Book Review: The Deepest Well
I was gifted this book by a sweet friend. I had never heard of it but after a conversation about a childhood Crohn’s diagnosis and a bumpy upbringing, she thought I would get something out of it.
It was a difficult read for me. Very emotional. Dr. Nadine Burke Harris wasn’t overly detailed about the trauma the people (often young children) in the book face but pretty much every page brought back memories from my own personal experiences or the experiences of my childhood friends.
The book discusses how childhood adversity can linger in the body for decades, causing changes to developmental trajectory and physiology. Other long-term impacts include chronic inflammation, hormonal changes, alternations to the way DNA is read and how cells replicate (which increases the risk of cancer, stroke, Alzheimer’s, diabetes and heart disease).
Dr. Harris states that emotional and psychological impacts of childhood adversity can look like substance abuse, cyclic violence, incarceration, and mental health problems. The point was made that many of her patients ended up in her examination room because of behavioral problems at school. It was found that the highest rates of ADHD symptoms came from children struggling with trauma.
A study looking for ACEs, or adverse childhood experiences, was devised and broke these experiences down into 10 categories. The higher the ACE score, the greater the risk to their long-term health. Dr. Harris used this study as the foundation of her work into ACEs and the test is provided at the back of the book (Appendix 1). The original study, conducted by Dr. Felitti, came about when he realized his patients were struggling with keeping weight off due to psychological barriers. They would lose the weight and then gain it all back. He started asking questions about when the initial weight gain began. His patients had all began gaining weight after an adverse childhood experience.
Dr. Harris stated that many caregivers might not give accurate adversity reports due to shame or fear. There is also a long history of “we don’t talk about things like that,” in many families. Often, toxic stress is passed from parent to child. However, Dr. Harris claimed that if given a safe, stable and nurturing environment at an early age, children can develop a healthy stress-response system in adulthood. She also began treating whole families. Helping them get the psychological support they needed to heal the generational trauma and end the cycle of toxic stress. She also prescribed sleep, exercise, good nutrition, healthy relationships and meditation to her patients.
ACE screenings should be routine at this point. I asked several friends if their children had been screened for ACEs and only one had. It was included in the testing for dyslexia. I was alarmed to hear that so few children are actually being screened for ACEs. Dr. Harris stated that she found herself in a state of “not-quite-getting-it” for years because she was practicing medicine as she had been trained to. Treat the symptoms. She wasn’t trained to look for a biological connection between health and adversity. Many doctors also find it too uncomfortable to ask difficult questions. The silence needs to be broken. The vicious cycle of childhood adversity needs to end with us. That can only be done if we speak up and reach out. As Dr. Harris stated, “… we needed a village.”
Rating: 5/5 Stars
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