After my therapist and I did those sessions of reconnective healing, I asked her about EMDR. I did a session once, back in November 2013, with my previous therapist, and it was so interesting and intense that I always kept in my mind the idea that I could pursue this kind of therapy.
EMDR – Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing – is a technique developed to help victims of trauma. It initially became very popular and successful with war veterans suffering from PTSD but it is being increasingly used to treat other forms of trauma – including emotional trauma – and even to soothe anxiety symptoms in people suffering from severe anxiety. Continue reading
I must confess I struggled to finish this book. It is filled with numbers and statistics that, while informative, do not account for the human side of each story and the countless variables that may contribute to the development of disease. It is also very gloomy – according to the authors, no matter what you do you will end up scarring your children for life. If like me you haven’t had children yet, you’ll be left with the feeling that you won’t be up to the task. And if like me you have one or more chronic illnesses, you’ll be told it’s all your mother’s fault. I know there were specific events in my life right after I was born that may have contributed to trauma and chronic stress and anxiety, which in turn may have turned my immune system against myself, but that’s likely just half the story. The way trauma, disease, abuse, attachment and relationships are depicted here is just bleak. There is not much room for successful interventions and outcomes.
The most interesting sections I found in this book was one on epigenetics, which led me to search for more on this topic (I purchase more books than I have time to read), and another one on EMDR. I did a session of EMDR at the beginning of the year and this was the first time I read about it in a book as one of the therapies for trauma. Still, this being the second of two books I purchased on PTSD, trauma and disease, I recommend the first one I read, The Body Remembers, as a much better option to understand the neurobiology of trauma and how trauma can be overcome.
When my therapist said most of my symptoms were consistent with PTSD, off I went on a shopping spree trying to understand everything I could about it. I ended up only purchasing two books (so much for the shopping spree) and chose to pick up this one first because one of the things my therapist keeps telling me is that trauma is always in the body. It is felt, processed, stored and remembered in the body.
This book didn’t disappoint in explaining how. The first part provides a useful introduction to the mechanisms underlying the experiences of trauma. Being the geek that I am when it comes to all things science-related, I enjoyed learning about the role of brain regions such as the amygdala and the hippocampus in processing information, stimuli, emotions, etc, in regulating the body’s response to them, and their connection to memory, learning and language.
The second part is aimed at providing therapists and their clients with techniques to alleviate and treat trauma symptoms using body awareness. The idea that the body is an endless resource for healing is certainly one that appeals to me. I’ve been learning for the past years how to pay more attention to what my body is telling me through yoga, contemporary dance and meditation. Now I intend to follow some of the suggestions in this book as well. I actually had the opportunity to try them today when I woke up startled at 5.30 am due to a nightmare. I didn’t think I could go back to sleep, but I remembered some of the exercises in the book and managed to get some sleep before the alarm went off.
Overall I think this book helped me getting more acquainted with what PTSD is about. It offers a nice balance between psychology and neuroscience, theory and practice. I hope the next one on my reading list will provide me with as much insight.
Yesterday my summer vacations started. I’ll be at home until tomorrow, because there are things I need to organize and take care of. On Saturday I will leave to spend some days at the beach and then some more days in the countryside, and I’m looking forward to it.
But yesterday something really uncomfortable happened to me that I wish hadn’t disturbed my first day off from work. One of my neighbors is an old man in his 80s who used to be a policeman. He minds everyone’s business and spends his days checking who enters and leaves the building. Despite the fact that he claims he can’t see or hear very well due to his age, he knows everything that’s going on. He also walks around checking on the things the building might need, such as a new light bulb, to report to the person in charge, which this year happens to be me.
So he probably saw my car parked during the morning, concluded I was home and decided it would be a great idea to knock at lunch time. Except he doesn’t really knock once or twice and wait like normal people do. He insistently presses the doorbell and knocks on the door with his cane really hard, like the building is on fire in the middle of night and everyone needs to wake up and leave.
I was peacefully finishing lunch while looking at some college stuff I need to take with me when I go away and I suddenly froze when I heard this. The first thing that came to my mind was something that happened when I was about 9 years old. My mother was dating at the time a really charming and intelligent man who had a terrible flaw: he drank, and when he did he became violent. So one night he came pounding on our door so drunk we couldn’t even make out what he was saying. I remember my mother telling my sister and I to hide in the closet, while she picked up a knife and desperately tried to call my uncle to come help us.
Yesterday I was 9 again, frozen, heart racing. I couldn’t react like a normal adult. Though I rationally knew what was going on with me, my body reacted automatically perceiving danger where there was none, because my body learned really early that someone at the door like that meant bad news, so it turned on a stress response I couldn’t control. After this went on for some time and the old man was still at the door, I managed to gather a thought: I thought I should call the police. And then I realized how ridiculous that thought was. I basically managed to tell myself I’m not 9 anymore but I still perceived myself as in danger. And this unfortunately sums up much of my behavior in life in general. I’m hypervigilant and have always had so much trouble sleeping all my life because I never feel completely safe. This chronic stress messed up my immune system and resulted in autoimmune diseases. And what’s missing from therapy is that I know all the roots to my problems but I haven’t yet managed to change my reactions and behavior patterns. I need to take that leap. Or I’ll just keep getting sicker and sicker.
Yesterday I met my new therapist. My old one is moving to another country, so she trusted my files with someone whose work she’s known for a long time.
We started talking, and for the first time I heard the story of my life being given specific and scary names. She said I had a lot of symptoms of post-traumatic stress, and that a lot of events in my life could be considered traumatic. I always thought post-traumatic stress was something only people who had survived war, natural disasters, physical or sexual abuse would experience. Turns out the definition of trauma is anything that threatens one’s survival, and that can include for instance the loss of a close relative in the early years of a young child, especially if the child doesn’t have a secure attachment to the parents and doesn’t have the emotional language to cope with it. That being said, my life has a series of minor traumas and at least three events that, if not considered major, are at least traumas written in bold. The fact that I’m a hypervigilant and have had trouble sleeping since my teenage years is nothing but a consequence.
Then I learned that I had at least two dissociative episodes in my life. One when I was 5 and had to be hospitalized because my legs went numb and I couldn’t feel them or move them, and the other after I turned 20 and suffered an episode of transient global amnesia and failed to remember stressful events in my then recent past. Even my recent state of daydreaming (see previous post) is a form, though mild, of dissociation. To me, “dissociation” and “dissociative” are scary words, so I felt apprehensive when I heard her saying that.
I also felt that returning to therapy after a little hiatus brought back all the resentment, anger, and fear I carry with me and that have been anesthetized through daydreaming and being on a break from therapy.
Overall, I feel like a car when you step on the accelerator with the hand brake pulled up. The engine roars and the rotations in the rev counter go up — and that’s my survival instinct, all ready to go and fight and scream… But the car isn’t really going anywhere, is it?