Essential Oils? Vitamin Deficiency? – PTSD

Herbal Essence Dropper

Does anybody have any specific knowledge or experience regarding the use of essential oils, particularly to treat PTSD symptoms? I have been very curious about essential oils since I read about a friend whose son with autism was able to decrease his levels of risperdal due to using essential oils. For some reason, I always seem to be wary of homeopathic remedies, but if it has helped anyone’s PTSD symptoms, I am willing to try. I have a friend who has the following oils to help with anxiety, and she was going to let me try them: Lavender, Balance, Serenity, and Breathe.

Also, I know nothing about vitamins, but am wondering if PTSD symptoms (namely dizziness and anxiety) are ever caused by a certain vitamin deficiency or another physical issue. Has anyone ever gone for bloodwork regarding PTSD or gone on a certain vitamin and had their PTSD symptoms decrease? I know hypoglycemia sometimes gets me because I under eat when I’m stressed. I know I have been dizzy all day and just took a prenatal vitamin I had left over from MY SON! (with my other two pregnancies, I jumped onto the gummy prenatal vitamins bandwagon and so these swallow pills have been in my cupboard for 4.5 years!) and within 30 minutes my dizziness went away.

I don’t know, what do you think?

Photo credit: http://essentialjoy.lorig.me/category/essential-oils/page/2/

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Containment Skills

During an emergency therapy session last week, therapist #2 had me work on containment in order to ground me. She had me write out trigger words and items that are triggers around my home, and how I feel when I am triggered. Then, I folded them as many times as I could and placed them into an envelope, and then sealed the envelope. She asked me what I wanted to do with the envelope. I told her to keep it. She said that the point of the exercise is to give me control. I am putting these triggers and feelings away until I choose to pull them out one at a time, and I get to control how long they are out (ie, for a therapy session only). I mostly felt better after session. Then, yesterday I had supervision at work (speaking with a licensed therapist to share and collaborate on my cases, which is a requirement for me as I seek licensure), where I shared some of my problems containing my own “issues,” especially regarding a specific client. She again shared the concept of containing the issues in either an imaginary box or a real box. I told her the words keep escaping from their imaginary box, and that my box continued to explode. She told me to stop making up excuses and to practice what I preach.

crayons

Once I returned to my office, I had a no-show, so I decided to use my art therapy supplies to contain my feelings and triggers again.

trigger words

I folded them up and placed them in my work bag, for lack of a better place at work.

in purse

On an afterthought, I wrote something else to place in my pocket to help ground me when I needed, along with this Lego. The Lego has been in my pocket since my session on Thursday. She gave me a polished rock for my pocket as a tangible grounder, and I replaced it with the Lego because it reminds me that I’m fighting for my children. The paper reminds me that no matter how dirty I feel, my body is white as snow.

lego

Is EMDR Helpful?

EMDR 1

Last year, I attended a trauma training and the trainer touched on eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). He stated something like, “It’s very simple, the client moves his eyes back and forth several times and then the feelings associated with the trauma are no longer triggered! For the deeper traumas, they may have to have the process repeated. It’s a very effective and very interesting therapy!” This tends to be how many mental health therapists view EMDR. It is an intriguing enigma because, after years of working to evolve therapy into something that is always helpful, there is finally a method that is shown to be consistently effective.

Francine Shapiro, “discoverer” of EMDR, has stated that EMDR is effective in all traumas, but that “it takes longer when you have multiple traumatic experiences because there are more memories that need to be processed.” Studies upon studies have shown the effectiveness of EMDR because it uses the brain’s natural abilities to heal itself. It is effective, but is it always beneficial?

As I’ve written previously (About PTSD), EMDR pulls the traumas that are stored in the limbic system and brings them into conscious memory, in order to be stored correctly in the cortex. This tends to be a fairly straightforward process for those who have experienced a one-time trauma in adulthood. However, because the childhood brain is so malleable, when children experience a significant trauma, their brains are forced to veer from normal development in order to process the trauma and protect the brain.

One of the very common ways children manage trauma is through dissociation. It is common for these previously dissociated memories to surface in adulthood, mostly because the brain is finally fully developed around age 25 (the topic of recalled memories is quite debated, but it is indeed common). This is a normal process as the brain attempts to bring the memories into consciousness in order to be stored correctly. Some memories become conscious, and some do not; it depends on what the brain feels it can manage at a conscious level. EMDR fast tracks this process and does not allow the brain to pick and choose which memories it is ready for. Therefore, those who have experienced complex trauma (continual trauma during childhood) may become flooded with very intense memories. The complex trauma survivors’ brains have spent years adapting to the trauma and building up walls of protection so the person can survive. EMDR reverses these protections and breaks down the very protective walls they have spent years building.

Many complex trauma survivors who have attempted EMDR have reported that it makes them feel worse and that they are unable to manage the overwhelming feelings. Recalled memories return at such a quick rate that leaves the survivors flooded. The brain is not prepared for an onslaught of memories because naturally, it unfolds trauma at a far slower process. This seems to be what the non-EMDR trained therapist does not understand; I have found myself considering referring clients with complex trauma for EMDR in the past, simply because it is known as an effective therapy for trauma survivors. Now, I realize that in the case of complex trauma, it may be more beneficial to allow the survivors’ brains to unfold the memories at the rate their brains can manage (however slow and exhausting the process may be).

While many mental health therapists are intrigued by EMDR, and rightly so, not every trauma survivor is well-suited for EMDR. Because EMDR fast tracks processing, the processing could take less time, but the process could leave the client in a heap. EMDR therapists understand this and are able to filter their clients accordingly. However, even the smallest safety-building EMDR session may send their complex trauma survivors into a spiral of the past that their minds have worked so hard to forget (I therefore recommend great caution in reading Francine Shapiro’s book, Getting Past Your Past, because it immediately teaches the basic concept of bilateral stimulation to improve safe place).

If you are interested in reading more about a personal account, I invite you to click on the EMDR tag at the bottom of this post.

Re-parenting The Inner Child

inner child dressesDraw your inner child connecting with you

In the mental health world, we often consider those with complex trauma as “stuck.” This means that at the point where their trauma began, a portion of their brains stopped developing, and even as adults they exhibit some of the same emotional development they did at the age where they became stuck. Clients who are “stuck” may over-attach to those who exhibit desired parental qualities or are older. This can easily lead to unhealthy attachment. It is typically healthier to transfer these feelings onto a therapist, who is better able to manage these needs with proper boundaries. Talk of re-parenting usually occurs in these therapeutic situations.

I heard a beautiful story once of a family who re-parented a teenager with complex trauma, including reading children’s stories and tucking her into bed. Through this endeavor, the family changed the course of the teenager’s life and improved her attachment style. Though this is the deepest desire of all inner children, the time and effort this requires makes this kind of story quite rare. However, the concept is very common, especially in therapy.

Some therapists help clients re-write their stories as if they were their own parents, each chapter of the story being a different age bracket. Other interventions include encouraging the clients to listen to and meet the needs of the inner child. This may include offering her something as simple as a juice box, time on the bed with her favorite blanket, or a coloring book when she is having a tantrum. Through meeting these needs, it is theorized that the inner child will feel her needs are met and will calm down. I personally do not believe the child will ever become completely “un-stuck,” but the inner child can certainly be made to feel safe. With care, the child will not feel she needs to wreak havoc in her adult’s life.

When people hear talk of re-parenting, it is common to feel uncomfortable. After all, connecting with the inner child may remind us of how popular culture has turned diagnoses like Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) into something to fear or make jokes over. According to a study, DID occurs in approximately 1.1% of the population and ought to be better understood than a few movies. Dissociative Disorder NOS (DDNOS) is a far more prevalent diagnosis for survivors of complex trauma. Those with this diagnosis may have successful careers, and when their brains are engaged professionally, they exhibit no symptoms (this relates to their ability to easily separate from other parts of themselves). However, they have frequent and lengthy periods of partial or complete dissociation or feeling they are walking in a fog. Those with DDNOS often have a very strong sense of an inner child, who is developmentally the age of the adult when the trauma began (re: being “stuck”). It is the inner child who recalls and relives the trauma. However, they differ from DID in that the child does not have her own identity or take over completely. The adult is typically always in ultimate control of the mind and body, though they may feel the constant struggle of the inner child.

Some ideas on meeting the needs of the inner child

Cut your food into small pieces

Have a blanket to use for comfort

Have crayons and a sketch book or coloring book handy

Listen to kids music

Keep juice boxes in the fridge for her

Write letters to her

Allow her to keep a journal (giving her a voice will calm her)

Visualize yourself holding her and tucking her in at night

Keep your favorite childhood toy, or buy a favorite toy for her

Paint fingernails and toenails

Finally, if you have children, play with them. Allow yourself to feel nurtured as you meet their needs.

For more ideas on healing the inner child, read Courage To Heal or click here 

inner childA bed prepared for my inner child’s favorite doll, which should arrive Saturday

Too damaged

I spoke with my EMDR therapist last night for the first time in a couple of months. I described the problems I’ve had since the initial session, including significantly increased periods of dissociation and complete loss of memory; two onslaughts of 20-50 long-forgotten memories each; and physical pain. She told me these were major red flags because “We weren’t even digging, we were doing safety stuff. It was supposed to enhance your safety!” She told me she didn’t think EMDR would be a good idea because of the red flags. She explained (as I had found in research recently) that EMDR is most helpful for one-time traumas occurring in adulthood. With complex trauma, the brain has spent years learning to protect itself- EMDR reverses the protections and can easily send a complex trauma survivor into a tailspin. She said case studies she’s read show that complex trauma survivors have needed EMDR for upwards of 3 years before improvement is evident. She said that before EMDR, complex trauma survivors would learn to manage the feelings and memories as it slowly comes back, and would often be in therapy for years and years.

So those are my two options. Be in therapy for years upon years and feel like I do now… Or dive in head-first and break my neck because flooding is a reckless idea in my situation. Receiving real EMDR would cause my brain to break down its protections and I’d basically fall apart. She said that to help me manage my physical pain she could refer me to a chiropractor for massages and pressure point therapy, but that this could trigger stronger body memories than I’m currently having.

It is discouraging to be told I’m too damaged for a type of therapy. It’s also discouraging that I have a long long road to recovery. I am already exhausted. How much more can I endure?

I Challenge Thee….

To a Pi memorization contest!!!! I challenge you to report back at the end of the day, the following:

-Number of digits memorized

-Mood at the beginning of the day (including 1-10 scale)

-Mood at the end of the day (including 1-10 scale)

Official hypothesis: If a person is spiraling and chooses to memorize Pi, then the person’s mood will improve by at least 2 points.

Why? You’re engaging a different part of your brain that is not connected with emotion.

Ready, and…. GO!

greek alphabet

Photo courtesy of my son’s bedroom 🙂

Mentor Lost And The Discombobulated Attachment Style

I think I recall learning in undergrad that only about 25% of people in the US have a secure attachment. That leaves the rest of us with anxious-avoidant, anxious-ambivalent, or disorganized attachments. The anxious-avoidant attachment style is characterized by unhealthy disinterest in attachment altogether. Those with an anxious-ambivalent attachment style over-attach themselves to people. The disorganized attachment style is considered the most destructive of attachment styles, and is marked by an unpredictable mix of all three of the previously mentioned attachment styles.

Though it was 2007, I recall learning these attachment styles with great clarity, down to which seat I sat in (second row from the right, second seat back- I am really a front row learner but embarrassment during undergrad led me to the second seat instead). At first, I thought the anxious-ambivalent fit me, and then was struck by how well the anxious-avoidant fit. Finally, my breath stopped at the disorganized attachment style; that was me!

Having a disorganized attachment has led to some doozies in relationships, namely with older mentors. I seem to have a need that I believe an older mentor would fill, and they do for a while. Inevitably however, they tire of my constant combination of neediness and withdrawal- often at the exact same time.

This has happened more than once, but my most recent mentor strikes the heaviest chord. Why? She tried the hardest. She held on for 35 weeks and 3 days; 2 days shy of 8 months. For 8 months, she reached out daily with phone calls and emails, I suppose hoping that her persistence would allow my anxiety to settle a little.

As much as I desired a healthy mentoring relationship, I could not allow someone to see my vulnerability. This goal to sabotage the very stability I desired was met with newfound vigor when she caught me in a public bathroom crying about a friend who had been killed by a drunk driver- she held me while I cried. I knew from that point forward that I could and could not trust her, both at the same time.

To say the least, our relationship became discombobulated and ended very badly, just over 7 months ago (7 months and 3 days to be exact), unfortunately with no resolution, closure, or discussion. We ran into each other a couple months ago, and with a passing touch to my forearm I knew she still cared. I hope and pray that one day a healthy friendship will be restored between us. That she’ll forgive if she hasn’t already- holding onto hurt is not her style. That my cycle of destroying the very human relationships I most desire will end.

I love and detest my disorganized attachment style. It keeps me safe, yet it ensures relationship is not how I will come to heal (and still it is how I most desire to heal). It is both my best and worst quality that has come about as a result of my trauma.

I believe only the Lord can handle this and not walk away. But I both love and detest the thought of trusting the One who watched and allowed my trauma. I am told to trust Him; I pray to trust Him. Only He can change my heart, and yet He has not. I keep searching for Him. Perhaps it’s the search He desires from me. Perhaps it’s the search He will use to heal me. I pray relief comes quickly before I destroy any other relationships in my wake.

Alternatives to Self-Harm

3-3-14

Common coping skills offered for self-harm often include a less intrusive form of self-harm, including snapping a rubber band on your wrist; squeezing an ice cube; digging fingernails into your skin; scratching; or taking a freezing cold shower. All of these provide a minor level of pain and the brain still releases the ever-satisfying (and potentially addicting) endorphins. I have also heard of people drawing hash marks in place of using a blade, sometimes using red ink. I have encouraged these as alternatives when people believe they truly need to feel pain. However, I believe all perpetuate the self-harm cycle… just to a lesser degree than a blade (squeezing an ice cube has also been shown to cause nerve damage). It’s one step down, but it’s not where you necessarily want to be.

Some healthy coping skills I might encourage are: drawing a picture of something sweet (like a butterfly) where you would self-harm; write an encouraging quote (a Bible verse?) where you would self-harm; drinking juice or eating a healthy meal (if you have not eaten recently, your hypoglycemia may be perpetuating your cycle); or healthy exercise.

However, I have found art therapy to be the most effective coping skill in managing self-harm. It’s cathartic, it tires your arm if you scribble hard enough, and if you use bright colors it will improve your mood (whereas the dark colors- especially red- may perpetuate the cycle). This drawing is beautiful because it was used as an alternative. And it worked. I encourage you to try it too.

Therapist By A Thread

“I pledge my commitment to the Blog for Mental Health 2014 Project. I will blog about mental health topics not only for myself, but for others. By displaying this badge, I show my pride, dedication, and acceptance for mental health. I use this to promote mental health education in the struggle to erase stigma.”

bfmh14-copy-e1388959797718http://acanvasoftheminds.com/2014/01/07/blog-for-mental-health-2014/

I came across this my very first day blogging and have been meaning to officially take this pledge ever since. My main purpose in starting this blog was to raise awareness of mental health and erase the stigma of carrying a mental health diagnosis.

When I am in the therapist’s chair, my clients often say things like, “You wouldn’t understand” or “I wish I had it so together like you!” I usually respond with something similar to, “I understand you feel so alone and isolated” for the former and, “Everybody’s got something to work on!” for the latter. On the outside, my job as a professional is to create a safe, one-sided relationship for my clients so they can achieve whatever goals they are in therapy to achieve. I am good at this. I am good at putting the attention on others, and I am very good at redirecting clients. I have even become a star at answering the mandatory personal questions (ie. “What’s the most difficult thing you have ever experienced?” to which I often replied while pregnant, “Making it through this therapy session without peeing my pants!”) while playing therapy games with clients. My clients have no idea of my diagnosis, and that is ethical and professional. At times, my heart breaks at their feelings of isolation, but it is not my job (on the contrary, it would be quite unethical of me to do this) to share the personal information they would need from me in order to realize that I understand them on a deeper level than the books I studied in graduate school.

But I do understand them on a deeper level. At times, I am struck by their ability to verbalize the feelings I have been working to verbalize in my own therapy for months. I actually sometimes type out what I want to say and bring it to therapy with me, in a desperate attempt to not shut down or dissociate in session. After work, I pull off my professional mask and put on my mommy mask. This includes homeschooling my almost four year old, breastfeeding a five and half month old at all hours of the night, and making half-assed dinners that at least one person will not be interested in consuming. I do my best to keep my mask on until the kids are in bed for the night, but this does not always happen; my son has found me, on several occasions, hiding in the dark bathroom as I struggle to pull myself together.

Finally, I pull off my mask and what is underneath is ugly. There are scars. There is blood. There are tears. There is anger. There is hurt. Hatred. Need. Desire. And there is sin. It is officially labeled posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It is a world that it seems nobody wants to acknowledge. There are deep secrets that, as someone said to me recently, “Our family tends to forget.”

This is why I am writing a blog. It is wrong to forget family secrets. Family secrets strengthen generational cycles so that more and more children are consumed by darkness. I have shared this blog with my real world, and many in my real world are unimpressed. Most have quietly ignored my loud proclamation from this rock I have climbed upon. I am shaking as I make this proclamation, but I am shouting as loud as I can. I am scared to speak out, but I am. I shout louder with the more courage I have, and with the more healing I have experienced. Inside I am weak and bloody, but I will not stop shouting. People need to stop quietly ignoring family secrets. Family secrets need to be exposed and changed… and healed, so that the cycle will stop. If this blog leads just one person to speak up about their scary secrets in attempt to make healthy change, my goal has been reached.

“Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them… . When anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light” -Ephesians 5:11-14.