My Experience With EMDR So Far

I want to talk about my experience with EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. I started it with my therapist a few weeks ago and so far the results have been amazing! If you’ve never heard of EMDR before it is a type of therapy used to help people heal and recover from traumatic events or things such as PTSD, anxiety, depression and panic disorders. It involves a lot of visualization and the therapist using side-to-side eye movements, sounds, taps or some sort of stimulation (my therapist uses buzzers I hold onto in each hand).

I’ve only had a couple of sessions working on EMDR with my PTSD and a little on my anxiety, but I’m already seeing the difference. Not only has it helped me get over panic attacks that have been triggered by PTSD faster, it has also helped diminish the severity and the feeling of panic had at all. I went months being severely affected by my triggers to almost not being affected at all anymore. I know I’m not completely out of the woods yet, but I have so much hope as I feel my quality of life improving.

If you are someone suffering from a traumatic event, PTSD, anxiety or depression or are struggling to heal wounds from your past, I suggest looking for a therapist trained in EMDR. Everyone is different and all therapies, medications, etc. work or don’t work for every individual, but I highly recommend this form of therapy. I am a skeptical person, but I also believe in giving things a try. If it works it is absolutely worth it. If not, you move on to find something else.

I will give updates on EMDR as I continue to work with my therapist on it.

Thoughts for Today – Inspiration

I found this quote by Albert Schweitzer. “Constant kindness can accomplish much. As the sun makes ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust, and hostility to evaporate.” Kindness is inspirational.

It was very hard on my mental health seeing how much judging others were doing at the beginning of the pandemic. As someone who’s depression suffered from the isolation, as someone who couldn’t “just wear a mask” because of my extreme anxiety I felt the need let others know how difficult this time was for those of us with mental illness and that things aren’t always as simple as they seem. Their hate and anger did nothing to inspire me. But kindness did.

When I found out I would have to wear a mask when I went back to work at the end of summer, I panicked. The first time I even tried to put a mask on I had a panic attack. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I thought I’d have to find a new job—one I could work from home where I wouldn’t have to wear a mask. I was so stressed and overwhelmed. I opened up to my coworkers about my anxiety, and they were so loving, accepting, understanding and kind. They all started suggesting things I could try and ways they might be able to help. Their love, support and kindness is what really inspired me to find my own solution so I could keep my job. That’s what led me to the silicone mask inserts that I wear beneath my mask. It is the only reason I can wear a mask.

Similarly, my daughter also struggled to wear a mask because of her anxiety. We tried so many different kinds of masks. We tried the same inserts I found, but nothing worked. Then I saw a coworker with a mask I’d never seen before. I asked her where she got it, and she told me she’d made it. She told me about her claustrophobia, and how these were the only masks she could wear without panicking. I told her I’d been looking for something for my daughter, and she volunteered to make her some masks. Pure and simple kindness, but such an inspiration!

Kindness, understanding, love and open-mindedness inspire, help, build up and allow “hostility to evaporate”. I think the only way to do this is to allow ourselves to see beyond our own perspective. We don’t have to change our beliefs, but we do need to try to understand each other and understand that we are all different. We have different experiences that have shaped who we are. We are not a one size fits all world. No matter how much we might think we understand someone else, until we really are walking their shoes we don’t see the whole picture. That’s why kindness is so important.

Slim Hope, But Still Hope

It’s easy to feel like my efforts to educate people on mental illness isn’t making a difference. Yet I keep trying because I keep hoping—somehow—that it will make a difference.

Just the other day I saw a post from someone I know about how angry she is that not everyone where she lives is wearing a mask or taking Covid seriously. She posted a parody on a song from Beauty and the Beast that used harsh, shaming, judgmental language about people who don’t wear masks. Things like how simple it is, it’s just a piece of fabric and just wear the f***ing mask. It broke my heart—not so much for myself, but for other people who have depression, anxiety and PTSD. For some of us, seeing something like that could be what finally pushes us to the brink of utter despair and even suicide.

Even after all this time, it’s not always that simple. If someone isn’t wearing a mask it doesn’t automatically mean we’re not taking Covid seriously. For those of us with anxiety masks are more than “just a piece of fabric”. Masks are claustrophobia that literally do make it so we can’t breathe and can’t function. For those of us with PTSD masks are the face of someone who assaulted or violated us. We are already struggling, while trying to do our best, without being shamed, condemned and judged.

This is a difficult time for so many people. Can’t we reach out in kindness and love instead of anger and hatred? I started, and continue, this blog in the hopes that it would help someone, in the hopes that it would educate, in the hopes that it will inspire. We can all have different beliefs and different struggles while still helping, educating and inspiring each other in love and positivity. As slim as my hope is, it’s what I’m hanging on to.

Learning How to Stop Holding Grudges

Sometimes we learn from our own mistakes and experiences. Sometimes we learn from other’s mistakes and experiences. One thing I learned from someone else was how holding onto grudges and pain from the past destroys joy. I learned I don’t want to hold onto grudges.

There’s this woman I knew who could hold a grudge like nobody’s business. She was the queen of grudges! There were times she would talk to me about things people said to her in high school that really hurt her. She would talk about it as if it were yesterday and still held onto all that hurt, pain, resentment and anger 40 years later! I consistently saw her using up so much energy holding grudges and holding onto things that had happened long ago. I saw how it turned her into this bitter, unhappy person. I realized life is too short and precious to waste any of my time or energy on that. That doesn’t mean I never get hurt or upset, but I let things go and move on. This has helped me maintain a better state of mind and more happiness and peace in my life.

This goes hand in hand with forgiveness and what forgiveness is and is not. Forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting. I once heard someone say that short of brain surgery there’s no way you can just forget a hurtful or horrible thing someone has done to you. What it does mean is that the original feeling associated with that person dissipates until we no longer feel it.

Forgiveness does NOT mean going back to or staying in an abusive or toxic relationship. The relationship I had with this woman was very toxic and unhealthy. Since getting out of that relationship I am a much happier, more independent and confident person. I think remembering what this person did to me is important in keeping me from going back and getting abused and misused again. However, when I think of this person I have no negative feelings. I never wish anything bad on her. I don’t feel sad, angry or hurt when I think of her, and I even pray for her and those around her. I have forgiven, moved on and also kept my mental and emotional well-being in tact.

Holding on to things can eat away at us and feeds into anxiety, depression and OCD. Talking things out or being able to step away from our own self-interests to look at things from someone else’s perspective are great ways to move on and rid ourselves of grudges. This also helps with forgiveness, which really can do wonders for our mental health.

Exercise Helps

Back in January I had surgery and couldn’t exercise for six weeks. I never really quite got back into a good routine, but I’ve made more of an effort the last few weeks and have done really well. I forgot just how good it feels to exercise consistently! I always feel so good when I’m done with a workout. My body feels good, my mind feels good, and my emotions feel good. My consistent exercising hasn’t been a cure-all for my depression or anxiety, but I do believe it has helped, just like it has helped in the past. So if you find your depression getting worse, or even just not getting better, ask yourself if there’s anything you need to change or adjust. And if you don’t have some sort of exercise routine, it may just be the thing that helps.

In the Storm

Last night I had a pretty amazing experience, coming out of a canyon I had just been hiking in. Off to the west I could see a storm. Clouds, rain, lightning. As I continued hiking I could tell the storm was moving east—toward me. I wondered if it would get to me before I made it to my car or if it would sputter out and die. I stopped to take pictures, but then quickened my pace, just to be safe.

I continued to watch the storm moving closer to me, until rain finally hit me. It felt good at first because it was so hot, but soon it started pouring on me. Not only was I drenched in sweat, but also got soaked from the rain. I’m not a runner, but I ran as fast as I could down the switchbacks that led to the trailhead and my car.

After making it to the shelter of my car I thought about how this is what my life has been like lately. The view of the storm was absolutely stunning, beautiful. There have been a lot of good things happening in my life—blessings and things to look forward to. But there has been a storm, too. Cold, wet and dark. The rain didn’t diminish the beauty, but the beauty didn’t take away the water soaking and chilling me.

The storm has been taking its toll. My depression and anxiety have been very, very bad. I still see the good, I still remember to be grateful, and I do know that gratitude helps, but it also doesn’t just automatically cure mental illness.

I feel like I’ve been running—as fast as I absolutely can! But the storm has followed me everywhere I go. It’s pouring, it’s cold, it’s dark, and it’s relentless. I’m trying as hard as I can to find shelter, to remain grateful for the beauty there is, but the storm is still here. All I can do is continue trying and be hopeful that someday it will stop or that I will find that shelter.

Support Animals

Emotional support animals. Some people make jokes about them. There are memes about them. But I really do believe animals can make a difference. I have seen the difference my daughter’s cat, at her dad’s house, has made. She’s told me about times her anxiety was getting bad, so she’d hold or pet her cat, and how much it helped. No, she doesn’t take him to school or the grocery store with her, but having him has made a difference in her life and for her anxiety.

A couple of months ago we got a puppy. Pepper. A miniature schnauzer. We all love her! My daughter has wanted one forever, but the timing was always off. Things finally came together, and we got our puppy. She has had the same effect as the cat on my daughter, but she has also helped me.

I’ve always struggled to be alone on the weekends my kids are with their dad. My anxiety and depression have always kicked in when I’m alone all weekend. But having Pepper has definitely helped. I don’t feel as lonely and isolated which helps my anxiety and depression. She also helps motivate me. I took her on a 4.6 mile hike over the weekend that I don’t think I would have been motivated to do without her. She LOVES being outside and going for walks and hikes.

So while someone having an emotional support Llama may seem like a bit of a stretch, I can attest to the power of animals and how they can help with mental illness.

What Is a Panic Attack?

What is a panic attack? The Mayo Clinic says, “A panic attack is a sudden episode of intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause.” It also states, “Panic attacks can be very frightening. When panic attacks occur, you might think you’re losing control, having a heart attack or even dying.” I can attest to the fact that panic attacks are incredibly frightening and crippling. It’s more than just a “sense” of panic or nervousness. It’s completely disabling and can cause side effects such as:

  • Sense of impending doom or danger
  • Fear of loss of control or death
  • Rapid, pounding heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Shortness of breath or tightness in your throat
  • Chills
  • Hot flashes
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Chest pain
  • Headache
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness or faintness
  • Numbness or tingling sensation
  • Feeling of unreality or detachment
  • Sense of impending doom or danger

As you can see, there are actual physical side effects that can come with a panic attack—things that are completely out of your control.

So what does a panic attack look like? That’s sort of a trick question because a panic attack isn’t always something that can be seen. Panic attacks are different for everyone. I have even experienced them differently. My anxiety really started getting bad after my first baby was born. I remember having several panic attacks when she was a toddler. There were times we were sitting on the couch, watching TV together, when my stomach would start cramping and my mind would start reeling, thinking about things that increased my anxiety, and I’d have a panic attack. I was conscious, but everything around me seemed to fade out and I became completely unaware of my surroundings. At least a couple of times I came out of it from my daughter saying “Mommy, Mommy” over and over again in front of my face. I’d snap out of it with no idea how long I’d been like that or how long she had been saying my name. The most frightening thing about it was knowing that she could have walked out the door and down the street, and I would have had no idea. To anyone looking on, it would have looked like I was just sitting there, watching TV, when really I was feeling incredible physical and emotional pain.

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Panic attacks, for me, have now become more physical. I generally get stomach pain, like horrible cramps that often go into my back, neck, shoulders, and I hyperventilate, sometimes to the point of barely being able to breathe and nearly blacking out/passing out. It is horrible. It is scary. It is absolute darkness and complete loneliness. You do, sometimes, feel like you’re going to die. Either that, or you’re hoping you do it’s so bad.

Sometimes I have smaller panic attacks that I’m able to get control of before they get that bad. I’ve had them at work, and no one has noticed. I even had one over the weekend. Some coworkers and I went on a little retreat/workshop together. We stopped at a grocery store to get a few things. Some of them waited in the car, but I needed to use the restroom so I went in with a couple of them. This grocery store requires masks, so I put mine on until I got to the restroom where I pulled it down. I put it up going back into the store as I walked around with the other two women. However, my stomach started hurting and it became very difficult to breathe. I kept telling myself I had to get out of there or I was going to die, but I didn’t want to be rude so I kept walking around the store with them, having a panic attack they were completely unaware of. I finally did excuse myself when they were going to buy the food we’d picked out because I knew before long I’d be on the floor, crying and completely hyperventilating.

I haven’t yet had a noticeable panic attack in public—at least as far as I know, but I fear it happening, especially when school/my job starts back up, and I’m supposed to wear a mask all day. Just thinking about having a panic attack in front of my coworkers or complete strangers is almost enough to make me have one. How would they react? What would people think and say? This is the kind of debilitating fear we live with. And right now, as people who don’t fit the mold or fit inside that perfect, tidy little box we’re expected to comply to, it is even worse. But it’s helpful to remember that there are things that can help. Breathing is huge. It’s hard to remember or do when you are having a panic attack, but if you can get even, steady, deep breaths, it can help the panic attack subside. My fiance has been so good at helping me with this. I have had at least one panic attack in his presence and at least one or two when on the phone with him, and the best thing he has done is started breathing deeply for me to hear. Each time I was able to match my breathing with his and eventually came out of the panic attack. If you see someone having a panic attack this is a good way to help. Don’t tell them to breathe, just start breathing for them to hear. Focusing on something, like an image or object, can also help.

Like always, I urge kindness and understanding. The last few years it seemed we had made progress when it comes to mental illness. The last few months, however, feels like we have gone backwards and all progress has been lost. It’s hard not to feel forgotten and uncared about when people constantly question you and things like your faith or obedience or caring about others. Mental illness, anxiety and panic attacks are real and have nothing to do with faith, obedience and it certainly does not mean you are selfish and don’t care about other people. So let’s work together to make the world aware. Let’s work together to show kindness and understanding.

What Exactly is Anxiety?

I’ve been encouraged to keep writing from people who say they have learned. So I’m going to keep writing and keep attempting to teach because I believe strongly in education and especially in educating about mental illness.

Today I write about Generalized Anxiety Disorder—an actual diagnosable condition, just like COVID-19. So what is Generalized Anxiety Disorder, or GAD? The Anxiety and Depression Association of America defines it as being “characterized by persistent and excessive worry about a number of different things”. That doesn’t sound so bad, but it also describes how sometimes with GAD “just the thought of getting through the day produces anxiety. People with GAD don’t know how to stop the worry cycle and feel it is beyond their control, even though they usually realize that their anxiety is more intense than the situation warrants.” The Mayo Clinic adds that GAD is “difficult to control and (can) interfere with day-to-day activities”. It also describes how disabling GAD can be. It can:

  • Impair your ability to perform tasks quickly and efficiently because you have trouble concentrating
  • Take your time and focus from other activities
  • Sap your energy
  • Increase your risk of depression

GAD can also lead to or worsen physical conditions, as well, such as:

  • Digestive or bowel problems, such as irritable bowel syndrome or ulcers
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Chronic pain and illness
  • Sleep problems and insomnia
  • Heart-health issues

GAD is bad. It is hard. It can be crippling. I have experienced it. I don’t have anxiety all the time, but it is with me all the time. Often, it is triggered or worsened by certain things. It’s important to keep in mind that those triggers are different for everyone, but I’m going to share some of mine.

waiting-410328_1280First, time. Time is a huge trigger for me. Everyone I know who has GAD is triggered by being late. Most people with GAD are pretty punctual because even just the thought of being late triggers anxiety. Waiting goes along with this. If I have to wait too long past a scheduled meeting or appointment, I become anxious. Even if I see someone else having to wait, my anxiety kicks in.

Social gatherings, such as church or work parties, are a big one. I get claustrophobic staying in my house, so I do enjoying getting out, but there have been so many times I’ve nearly canceled meeting a friend for dinner or a hike or other such get together because of anxiety. Sometimes I can push through. Other times, however, I have canceled. Sometimes I’ve skipped those parties or going to church because my anxiety won. And I know—I know—it has nothing to do with me being weak or not good enough or strong enough or having enough faith, but everything to do with my diagnosed GAD.

Calling people on the phone is something else that gives me very bad anxiety. I know several other people with GAD who get triggered by making phone calls or even thinking of making a call. That’s why I love and prefer texting. “What’s the difference?” one may ask. The difference is that one triggers my anxiety and a slew of worries in my head while the other doesn’t.

There are plenty of other things that trigger my anxiety or worries I have that are always in my head, but the last one I’m going to share is having something cover my face. Most of my adult life, as far as I can remember I’ve hated, feared and panicked at having anything covering my face or part of my face. Recently, my fiance and I were playing around and he threw something over my head and I started freaking out. I think he remembered and helped me get it off. He seemed to feel bad, but I knew he didn’t mean anything, so I didn’t say anything, and we moved on. So imagine now being told that I have to wear something all the time that covers my face. I’ve had several panic attacks while wearing, or even attempting, to wear a mask. Just the thought of it makes it harder for me to breathe. So when I go out in public without a mask on, it’s not because I’m being selfish, it’s not because I don’t care about others, and it’s certainly not because I think my freedom is being taken away. It’s because I’m trying to prevent a panic attack. GAD is already crippling enough without having a panic attack every time I leave my home. Next post I’ll write about panic attacks.

I truly hope what I have written helps others learn more about anxiety and what it is, as well as things that can trigger it. And, as always, I hope what I write helps someone out there to know they’re not alone.

Sometimes It Just Takes Time

I’ve learned several things during this quarantine period. I’m sure we all have! One thing I’ve learned is that you can have social anxiety, but still need to be around people. That’s how my daughter’s therapist put it. He said it was something new he had learned from my daughter. My daughter and I both have social anxiety—we struggle to be in large groups of people, to be outgoing, to talk to others, but we also get anxiety being alone or being isolated. Even though I loved the extra time at home with my kids, I also greatly missed adult interaction with my coworkers. I struggled a lot at first not being around other adults or even just being able to see other people.

Another thing I learned is that I can adapt. Eventually I got used to being at home with just my kids. I often said how I missed other people, other adults, talking face to face with coworkers. But once I had to go back to work, after two months at home, I found my anxiety was really bad. I work at an amazing place, and I love the people I work with so much, but I had gotten so used to the way things became that I was having a hard time coping with the change. Yet another change. I couldn’t sleep at night because I was so anxious thinking about going into work and being around other people. I was nauseous and sick to my stomach a lot. But after less than two weeks, I got used to being back at work and was even enjoying it again—just in time for summer break and being off again! Oh the irony.

The thing I learned from all of this is that sometimes it just takes time. Rarely is there some automatic cure-all for anxiety or depression or any kind of mental illness. I do believe there are a lot of things that can help, but sometimes it’s merely about taking time to let things settle. Sometimes it’s about understanding rather than fixing. Sometimes, oftentimes, understanding is what helps. So if you, or someone you know, is struggling with their mental illness, especially during this unusual time so full of so many constant changes, don’t think all is lost. Don’t necessarily think you need to rush to change something right away. Give yourself time to understand what’s happening. Maybe you’ll discover that you do need to change something. Maybe it’s time to change the dose of your medication. Maybe it’s time to go back to a therapist. Maybe it’s time to start eating healthier. And maybe you just need time to understand and let things settle into a new normal—or back into an old one. It’s okay to allow yourself or your loved one that time.

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