Even as a child, Theresa Glass knew physical and sexual abuse was wrong. However, the shame that went along with it — “That was just part of life.”
During much of her adult life, Glass, 46, has struggled with diabetes, depression, anxiety, and her weight. In April, she had a heart attack.
“Part of me thought, ‘You deserve this,’” she says. “These things you went through (in childhood), they wire you to think, ‘I’m not worth taking care of; I’m not worth being healthy,’ and you don’t even know you’re thinking it.”
Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) such as abuse, neglect, or a home with mental illness, domestic violence, or the loss of a parent can affect us long into adulthood in ways that can manifest as both mental and physical maladies, according to a groundbreaking 1997 study by CDC-Kaiser Permanente.
Although Glass had been in therapy for a couple of years and was working through her childhood trauma, she had never heard of ACEs or their effects. Glass only recently recognized the role her childhood played in her health issues as an adult and, she says, “Every part of me knows I do deserve to live, and I do deserve to be healthy.”
Theresa Glass creates art books as a hobby and art therapy.
“Now, my mind and body and my spirit are all working together,” she says. “I’m the healthiest I have been in a long time.”
Prevention and cure
Thrive Ottawa County is a new initiative that aims to educate parents, so they can help prevent ACEs in their children’s lives and give those who have already experienced ACEs resources to overcome the negative effects.
“People, maybe their whole lives, have wondered: ‘Why am I so depressed? Why am I so anxious? Why am I overweight?’ It can be cathartic to realize these things that happened to me as a child (could have caused the issues),” says Patrick Cisler, Executive Director of Community SPOKE, a partnership between Lakeshore Nonprofit Alliance and Ottawa County.
Thrive is training 100 ACE Community Champions in the fields of health care, faith, education, and first responders.
ACEs information is starting to be taught in early-childhood parenting classes. The Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office is training its employees in recognizing the effects of ACEs. And a public campaign with billboard and Facebook ads along with a website — thriveottawa.org
— is helping to inform the public.
Trauma in lockdown
Although Thrive just presented its first virtual ACEs talk, COVID-19 has disrupted progress, Cisler says. The irony is the stay-at-home directive has amplified dysfunction at home and increased ACEs for many.
One of the art books created by Theresa Glass.
“Abuse goes up during times like this,” he says. “It may be even more important for people to understand that actions have very severe consequences.”
Thrive came out of the Ottawa County Community Health Needs Assessment. The survey asked about ACEs for the first time in 2017. Ottawa County is one of the first in the state to collect local ACEs data, Cisler says.
Other initiatives that came out of past needs assessments include the mental health millage and Pathways to Better Health.
Know there is hope
ACEs are preventable. Those who have four or more ACEs are much more likely to have negative outcomes in adulthood, according to the CDC-Kaiser Permanente study.
However, beyond providing education about ACEs, Thrive wants adults who experienced childhood trauma to know it is, in fact, something they can overcome.
“It’s just so important to know that there’s reasons for certain things and you can get help,” Glass says. “It’s hard to process a lot of this stuff. But it’s so worth it, because it’s freedom. It’s freedom.”