Heidi Aylward spent much of 2015 going to doctor’s appointments for back and joint pain, dizziness, swelling of the legs and feet, high blood pressure, elevated platelets, heart palpitations and extreme fatigue.
2016 isn’t looking much better. She’s worn a heart monitor, had a bone marrow biopsy and continues to have blood work. She holds down a job as a full-time project manager, tends to her daughters, home and pets.
But she feels like her body is falling apart.
“I’m not going to make it to 60,” she said, “Why do I even contribute to my retirement savings account?”
Heidi is 39.
She’s also one of my best friends.
I can’t help but wonder how much her body is burdened by her chaotic childhood.
For personal and professional reasons, I’ve been learning about the new science of human development, which includes the epidemiology of childhood adversity and how toxic stress from childhood trauma can damage the structure and function of a child’s developing brain. Toxic stress also embeds in a person’s biology to emerge decades later as physical disease.
The CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACE Study) shows that childhood trauma is linked to the adult onset of chronic disease, mental illness, violence and being a victim of violence. The research, led by Dr. Vincent Felitti (Kaiser) and Dr. Robert Anda (CDC) measured 10 types of childhood adversity that occurred before the age of 18.
They are physical (1), verbal (2) and sexual abuse (3); physical (4) and emotional (5) neglect; a family member who has been incarcerated (6), is abusing alcohol or drugs (7), or has a mental illness (8), witnessing a mother being abused (9); and losing a parent to divorce or separation (10). The lowest possible score is 0 and the highest 10. Of course there are many other types of childhood adversity – bullying, witnessing violence outside the home, being homeless, witnessing a sibling being abuse, experiencing a severe illness or accident – but this study focused just on these 10.