EMDR – My Journey (Part 3) – An Anxiety High

I’m officially suspending the EMDR “My Journey” series indefinitely. Mainly due to the fact that I’m not sure it’s fair to say how much of my therapy now is EMDR and how much are offshoots of the modality. All I know is that my anxiety has officially taken up residence, on my chest. Before, it was stopping by too frequently but would at least go home and provide me with some down time. Now it has moved in to the upper regions of my chest. It also feels like its bed is a gigantic hammock, mounted to each side of my collarbones; each time it plops down it draws my chest together, tighter and tighter.

I’m also waking up each morning to near panic attack levels of anxiety. I’m having the strangest dreams, which I know are absolutely illogical in context, but they are creating such havoc on my anxiety. For example, I was awoken this morning by a dream where I had gotten all reared up because I couldn’t find the right brand of cigarettes at a truck stop I somehow arrived at. Never mind the fact that I don’t smoke, but I had to keep looking for them because the truck stop was closing and we’d all be locked in for hours if I couldn’t check out in time. I was also buying dog food but apparently had no issues finding it.   I’m not big into every dream “means” something or there’s a hidden message like…I should start smoking 🙂 .  I fall into the camp that dreams are more of a brain discharge, nudged along in some cases by thoughts, experiences, etc. The problem is that anxiety disorders are not logical. Anxiety doesn’t care that I don’t smoke or that truck stops are designed to never close. Anxiety says, “Man, that sucks about your cigs. You should FEEL really nervous and scared about that. Oh, by the way, let me wake you up so you can FEEL it in reality as well.” Bastard anxiety. I know it’s an evolutionary protection mechanism that has kept humans alive for thousands of years, but I just wish somewhere along the way we’d had a switch built in, or at least something like a light dimmer where we could have it calm down a bit. Gee, thanks Natural Selection for conferring with me first…you’re so selfish sometimes. At least the anxiety hasn’t completely dulled out my ability to be a smart-ass!

EMDR: My Journey (Part 2) – Discombobulated

Discombobulated. That’s the word that comes to mind when trying to describe how I feel now at this point in my EMDR journey. The word just sounds right. It’s one of those words that just saying it (or trying to spell it) makes you feel, well…discombobulated. Its definition states, “to confuse or disconcert; upset; frustrate”, which pretty much sums up where I’m at right now. I feel that I’ve progressed and regressed at the same time; two steps forward, two steps back. Or, could it possibly be I’ve been at the same point this whole time and just feel exhausted, not willing to accept that I haven’t moved at all – explaining why I look down and still see myself standing on square one?

What I know for sure is that something is different. There is a calm I have now which appears to be a good thing, but I’m not convinced it’s real. I’m a known pessimist so this view shouldn’t be surprising, yet this actually feels very glass-half-full. This is strange to me because normally at this point I’m looking for my second round and now it seems like I can’t get there because I’m too busy enjoying the first half of my drink. At the same time, my anxiety seems to be all over the place; high/low, big/small. I feel like I’m yelling and screaming but trapped inside a giant Zen ball. It’s as if I’m trapped inside Buddha’s belly.

My therapist told me that I’d by hypersensitive during this process and I am starting to see what she meant. This may explain the extreme calm and anxiety spikes occurring almost simultaneously. The silver lining is that things are moving, or at least something is happening. What worries me is if I’m playing a zero-sum game or is this shake-up of emotions leading me to a better place. As I stated earlier, I still feel like I’m on square one, but it’s still early, very early actually, in this journey. I’m still optimistic, but patience has never been a virtue of mine unfortunately. I feel like the character from an old cartoon my mom had clipped out years ago, “Lord, grant me patience…but please hurry.”

One positive theme through this though is that I’m still on board, still along for the ride. I’ll just feel better once I have some more concrete wins under my belt. However, I’ve always looked for the concrete wins, the black and white, the sure thing; that’s what quiets the anxiety. That line of thinking though has gotten me to this point – way down the road, discombobulated. Which leads me to what honestly scares me the most. What if “wins” aren’t so concrete at all, what if happiness is the gray? This leads me to my biggest fear, the biggest question of all: How does someone know what the gray looks like if they’ve always lived in a black and white world?

The journey continues…

EMDR: My Journey (Part 1)

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve recently started the process of trying EMDR as a new therapy technique to add to my ever-growing chest of tools to help with my anxiety and OCD.  After being referred to a therapist, who I have confidence in and feel comfortable with, we started to lay the groundwork needed to start this therapy.  We started with a family mapping to provide a guide as to “who’s who” in my family (more of a very informal genealogy).  I was then tasked with putting together a Negative History list, which, as the name indicates, meant putting down on paper all of the items in my past that I could remember as being negative and the age they occurred.  I then had to rate each item with my current distress level.  Wow, talk about a stress inducing exercise!  I’d never done anything like this before.  Sure, we all have negative items in our past that we remember and hopefully are able to get past or deal with at some point, but we normally handle them one at a time.  Let’s just say, intentionally sitting at my laptop (oh yeah, I said laptop…I needed a spreadsheet for my list) and purposefully recalling bad things was not very high on my bucket list.  To be fair, I’ve had a great life and my intent isn’t to make it sound like I’ve lived this horrible existence or make trivial jokes about bad things that happen to others.  However, [(to be fair) = (logical)], and anxiety disorders are not logical, they are infuriatingly illogical.

Now that the groundwork had been laid, in yesterday’s session I got my first taste of EMDR.  Actually, it was more like the caffeine-free, diet EMDR.  I can officially say I lasted a full 60 seconds before I had to stop and work out the details of my imaginary safe place.  A “safe place” simply being a mental setting where I feel safe and comfortable.  My safe place was a deserted island where I could put my toes in the sand, my beer always stayed cold, and the sun beamed down on my face.  So why did I stop?  Well, I tend to overthink things, as in, pretty much all the time.  It’s been a tremendous asset professionally and in the classroom when used judiciously; though it can become almost crippling when let loose.  Embarrassingly, I let a bit too much reality creep into my safe place in the form of my fair skin and that wonderful sun beaming down.  Yes, I have to admit, I was worried about a sunburn.  I always have to put on SPF 3000 or I get burnt at the beach so it just naturally snuck in on me.  In all fairness (pun intended) if I had to overthink, at least it was for purpose of practicing good skin health.  Anyhow, I opened my eyes, admitted I needed to tweak the sun’s rays on ‘Mark Beach’, and asked if we could restart.

Other than my little run in with imaginary sunburn, the small taste of the experience went well.  I’m still excited about the new therapy technique and remain optimistic that it can help.  I look forward to my next session and continuing down the road to tackling the underlying issues of my anxiety.  I’ll keep you posted — Surfs Up!

So…are you crazy or something?

I’ve always tried to be very open to the fact that I suffer from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Generalized Anxiety Disorder 1, 2, 3. I don’t necessarily wear it as a badge of honor but I’m also not ashamed of having mental health issues any more than I’m ashamed of having to take medicine to help control my high blood pressure or cholesterol. I also take medicine to control seasonal allergies and I’m Vitamin D deficient. There you have it, my health issues in a nutshell. Please feel free to run away, flail and scream if you need to…I understand seasonal allergies can be a scary thing.

I don’t know why I feel like I have to start out conversations regarding behavioral health with a smart-ass opening. Actually, that’s a lie, I know why I do it; I feel it provides me with a “guilt-buffer” for those who might not make it to the second paragraph. I’m always assuming people will see “mental health” and run, or proceed to discredit anything I have to say from that point forward. It’s a very glass-half-empty approach, I get that, but we do live in a world where we are vastly entertained and tremendously ill informed on so many issues of merit. I worry that as soon as that phrase, mental health, is uttered I have to use a “don’t judge me because my serotonin absorption levels are not at peak performance…it’s not my fault”!!! Ahhhhh…overthinking; classic side effect of OCD. I promise, the irony of this is not lost on me.

Anyhow, the original reason I started this post was to provide an update on a new type of therapy I am trying called EMDR 4, 5. It’s a relatively new therapy that was originally used for those with PTSD and other trauma related disorders. However, its efficacy has been so promising that it has been used, and tweaked, to help treat other disorders such as anxiety, depression, and OCD. I am working with a new therapist who specializes in EMDR and who has had success tailoring the technique to treat conditions such as mine. We are in the early stages and laying the groundwork, which has been tough. Much of the early work involves listing out “negative history” and bringing uncomfortable items to the forefront so that they can be confronted, and ultimately dealt with. While these exercises have increased my anxiety quite a bit, I at least feel there is a logical conclusion to this increased discomfort.

I am curious though, have any of you had experiences with trying EMDR? Good or bad, I’d love to hear any thoughts or comments you have regarding EMDR, mental health, or heck, even my seasonal allergies.