The past few months have been challenging.
We live in a different world now. This is 2020, the year of the COVID-19 pandemic. I started the year with PTSD pre-counselling group therapy, which I found very confrontational, and excessively draining. It was only 3 sessions, but still … it was rough. When the pandemic hit, I thought that would be it for a good while to come, and that was scary. We’d only just agreed that EMDR would be the most appropriate way forward, and I thought the pandemic meant that I would have to wait a very long time for it.
Not so. Hurrah for online therapy.
Much sooner than expected came the call: we can start EMDR soon. It will be via Zoom, is that okay? Well, yeah, let’s do it.
All things said and done, this leg of my journey has been going on since March 2019, but my overall journey to recovery has been underway since 2010, with several therapeutic interventions in the meantime. CBT, group therapy, counselling … it all helped, but it didn’t reveal the full scope of hubris that I had to clear out. Not until I shattered my ankle and literally had nowhere else to run.
CBT gave me a decent toolkit to challenge unhelpful thoughts and behaviours. Counselling helped me realise I felt abandoned, and once I understood and recognised my childhood was one of emotional neglect and abuse, EMDR helped to me break free of the hold adrenaline had over my mind and body.
It is an extraordinary experience.
You’re asked to recall a traumatic experience, freeze-frame one particular scene, and bring to mind the way you felt at the time. You’re there in that moment, and all the feelings and emotions you experienced back then wash over you just like they did back then — your shoulders pull up and stiffen; nausea broils in your stomach and rises up in your throat; your chest feels tight and your heart beats a racing rhythm; your throat locks up painfully tight and your mouth runs dry; you feel pangs in your left side and your left arm goes numb, and you go cold and tingly all over, and gradually your vision fails into darkness, and your hearing fades.
All the while, you’re tapping your laptop in sync with your therapist, on-screen – sometimes slow, sometime fast. And when you pause, you relay your experiences. Without judgement, just going with whatever your mind throws at you.
This is your healing time. This is how you process trauma. How you change perspective.
I started with a root memory of myself as a toddler, standing at my mother’s bed, begging her to wake up. This was a recurring thing. It was me and Mum, alone in a large concrete box of an apartment. From dawn to dusk, I was left to my own devices, until it was time for Mum to wake up and get ready to make dinner for Dad. All that time in between I wondered the apartment in solitude. And one day, hungry and thirsty, I drank a bottle of shoe polish, and had to have my stomach emptied in hospital.
It took 3 sessions to work through that initial memory of utter abandonment, but eventually I ended up with an image of my child-self standing at Mum’s bed, but she’s no longer alone. My adult self is right behind her, and I can take of her needs.
Some very powerful emotions – rage, loss, grief – were unearthed during those sessions, and they led on to an ever more significant memory.
My experience of EMDR is one of storytelling. When in session, my mind opens up parts that have long been locked down, and suddenly these long lost treasures rise up from the depths. It’s like playing Tomb Raider, or Unchartered — you can a glimpse of something, pick it up, and stick it in your bag for later, and then when you encounter the puzzle, you can finally put it to good use. Seems I’m solving a lot of puzzles, lately.
This solving riddles and puzzles brings physical relief. I have noticeably more energy, and more pleasure in doing things. And my GAD-7 and PHQ-9 questionnaires back it up. The PTSD one is lagging behind a little, but we’re moving in the right direction.
EMDR is tough, don’t be mistaken about it. But if the time is right for you, then it’s absolutely worth the effort.