My Trauma-related Scleroderma Puzzle: How Does It Fit Together?
Burnout is often used to describe what can happen to those living with constant stress, resulting in complete physical, emotional, and spiritual exhaustion. A person can become chronically anxious, fatigued, angry, depressed, detached, and cynical.
Interestingly, I notice that I feel all of these things when I am around people too much, although I suspect that my definition of “too much” is different than that of others.
A single social outing during the day leaves me exhausted. This could be a trip to my hairdresser, a consultation at the hospital, or hanging out with my best friend. I don’t have the energy to be around others; I just want to curl up alone on my recliner. Despite being careful about my boundaries and self-care, I am clearly experiencing “people-exhaustion burnout.”
I used to work with clients experiencing burnout when I was a therapist, so I know the signs. I have learned that trauma often is behind chronic stress and consequent burnout.
The theory that trauma may contribute to the onset of autoimmune disease has been bandied around in scientific fields for some time. I’ve often wondered about the role trauma has played in my life over the years and how it is linked to my disease.
I had a serious traumatic experience in my late 20s. When I was in my 40s, about three years before my diagnosis, my hometown of Christchurch, New Zealand, was struck by two major earthquakes in which 185 people lost their lives and thousands were injured. Over the next three to four years, I worked with many traumatized children and adults.
I believe that repeatedly listening to others’ experiences of earthquake trauma and the associated grief and loss may have re-traumatized me. Counselors were in short supply, and of the few who were available, many lacked specialist training in trauma. Thankfully, I was trained.
At the time, the agency I worked with was inundated with families desperately seeking help. After two years of trying my best to assist people, I realized I had become unwell. A year after that realization, I received my official diagnosis of systemic scleroderma.
The most stressful part of this for me was the never-ending stream of traumatized people coming to my door looking for relief. The responsibility became overwhelming and my health continued to decline. Going into private practice helped a little, but looking back, I was already on a runaway train heading toward a total shutdown.
So, did the trauma of working with such broken people lead to my scleroderma? Or was the disease already present and my work-related stress merely the catalyst that brought it to the fore? It’s the age-old “chicken or egg” conundrum.
I don’t know the answer, but I do recognize that being around people for frequent and lengthy periods will cause a flare-up that forces me into hibernation behind my four safe walls, often for days and sometimes weeks.
Despite this, I try my best. I continue to write and contribute toward scleroderma awareness from the safety of my lounge, tucked into my recliner, and alone.
This week, I am sending out a special “thank you” to my dear friends who always understand, don’t take it personally, and continue to love me when I drop off the planet for a time while I gather myself again. Your understanding means so much to me. I love and appreciate you all.
Note: Scleroderma News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Scleroderma News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to scleroderma.