This is Jo’s story is about her experience of Birth Trauma and how EMDR has helped her with perinatal PTSD.
(Please be aware that some stories may trigger difficult memories and emotions so remember your own self care as everyone will be at different stages of healing.)
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It was 337 days ago, the first time I’d really experienced trauma. The first time I’d been put in a situation of physical and emotional vulnerability, with absolutely no control over what was happening. The first time I’d had my trust in professionals doing the right thing completely and utterly shattered.
I suppose I should be grateful I’d had 37 years without anything similar, but instead I’m frustrated, sad, and cross that the events of that day have completely and utterly changed, drained and transformed the last 11 months of my life, and the first 11 months of my youngest child.
So two months ago, when I was given a date for my first EMDR appointment, I clung on to the piece of paper it was scribbled on as if my life depended on it. Because I felt it did. Literally. Meds, CBT, talking, mindfulness, distraction, avoidance, self-care just not helping. EMDR felt like something constructive that I could do to try and get a little bit of me back. Something to take a step forward. Something to heal. Something to move on.
My excitement and anticipation for the first session was sky high. I had been warned, and warned myself, not to expect too much too quickly. That there needed to be a period of preparation before the ‘real work’ started. A period to equip with the tools and skills needed to cope with the potential effects of the EMDR, the potential increase in distress and nightmares. No matter, it still felt like a step forward after months of treading water and just ‘existing’.
I was both scared and excited in reality. The first session was an assessment to see whether EMDR was likely to be suitable for me. The usual kind of questionnaires that have now sadly become all too familiar after months of mental health appointments. And also some questions focused on the level of dissociation I am prone to (which in my layman’s terms felt like a check to see how far removed from reality I was likely to get!!). And then some mindfulness practice.
Now here is where I struggled. Big time. Any time I tried to do anything mindfulness related, boom, trigger, straight back into the room and the trauma. We did hypnobirthing, and whilst it is different to mindfulness, some of the techniques and approaches felt very similar, and just acted as an instant trigger, straight back to birth then straight back to trauma. I try not to lose heart (or faith!) as the therapist talks of the importance of mindfulness as a coping technique. I feel like I have failed before I have started. I leave the first session almost numb, not quite sure whether to feel pleased we have started after a long wait, or deflated that I can’t even cope with the preparatory work.
Still, a week goes by quickly and we’re on to session two. More mindfulness, more of an opportunity to fail! More tears as the approach brings more flashbacks and distress. Still, I need to give it a go, and persevere. She also spends some time talking through my history in a bit more detail. Not the trauma, just the wider picture. And I’m starting to feel like we are beginning to get to know each other. Beginning to build a little bit of trust. Beginning to understand each other. And this is so so important to me, I actually start to feel comfortable with this lady. Trust is now a highly prized award in my world. Doesn’t come easily at all.
Session three and we talk some more about EMDR but don’t actually start anything specific. And we have a good discussion about the mindfulness and how I am really struggling with it. And I feel like I am being both listened to and heard. And I trust her that little bit more. And we do some work on imagining my ‘safe place’. A place of happiness, relaxation, good thoughts, good things. Bringing to mind all the senses to create as vivid an image as possible of this safe place and take me right there. And I manage to find somewhere from years ago, which predates the trauma hugely, that seems to work. And we finish with a but if the magic own waving while I am in my ‘safe place’. And the first time I feel nothing, other than slightly crazy, trying to stare at this lady’s biro as she moves it from side to side in my field of vision as I stare at a blank wall. And I try to keep my eyes moving as she says, following the pen, whilst thinking and feeling everything I can about this safe place. And when she pauses a second time, I know I feel heavy and warm and peaceful, and she picks up on my language and runs with it, and as we continue she consolidated the image, now positive, adding on further strengthening triggers (people, sounds, smells) to bring further colour to the picture.
And then the next session it starts. The real work. The processing of the trauma. And it’s weird, sitting in this cold, clinical therapy room, staring at a wall and then following this pen, left, right, left, right. Before we start I am asked to think about and describe the most traumatic bit of the events of the trauma. So I start. And don’t get very far as the arousal and panic starts straight away. But she picks it up and runs with it, asking me to go with the feelings as I watch this pen, backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards, describing what I shared in my own words back to me, and asking how I feel. And just as the panic and memories start to get too much and the tears starts to flow, she stops and asks me to tell her what is happening, if anything came up. Nothing this time, other than a really vivid awful memory of the worst scenes.
And again, we set off down the same track, and this time images of specific traumatic scenes come flooding back, some of which I had either forgotten about or blocked. Scary, I can almost feel connections being made and memories being reorganised or uncovered that weren’t there before.
And then before I know it she is weaving images in from my safe space, asking me to bring into the scene people I would want there to help or be by my side, and to link to my safe space again. And we gradually try and wind the emotion and arousal level down before the session is over. I can feel things happening but am not sure what. And I am completely exhausted.
The next session is similar, and even more upsetting as random things keep popping into my head which I had forgotten had happened. Things that were said, physical feelings, reliving of pain and physical sensations, trying to get away from the situation but not being able to. Strange vivid pictures all jumbled and seemingly disconnected. And things from my childhood that seem to have no connection (and weren’t traumatic) but as we discuss them they are very relevant to the way in which I behaved and which I perceive contributed to the trauma happening in the first place. Safe to say I am now pretty convinced that this EMDR is doing something!!
In between sessions, things are becoming harder to cope with. Nightmares and flashbacks are now as vivid as ever, and anxiety levels are through the roof with a constant feeling of fear and vulnerability.
I am hoping we are at a low point, at a point where the therapy is uncovering all the weird and wonderful chaos in my head, and trying to get everything out before we start to make some sense of it all. Because now, right now, it feels as jumbled as ever. As if someone has taken a big giant spoon and stirred the tiny bit of decay that there was into the bigger pot so that everything is now beginning to turn.
I have to believe this is working, have to believe this is progress, have to believe I am headed in the right direction.
I just need to get through the days between now and when the tide starts to turn. People keep telling me it will. One day. Soon I hope.
And I hope when I next write a post on EMDR, it is to give some positive progress. For it is definitely doing something. However sceptical you might be about pen waving and talking, it has awakened something within my head that was lying dormant. I just need to figure out how to wake it up properly, sort it out, then put it back to a happy sleep.
Until then, whatever it takes to get through.
( From the wonderful blog frommasktosparkle)