Adverse Childhood Experiences 14: Hope

I keep reading bits about despair and about how a generation of children is being “ruined” by the pandemic.

Not so, I say. There is hope. We need to support each other to survive and then to thrive.

This generation WILL have a higher than average ACE score. If the Adverse Childhood Experience scale is from zero to eight, children in this time period will have at least one higher point than average and many will have three or four or more. Loss of a parent, a sibling, beloved grandparents during covid. Increases in domestic violence, child abuse and addiction. These are all part of the ACE score.

What does this do to children? They have survival brain wiring. They will do their best to survive what is happening. A friend and I both have high ACE scores, 5 or more, and we are both oppositional defiant. We showed this in different ways. He grew up in the same community. He escaped from home and knew all the neighbors. He walked to the local church and attended at age 3 or 4. He has lived in this community all his life.

His oppositional defiance showed up at home, where he consistently refused to obey. And in school, where he confounded and disobeyed teachers and passed anyhow.

My family moved every 1-5 years. I hated moving. I wouldn’t talk to kids in a new school for a year. It was very difficult. So my oppositional defiance was very very internal. I hid in books and in my head. In 6th grade I got in trouble for hiding novels inside the school book I’d already read. I also would just not listen and my respect for the teacher got even lower when she would be angry that I knew the answer to the question once she’d repeated it. I wasn’t listening because I was bored. She was the first teacher that I thought, well, she is not very bright. The next year they stuck me in the honors class and I stopped being bored, though I still questioned practically every opinion every teacher had. I wanted evidence and I did not believe it just because the teacher said it.

I am not saying that oppositional defiance is in every high ACE score. I don’t know that. Why oppositional defiance? Imagine you are a small child and you are beaten. There isn’t rhyme or reason. You can’t predict when the adult will be out of control. Why would you behave “well” if it makes no difference? You might as well do what you want, because nothing you do will change the adult. Or imagine you are a small child who is with one person, passed to another, then to another. You may not exactly trust adults after two or three repetitions. And you want to survive.

There is an increase in addictions, behavioral health diagnoses, and chronic illness in adults with a high ACE score. A researcher when I first heard a lecture about it said, “We think perhaps that addiction is a form of self medication.” I thought, oh, my gosh, how are we ever going to treat THIS? Well, we have to figure that out now, and we’ve had 30 years to work on it.

I was very comfortable with the oppositional defiant patients in clinic. I got very good at not arguing with them and not taking their behavior personally. They might show up all spiky and hostile and I might be a little spiky and gruff back: sometimes that was enough. I think the high ACE score people often recognize each other at some level, though not always a conscious one. With some people I might bring up ACE scores and ask about their childhood. Sometimes they wanted to discuss it. Sometimes they didn’t. Either was ok.

One thing we should NOT do is insist that everyone be “nice”. We had a temporary doctor who told us her story. Her family escaped Southeast Asia in a boat. They had run out of water and were going to die when they were found by pirates. The pirates gave them water. They made it to land and were in a refugee camp for eight years or so. She eventually made it to the US. She was deemed too “undiplomatic” for our rural hospital. I wondered if people would have said that if they knew her history and what she had been through. It’s not exactly a Leave it to Beaver childhood, is it? When she was telling us about nearly dying of thirst in the boat, my daughter left her chair and climbed on my lap. She was under ten and understood that this was a true and very frightening story.

We can support this generation of children. This has been and is still being Adverse Experiences for adults as well. Family deaths, job loss, failure of jobs to support people, inflation. Remember the 1920s, after World War I and the last pandemic, of influenza. “On October 28, 1919, Congress passed the National Prohibition Act, also known as the Volstead Act, which provided enabling legislation to implement the 18th Amendment.” (wikipedia). There were forces trying to legislate behavior, as there are now. The result in 1920s of making alcohol illegal was speakeasies, illegal alcohol, and violence. Some people acted wild after WWI and the influenza pandemic and some people tried to lock down control, by controlling other peoples’ behavior. It did not work then and it will not work now. The wildness is out of control grief, I think, grief dysfunctional and drinking and shooting and doing anything and everything, legal or not. We remember how the 1920s ended too. Let us not repeat that. Let us mourn and grieve and support each other and support each other’s decisions and autonomy.

Blessings.

Sun tui

A photograph of a photograph. This is my father, Malcolm Kenyon Ottaway, sailing Sun Tui, our 1960s boat. A 23 foot sloop built in Hong Kong by American Marine. The tiller is a dragon with the world in it’s mouth and inside there is a carving of Kwan Yin.

My father died in 2013. I still have the boat. Needs some work, but hoping I can sail again soon.

I can’t credit the original photographer because I don’t know who it is. It might have been me.

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: sail.

A dragon with the world in her mouth.
Carving of Kwan Yin (or Guan Yin).
Sun Tui.

angels

The Ragtag Daily Prompt is halo, and I wrote this yesterday, after a discussion with a new friend about angels and my angel dream.

______________________________

angels

light angels fall into dark

dark angels fall into light

there is no separation

we are longing for the Beloved

we are longing to be reunited with the Beloved

we have never been separate

we are one

light falling in to dark

dark falling in to light

seeing both is grace

no separation

Adverse Childhood Experiences 13: on gratitude

I saw a meme today about gratitude. It is saying that some people look at a garden and see thorns and weeds, but others see the roses. That we need to have gratitude. I think this is simplistic and papers over the trauma and grief that some people have. If they have endured a highly traumatic childhood, who am I to say they should focus on the roses? They may have a very good reason to see if there is something like a thorn that can hurt them before enjoying the roses.

I work with many patients with high Adverse Childhood Experience scores and mine is high too. I don’t tell my patients that they should have gratitude. I tell them “You survived your childhood. You have crisis wiring. Good for you. Some of your learned crisis survival wiring may not serve you as well now as it did when you were a child.” Then we discuss whether they want to work on any aspects and the many many different approaches. One example: a man who sleeps very lightly. He said that it was lifelong. When asked about his childhood he says, “We would have to leave in the night when there was shooting in my neighborhood. It was a very dangerous area.” I said, “I am not surprised you sleep lightly. You HAD to in childhood to survive. Is this something you want to try and change?” He thought about it and decided, no. Once it was framed as learned in childhood to survive, he stopped worrying about “normal”. He was satisfied that the way he slept was “normal” for him and he wanted to wake up if he heard shooting.

I think we have to ask why a person sees thorns and weeds in a garden before we judge them. My first thought with a new and angry or hostile patient is always, oh, they have been badly hurt in the past. What happened? I don’t worry that the anger is at me. I know it’s not at me, it’s at the system or a past physician or a past event. Under the anger there are other emotions, usually fear or humiliation or grief. I have brought up Adverse Childhood Experience scores on the first visit sometimes. One person replies, “I am a 10 out of 10.” The score only goes up to 8 but I agree. He was a 10. He stated once, “The military loved me because I could go from zero to 60 in one minute.” Very very defensive and very quick to respond. The response may seem extreme and inappropriate to other people: but it may feel like the only safe way to be to my patient.

I grew up hiding any grief or fear in my family, under anger, because grief or fear would be made into a story told for laughs. In college, a boyfriend told me I was an ogre when I was angry. I started working on it then and it was difficult to tame that. The person who took the longest was my sister: she could make me explode until I was in my residency. Medical training was excellent for learning emotional control, at least, on the surface. After my mother died, I had to do the next piece of emotional work: open the Pandora’s Box of stuffed emotions, mostly fear and grief, and let them out. It was such hard work that my day where I saw the counselor for an hour was harder than my ten hour clinic day. I did the work, for two long years. Blessings on the counselors who stood by me while I worked through it.

I do not think we are ever done with that sort of work. I think, what do I need to learn next? What is this friend teaching me? Why is this behavior frustrating me and I have to look in my inner mirror. Why, why, why?

Blessing on your healing path and may you not be judged.

Link about ACE scores: https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/aces/about.html

Sometimes I do feel like a fossil, now that I am middle aged. For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: fossil.

Is this a tree?

Is this a tree?

I would not call this a tree. I would call it a cone. It contains seeds. It is not a tree.

A pregnancy is called an embryo until 8 weeks after conception and then a fetus until birth. It is not a baby, any more than a seed is a tree. Here is a link to a picture of the embryo developing:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_embryonic_development#/media/File:HumanEmbryogenesis.svg

It’s a bit difficult to call the embryo a baby.

After 8 weeks (10 weeks from the last menstrual period) the developing pregnancy is called a fetus. It cannot survive outside the womb. A term pregnancy is 37 weeks, and the due date is at 40 weeks. The earliest survival, certainly not natural, is around 24 weeks. This takes heavy intervention and technology, a premature infant on a ventilator for months. There is risk of damage to the eyes from high oxygen and risk of spontaneous brain bleed and cerebral palsy, because the newborn can weigh half a pound. Once born, the fetus is termed a baby.

This is important from a medical standpoint and pounded into us as physicians. WHY? Because in a trauma situation, the life of the mother comes first. In Obstetrics and Family Medicine, the life of the mother comes first. In Oncology, the life of the mother comes first. My sister was diagnosed with stage IIIB ductal breast cancer at age 41. She was engaged and it turned out that she was pregnant. She wrote this essay on her blog, Butterfly Soup:

The hardest loss of breast cancer.

She had an abortion and chose chemotherapy, because it was her or the fetus. If she had chemotherapy pregnant, at that time she was told that it would probably kill the fetus or cause terrible birth defects. If she held off on chemotherapy for seven months, her oncologist thought she would die. She had a very very aggressive cancer and she already had a daughter who needed her.

She lived until age 49, with multiple rounds of chemotherapy, radiation, gamma knife radiation, whole brain radiation. And she lived until her daughter was 13. Without the abortion, her physicians thought she would have died when her daughter was 7.

My ethics in medicine are that patients have autonomy. I would NOT have wanted my sister to choose to refuse chemo and try to bring a baby to term while dying of breast cancer. However, it was HER CHOICE, not mine. It was private and no one else’s business and how dare people make moral judgements about another person’s medical choices. I give my patients CHOICES. They can choose not to treat cancer and go into hospice. They can choose surgery or refuse it. They can choose to treat opioid addiction or refuse. They may die of a heroin overdose and I grieve. I try to convince them to go to treatment and I give them nalaxone to try to reverse overdoses. I refuse a medication or treatment that I think will harm my patients, but my patients have autonomy and choices. That extends to women and pregnancy as well.

It is NOT a baby in the womb, however emotionally attached people are to this image. It is an embryo first and then a fetus. And in a car wreck, the woman comes first and the fetus second.

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: explain.

sand pattern

I took this photograph yesterday on East Beach in glorious sun.

I left the house to hike at 5:30 am. I didn’t hear about Roe v Wade being overturned until later in the day. I am grieving and will fight for women’s right to determine their own health. Each sperm is alive and each egg too. Don’t tell me they should all be saved, because then we would all starve. Life doesn’t start at conception. I think that some men wanting to control women starts with conception. They certainly don’t want their sperm controlled.

In the photograph are great blue heron tracks. I saw at least three great blue herons. At least four eagles, sitting in the tops of trees along the cliffs enjoying the sun.

The beach changes daily. We go to North Beach and one day it is long stretches of sand and the next it is covered with rocks of all sizes. We have been hiking so regularly that it is really clear that the beach changes as much as human moods! Every tide is different.

Here are chalcedony nodules found yesterday. We still call them agates, but since we are getting fussier and want the clear ones, they are more correctly called chalcedony nodules.

The beach changes like US politics. The water rushes in like a new administration, removes small and large boulders and rushes out again. A new Supreme Court Judge, a new person in this appointed position or that, change, change, change, a new pattern. I am grieving about Roe v Wade, but contributing to the fight for women’s rights and for women’s health. I wish that as a country we were less dramatic and nicer and did not need to have an enemy to shout at all the time.

Maybe that change is coming, but slowly. We might learn from social media and from all sorts of lessons. I have some hope.

Meanwhile I’d rather be with the great blue herons and the eagles.

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: patterns.

hunger

It is hard to write about hunger

I am always hungry
I am always afraid
I always long for love

How can I always be hungry?
The hunger is partly for food
and partly for love

They are tied together
“You have food insecurity,”
A friend says

I want to argue and do
but I also know that he is right
I am always worried about food

My daughter has it too
she admits that even as she finishes a meal
she wants to know that there is food for the next meal

A friend tell me about running out of food
hiking in Alaska. He is ok with it.
My daughter and I agree we will never camp with him.

My mother says that pregnant
she is hungry the entire time
fantasizes about a banana split and chocolate syrup

After the baby is born
“I did not want the banana split!”
she says and laughs

Maybe it is the baby who is hungry
inside the womb, the fetus that is hungry
“The doctor yells if I gain any weight.” laughs my mother.

Hunger and love intertwined.
I don’t see my mother for nine months after birth
because she is ill.

I curl around my daughter ferociously
I want to protect her from any harm
I eat when I am hungry and feed her food and love

____________________

The photograph is me and my mother. She is getting over tuberculosis and is still very thin. I think that my grandparents took the photograph. I took the photograph of the photograph.

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: hunger.

half light

We had sun yesterday! But mostly, we have had rain rain rain and clouds on the Olympic Peninsula this spring.

With record breaking temperatures across the US, I can’t complain much about rain. I took today’s photograph a few days ago, in the early morning. We walk hoping the sun will peek through. It is peeking through but not on us. It is peeking far over the water in the distance.

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: half light.