Double-Minded

Here is the first poem I ever wrote on 9-17-12, and it also happens to be my favorite. This was when my anxiety was first really climaxing and then I had my first flashback on 10-5-12. My faith was still strong at this point, but around this time I began to struggle greatly with my relationship with God. In order to understand the poem, you have to read the non-italics together (all Bible verses), and then read the italics together (my own thoughts). It’s two poems.

psalm 91_4-5

Your Word says toward me, how precious are Your thoughts

My soul will not be comforted day or night

While I was a sinner, Christ died on the cross

And my aching flesh puts up an endless fight

The desire of my soul is for Your name

We are commanded to not quench the Spirit

It was for Your love for me that Jesus came

But Lord, I feel so deaf and cannot hear it

You promised to help just at the break of dawn

The still small voice I am told to listen for

So I will sing to You, I sing a new song

But the waves crash too loud on the distant shore

I love You, my Rock, my Fortress, and my Strength

If my tears are in Your bottle and Your book

So I will stand and take up my shield of faith

Why do I feel You don’t take a second look?

I must wait patiently and trust in You, Lord

One who doubts is an uncontrollable wave

Your comforting Word is sharper than a sword

I’m double-minded, unstable in my ways

I fear not, I am Yours and You call my name

Lord, I do believe; please help my unbelief

You promised to wipe tears and relieve my pain

Comfort my soul, I am begging for relief

I trust that You will forever be the same.

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The damage is done

my mind

It took a lot of courage to start a blog about my struggle (and as a result, my family’s struggle) with PTSD, and I’m not sure what I was thinking when I promptly told my real world that the blog existed… and as a bi-product, I told my world about my diagnosis. Not long after I posted the link, I began to deeply regret sharing; it’s that feeling of shame eating away at me. I’ve quickly become a part of this beautiful community of bloggers with a PTSD diagnosis; they all write under pseudonyms and if their family knows the blog exists, they have never read it. After nearly three weeks of my blogging, I can see why. I set out to make mental illness easier to talk about, but my posts on this blog have been careful; I cannot share so much of myself or I will just make myself more vulnerable than I already am.

But, the damage has been done so I may as well share. I am sharing because it has wreaked havoc on my family. I keep telling myself that we will come out stronger on the other side… but what if there is no other side? My therapist keeps telling me I need to learn to live with it, and learn to accept that I will always have these, at times, debilitating symptoms. Once I accept, then I can move forward with learning to manage.

It is embarrassing to admit to people I see every day that when my son runs and jumps on me from behind, instead of playing with him, I curl into a ball, cover my ears, close my eyes and cry. Or when my husband uses a certain tone, I hide- again, in a ball with my ears covered and eyes closed. I close my eyes so I don’t see the flashbacks, but they’re in my mind so I see it more readily. I cover my ears so I don’t hear my flashbacks, but they’re in my mind so I hear them more readily. I curl up so I don’t feel my flashbacks, but it makes no difference. My husband is afraid to listen to music in the car because he never knows when he’ll look over to see me dissociated because of a certain song. I never know when I will be triggered, and I may end up in my car in the parking lot at Target in tears because something as simple as the way someone was walking triggered me.

I am so busy surviving that it is a struggle to socialize or clean the house. It takes everything I have to meet my children’s needs.

“Permanent Damage”

Following my first EMDR session over a week ago, it seems I have regressed to having high anxiety and flashbacks nearly all day. I’ve been needing naps during the day because of my inability to fall back asleep after nighttime feedings. I have not been this exhausted since I was pregnant. I even had a brand new flashback, one that has sent me into hours of researching the cult one side of my family was raised under. However, I know I have not completely regressed because I had a doctor’s appointment two days ago; my fourth in five months for the same problem. I was not triggered during the exam like I typically am. He told me I have “permanent damage” from giving birth and that I’d most likely have mild pain for the rest of my life… unless however, I had more children, then it would worsen. He gave no recommendations, just a professional “suck it up” and was out the door. I was more bothered by the news than the exam itself. It wasn’t until several hours later that I began to spiral because of where his hands were touching me.

I spoke with the EMDR therapist on the phone yesterday and she’s sending me back to my regular therapist for more CBT until both my containment skills are improved and the baby starts sleeping longer. It was so disappointing; I had a glimpse of healing and relief. I am ready to move on with my life.

I have not fully regressed. I still have yet to yell at my son due to his overwhelming urge to exacerbate my symptoms when I only want to be left alone. I even had enough patience to teach him to read three letter words.

My First EMDR Session

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) research success rates make the treatment appear somewhat magical. If I recall correctly, EMDR is one of the most scientifically based therapies. However, it seems that no matter the level of research I did to prepare myself for the therapy, I had no paradigm for the process until I was the client.

I anxiously sat on the couch and looked around the room as I answered her questions. At the end of the questioning, she told me I was not ready for treatment. She said I need to work on my coping and containment skills; I need to learn to shut my emotions down and not let them spiral; I need to be able to manage my triggers before I reach a 10. She would talk to me in several weeks to determine if I would be ready then.

The therapist noticed my dejected expression and said she’d show me what EMDR was like. I watched her remove the “tappers” from the chest across the room. She handed me a tapper for each hand and calmly stated, “Tell me when you’re in your safe place,” as she returned to her seat. I did, and she told me to describe my safe place, including how I felt and where I felt it, what I heard and what I saw. Then, she turned on the tappers and I felt my hands vibrate alternately for a few seconds each.

EMDR

After about 15 seconds, she asked me how I felt. I explained that it was difficult to concentrate on my safe place with my hands vibrating. She said we would try one more time. After I had found my safe place, she turned the tappers on once more. “What did you think?” she asked once this set was complete.

“I don’t like these,” I replied.

“Are you okay?”

After what felt like an eternity, I was able to speak. “The tingles from the vibration are the same thing I feel right before I dissociate.” Session was over, but the therapist decided to do the lightsource grounding technique on me. This is where you imagine a light coming in from above and flowing through every inch of your body. Instead of grounding me, I felt myself slipping farther away as it spiraled me into flashbacks.

At some point after I left her office, I dissociated completely. When I was once again cognizant, I nearly panicked because I was driving and had no idea where I was. I was about to pull over when I saw a sign that indicated I was less than five minutes from home. I had never dissociated while driving before, and the flashbacks I had the remainder of the night were stronger than usual.

The Battlefield

I have always been highly anxious and highly dissociative, but I have only met the full criteria for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for about a year and a half. A therapist friend shared with me that it is common for women in their late twenties to develop PTSD because:

  1. The brain is fully mature and has the ability to understand past trauma
  2. Many at this age are married and beginning to have children, and either (or both) of these things could cause the brain to recall trauma that has been stored away
  3. They are safely removed from their trauma and their brains have deemed their new environment as “safe”

Whatever the reason (and possibly all three), within a period of about six months, my memories manifested themselves into visual, tactile, and auditory flashbacks. For a year straight, the only time I was not immersed in this battlefield was when I was actively working with my clients. The battlefield wreaked havoc on my marriage, destroyed two of my closest friendships, deeply injured my faith, and I nearly lost my sanity and my job. With my clinician brain, I constantly questioned my flashbacks as truth, but always returned to the conclusion that everything I was experiencing was in fact a product of real trauma I had experienced. I have only had three flashbacks that were not a part of my conscious memories, and I have one memory that is slightly different than the flashback it turned into. I find flashbacks very interesting, and I find the unfolding of flashbacks to be even more interesting… from a clinical standpoint, not from a victim standpoint.

I was in therapy at the time for general support, but I quickly found a new therapist. I spent a year working endlessly to decrease the intensity of my flashbacks and decrease my emotional reactions using CBT and DBT, but art therapy and writing became my refuges. My flashbacks and spirals decreased to a couple days a week, which I found to be far more manageable than the constant flood of feeling from my past. This is when I sought EMDR, hoping it would further reduce my anxiety and flashbacks, and would improve my current anxious-avoidant attachment style.