Chronic Stress and Parkinson’s Disease — Out-Thinking Parkinson’s

The understanding Dr Gabor brings to the subject also provides us with the ability to identify and address our own possible negative patterns, which may be driving us towards or worsening our chronic disease, and possibly the emotional origins of own personal unhealthy coping styles.

If you have a chronic illness, or know a close friend or family who does, this book is an absolute, if at times upsetting, “must read”, and once read, “must action”. If you are a parent or are thinking of becoming a parent, or a teacher, this is also a must read, and will help to break the invisible cycle of emotional trauma which may have passed down to our own parents from our grandparents.

I personally found reading parts of this book difficult, triggering and disturbing, but it was a revelation I needed, and gave me the certain knowledge that the brain and body and mental and physical health are absolutely non-separable, and that long term effects of chronic stress on the body, and of physical trauma or injuries on the mind, are now very well established by a mature, robust and hard science. Starting from Dr Mate’s work, I researched further and found that indeed such mind-body-emotions connectivity concepts are not just some alternative or eastern philosophy, but are absolutely proven in traditional, mainstream western science too. Indeed, the science behind the book points to susceptibility to many idiopathic chronic illnesses being linked to specific lifelong stressful modes of behaviours, thought processes and relationship styles.

Where this becomes very difficult for those of us already with such chronic illnesses is the dawning realization that, through his illustrative case notes, Dr Mate is describing ourselves: in parts it can seem that he is writing the story of our own lives. Moreover, the book uncovers a very hard truth. The very parts of ourselves we consider so strongly to be our “self-identity” and we may even be quite prideful of, are not inherent personality traits at all, but what Dr Mate refers to as “inappropriate coping styles”.

These coping strategies include patterns of responses learned through emotional or physical trauma, especially in early life, which at the time did exactly the job they were designed to do, and allowed us to survive. However, because we humans tend to get stuck in the events of the traumas and can’t move forwards, we also got stuck in these high stress patterns of behaviour. Continued onwards into adult or later life, these trauma induced coping styles become inappropriate to the context, causing us to live our lives almost perpetually in fight-flight-or-freeze stressed states. These coping styles are what make us lose connection with the present, to have little sense joy or aliveness in the now, turn our relationships toxic, cause addictive and obsessive-compulsive behaviours, feelings of shame and guilt, etc., thus contributing greatly to our susceptibility to idiopathic chronic illnesses.

The books most disturbing revelation is that people with such illnesses tend to have a super-strong, rigid sense of self, that we feel pride in and hold dear, but is part of the problem. According to Dr Mate, the very “personality traits” by which we define our prideful strong sense of self, are actually, precisely, the behaviour patterns of the inappropriate coping strategies or maladaptive survival styles we learned through getting stuck in trauma.

From here, I turned once more to my network and gently probed other people with Parkinson’s Disease as to whether they would describe their personality traits and patterns of behaviour, prior to diagnosis, in ways which matches up with what Dr Mate outlines. Indeed, the similarities to what the book describes and the real lives and case histories of people with PD I found was startling.

However, from there we begin to understand how the trauma or lifetime of chronic stress perspective of idiopathic chronic disease can give us renewed hope. Through my ongoing networking and research, I had found a myriad of methods which can heal our traumas, but moreover, a vast array of people around the world, who, through applying various trauma healing modalities, had indeed managed to significantly reduce their own symptoms, recover or partially recover from many conditions. This included illnesses which some medical doctors believe to be “incurable” or “degenerative” or “hopeless cases”.

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