I finally did it. I made an appointment with a therapist. After 6 1/2 years of depression, anxiety, and good counseling, my counselor thought that a therapist might be able to help me heal. I’m broken inside. Something is not right in my brain. The healing for deep hurt is not happening like it usually does in most of us. And it’s not a sin issue. I need help with mending my soul.
While driving to my appointment on the freeway my anxiety began to grow. What if she said I was imagining this? What if she said that I just needed to get over it, like so many others have said? What if I can’t be fixed? What if this is what I will feel like for the rest of my life? So I turned the music up. And up and up until I was sure the other cars around me could hear it. Sometimes that’s the only way to push down the fears. To cancel out all of the negative, mixed up thoughts that permeate my mind and crush my heart. Music. I know that’s not spiritual. I know I should pray in these moments that my mind is swirling with thoughts so fast and frantic that I can’t focus. And sometimes I do but it rarely helps in the moment. Usually, in the still of the night when its dark, I feel the Holy Spirit bring me peace and comfort. I hear Him whisper the sweet words that I am beloved. But during the day? When I feel like death is the only answer? Music. Loud music is what quiets those tumultuous thoughts.
When I arrived at the office the therapist came out to greet me. I came to tell a complete stranger all of my junk and that’s a scary thing. But God. When I looked at her face I saw familiarity. She looked like one of my close friends. One who has walked with me through these hard years with patience and compassion and understanding. So I walked into the office and sat on the couch.
There was a box of Kleenex on the couch next to me. But I don’t cry. Tears have been rare these past few years but the emotional pain is there. My heart hurts like its been ripped in two. On the coffee table in front of me there was a machine with lights and wires. Turns out I will one day be hooked up to that machine and supposedly those lights will help me to process the trauma that has been done to my brain. Its called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) and it uses rapid eye movements to dampen the power of emotionally charged memories of the past. I’ll talk more on that in a moment.
She began asking me questions and we talked a bit. I was stoic, telling her of my deepest wounds. She diagnosed me with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) because of trauma. When people experience trauma the brain usually processes that trauma and it becomes a memory. But sometimes it doesn’t. When someone becomes traumatized it’s like stress frozen in place –locked into a pattern of neurological distress that doesn’t go away and doesn’t return to a state of equilibrium.
She hugged me when I left the office and gave me a typed-written prayer to say everyday and a journal assignment.
I need to journal my trauma. When did I first feel like I was worthless and unacceptable? When were those words repeated to me? Being raised by an abusive alcoholic those words were pretty much a weekly and sometimes daily occurrence. How old was I when I became convinced that in order to be acceptable to people, I needed to wear masks. When were the words spoken to me that had convinced me that I would be unacceptable and worthless if I were to remove those masks? That I was a disappointment to everyone around me and to God? I had to record how I felt at that moment. That moment when I confessed I had been diagnosed with severe depression, that I didn’t think I was a believer, and that I couldn’t keep being what everyone wanted me to be. How did I feel in that moment when I was told by my pastor that I was dragging the name of Jesus through the mud? Where did I feel it? In my stomach? in my brain? In my chest? Well, I can remember that moment with great clarity when all of my fears became true and all of my doubts were confirmed. The belief that God was not really pleased with me. That I was a disappointment to Him. That if I ever removed my masks and showed others who I really was, with all of my struggles, that people would be disappointed in me as well. They would deem me unacceptable. And then, in that moment all hope was gone. Darkness began to grow in my soul. My chest hurt and my heart broke. My brain felt like it stopped working.
That night as I lay in bed and lived that scene over and over again I could see everyone in that room and where they were seated. But I couldn’t see myself. My thoughts could not conjure me up. I had been replaced with a dark, black blob that was growing on my husband. I knew I was destroying him and those around me. That night I contemplated ending my life. But God…..
Eventually, I would get back hope. I would learn that God really did love me just as I was. I would learn that He is not disappointed in me. But it has not been without extreme pain and loss. My struggle is real, and while I know that I am His in all the beauty of His grace and mercy, I still needed help to move forward.
EMDR is a treatment used to treat PTSD and other emotional problems. “It uses right/left eye movement, or tactile stimulation, which repeatedly activates the opposite sides of the brain, releasing emotional experiences that are ‘trapped’ in the nervous system”. You can read more about it here: EMDR Therapy
I held a paddle in each hand and they would vibrate left, right, left, right. I also wore a headset and a beeping noise would go move back and forth – left, right, left, right. The panel in front of me had lights and I had to track them left, right, left, right.
My therapist and I talked a bit at first. I was already in a heightened state of anxiety. I left the house on time but the bank took longer than expected and then I went east on the freeway instead of west. I thought I was going to lose it by the time I got there. But I arrived there on time. I believe God in his mercy orchestrated this because it didn’t take much for me to once again feel the anxiety of my PTSD for the treatment.
I sat on the couch and thought of that night. I felt it in my stomach and in my chest. My senses were busy with the lights, sounds, and vibrations. There were pauses as she asked for a word to describe how I was feeling after each round. It was intense. It was exhausting. The appointment took an hour. When I left my eyes were so tired. I was tired. I just wanted to go to bed.
That evening was very quiet and I didn’t have the energy for anything. I slept great and the next morning as we were having coffee, Mike said I sounded different. I sounded lighter. I felt lighter. I didn’t have my normal sense of sadness. I was encouraged! This lasted a couple of days and then some stuff happened and the pain in my chest began to come back. But not as bad and not in a debilitating way.
I’ve since had 2 more treatments with EMDR. I have now been released from treatment and I feel like a new person. I feel alive again. I’m glad I wrote about my first visit at the time that I did because now when I read it, I feel so far removed from it and it feels as if someone else is writing it. The treatment took my trauma and made it a vague memory that no longer has power over me.
I’m so very thankful for all I’ve been through because through it all, God has shown me his love. He has shown me his great grace and mercy. I have learned to live in freedom (thank you, Steve Brown!). 🙂 I’m thankful for my husband, Mike. He has walked through some really dark waters with me. He has protected me and prayed for me, gently leading me to Jesus with patience, understanding and gentleness. And for my daughter, Jaime, who helped me in so many ways during all these years even though she herself was going through her own pain. She gave me courage to do the EDMR treatment. I’m thankful for friends who have loved us both through all of this. Too many friends to name but I hope you know who you are, and to my sister who had my back. We aren’t meant to walk this journey alone and I thank God for all of you. I’m thankful for my counselor, Gini, who helped me to see so many things about myself and for the way she pointed me to Jesus. And I’m thankful for my therapist, Jenn, who helped to set me free from the bondage of PTSD.
NOTE: in 2015, we recorded a podcast episode of Susan’s experiences described in this blog post. For your convenience, here it is: