In reflectipn, I think they were trying to do some sort of study re: pain level and how it was affected by digging up all of the old dirt…pain meds would have been counter indicated. RSD pain, on McGill pain scale is worse than labor pain or amputation… go chop off one of your limbs, and just meditate the pain away! Nuts!!

Jim Moulton

You know, this article makes a lot of sense, I had alot of stress and different living situations when I was growing up, I lived with my grandparents, went to military boarding school for 4 years, nothing was stable, got very depressed in my twenties and had a manic phase. I had several medications til I got stable. Then I had a successful working career, then I started having neck pain and hand pain. I started getting treated for chronic pain. I had to go on disability.

I am deeply grateful for your writing about our lonely and challenging path. Your words move me deeply and touch my own life of pain. I also question whether I would notice or be aware of the nuances of life’s beauty were it not for the enduring pain we suffer. I, too, am aware that our childhood stresses manifest in body pain in adulthood and have been somewhat encouraged by IFST. I say to you now thank you, thank you for the beauty you continue to create with the encouragement of the spirit. I bid you and your family resurrection greetings.

Michele Youngblood Howe

I’m beginning to feel like the CDC would rather have us who have Chronic Pain, commit suicide and get rid of us. I never dreamed that my life would turn out this way. I thought that by being responsible, paying my bills and taxes and all of that would mean that when I got older and needed help, somehow there would be a solution. Was I ever wrong! I am a measly $40 over the maximum limit to receive help paying for my meds. So, I have to choose between meds and food. Thank God for the compassionate drug manufacturer who has plans that assist people like me. Yes, there are some out there! I keep trying, but it is getting harder and harder to remain hopeful. I know I will never be completely pain free, but I would be so grateful if I had just one day of feeling energetic and pain less! I would love it if the CDC worked With us and not Against. I feel badly for the Dr’s who want to help yet their hands are tied by regulations. Why go to med school for 8-10 years when you can sit behind a desk and stamp “Not Accepted” on documents all day. They have taken all power of treatment planning from Doctors. Who are they going to harrass after they are done with the pain patients?


Traumatic events during childhood, adulthood even, do and can have everlasting issues. I agree, with Kerry, sometimes one can not just get over it. This is my experience with 23 years of spinal issues, including spinal vertebra fusions . At 37 years old, forced by relentless, over the top pain, I had to have the first of my surgeries. I now, am considered as “well”, physically as can be accomplished by surgery. OK’d to continue my small construction business just tbefore 40 years old by my doctors, I finally fell into clinical depression a short time after doctor release, even with medication use to manage continuous pain. I worked a “lifetime” to have a profitable business. It was and is very important to me.

Even after OK’d to continue to be self reliant, the pain has persisted for 23 more years but, I could manage with a pain management specialist. I never wished to have to use medication, especially opioid medication but, then and currently it is the only effective therapy for pain management Like most people that do not experience continuous over the top pain, I was afraid of becoming “addicted” to any thing. Alcohol, drugs, anything but, I had two children to provide for, a wife to provide for and my creditors to pay for basic life neccessities. They don’t care WHAT your issue is, debt must be met. So, i chose after all ineffective alternative therapies failed to manage pain effectively, to use opioid medication.

I NEVER thought for one second that my government, the appointed health care “policy” makers would ever prevent an American that has followed ALL protocol from physicians to correct my spine issues, pain management issues to suffer, with decades of documentation as to the benefit of yes, opioid medication. CDC “policy” IS causing patients to lose their jobs, their businesses, their ability to do daily functions when totally disabled, because of insufficient, ineffective, pain management. I never seen depression coming even before the CDC “policy” became enforced cleverly making our doctors to prescribe a set, maximum, inefficient dosage of medication to so many people that have benefitted with it for decades but, it did. WHAT do the “experts” of psychology and pain managment therapy expect? Get over it? Find and use illicit opioids? Begin using “legal” distilled alcohol for pain management which can get you into even more trouble than insufficient opioid medication?

I have more but, I am out of space. My opinion only here.

CRPS patient

Very interesting. I’m sorry to hear about your suffering. This makes a lot of sense to me as well.
CRPS or RSD keeps the nervous system in that Fight or Flight mode as well. I find that when I’m stressed or in a lot of pain, everything is huge, causing panic.
With all this drama about medications, our doctors are afraid to give anything for panic if we’re also in Pain Management. I don’t even want to take Benzos anyway but living in constant panic is horrendous and very hard on those around us. A service dog can help a lot.

Denise Bault

Kerry, great article! My switch is always on too. Grew up with a narcissistic mother, an alcoholic father, and a pedophile for a grandfather. But it was the continuous abuse from my mother that I believe helped trigger my switch. I won’t bore you with the details of my medical issues, but after two years of therapy, I’ve learned a lot. Not enough to cure me, but enough to understand WHY I’m sick. I just wish I knew how to get well again…


Great article! Having emotional and physical (chronic pain) episodes , it can be “easy” to wonder if what ppl say about you are true, like “how can you have pain all day” “why can’t you do things like “before” ?
Articles like this one help to not feel all alone in this “fight” Thank you

Part two of my story. In my younger days I also dealt with that same light switch. Fight or flight. First it was fight then when I was old enough it became flight. In 2003 I had finally reached the point where it was neither. How refreshing! As of the last couple of years it’s right back to fight when indeed I’d like at times for it to be flight. Running away is an easy solution that sometimes accompanies some awful outcomes. I’ve learned in fighting it has given my life purpose. I’m not much of a fighter and am not a game player though I most certainly stand for what I believe in. Now it’s dealing with this government issue that has affected all of us and on top of that I’m fighting with everything I have in me to save a little girl’s life. So the flight switch is stuck in the off position. I am praying that soon it will be back in the position of neither. Flight or fight, neither is an easy thing. Though for most of us it is truly one or the other. I’m going to fight until I can make that switch to where hopefully it won’t be on or off ever again.. That sooner than later, once again it will be stuck and therefore remain in the middle to where there is neither flight or fight. May God bless and help all of you who’s light switches are stuck in either position. Take care.

Dear Mr. Smith,
Enjoyed reading your story. I’m some what of an artist also and live in Tennessee. I can relate to your story on many, many levels.
The first panic attack I had scared me to death. Twenty years ago my friend rushed me to the hospital, me thinking I was having a heart attack. I wouldn’t suffer another until a few years ago a couple of days after Christmas. I now know what causes them. Perhaps it would be wise to not look at your pharmacy when you have to grocery shop at that particular store or find another altogether. Perhaps the fear of knowing you may have to have surgery combined with the fear you may not get the adequate pain medicine needed afterwards could have caused the attack. A few years ago I discovered I was also an empath as well. In doing so it gave me a piece of mind. It explained my entire life to a tee. I’ve had some odd experiences that just can’t be explained. I have kept most close to heart for others would think I’m totally crazy. Though I know what I’ve seen and heard. Perhaps your light is someone trying to tell you that things will be okay. Perhaps even shining light on your darkest hours or days. I’m not a medium nor can I predict the future or even see tomorrow; thank God! Though sometimes I do know what’s going to happen before it does. I will pray for your panic attacks and that you hopefully won’t have to have surgery. It is so true that no one but no one knows what someone else is going through. Seems as though all others can do is either try to sympathize, or criticize the situation. Telling you just to get over it, when if they were faced with the same situation they themselves couldn’t just, “get over it.” This is my own personal experience. I thank you for sharing yours. It was very refreshing not to read about something to do with the reason we’re all on here in the first place.


I also have been diagnosed with Ptsd from being abused as a child.Trust and authority is very much a problem for me to deal with.I been working on my bark instead of biting when people come to me wrong.Respect is not given in my book but earned by trusting me and me trusting them.


Totally can relate and good article. So often people think those of us in chronic pain just have a pain somewhere and that’s it. They dont know all the other things we deal with like deprsssion, anxiety, and panic attacks as a result of that pain. I developed PTSD after mutiple botched surgeries and being a sensitive person, treatment by the medical community. I didnt even know what was happening to me when I had my first panic attack. Thought I was having a stroke.
My second one happened at the dentist office with a tray of goo in my mouth. A few years before I was overdosed by my doctor after surgery on too many narcotics, almost coded and ended up in ICU with aspiration pneumonia and a mask over my claustrophic mouth. It came on so fast at the dentist, I didnt know what was happening but I ripped that tray out of my mouth and sat on the floor with goo on my shirt, crying and embarrased. I jusr related it back to that mask in ICU.
It took many days to recover from that physically and emotionally. It felt like every muscle in my body had been twisted. I sympathize with anyone dealing with anxiety and panic attacks on top of chronic pain. Its very scary when one comes on.