Saturday, October 25, 2008

How EMDR Therapy Affected Me

Over time I have been diagnosed with Major Depression, Dysthymia, Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Because of this I have spent time in a hospital where I learned really good coping mechanisms, took meds and most importantly was introduced to "Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing", otherwise known as "EMDR".

To explain what it is a bit more, I took the following from an EMDR therapy website:

Patients who have suffered for years from anxiety or distressing memories, nightmares, insomnia, abuse or other traumatic events can now gain relief from a revolutionary new therapy called EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing).

Research shows that EMDR is rapid, safe and effective. EMDR does not involve the use of drugs or hypnosis. It is a simple, non-invasive patient-therapist collaboration in which healing can happen effectively.

This powerful short-term therapy is highly effective for a wide range of disorders including chronic pain, phobias, depression, panic attacks, eating disorders and poor self-image, stress, worry, stage fright, performance anxiety, recovery from sexual abuse and traumatic incidents.

Many patients who have made slow progress in the past, or who have not benefited from more traditional therapies say that with EMDR they have finally found something that works for them!

EMDR truly works. While in the hospital I was introduced to this new type of therapy and was amazed at how it helped me. I wrote the following about it (two years ago) in order for others to understand a bit more about it, how it helped me and also encourage anyone that may benefit from this type of therapy. Please note that some things discussed below can "trigger" others who have been sexually abused, so if you think that it will bother you, please don't read this post any further.

My Experience with EMDR

I was sexually abused from the age of two onwards. I had never really dealt with what happened and was able to hide the events and the emotions that stemmed from the events deep away in my soul. I walked around for 34 years acting as if it never happened. My coping mechanism was to forget about it, however sometimes the past would rise to the surface and obliterate me.

When I thought about past events, I would actually feel physical sensations such as extreme fatigue, weakness and my body would actually feel numb. My emotions would retreat to a faraway place and my mind would even feel numb and sluggish. I would yawn a lot and wanted to go to bed and sleep. That was one of my problems when I experienced what I call my “downward spiral”. I would sleep. A lot. I could sleep for days and not wake up except to go to the bathroom. I didn’t eat, read a book or do anything but sleep in a deep and dark slumber.

When I was younger, it did not affect my job because I would be able to go to work and then immediately go to bed when I got home and sleep until the next morning (or through the weekend until the next Monday morning). For some reason, as I got older, I wasn’t able to do that anymore and the downward spiral started to affect not just me, but my family and job. I couldn’t get out of the bed no matter how hard I tried. When I was awake in the bed I would very logically think about how I would kill myself without hurting my family (well, it seemed logical at the time). I missed days from work and felt horribly guilty about it. I felt like a failure. My downward spirals would last longer and longer until finally it lasted for three months. I almost lost my job at work and due to my counselor I finally made the choice to check into a psychiatric hospital. My counselor wanted me to make the choice instead of committing me herself and though it scared me to death, I agreed. That singular choice had a profound effect on me and changed my life for the better.

While in the hospital, I met with a counselor named Libby to do EMDR. I did not know what to expect and was a little worried about this “EMDR thing” I kept hearing about. Libby had told me that it could really help a lot in trying to deal with past issues that were troubling me so greatly.

As I sat in her office, she told me that EMDR might be foreign and strange to me. She explained that she would wave her hand in front of my face from left to right and back again like a fan. She said I would need to concentrate on her hand because moving my eyes left to right while watching her hand would induce the same type of reaction in my brain that REM sleep induces. It sounded quite weird, but I was ready to try anything.

She said for me to think of a place that I felt most safe. Ironically, I visually saw my bed. I never realized until then that I felt my bed was the safest place for me. No wonder it was so difficult to get out of it during my downward spirals! She told me to imagine myself there and to realize that I was truly safe and nothing could hurt me while going through EMDR.

After explaining the process, she took out a questionnaire and asked me to either remember the most traumatic event in my life or my first memory. Since I was new to EMDR, I did not want to dive right off the cliff by going over the most traumatic experience, so instead I decided to go over my first memory. Libby asked what would be best when remembering this event – to visualize it like it was on a movie screen or on a television. She explained that she didn’t want me to be there, but to try and imagine it taking place where I could see it, but not actually be a part of it. I told her a TV would work great because I have always thought that we are people walking around with TV’s in our mind that is better than any TV invented. This is why books are so wonderful because we can explore places by reading words and the TV in our mind translates the words into vivid imagery.

My first memory of life is being in the bed with a babysitter’s son. His name was Joel. I was two years old and he was approximately 18. If ever I thought about this memory, I would always see his eyes, his body and what he did to me. He was touching me and then pushed my head down on him so that I would perform oral sex on him. I would never see myself in this memory, only Joel and what he did.

Libby asked how I felt about this memory. I started yawning and told her how very tired I was and that I wanted to go to bed. I told her the memory made me feel like a weak person and that I even felt the weakness physically. She pushed further and asked what I thought about myself when I thought about this event and I told her that I felt like a failure, that I felt it was all I was good for and that I felt defenseless. She told me to say these words to myself over and over in my mind and then she started to wave her hand back and forth and told me to think about the event with the TV in my mind. The TV cut on and all I could do was watch.

Having a memory is like the TV in your mind cutting on and playing the event whether you want to view it or not. Other than sleeping or self-medicating with drugs or alcohol, it is difficult to tear yourself away from the “show” even if tearing yourself away would be the best alternative. Of course there are healthy ways to cut the TV off and though I never did drugs or alcohol, I always slept and there was no benefit in that action other than being able to forget about it for a while, only for it to loom back like a disease in my soul.

As Libby waved her hand back and forth, my mind seemed to take me visually through the event, except there was a major shift in the memory. The camera angle had changed! I did not see Joel anymore. For the first time, I saw myself...little me. I actually saw that I had on a diaper with nothing else. My hair was long down my back and I could even feel it tickling my back.

Wait a minute…it wasn’t my fault! I was so little! I was just a baby! I couldn’t even hold my bladder, hence the diapers and to think that my whole life I have walked around thinking that I could have prevented this event from occurring. I didn’t do anything wrong. I didn’t even know that what he was doing was wrong. I was only two years old. I dealt with the event at two as a true innocent, however my entire life I viewed the event through the eyes of an adult and never had given grace to myself.

After telling Libby how I could see myself for the first time in this memory, she then asked me how I would like to feel about this memory. I told her that I wanted to feel and remember that it wasn’t my fault, that I am not defenseless and I can choose to defend myself. I am not powerless. She asked that I say these words over and over in my mind as she waved her hand back and forth again. As I said these words to myself, I saw my two-year old self. I saw my innocence and finally I gave grace to that little girl.

After the session, I could not believe that I no longer felt tired. I wasn’t yawning anymore and my body did not feel weak and numb. I felt lighter and more free. A heavy load had been taken off my shoulders and even now, weeks later, when I remember this event, I only see myself. I don’t see Joel and the anger no longer envelopes my soul. My anger is gone and I only feel love for that little girl.

Thank you, Libby!

I urge everyone who has traumatic events that still haunt them to try EMDR. It is not hocus-pocus and definitely works. I had EMDR treatment over two years ago and can still think about my first memory without the horrible emotions that used to be attached to it. It is no longer traumatic and I am ever so grateful for this therapy.

Have you tried EMDR? If so, what was your experience like?


Leslie Johnson said...

I have never been treated with EMDR, but I commend you for putting yourself out there like this. Fantastic post. This is why I like reading blogs. Thank you for sharing.


Immi said...

I haven't tried it, but maybe I should.

Chunks of Reality said...

Thanks, Leslie. If you think EMDR would help you, try it out. It is amazing how the benefits lasted so long and it was such a short therapy to go through.

Chunks of Reality said...

Immi - Definitely try it out. It's really awesome and helped me so much. I know others who have experienced EMDR and they all have raved about it.

If you try it, let me know what you think.

Clueless said...

Thank you for your courage of speaking out your truth. I know the reason for my blogging is to be able to speak about the truth of my life.

I have never been treated with EMDR, but my therapist has a therapist friend who only does EMDR and says that he likes doing it and that it works well.

Mine doesn't do it and I don't want to try. Besides, after knowing my therapist for more than 20 years, I couldn't really trust anyone else with that type of treatment. Heck, I just really talked about my eating disorder for the first time...I'm kinda defended. LOL!!!

Clueless said...

Thank you also for sharing the details of EMDR. I have a much better understanding of it.

Chunks of Reality said...

CC - I just read your post about the ED and am very proud of you. I know how difficult it is to talk about certain things and it took a lot of courage for you to post about it!

Please talk with your therapist about you think you would feel more comfortable if your therapist sat in on a meeting to talk to the other therapist who specializes in it? You don't have to do it, but at least ask questions about it.

Only do what you feel comfortable doing, it's just I experienced the benefits of it and hope others can experience the same.


Clueless said...

I wouldn't feel comfortable doing it. And, through the catalog of memories that flash everyday (intensity and intrusiveness are getting better), were would I even begin.

Lilize said...

well it is good that you at least managed to find something to help you come to terms with it.

i usually tell friends, we all have problems, we all go through stuff... obviously some more than others, but we all have issues... the difference is just how you deal with it.

you seem to be a very together and strong person :)
thanks for visiting me, btw! :)

Anonymous said...

This sounds really interesting. I suffer from a phobia and earlier this year I tried hypnosis to help me. It helped but not as much as I would have liked. Now I want to look into EMDR. Thanks for posting this.

Chunks of Reality said...

CC - I completely understand. Do what feels right for you. That is the most important thing.

Chunks of Reality said...

Lilize - Thank you for your kind comments. The problem is that I don't talk to anyone about what I'm thinking or going through. This blog has really helped to get things out and through it I'm trying to find a different way to deal with things. It's tough, but it's a journey and there is a finish line. :)

Thanks again!

Chunks of Reality said...

Kitkat - I have never tried hypnosis and have always wondered what it would be like. If you try EMDR let me know what you think and good luck! :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for commenting on my blog and pointing me to this post.

Your experience sounds very interesting - it was a little hard to read, but I'm glad I read it.

I am definitely going to pursue looking into this - hopefully it can really help me out!

template by