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: 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?

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.

All Shall Be Well

All shall be well

And all shall be well

And all manner of thing shall be well.

~ Julian of Norwich

I have my first appointment for EMDR therapy today. I have a feeling that the next few months (years?) will be tough. Instead of suppressing and distracting myself from the dark places in my memory I have to confront them again. This had me in tears last night until gone midnight (which is not like me). But in the confronting I think I will find something like a death, and something like a resurrection. There is pain. There is hope. There is life. I just want God; nothing but. That is my prayer.

You will guard him and keep him in perfect and constant peace whose mind [both its inclination and its character] is stayed on You, because he commits himself to You, leans on You, and hopes confidently in You.

Isaiah 26:3 (Amplified)

Examine Yourself

‘…we please our Lord by self-knowledge…

and by realising that we possess nothing but what we have received from Him.’

from The Interior Castle by St. Teresa of Avila

I am the Vine; you are the branches. Whoever lives in Me and I in him bears much (abundant) fruit. However, apart from Me [cut off from vital union with Me] you can do nothing.

John 15:5 (Amplified)

How many are my iniquities and sins…? Make me recognise and know my transgression and my sin.

Job 13:22,23

Examine and test and evaluate your own selves to see whether you are holding to your faith and showing the proper fruits of it. Test and prove yourselves [not Christ]. Do you not yourselves realise… that Jesus Christ is in you…?

2 Corinthians 13:5

If we realise more fully that Jesus Christ is in us, and if we recognise our faults in order for Him to root them out, would we progress towards His likeness more readily?

How Do I Love God? (or: How Do I Love, God?)

Our Lord asks but two things of us: Love for him

and for our neighbour.

These are what we must strive to obtain.

I think the most certain sign

that we keep these two commandments

is that we have a genuine love for others.

We cannot know whether we love God,

although there may be strong reasons for thinking so,

but there can be no doubt about whether we love our neighbour or no. 

~ St. Teresa of Avila, from ‘The Interior Castle’ ~

 

Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.

Philippians 4:5

On my Way Home

“‘My daughter, I’m afraid you’ve got to live in this room for a long time. Now there’s one thing I want you to do for my sake.’ “‘What’s that?’ she asked, surprised to hear there was anything left which she could do for anybody. “‘I want you to turn out all these physic bottles, and make your room pleasant and pretty for me to come and sit in. You see, I shall spend a good deal of my time here! Now I don’t like dust and darkness. I like to see flowers on the table, and sunshine in at the window. Will you do this to please me?’

From What Katy Did

by Susan Coolidge

‘With the help of divine grace we must renounce our own will. We already have grace from God, therefore we need not wish for more, for its chief value lies in its resignation of our will to that of God.’

From The Interior Castle

by St. Teresa of Jesus

(paraphrased by me)

How are these two passages related? How can the words of a 16th century Spanish Roman Catholic nun and a 19th century American protestant children’s author be related? Answers on a postcard, please.

All joking aside, actually it turns out they are, because when we stop trying to prove ourselves to God (by ‘serving’ him or by sticking to all the ‘rules’, etc.) we leave room for grace. And the only effort we have to make is to ‘keep ourselves nice’. God may ask us to do something, or to do little, but whatever he asks we must do it gladly, willingly, obediently. In the novel What Katy Did, Katy is badly injured and unable to leave her bed, but she still has something to offer to God, and through this small act of obedience she retains the ability to be open, and receptive, to his grace. This is not to say that we have to do what God wants or else… (cue dramatic music) but we must make the choice to follow God, and this choice happens repeatedly. I am not talking about a re-committal, but more of a repeated (daily) recognition of where I have gone wrong, or where I could go wrong, and a repeated surrender of self  because self continually tries to get in the way of God.

So what do we do? How do we do this? Turns out it’s simple – we must rest in him. All we have to do is what he tells us to do. For me, at this stage of my life (and this came as a shock – a genuine jaw-dropping revelation) all I have to do is to be me.

Same goes for you, and for all of us. Trust. Surrender. Rest. Abide in Him.

‘Come to Me, all you who labour and are heavy-laden and overburdened, and I will cause you to rest. [I will ease and relieve and refresh your souls.]’

Matthew 11:28 (Amplified)

Anyone who confesses (acknowledges, owns) that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides (lives, makes His home) in him and he [abides, lives, makes his home] in God.

1 John 4:15 (Amplified)

This beautiful song by Rumer so reminds me of our earthly journey.

Butterfly

‘Oh, see now the restlessness of this little butterfly, while never in its life has it been more quiet and peaceful! It is something for which to praise God, since the reason why it does not know where to settle and to establish itself is that, having tasted such repose in God, everything it sees on earth displeases it…’

St. Teresa of Jesus  ~ The Interior Castle

 

Hello, friends. I hope you are enjoying Pentecost. I went to church this morning for the first time in months. Hurrah! Our church is a half hour drive away and what with a husband who doesn’t drive and my ill health, we haven’t been able to get there. But we went today and were given a warm, kind welcome. I had the pleasure of telling people that I was getting better, in response to the question ‘how are you?’

 

In our everyday life we are waiting to find out whether the house which we would like to buy will ever be ours. For various reasons we have had our hopes raised and dashed more times than I can count. Hopefully we will have an answer in the next week or so… God is working His purpose out, one way or another. I don’t tend to get attached to ‘things’ very much, but for whatever reason I really do love this house. I am hoping that this love is because it is part of God’s plan, but either way I thank God for His gift of trust. I wonder if faith is my small act of will, but knowledge of grace, and the resulting trust, are what follows?

 

My grandmother died a few weeks ago. I was able to travel to her funeral and bring some comfort to my mother. Dear Granny was a simple soul who lived well into her 90s. God showed me a great thunderclap of a lesson as I sat listening to my uncle’s eulogy: God doesn’t require us to be in charge of the local homeless shelter or to run the church tea rota or [insert appropriate item]. It’s not that those things aren’t important, indeed the letter of James tells us they are vital…

 

‘My friends, what good is it for one of you to say that you have faith if your actions do not prove it?’

James 2:14 (GNT)

…but sacrificing one’s time for the sake of others is not – surprisingly – what God requires. God desires us to have humility and trust, first, two things my dear granny had in abundance.

 

‘They then said, What are we to do, that we may [habitually] be working the works of God? [What are we to do to carry out what God requires?]

Jesus replied, “This is the work (service) that God asks of you: that you believe in the One Whom He has sent [that you cleave to, trust, rely on, and have faith in His Messenger].”

John 6:28-29 (Amplified)

I don’t believe for one minute that one can be a believer and ignore the needs of the oppressed, or the sick, or the marginalised. But we overestimate ourselves, and underestimate God, when we think we can do any of these things in our own strength. That’s what grace is for! The beauty of compassion (and it is incredible) must bubble up from within because God has placed it there. My dear, sweet grandmother had the heart of a child and the simplicity of faith that Jesus tells us is all we need. I never realised this until after her death (in my defence this is because for the last two decades she suffered dementia and lived in a care home), but I praise God for this revelation and thank Him for this example of a woman who, despite so much sadness, never lost her simplicity or her smile.

 

“Whoever will humble himself therefore and become like this little child [trusting, lowly, loving, forgiving] is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

And whoever receives and accepts and welcomes one little child like this for My sake and in My name receives and accepts and welcomes Me.”

Matthew 18:4-5 (Amplified)

I said goodbye knowing that Granny is home at last.

Her favourite hymn: