Why do I have this pain?
It’s the question everyone asks when they get ill, even when that illness is transient.
That question is often in our minds, as we struggle through day after day, month after month with chronic pain.
You never chose to be in chronic pain.
It’s not fair.
At the risk of sounding cheesy and quoting my favourite glitter-filled childhood movie, “But that is the way it is”.
The papers linked to in this article are all from PubMed, published in respectable medical journals from around the world.
It’s in the genes
Endometriosis is hereditary, along with other reproductive problems. If your mother had it, you can bet your grandmother had it, and you’ll have it. Although pinning down the exact genes is proving more difficult than hoped – several genes increase the risk that someone will develop endometriosis.
In my case, mum probably had adenomyosis, put on hold with a D&C after which she became pregnant. Nanna had something similar. So did my aunt (sister of my mother), badly enough so that . My cousin has PCOS.
Doctors have no idea if fibromyalgia may have a genetic component. However, there is ongoing research in this area, and in fact, a genetic risk factor for chronic pain in humans has been identified.
It’s due to childhood trauma
There is a huge body of research showing that a childhood of sexual, physical and emotional abuse makes lasting physical changes to the body, as well as the ongoing psychological impacts.
Chronic trauma as a developing child will damage the sympathetic nervous system and the hypothalamic pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. This messes with your stress hormone regulation and irreparably damages your immune system.
A study from 2003 indicates migraines and bowel problems may also be linked to childhood abuse.
There is a link between childhood trauma and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS/ME), and another between fibromyalgia and abuse.
This review is an excellent roundup of papers on how childhood trauma can have a long term impact on both physical and psychological health.
Then there are all of the physical health complications that come as part of complex PTSD.
The damage done by urinary tract infections, as a direct result of 14 years of sexual abuse, can not be repaired. My kidneys, bladder and tubes are scarred for life.
Many of my chronic illnesses have links to my childhood of abuse, according to the research – migraines, fibromyalgia (sinusitis, costochondritis, Moreton’s neuromas, Reynaud’s syndrome, sciatica, spine pain), CFS/ME, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), interstitial cystitis (IC), cPTSD and depression.
It’s because of an unhealthy lifestyle
Boxers probably wouldn’t suffer such high rates of brain problems later in life, if they didn’t get hit in the head so often.
Gardeners, musicians, athletes and crafters would probably not develop tendinitis without the repetitive movements required to perform their jobs.
Of course, there are other unhealthy choices which can lead to chronic illness, like smoking, taking drugs, and drinking excessively. Eating non-nutritious crap for decades won’t do you any good. Neither will keeping your body stationary or constantly holding a poor posture.
Unfortunately, these unhealthy choices are often made because of underlying problems.
Childhood abuse often results in a poor socioeconomic position – you are in a low-income job or relying on welfare. Your socioeconomic group limits your food and medical treatment options. You self-medicate with alcohol, drugs or food to ‘deal’ with the past trauma.
When you’ve been in pain and sick since childhood, the likelihood is very low of you having a support network, a good job, access to treatments, or even just access to affordable nutritious food.
Could it be just bad luck?
Isn’t it just bad luck when you get through the yearly cold and flu season, only to pick up a nasty summer cold?
I’m not so sure. People are less careful about hygiene when the risk of catching a cold is lower in summer.
There are too many factors in chronic illness to put it down to ‘just bad luck’.
Poor hygiene, a stressed immune system through lack of sleep or work stress, exposure to others who have a cold on public transport or in the workplace – these aren’t based on luck.
Of course, there is a tiny sliver of luck which plays a part – do you manage to avoid lung cancer despite being a heavy smoker, avoid liver damage if you are a heavy drinker, avoid kidney damage despite popping NSAIDs (anti-inflammatory medications).
But I’d say that the majority is in genetics, childhood history and lifestyle.
Plus, who knows what the pollution, pesticides, herbicides, and antibiotics in our food chains are doing to us – research on these aspects is not easy to find.
Chronic illness and chronic pain is not a choice
When you know someone who is always sick, understand they do not choose to be in pain.
There are a number of uncontrollable factors that might have caused their chronic diseases.
You can’t choose your genetics.
No one would choose to suffer through a childhood of abuse.
Kids can’t choose the lifestyle, food, exposure to pollutants, or (lack of) medical treatments their parents give them.
Saying ‘snap out of it’, will not make their illness, genetics or history disappear.
Instead of getting upset with them for ‘being so negative all the time’, maybe cook them a nutritious meal, help out around the house, visit them and watch a movie, show some sympathy, some patience and understanding.
Offer a helping hand.
It will make them very happy, I guarantee it!
Do you have a chronic illness or chronic pain?
Please share your experiences, thoughts or questions in the comments below.