Continuing Results of EMDR

I know I’ve written about EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) a lot lately, but I continue to be impressed with it and the results I have seen from it, both on a small and large scale.

A couple of months ago I decided to see if EMDR would work on the waterslide I force myself to go on every summer. It sounds silly, but I thought, “Why not?” There is a waterslide at a waterpark I go on several times every summer as my own form of exposure therapy. A part of the slide is a pitch-black tunnel. Even though I’ve been on it dozens of times it still freaks me out. But I’d go on it anyway to help remind myself to face my fears and that I can do hard things. Well, a couple of months ago I used an EMDR technique I’d learned when I got to the tunnel and I had no fear whatsoever. None! For the first time ever! I went through that tunnel on the waterslide and never felt even a second of fear, panic or anxiety. A couple of weeks ago I went on the same waterslide to test it again and yet again, no fear, panic or anxiety. Now I can simply enjoy the waterslide! And I guess I’ll have to find a new fear to face. (Insert smiling emoji here!)

On a more serious note, I started having a panic attack a week ago. It was the first time I’d had one in a long time. I felt somewhat disoriented because it had been so long, because I’ve been doing so well the past several months, but I remembered my EMDR and used it. My panic attack stopped faster, I think, than any other time I’ve had one. I was able to calm myself down and get in a better head space.

I continue to be grateful for EMDR and impressed with the results. And again, I highly recommend it to anyone who may need another tool to help with mental health struggles. What other tools have you found that have been helpful?

Big Life Changes

I made a big life change recently. I quit my job. Despite the fact that it had become a toxic environment and is a huge reason my mental health took such a huge hit this last year it was a hard decision to make because I was comfortable there. There have been several other times in my life where I remained in toxic or abusive relationships because, as horrible as it was, it was comfortable. I think many of us have done the same.

There is a fear of the unknown. Sometimes it is easier to stick with what we know even when it is unhealthy for us. It can be toxicity, emotional abuse, physical abuse, lying, manipulation in all kinds of relationships—work, family, friendship, romantic. We may stay because it’s all we know. We may stay because we feel like we deserve to be abused. We may stay because it’s scary to leave. But there is something better. We deserve better. And we can do hard, scary things.

 In the end, I’m glad I left because it was the right thing to do. Even though there was a time I loved my job and there are people I am going to miss so much, I needed to do this. For my own mental health I needed it. It takes courage to step into the unknown, even when it is going away from something terrible. But I believe we all have courage within us. We can do it. We can take care of ourselves. And we can be happy.

Facing the Fear

I’m about to be very vulnerable. And very honest. And it’s terrifying. But I’m tired of mental illness and suicide lurking in the shadows because people are afraid to talk about it or look it in the face. Maybe it will cost me, but I feel like I’ve lost just about everything already, so I don’t have much else to lose anyway.

Last night I cut myself. Like I used to long ago in high school when I first became depressed. I have been feeling completely worthless for awhile now. Feeling like I have no purpose and make no difference in life. All I seem to do is hurt others and screw up. So I cut myself to feel some other kind of pain. I cut myself because I believed I deserved it. And I seriously considered ending my life because I felt like everyone would be better off without me.

Some people will stop reading this now. They’ll pretend like they didn’t see it so things don’t have to be awkward when they see me. They’ll pretend they didn’t see it so they don’t have to talk to me about it. But things don’t have to be awkward, and it’s okay to talk about it. I’m still here. I’m still living my life the best I can. I’m trying to find even the littlest reasons to stick around and have hope, despite depression, despite anger, despite desperation.

This is life for many people. Some keep hurting themselves, some stop. Some choose to end their lives, some choose to keep living. In my opinion none of that determines whether a person is good or bad, sane or crazy, wonderful or evil, despite what stigma may say.

Some people will keep reading this. They may have questions. Ask them. They may be afraid. That’s okay. So am I. But I’d rather face the fear than live in silence.

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.

Helpless

girl-3422711_1920Have you ever had one of those moments of helplessness where time seemed to stand still? I had one several years ago when my son and his friend were running across the street. I was watching them from the front window, saw how neither of them stopped to look for cars before taking off, saw the huge pickup truck barreling toward them, as intense panic flooded through me, but there was nothing I could do. I felt frozen in time, able to see what was happening, but not able to move a single muscle myself to stop it. Luckily the driver of the truck saw the boys and was able to slow down before hitting them. Once they got to the other side of the street and the truck had moved on, you better believe I ran out the door and yelled at them across the street!

I’ve had another of those moments—more than one recently, as I’ve watched my twelve-year-old daughter struggling with depression and anxiety. Severe depression. Severe anxiety. Do you know what that’s like? Do you know what it feels like to watch your child suffer that way? I’ve done what I can, what I think is right. She started anti-depressants a couple of weeks ago, and I got her into a therapist who I think will be able to help her, but as I watch her living in this darkness that I know all too well, I feel frozen, helpless . . . lost, like I never have before.

Sure, I know what depression and anxiety are, but I don’t know what it’s like to experience it that young. And as much as I try to love her, comfort her, be there for her a teenager that age needs other kids her own age to turn to, to just . . . be a kid with. But she feels like she has no friends, that the ones she thought she could count on have turned away from her. I’m sure it scared them hearing her talk about just how depressed she is. That’s a lot of responsibility to be placed on one so young. But maybe it wouldn’t be so scary, maybe it wouldn’t seem so heavy if we, as parents, did more to talk to our kids about mental illness. If we let them know that it’s normal, that it’s not someone’s fault to have this illness. I know—I know—there are more kids like her that are also struggling. They shouldn’t have to live in silence, they shouldn’t have to wear a mask, they shouldn’t have to fear being different. They should be able to talk about it and not be turned away from, not be abandoned. As the mother of a child who is suffering, I beg you—I beg you—educate your kids. Help them. Because they can make all the difference in the world of another child who is living the cold, lonely darkness of mental illness. Please.

Controlling My Fears

I let fear drive my life for so many years. As a child I believed there really were monsters hiding under the bed. When I was six or seven I had this poster hung above my bed depicting various fairytale characters such as Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf. Every night I forcibly reminded myself not to look at the poster before I turned the light out because I just knew if I looked at the Big Bad Wolf he would jump out of the poster and eat me.

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Fear never really went away. I always imagined the worst happening so I often never tried. If I did, there was always someone there to catch me when I fell. Even as an adult I was an extremely dependent person. If I was afraid to do something I convinced others—my parents, my husband—to do it for me.

Getting divorced forced me to become independent, which is actually a lesson I have been so grateful for. It has been incredibly empowering knowing that I can do things, that I can take care of myself, my kids, my house. Of course I have needed help. We all need help at times. A few weeks ago my washing machine broke. I couldn’t fix it, but I did reach out, seeking help, and one of my friends came to the rescue. He figured out that it simply needed a new part. So I ordered it, then he came back and installed it for me. When I was married I would have left everything up to my ex. Asking for help and calling someone on the phone were things I feared, so I wouldn’t have done them. I would have stayed in my comfy, cozy bubble and let someone else do all the hard stuff.

It has been a difficult lesson to learn, and I still often find myself initially giving into my fears. However, I recently made up my own form of exposure therapy, I suppose you could say.

There is a waterpark near my house that my kids and I love to go to in the summer. One of the waterslides has a pitch black tunnel in it. This summer was the first time I had ever gone it, and boy did I freak out! My very first time on it I had a panic attack, especially as I thought about how scared my son would be going down it. He came out smiling and excited! I came out trembling and nearly unable to breathe. I was never going on that waterslide again! But the next time we went to the waterpark my six-year-old wanted to go on the tunnel slide, so I forced myself to go on it as well. I decided I no longer wanted fear to guide my decisions in life.

Even though I know what the waterslide is like it still freaks me out every time I go on it. I hate the utter darkness, hate not being able to see where I’m going. Each time I enter that tunnel fear grips me in its dark, icy tendrils. Every. Single. Time. My chest tightens, my heart pounds, and my throat closes to where I can barely breathe. But I make myself go on it, usually several times, to remind myself that fear will no longer control me. I will control my fears.