A simple Instagram post showed me it’s good to talk.
I’ve been having Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy for my post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) arising from Hugo’s death, and the events that led up to it.
It’s been a rough week in a rough couple of years.
My brain feels like I’ve shoved all my traumatic memories in to a virtual cupboard. It’s all thrown in haphazardly, a right old mess, and the door has been squeezed shut and bolted. When the door is opened it all lands on top of me, squishing me at the bottom of the pile.
EMDR is about reprocessing memories. To use the cupboard analogy, it is about sorting through the memories and putting them back in the cupboard neatly so that when you open the door you can see the contents without too much drama.
Real life isn’t that simple of course, and the reality of EMDR can feel, to put it bluntly, like a bit of a mindf*ck.
There are several processes of EMDR and last week was the beginning of the reprocessing stage. I felt like I’d relived everything all over again – and of course I had, in my head. The reprocessing part made me feel like I was going completely mad. It frightened me.
Part of PTSD (for me, at least) has involved dissociation. It’s a safeguard mechanism, to protect me from the worst of the trauma and enable me to function, to survive. It’s not something I do consciously, it’s an automatic response and one that I know is unhelpful in the long run.
I know, of course, that it all happened to me, to Hugo, and my family but the EMDR tore down those protective barriers with a wrecking ball and a bulldozer.
OMFG this actually, really happened to me!
The maelstrom of thoughts all fighting for space in my head leaves little room for rational thought and how to get myself out of the spin.
I didn’t want to tell anyone for fear: of saying it out loud, of being told I had at last gone completely down an irreversible path.
I felt a sense of shame, too: that I am a useless failure, a disaster area failing at life. Such a negative inner dialogue does little to help me feel any sparkier, of course.
I was wondering why on earth I had asked for EMDR therapy when it is so awful, and had sent me several steps back when just a few weeks ago I was full of positive confidence again. I wished I had never started.
So instead I put on my brave face and a pretty dress and pretended I was ok.
Those closest to me saw through my act and encouraged me to get support.
Thank goodness, a chat with my therapist revealed that all my symptoms were completely to be expected in the context of the trauma, and of the therapy.
Phew. One less thing to worry about.
There are things I do to try and make me feel better, more upbeat and positive, and present in the world. I go go the gym: it’s a great stress release and focus especially doing things you need to concentrate on like boxing, jumping, and bodyweight exercises.
Something I did on Tuesday was go and get my hair done. I was really pleased with it, and wanted to show it off. I thought I’d elaborate and post about how I was feeling on Instagram, and I am so glad I did:
This past week has presented more challenges: EMDR therapy is, to put it bluntly, a real mindf*ck. Imagine a cupboard that you’d just shoved loads of stuff in haphazardly and when you open the door it all lands on your head. Well, this therapy is like that. My brain has gone into dissociative self-protection mode which is incompatible with being a grown-up and doing grown-up things. I’m trying to practise self-compassion and remind myself this is a natural response, it’s a step forward on the journey. It doesn’t mean I’m a useless disaster, which a part of my brain is trying to insist. Having this ongoing conflict in my brain is blinking exhausting! I’ve been working on trying to live in the present – going to the gym helps because I’m focusing on things. I’ve had my hair done (self-care) and tomorrow I’m back at the gym, followed my a massage. I feel like shit at the moment, and I need to tell myself that while that’s not ok because I want my life back, it’s ok to not be ok and to say so. I WILL get there. Step by step, it’s not a race. #HugosLegacy 🌟 💖
I received so much reassurance from lovely people. Most crucially, I received reassurance from others who have done EMDR that the process is really bloody difficult and painful, but so worth it because they feel so much better now. One said it is the best thing they have ever done, while another said it gives her more space to celebrate her son.
The latter comment gives me hope: one reason I was managing to feel more positive is because I had shoved my grief to one side. I was feeling guilty about that, about not spending time to really think about Hugo. Thinking about him, everything that happened, everything that we should have had but lost for any length of time or in any depth is too painful. It was easier not to, but guilt isn’t easy either.
I hope this process will help me find a more comfortable happy medium where I can grieve my son, engage with trauma and triggers without feeling that I am going to completely lose it.
PTSD can feel like wearing a dinosaur suit (a particularly pissed off T-Rex one at that). It’s heavy and tiring to carry around. I want to be able to take off the dinosaur suit and have more energy to engage with real life, and moving forward.
I’m so glad I took a deep breath and wrote that status. Hope is a wonderful gift. It doesn’t make the process any easier, but no longer worrying I am going completely mad gives me more energy for the highs and lows of everyday life.
Just like My Silver Lining by First Aid Kit – my current favourite song – I’ll keep on keeping on.
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