Have you ever sought medical assistance for a debilitating condition, just to be told that it’s all in your head? This all-too-common phenomenon can have many different causes, such as simple arrogance and closed-mindedness on the part of a doctor, a presumption made due to unrelated mental health challenges that a patient may struggle with or, often, a common response to, primarily, trauma survivors who present with autoimmune diseases that are highly misunderstood.
Knowledgeable, trauma-sensitive professionals understand that severe trauma, particularly child abuse, often weakens the immune system tremendously, thus, creating a particular susceptibility to autoimmune diseases. It seems that the medical community is painstakingly slow in recognizing the legitimacy of these conditions, although progress in recognizing previously unacknowledged diseases is certainly possible, as we have seen with conditions such as Fibromyalgia, Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, and Lyme Disease (although chronic Lyme is still, in many medical circles, thought not to exist). However, patients who suffer from conditions such as Multiple Chemical Sensitivity and other hyper-toxic conditions often face reactions which range from skepticism and dismissal to psychiatric labeling and indefinite detention in psychiatric hospitals when presenting to doctors or medical facilities with the symptoms associated with such diseases.
Why is it difficult for doctors to believe that these conditions actually exist? Part of it is pretty simple- some of these conditions did not exist many years ago, and while evidence is mounting supporting the physical causes of these diseases, historically, anything new takes quite a while to gain widespread acceptance in the mainstream medical community. Patients presenting with medical conditions that have neurological consequences, such as cognitive dysfunction or “brain fog,” often face skepticism from medical professionals because they present as having mental health issues, and the often vague or bizarre-sounding symptoms associated with some of these conditions can produce a similar response. However, the link between these conditions and trauma cannot be ignored, and there is a generalized societal tendency to ignore or dismiss the complaints of trauma survivors- particularly, survivors of abuse. A reported history of abuse and seemingly strange manifestations of physical illness can often lead to survivors simply being told that they are crazy, effectively re-traumatizing those who have already suffered terribly.
A similar phenomenon often takes place within the mental health community when survivors present with severe dissociative symptoms. Dissociative Identity Disorder, for example, is recognized by knowledgeable professionals as an incredibly creative coping mechanism for dealing with horrific trauma starting at a very young age, but is often regarded as “malingering,” basically implying that these survivors are simply making up these dissociated personality states, or a manifestation of hallucinations on the part of these patients.
We, as a society, have a strong desire to silence and discredit survivors of abuse. Most of the time, this is not a purposeful effort to harm those who have already suffered tremendously, but a form of shared denial in which society does not want to believe that such things can happen. If we wish to see profound change, it could start by simply reminding ourselves that when it comes to abuse and the issues it causes for survivors, truth really is stranger than fiction.
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