EMDR therapy a.k.a. Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing Therapy is something most commonly used to treat trauma. This is what I was told when I was sitting in the therapist’s office that they stuck me with because my original therapist was unavailable (and soon after left for good). This was about a month and a half ago. It was also the first time after describing my depersonalization symptoms that someone mentioned this treatment. I had never heard of this form of therapy, not even in my undergrad studies in psychology. Though I am always willing to try new things, this new thing made me a little bit nervous. “This is perfect for you. About 20 seconds after you started talking I knew EMDR was the answer” the therapist told me that day.
Unfortunately, I had already been let down quite a bit by this specific facility that I had a guard up about this magical EMDR that was supposed to help me.
I have had chronic depersonalization since July 28th, 2015 at around 5:00pm. Yeah, I know down to the time when this started. Since that date only once have I felt almost 100% connected again. When I first experienced this, I went to the emergency room the day after because it hadn’t gone away and I didn’t know if something was significantly wrong with me. They told me after a bunch of tests and things that it was psychiatric and sent me to the local mental health facility. Mind you, I had NO idea what was happening to me, and I had NO idea how to describe it to anyone so they could understand. Trying to explain something you don’t have words for to people who could help you is not easy. I went and did an intake with a woman at the facility. Then I got yelled at by the insurance woman.
You would think in such a sensitive facility, the staff would be more calm and kind to their patients. Yeah, no.
So after that, I decided not to see an actual therapist and to just “do it on my own”. I always get that attitude after being kicked down. It’s a REALLY bad habit. It took me almost a year of zero progress to realize I really had to get help and not feel embarrassed by it. So early this summer I went back to the facility and went through another intake. *Note: I’ve been through roughly 3-5 of these intakes since I was about 16 years old.* I decided this time, to just keep pushing and going no matter how knocked down I felt. I swore to myself I would get help until I could get past this depersonalization. The rest of my problems didn’t matter as I could control my depression and anxiety to a degree. So I went and told them this, and she matched me with a perfect therapist. I met with him about a month later. I had one meeting and connected immediately. I had so much hope and so much excitement after that meeting. And then within weeks I found out he was leaving that facility to work elsewhere. The depression and gut wrenching pain of having that hope stripped away was awful. It took me a few hours to get myself together and to relax. I had, had two other appointments already scheduled with him and the next was supposed to be that night I found out he was leaving. I couldn’t face him. I was too embarrassed by my reaction on the phone and overall sadness that I said no to going in and seeing him again. Then they called me to tell me they actually had a woman for me to meet with instead of him anyway. I sat and pondered all day about it. Originally I was SURE I wasn’t going to be going back there because it was bullshit. On my way home from work I called back and said I’d go. Annnd that catches us up to speed. She’s the one who told me EMDR is for me.
On Tuesday I had my first EMDR appointment. Again, I knew NOTHING besides a quick Google search of this therapy. Anyone who’s studied and/or experienced therapy know that each therapist has their own take on a therapy as well. There is only so much Google can prepare you for. So I was nervous but excited with a glimmer of hope again. It had been stated they didn’t know if it would help me with the depersonalization, but that it would benefit me in other ways. I had nothing to lose.
The first appointment of EMDR is talking mostly. It’s the therapist getting to know you, your story, your key points in your life. My therapist wanted me to start talking about my family tree so she knew who was who, and who was living where and all of that jazz. Then she asked me to recall the earliest memory I could. Not having been prepared for this question I drew a complete blank and just stuttered out a few “umm’s and uhh’s”. So she just asked if I could remember kindergarten..pre-K..etc. I latched onto my earliest memories of daycare. I told her the stories I could remember. I went on to talk about how worrisome of a kid I was. How I was always thinking the worst and how my family made it worse. It was always “you can’t take a joke”, growing up. They never realized the damage, I suppose. And I hadn’t either. I always knew who I was as a kid and took pride in being able to see how far I thought I’ve come. Since this appointment, I’ve realized I really haven’t come all that far. I just got a lot better at functioning with it all. When I was about 4, my older cousin molested me multiple times. I don’t know how many times for sure, but two times stand out for me. Those are my earliest memories.
After discussing just these things with her, she told me it was obvious to her that I was filled with so much fear as a child. I never looked at it that way until Tuesday. I never looked back and realized that’s exactly what it was; fear. She told me it was her job to figure out what initially caused it and help me change it.
I went on to tell her that I never have thought it was something traced back that early on that caused Depersonalization 15+ years later. I told her I thought it would have been one of two other traumatic events that occurred since 2013.
In 2013 my grandmother passed away. She kept our family so close. She was so special to us. Then the day after that, my mother almost died by overdosing on ambien. That entire experience was one of the most traumatic and emotional experiences to date. Then in November of 2014 I was raped by one of my best friends at the time. That also was more traumatic than I realized. (If that even makes sense.) It’s difficult to process such an event. I always tell people that he sexually assaulted me, but when I said that to the therapist she shook her head and told me what it was. “He raped you. That is rape.” It’s something that I’ve always known, but that is just super hard to wrap my head around and to actually vocalize.
These two events stand out the most to me when I reflect back on my life and try to process everything that I’ve been through to try and figure things out. After I had mentioned these two events, the therapist kind of nodded and acknowledged them and spoke to me about how I have had a rough life. I explained to her that I don’t feel like I’m allowed to say that. There are so many people who are so much more worse off than I am. I had food, water, housing, a good school to go to, parents not divorced, etc. I’ve read in books and articles and journals and stories about different circumstances and what not but I never seem to include myself in any of them. I never cut myself the slack I do other people. Had someone been telling me the exact same things I go through happened to them, I would sympathize and explain to them that they matter and they’re important too and that yes, indeed, it’s been a rough life. For me to say that about myself, however? I just can’t. The therapist saw that in me, and so I think at some point in the next couple of sessions she is going to focus on that aspect also and try to rewire my brain to be less harsh on myself.
After talking back and forth for about half an hour about different things, she decided to give me a taste of what the actual EMDR therapy part of this was going to be like. This was when I started to get a little nervous because I didn’t think the first session was going to have anything to do with it. I expected just talking and planning for the first appointment.
There are three ways to do EMDR. You can use a light bar and follow a light back and forth with your eyes, you can hold pulsing pods that pulse in each hand repeatedly, or you can wear headphones and listen to a sound alternating in each ear repeatedly. When she explained these options to me, I immediately gravitated towards the light bar because my hearing symptom that I had recently lost then gotten back hadn’t gone away again yet. My sense of touch also was not connected to my mind. It’s safe to say I was relieved when she just automatically grabbed the light bar anyway.
To focus better on the light bar and not strain my eyes, she shut off one of the lights in her office and then turned on the bar. She had me follow the green light that shot back and forth for two minutes while breathing deeply and slowly. Almost immediately I felt the effects of this. I’m used to meditation, so I embraced the relaxed state my body was entering even though my eyes were in fact already getting tired of going back and forth so much. After a couple of minutes of that, she asked me to think about a safe/happy place. It was after this first question I realized how difficult it was to think with my eyes going back and forth. It took me longer than it should have to answer this and the rest of her questions with this light bar, but I finally responded with an art studio. My happy place is/will be an art studio in my own home some day. A studio with hardwood floor splattered with paint here and there, and bit tables with pallets across them. Mason jars everywhere you turn with paint brushes and cubbies for canvases. Then a drawing table in the corner that is more cleaned with sketchpad cubbies. She asked me if she were to take a picture of me sitting in the art studio and then paint it, what I would name that painting. I had ZERO idea. I’m always the worst at naming paintings. I said “serenity”, mostly because I couldn’t think of anything else so quick. She had me breath slowly for a few minutes while focusing on the word serenity with the art studio. She had me associate the two so she could just say “serenity” and my image and peace of my happy place would come up in my mind. The next thing she asked me to do was to describe something negative, or that was causing me distress in my life at this very moment. It was incredibly difficult to come up with, but I eventually decided on school. I told her that I left school on two medical leaves and recently tried to go back. Long story short going on those leaves, even though they were for a good reason as I was trying to improve my diminished mental health, hurt me in my chances of getting a degree soon. I can’t go back to attempt school until at least 2018. I told her how much of a failure I felt like because both my mother and sister are in college now obtaining degrees while I was sitting in her office. She had me focus on the emotion that thought provoked, and describe where I felt it. I felt sadness deep in my chest. She had me meditate on that for a couple minutes and then had me tell her how I could change it around to make it positive. I said by telling myself I did the right thing. She had me change it to “I am doing the right thing.” Then she had me close my eyes all together and sit and meditate on those words and the image of me leaving school. When I closed my eyes this therapy made sense. My eyes were still moving like crazy even though I had shut them. She had me focus on I am doing the right thing and then my happy place. She helped me completely reprocess this thought.
And it worked.
Now every time I think about school I’m not plagued by that failed, guilty, pit in my stomach. Not even if I try to get that feeling. My brain has completely stored it the right way now.
So for this reason, I’m super excited to see what my next two appointments hold in store. My second appointment is tomorrow. I’m hoping I can get a blog post up sooner about that one.
Until then, as always,
Peace, Love, and Light to my readers. ❤