EMDR, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Mental Illness

My doctor psychologist lady tells me I’m holding back. She tells me I’m ‘blocking’: I am not letting the EMDR process move forward at anything other than a snail’s pace. Which is ok, she says, but I only have 18 sessions and then I have to go back on the waiting list if I need it again. So if I want to be seeing real improvements I have to allow her in, as it were… No, I don’t have to allow her in. I have to allow me out – the me that stays hidden, locked inside the vault. This tomb was created so that I could survive. If I hadn’t, I would have lost my sanity or, worse, lost my children.

It is the existence of the vault that causes the PTSD, because occasionally the vault is shaken, and occasionally, outside of my control, one of the terrible things hidden inside escapes and wreaks havoc, even if only temporarily. It happens often enough that they give it a name and call it Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which is quite a polite-sounding name for what happens when your own head screams danger! danger! danger! because the man walking by looks vaguely like your ex-husband, or emergency! emergency! emergency! when you hear a certain type of sound that sounds a bit like something far worse. Mind you, I’m very good at hiding it. Abuse teaches you to hide your thoughts and feelings because they make you more vulnerable, so you become a master of disguise.

I think PTSD occurs because human beings are wired for survival. It took me time to figure that out. I thought I was weak and that that’s why it affected only some people. I don’t now. PTSD occurs when you have to push your emotions down in a hostile, sometimes life-threatening situation, in order to think rationally and clearly – in order to survive. It’s a great survival technique. The trouble is that you then have to be able to process the memories of those terrible events, because that’s what the brain does every night as you sleep, but if you’ve had to push it down far enough, and if you’ve had to push it down over and over and over in order to survive and continue to survive… well, then you end up with PTSD, because we’re not made for intense and unrelenting distress.

The past two days I have been giving what the psychologist said a lot of thought. She’s right and I know she’s right. I have talked it through with my dear Frank. I have talked, in less detail of course, with each of my children. It occurred to me that if I was diagnosed with a different kind of serious illness, I would allow myself the time and space for the treatment to work, and I would explain to the children what was happening (because they’re all old enough to understand) so that we could muddle through together because that’s what families do. So why had it not really occurred to me to do this for EMDR? Why did I think that my treatment and its effects were not ‘worthy’ enough to be given consideration?

I don’t think the fault lies solely within me. I don’t think it’s just me wanting to push through and just get on with it, because, as St. Teresa of Avila says in The Interior Castle, ‘getting on with it’ is just common sense. No, I think that our culture looks upon mental illness and its treatment with cynicism. Sufferers are often perceived as weak-minded or morally deficient, as malingerers or somehow less human. Our culture subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) degrades those with mental illness. They become objects of fear, scorn or pity, as if they’re no longer worthy of the same respect and dignity as someone with a ‘physical’ illness. Yet even Jesus experienced mental anguish:

‘In his life on earth Jesus made his prayers and requests with loud cries and tears to God, who could save him from death. Because he was humble and devoted, God heard him. But even though he was God’s Son, he learned through his sufferings to be obedient. When he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all those who obey him…’

Hebrews 5:7-9 (GNT)

Mental illness is a physical illness. If my brain doesn’t work properly because the neurons got screwed up by too much adrenaline, or if the brain’s hormones are too high or too low, how is that not physical? Who in this world can look into my malfunctioning brain and know what I am thinking or feeling? No one. Yet still the fear within ourselves makes us view the mentally ill at arms’ length. In the 21st century that is nothing short of a disgrace.

I read an excellent post from Ann Voskamp today. She could have written it just for me at this exact time. Praise God for His provision! How can I be anything but thankful for today? Here’s an excerpt. I pray it blesses you as it did me:

Dear Thriver

I once held a bird in my hand.

No one else could see it, but I felt it. I felt it’s heart thumping hard and afraid.

It happens– there are ways to look fine on the outside…. and no one knows what you’ve really survived.

But honestly? You didn’t just survive, so let’s toss that myth right at the outset.

The way you keep walking? You may be wounded. You may be hurting. You may be limping. You may feel alone and overwhelmed and an unspoken broken — but you’re no victim. And you’re not just a survivor. You’re a Thriver.

You may bleed but you rise.

Yeah, it may not feel like it — but you are seen… how you just keep keeping your chin up and living brave through the hurt and how you keep taking one step out of bed and another step through the door — and how you keep scaling mountains by relentlessly taking steps forward.

But I wanted you to know — your wounds are seen and it’s okay… 

To read more click here, it will open in a new tab.

Lent: As the Father has Loved

‘1968. Jerusalem. Brother Andrew had spent a decade visiting the church in Communist lands. He had built a team to help him. But the success of God’s Smuggler meant he was now too well known and could not return to those countries. A visit to Israel brought him face to face with the conflict between Muslim, Jew and Christian in the Middle East. He read again Christ’s messages to the church in Revelation. ‘To him who overcomes…’ [Revelation 3:7-13]

“But most of the churches in that letter had not ‘overcome’. They no longer existed. Individual churches could die… I knew then that my mission was to seek out the living church in the Middle East, learn about her condition and needs, and do whatever I could do to strengthen her.”

The core of Brother Andrew’s message is love. “Here’s what we need to remember: I Sincerely Love All Muslims.” Or ISLAM for short.’

from Open Doors email

as part of the Step of Yes series

Amen. ‘I Sincerely Love All Muslims’ – ‘Islam’ for short.

*********

This morning I had a cup of tea brought to me by my wonderful husband. The mug containing the tea was printed with the words ‘Love was His meaning’ over and over. How amazing  – no, how beautiful – that I should be sipping my tea from that mug and reading the above from Open Doors. A gentle reminder that God is good when times are good and God is good when times are bad.

‘Would you know your Lord’s meaning in this thing? Know it well, love was his meaning. Who showed it to you? Love. What did he show you? Love. Why did he show it? For love. Keep yourself therein and you shall know and understand more in the same. But you shall never know nor understand any other thing, forever.’

from Revelations of Divine Love

by Julian of Norwich

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.

John 15:9 (NRSVA)

Lent: Prayer and Meditation

Cornish Daffodils – Happy St. David’s Day. Spring is in the air!

‘As most certainly the way to please God is to keep the commandments and counsels, let us do so diligently, while meditating on His life and death and all we owe Him. Then, let the rest be as God chooses. Some may answer that their mind refuses to dwell on these subjects and… this to a certain extent is true; you know that it is one thing to reason and another thing for the memory to bring certain truths before the mind. Perhaps you may not understand me, possibly I fail to express myself rightly, but I will do my best. Using the understanding much in this manner is what I call meditation.

Let us begin by considering the mercy God showed us by giving us His only Son. Let us not stop here, but go on to reflect upon all the mysteries of His glorious life, or let us first turn our thoughts to His prayer in the garden, then allow them to continue the subject until they reach the crucifixion. Or we may take some part of the Passion, such as Christ’s apprehension, and dwell on this mystery, considering in detail the points to be pondered and thought over such as the treachery of Judas, the flight of the Apostles and all that followed. This is an admirable and very meritorious kind of prayer.’

The Interior Castle ~ St. Teresa of Avila

Addendum: The following is a paraphrase of the above in more accessible English (I imagined communicating the same ideas to my daughters).

The best way to show our love for God is to try very hard to keep His commandments and do what He teaches us through the bible. As we do this, we can also give thought to Jesus’ life and death and everything He did for us, and we can think about how our lives can and should be different now that we belong to Him. Don’t worry about trying to achieve more than this, though. Let God show you where to go and what to do next. I know some reading this will be thinking that they find it hard to keep thinking about these things, which is fair enough. Our minds don’t always stay focused on what we’d like them to stay focused on. However, when we do make use of our hearts and minds by thinking about these things in this way, this is what is meant by ‘meditation’.

Here are some ideas to get you started: first, think about God’s great mercy when He gave us His only Son. Then move on, considering all the amazing things in Jesus’ life. Another way to begin might be to think about Jesus’ prayer in the garden of Gethsemane before He was arrested, then you could imagine the actual arrest and Judas’ betrayal and how the disciples all ran away. Thinking about these kinds of things in this way is not only a type of prayer but a very beneficial kind of prayer.

Any thoughts on either the words from St. Teresa, or on my paraphrasing?

Made to Bend

I was thinking of how much I have been through in my life. I was considering how much I have suffered and how I have survived and come out the other side. I was thinking how people sometimes talk about ‘the worst time in my life’ and about how confused I am when I read or hear about what their ‘worst thing’ was, because I’ve been through the ‘worst thing’ so many times. I wasn’t judging those people. I was just interested. I observed.

“Why God?” I asked, quietly. “Why did you make me stronger? I don’t feel strong. I feel weak. I think of myself as weak.”

God showed me an image of a bow and arrow. The arrows represented God’s working in the world. The bow represented me.

“I made you.” God said, “See how well crafted you are? You are made of the finest quality wood. I made you to be strong, yet supple; always able to bend but not to break. See how well the arrows that I fire hit their target.”

I saw the bow bend. I saw the arrow fly, straight and true.

“It is true that alone you can do nothing. Alone you are just another piece of wood.” God said, “But I made you for a purpose. You were made for Me. I made you strong enough to bend and bend and bend, but not break.”

I thought about this bending and not breaking. I thought about the Dark Night, when I had nothing left. I don’t know why God made me this way. I just know that He did. I am glad He made me useful, even though I don’t feel useful. If I was made a bow, what about you? What did God make you?

LENT DAY FIVE: Robust in Love

You were all called to travel on the same road and in the same direction, so stay together, both outwardly and inwardly. You have one Master, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who rules over all, works through all, and is present in all. Everything you are and think and do is permeated with Oneness.

But that doesn’t mean you should all look and speak and act the same. Out of the generosity of Christ, each of us is given his own gift… 

No prolonged infancies among us, please. We’ll not tolerate babes in the woods, small children who are an easy mark for impostors. God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth and tell it in love—like Christ in everything. We take our lead from Christ, who is the source of everything we do. He keeps us in step with each other. His very breath and blood flow through us, nourishing us so that we will grow up healthy in God, robust in love.

Ephesians 4:4-7,14-16 (The Message)

‘Robust in love’ – I like that. A prayer:

Heavenly Father, help me today to remain robust in love for those around me and for those far away. Help me to be robust in love for myself and, especially, robust in love for You. I can never give to You what You give to me. Help me to stop trying to repay You for what You have done! May we, Your children, all grow up healthy in mind and in spirit and may we always walk in Your ways, following Your footsteps where the need is greatest. May love reign above all. Thank you for the gift of love, and for the gift of prayer. Thank you for the gift of my brothers and sisters in Christ. Hear our prayers. In Your blessed name I pray, thank you Jesus.

Amen

He Knows Best

Jesus, worn out by the trip, sat down at the well. It was noon.

A woman, a Samaritan, came to draw water. Jesus said, “Would you give me a drink of water?” (His disciples had gone to the village to buy food for lunch.)

The Samaritan woman, taken aback, asked, “How come you, a Jew, are asking me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” (Jews in those days wouldn’t be caught dead talking to Samaritans.)

Jesus answered, “If you knew the generosity of God and who I am, you would be asking me for a drink, and I would give you fresh, living water.”

The woman said, “Sir, you don’t even have a bucket to draw with, and this well is deep. So how are you going to get this ‘living water’?…”

Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks this water will get thirsty again and again. Anyone who drinks the water I give will never thirst—not ever…”

The woman said, “Sir, give me this water so I won’t ever get thirsty, won’t ever have to come back to this well again!”

He said, “Go call your husband and then come back.”

“I have no husband,” she said.

“That’s nicely put: ‘I have no husband.’ You’ve had five husbands, and the man you’re living with now isn’t even your husband. You spoke the truth there, sure enough…

“…the time is coming—it has, in fact, come… It’s who you are and the way you live that count before God… That’s the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship. God is sheer being itself—Spirit. Those who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration.”

The woman said, “I don’t know about that. I do know that the Messiah is coming. When he arrives, we’ll get the whole story.”

“I am he,” said Jesus. “You don’t have to wait any longer or look any further.”

Just then his disciples came back. They were shocked. They couldn’t believe he was talking with that kind of a woman. No one said what they were all thinking, but their faces showed it.

The woman took the hint and left. In her confusion she left her water pot. Back in the village she told the people, “Come see a man who knew all about the things I did, who knows me inside and out. Do you think this could be the Messiah?”

extract from John 4:6-30 (The Message)

Jesus points out the woman’s unmarried-yet-living-together state, but He doesn’t condemn her. He doesn’t focus on the negative, He focuses on what He has to say to her. His gift to her is more important than what she has done or who she is. Given the 21st century Church’s penchant for accusatory finger-pointing, particularly regarding ‘sexual sin’ (I don’t know what else to call it, hence the inverted commas), it is interesting that Jesus doesn’t say more to this woman. Why is this interesting? Because Jesus certainly had plenty to say to those who did adhere to all the rules, e.g. the Pharisees, especially those who liked to show themselves as morally upright, righteous and worthy. Jesus had plenty to say to them and about them. But yet He says not a lot about this woman, and she seems to see something in Him that even His disciples don’t see. In this encounter Jesus implies that sin isn’t a list of tick-boxes. Instead, He speaks of the living water of grace. Grace is a state of being, not of doing, and it flows only from Him.

‘Indeed, we may often work and search until we are exhausted without finding as much as a pool, much less a springing well.

Therefore, sisters, I think it best for us to place ourselves in the presence of God, contemplate His mercy and grandeur, and our own vileness, and leave Him to give us what He will, whether water or drought, for He knows best what is good for us.

St. Teresa of Avila ~ The Interior Castle

On a personal note, I’ve had a few weeks’ break from EMDR, but I start again tomorrow. I’m not looking forward to it. Still, as St. Teresa says, I leave God to give me what He will, whether water or drought, because He knows best. I hope this post is helpful to anyone else who is struggling, whether it be with sin, or circumstances, or illness… this is my gift to you today: God is always good.

Lent Begins: Footsteps to the Cross

One step at a time. One day at a time. This is good advice, which I learned at Celebrate Recovery. It seems fitting for the beginning of Lent, as we journey to the cross over the next six weeks. Day one of The Gospel in the Willows: Forty Meditations for the Days of Lent speaks of ‘The Call’.

Walking along the beach… Jesus saw two brothers: Simon… and Andrew. They were fishing, throwing their nets into the lake. It was their regular work. Jesus said to them, “Come with me. I’ll make a new kind of fisherman out of you. I’ll show you how to catch men and women instead of perch and bass.” They didn’t ask questions, but simply dropped their nets and followed.

Matthew 4:18-20 (The Message)

“Come with me.” He still says, holding out his hand. Are you willing?

Comfort Box

My very lovely doctor psychologist lady gave me some ‘tools’ to use before I began EMDR. One of these is a ‘comfort box’. The idea is that you have a box full of things that help you to feel ‘safe’, so that when you’re in the middle of a panic attack or feeling like you’re a slug, basically when you’re overwhelmed you can just go to your box and find something ‘comforting’. This might sound like common sense, but when you’re overwhelmed you can’t think straight so you need to be able to go to a single place to find ‘safety’. I have a playlist on Amazon also called ‘Comfort Box’. It features music from artists both secular and Christian. I just listened to the wonderful Laura Story singing I Think of You:

‘…it was You who paid the highest price
For broken jars of clay
And You still choose to use my life
For Your glory displayed.
And I think of You who shines with endless light
Through broken jars of clay
And I think of You redeeming every part of each day
That You’ve made…’

In honour of ‘Time to Talk Day’ (see reblog below), here’s a song from my comfort box which always makes me smile:

Enough

It snowed this morning, soft and silent. Made this urban landscape tranquil and beautiful. I was reminded of how God provided for the Israelites after they escaped Egypt.

The Lord said to Moses, “Now I am going to cause food to rain down from the sky for all of you. The people must go out every day and gather enough for that day…

…The Lord said to Moses, “…in the morning they will have all the bread they want. Then they will know that I, the Lord, am their God.”

In the… morning there was dew all around the camp. When the dew evaporated, there was something thin and flaky on the surface of the desert. It was as delicate as frost. When the Israelites saw it, they didn’t know what it was and asked each other, “What is it?”

Moses said to them, “This is the food that the Lord has given you to eat. The Lord has commanded that each of you is to gather as much of it as he needs…”

The Israelites did this, some gathering more, others less. When they measured it, those who gathered much did not have too much, and those who gathered less did not have too little. Each had gathered just what he needed.

extract from Exodus 16:4-18 (GNT)

CAM00666

Snow in the garden of our lovely house.

Watching the snow, I was reminded of how God IS, in the good times and in the bad times, how He made Himself a man; a man who walked and talked and ate and slept and did everything like an ordinary man – and yet:

“I am telling you the truth,” Jesus replied.

“Before Abraham was born, ‘I Am’.”

John 8:58

God loved us so much that He became one of us. I find myself continually asking ‘why?’

After the ‘why’, just ‘thank you’.

After the ‘thank you’, ‘what must I do?’

‘I ask you, God… let me be neither rich nor poor… give me only as much food as I need. If I have more, I might say that I do not need you.’

from Proverbs 30:7-9

EMDR 5: Deja Vu – Haven’t We Been Here Before?

I had my second EMDR session two days ago. It knocked me sideways again, but it’s supposed to. Here we go again. I’m sure I’ve been here before… No wonder I ended up with PTSD.

At many times in the past I’ve managed to keep going by laughing. Adrian Plass’ books saw me through some tough times, radio comedies Just a Minute, I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue and The News Quiz have given me something to laugh at when I couldn’t do much else, and my Red Dwarf DVDs have made me smile more times than I can count. I’ve no idea why this is what works for me, but it does. At least, it stops me from climbing into the cupboard and pretending the world doesn’t exist. I can’t do that anyway; I have a family to take care of. I’m glad of that, too, because there have been so many times when, if it weren’t for the children, I’d have given up altogether :-/

Children truly are a gift from God, even when they’re being ‘orrible! They make the world a better place. If adults learned how to be more like children, and more able to laugh at themselves, maybe there wouldn’t be so much anger and sadness in the world.

Our family share meals together at the table every day. Frank and I believe it’s a very important part of family life. Lately at the dinner table the children have been exploring what makes a joke a joke. This is not as simple as it sounds. Prince has autism and Chip may have Asperger’s – we’re trying to get a diagnosis. They’ve both been attempting to extrapolate the components of ‘Doctor, Doctor’ and ‘Knock, Knock’ jokes. This is taking some time because their literal minds just don’t ‘get’ the idea of double-meaning, without which these simple jokes don’t function. I’m not sure you can extrapolate humour… Yesterday our fish pie dinner led to some fishy humour (pun intended).

Fluff: “Why don’t haddock eaters go to church?”

Me: “I don’t know. Why don’t haddock eaters go to church?”

Fluff: “Because they don’t believe in cod!”

Prince smiled, recognising that this was an attempt at humour. He decided to join in.

Prince: “Why don’t cod eaters go to church?”

Me: “I don’t know.”

Prince (with an enormous grin): “Because they don’t believe in salmon!”

He then went through the same thing with a variety of fish, at which point Fluff and I couldn’t help laughing. Prince knew the jokes weren’t funny, but he also knew he was making us laugh, so he carried on. Chip decided to join in.

Chip: “Mummy, is this a joke? Doctor, doctor, I keep getting a headache!”

<pause>

Me: “Go on then – doctor, doctor, I keep getting a headache!”

Chip: “Then go and eat some fish!”

Fluff and I completely collapsed into giggles. I love my kids. They are a real blessing. Laughter is balm for the soul.

Something else that has been keeping my humour meter topped up (and hence helping me not to completely crack up with the bombardment of memories following the EMDR):