Something that I’ve struggled with over the last couple of years in particular are triggers which, for me, are no longer just reminders of the traumatic event but anything and everything that is even remotely distressing which causes me to have a strong reaction of anxiety and derealisation.
It’s gotten so bad, especially whilst I was travelling I was experiencing unwelcome triggers several times a day. Having these triggers means I having to regulate my daily life from the television I watch, the books I read and the words I use. However I can’t control everything especially what other people do and say, so unfortunately I can never truly avoid them.
I have had a fair amount of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) in the past and whilst it’s very beneficial in dealing with the emotional consequences of triggers it can’t actually make them go away.
This is where Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy comes in. It’s a relatively unusual yet powerful therapy which is especially helpful for PTSD. So last week I took the plunge and booked my first session.
Session One involved giving me a run down of the basics of EMDR. Here’s what I’ve learnt so far:
When experiencing a traumatic incident the right side of the brain takes over and acts in either fight or flight mode. During this time the left side of the brain (which deals with logical thinking) is so overwhelmed it can’t do it’s job properly and goes into freeze mode. Because of this the right and left side of the brain don’t communicate during the traumatic incident, so afterwards the memory stays unprocessed and therefore easily triggered.
The result of this is when something reminds you of the trauma the right side of the brain makes the connection and goes into fight or flight mode as an attempt to protect you, but the left side of the brain is unable to reason with it and tell you that you’re actually safe.
Over time, such as with myself, the brain being constantly alert and overly protective picks up on anything potentially distressing, such as an intense scene in a movie, and reacts to them as a threat and so triggers responses such as panic attacks, anxiety, flashbacks.
The end goal of EMDR therapy is to get both sides of the brain communicating again using bilateral stimulation such as eye movements, tapping sounds or sensations whilst talking about the emotional and bodily feelings towards the trauma which helps the brain to process the memory properly.
I found learning all of this fascinating and makes me feel normal knowing the problems I have are common after a trauma.
During this first appointment I also talked about the side effects that bother me the most, how avoiding triggers effects my life, and how often these problems occur. The great thing about EMDR is that you don’t have to talk about the trauma in any detail, just provide a general hint of what happened – which was a huge relief for me as I find talking about it exhausting! EMDR focuses more on the emotional and physical feelings associated with the memory.
The first few sessions are to make sure you are mentally prepared, to make sure you feel comfortable and safe and in control before moving onto the eye movements. This is not like hypnosis by the way, you are fully conscious and aware of what’s happening during the process and allowed to stop when you want to (phew).
Since EMDR is a mysterious therapy (it has a number of theories explaining how it might work), I thought I would document my progress after each session I have and see what happens! I have to admit I’m pretty apprehensive of the next appointment as I worry that I’ll be frightened into panic mode. But my therapist said it would be tough, like climbing up a mountain before it can get easier on the other side.
Post on session two will be out shortly. Please get in touch or comment if you have any questions.
For more details have a google of EMDR therapy. I find these links really helpful: