DIY EMDR Therapy
I've been experimenting with online EMDR tools over the past few days.
I'm like an amateur dentist, probing one tooth after another, trying to find a spot of soreness. I'm no dentist, and I'm certainly no psychotherapist. But I'm fascinated by the process, and eager to learn more.
The mechanics of EMDR are stupid simple: you move your eyes back and forth. Physically, that's it. As far as I can tell, no one has proven why this exercise helps people put trauma to rest. Francine Shapiro, the inventor of the therapy, suggests that EDMR works similar to rapid eye movement. It helps people process memories in the same way we do during sleep.
Ambiguities about how it works aside, EDMR has been sanctioned by both the American Psychological Association and the United States Department of Defense. Studies have shown it to be equally as effective as cognitive behavior therapy, and to work in a shorter amount of time.
Seems promising, right? And that's why, having no training, no credentials, and no EDMR insurance coverage, I am setting off on my own.
First I started a running list of all the past experiences that might be causing my panic attacks. Big stuff like being hospitalized for depression at 13, and little stuff like childhood separation anxiety. Next, I watched a few EDMR videos on YouTube and tried to place myself back at the scenes of those events.
Some memories seemed unremarkable. Others were vivid and emotionally charged. I can't say I felt much different after revisiting them through EMDR. But something interesting happened shortly afterward.
I was making a to-do list for myself, and getting frustrated that the program I was using wouldn't sort the tasks in order of deadline. I felt a familiar surge of anxiety. Normally I'd try to distract myself. I was getting upset over something stupid and inconsequential, after all. Nothing to resolve. Just move on.
But the therapist I visited yesterday had suggested that the anxiety might be subconsciously triggered by something that reminds me of the past. And part of me believed her. So I decided to investigate by putting pen to paper.
This sudden scrutiny of my mental state caused my emotions to surge. I almost stopped writing but I pushed through the panic and the unexplained anger. My handwriting got bigger and wilder. The letters careened across the page like a stranger had taken my hand:
I can't think and my chest hurts and it's not fair that I try so fucking hard and I AM DROWNING AND I CAN'T BREATHE AND I ALMOST DIED BECAUSE THEY FUCKED UP AND NO ONE IS COMPETENT ENOUGH TO HELP ME. I HAVE TO KEEP MYSELF ALIVE I AM THE ONLY ONE WHO CAN KEEP MYSELF ALIVE BECAUSE NO ONE ELSE CAN HELP.
I don't remember why I stopped writing, only that I stared down at the page for a good minute or two after I'd finished, wondering what on earth had possessed me to scrawl what I had.
I almost died because they fucked up. Who fucked up? When did I almost die? Was I writing about the self-cutting I did as a teenager, the non-suicide attempt that got me admitted to the hospital at 13? It didn't feel right. Something had triggered the anxiety and depression long before then..
For years I assumed it was just a chemical imbalance. But what triggered my sudden feeling of drowning, that rage over other people's incompetence? Why did my muscles twitch for hours afterward, as if I'd just been fighting to survive?
This is where having an actual therapist might help. Or maybe not. Maybe this not knowing is part of the process; a necessary step on the path to answers.
If the path takes me to a place where I can stop taking the SSRIs, stop the constant anxiety, stop the depression, I will follow it almost anywhere.