Last week I told you about my ER visit and AMAs. Due to the ER visit and the belief that a severe panic attack had hit me in conjunction to other ailments, I started back up with my emotions therapist or spirit therapist if you prefer. My therapist is not a psychiatrist or psychologist, but an EMDR practitioner.
Note. I had participated in talk therapy with psychiatrists and psychologists for about 20 years—regular in the first five years, as required the next fifteen years. There was progress, but not what I hoped for—like the elimination of panic attacks, nightly nightmares, and regular feeling of unease.
My panic attacks, when they hit, create a vibration in the left side of my body that can turn into a numbness. If the panic attack goes farther, it causes disassociation with the body—that feeling where you could swear you stand adjacent to your body. Sometimes the disassociation can turn into an elevated three-quarter view many yards separated from the body and it appears I am looking down upon myself. If the panic attack deepens from that point, it knocks me unconscious—I recognize this blacking-out as it approaches and sit or lie down before I crash.
Usually, there is an emotional component to the panic attack. The emotion is tied into a trauma. The emotion is often abstract, like great fear, but not knowing what to fear, because the trauma is mostly blocked from the conscious mind.
My experience with EMDR therapy is that I, the client, sit in a chair and have stimulus applied to my body, while I discuss the traumas with the therapist. The stimulus comes in three forms: 1) a light bar with a moving light that tracks left then right, 2) an audio component (headphones) of simple music that alternates from one ear to the other, and 3) two buzzers, one for each hand, that alternate back and forth buzzing the palm of my hands and finger tips. The three are synchronized so the left side then the right side input the stimulus. The practice is designed to cause the brain to let go of held trauma. My experience over the past ten years is that it works one issue at a time.
What is bothersome for me is that when one issue is settled and quiets, a new issue rises to the vacated top to say “Boo!” after a respite of one to six months. If you have had a lot of unprocessed or stuck trauma, I guess that is the way it is.
When I say “discuss the issue with the therapist,” I often do not know what the specific issue at first. The talk zig-zags describing the abstract fear until the talk, wolf-like, picks up the scent and closes on the real issue. Often the closer we get to the real issue, the harder my mind fights my revealing what the trauma’s details. This fighting appears as physical violence my mind-body inflicts to itself with extreme muscle spasms (usual), blacking out (rarely), or throwing up (rarely). For some reason the muscle spasms are in my gut and back and bend me to the right at an unnatural angle, sometimes moving ribs a little out of place. When blacking out or getting close to blacking out my body reproduces the feeling of a heavy object slamming into the right side of my head with a loss of hearing in my ears. You all known what throwing up is like, but the cause is the heightened anxiety at reliving the trauma, even a nano-second image of the original trauma if it was severe.
Note. I found I had to take a distraction break from writing this blog entry. To write this entry, even removed from telling you specifics, is to bring myself close to the trauma issues my therapist and I discuss and work on at this time. The break was to let the anxiety level drop down a few notches and some level of comfort return.
Note: When I am in the zig-zag phase, it is not unusual for me to divert on a tangent subject for a couple sentence. This tangent is a good clue I got close to the real trauma and was not quite ready to go there. I think of the tangent sentences as a regrouping mechanism to allow my courage to gather.
So, for me, to get at a trauma is gut-wrenching and mind-blowing. As in my body wrenches the muscles as I approach the trauma trying to protect me from it—I equate these actions to throwing up when a poison food is ingested. Sometimes my mind explodes in a flash of mental light and short circuits me into blackness, where I either pass out or become punch-drunk disoriented for a time.
My understanding of why the mind-induced body violence is still there is that in my mind the memory of the trauma is just as real is if the trauma takes place this very moment in the instant I touch the memory. The mind and body do not wish to re-experience those moments and fight to protect my present off-kilter equilibrium.
EMDR causes the brain to let go of the immediacy of the trauma and places the trauma back into the mind as a memory, not an on-going event. The thing is, in my case, I have to bring up the on-going trauma for the stimuli of EMDR to effect the brain, produce a brain chemical, that tells the mind the event is over and in the past.
What can I tell you is in my case EMDR works. At first, about ten years ago, we went over everything I learned from regular talk therapy with psychiatrists and psychologists earlier in my life and settled those events into the past. As issues rise up after a calm period to say “Boo!” we deal with them—this is eight years running of this off and on pattern of therapy.
If you are thinking to yourself, “Wow ten years is a long period of time,” I agree. (Thirty years if you include traditional talk therapy.) But I choose to look at the sum of therapy against the sum of time living with the trauma affecting my life.
Example: When I was four years old my brother died. The death of a sibling is traumatic and the post death family dysfunction is traumatic, too. I lived with those traumas untreated and locked in me as an on-going trauma from age four into my early thirties. Those events affected my daily life unknown to me. For easy math, lets say I started dealing with that trauma in therapy at age thirty-four. In that case the death of my brother trauma had thirty years of affecting my life, my outlook, my thinking, my emotions, my interpersonal relationships, my self-relationship, everything about me. With hindsight, it is easy for me to understand it takes many years to work (both therapy with a professional and effort on my part to make life changes) on a thirty-year old on-going trauma in all its aspects.
In reading above about the muscle spasms, the blacking out, the throwing up in the effort to reach the trauma to treat it, to heal it, I believe you deduce the process is painful. It is. The pain, I believe, is why many people choose alcohol or drugs instead of therapy. They choose numbness. Unfortunately, healing is often painful. To set a broken bone: painful. To remove a bad appendix: painful. To clean and stitch a deep cuts closed: painful. In modern times science has found ways of making physical healing less painful, but it is still painful. I wish there was an ice pack and two-aspirin treatment for traumatized emotions, but, no, there is not.
If the actual therapy session sounds like a bummer and painful, though with rewards, think of the days between therapy appointments. The old trauma has worked itself to the surface and has been begging the conscious to expose it and deal with it, heal it. Now the first therapy session takes place and exposes some, but not all of the trauma, so it is far more present. Okay. There are seven days until the next appointment. How do I deal with that? Fortunately the old trauma is not at the surface all the time. I can distract myself with chores, reading, games, TV, sports, bicycling. I have Dianne, my partner, who is fantastic, and we have built a good loving home which feels safe and understanding.
In spite of Dianne and distractions the trauma will push through and push me into tears or small panic attack or nightmares a couple times per day. For me the key is recognizing what is happening to myself, then accepting it is happening, and adjusting my plans to accommodate the need to cry or the need to tremble or to ask Dianne for a hug to try to squeeze the quivers away with reassurance.
Adjustments I make while in therapy to get from appointment to appointment. I do not drink alcohol (a depressant). I reduce my sugar and carbs intake which are both hard on the body. I make sure I exercise, especially bicycling which is my favorite form of exercise. I take time to list good things in my life whether past or present. I find things that make me laugh—laughter is very important. I get out in nature—I find nature very spirit healing. Many friends have suggested meditation, but I have not yet picked that up, unless you count sitting in nature meditation. And this time around I have given up the political news on all media platforms.
A wish for good health (both mental and physical) to all of you.
Love & Light