EMDRUSERIOUS?!

Earlier this year my therapist … Yes, I have a therapist and I have been seeing her since the start of this year. For a myriad of reasons, but mostly the culmination of stressors in life resulting in me losing my ever loving shit over a pork loin (I mean, it wasn’t over the pork loin) and screaming like a wild animal and then sobbing off and on for several hours before slapping myself in the face twice (one on each side, DBT emotion regulation, hush) and beginning a low dose med.

So anyway, my therapist asked me if I would like to try EMDR. I remember thinking that it was just a trendy intervention and my coworker at the time referred to it as “snake oil”. I hesitated but also was curious about the process from a professional standpoint as well as personal. Would it help me to reprocess things that were impacting my life or way of thinking years later? Would I want to offer this as a service to clients in my professional practice? I decided to go for it.

For those of you who aren’t familiar, EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a psychotherapy method that is used to resolve unprocessed traumatic memories in the brain – basically allowing the brain to use it’s natural healing capabilities rather than to change the emotions, thoughts or behaviors that are the result of the distressing events.

I’m a little skeptical because it eventually involves a light bar and this whole thing is virtual because we are still in a covid-esque world. Is this gonna work? Is there anything that even needs reprocessing? Is it snake oil?

Fuck it, I’m in.

I’ll save you all the details, but we work on a timeline of things in life that were distressing. I’ve had a pretty good life so I was a little surprised at correlations I made between places I have lived, people I have known and all the food and body stuff. I remember when she suggested it, I said “Isn’t the for people with unresolved trauma?” and she said “Well your experience with obesity, and dieting and eating disorders has to have left a mark”

Damn… but, you’re right.

We explore different periods of life, highs and lows. We talk about diets (so many diets!), we talk about family culture and experiences and I call my mother at least 3x asking about different things I remember and making her feel bad or question instances herself. I jot down things that come up, I make connections between why I eat what / where / when and why I have done or not done certain things. Health clubs with my mom and grandmother as a kid, slim fasts and supplements and weight watchers in grammar school. A weird memory about a spotted pear on the front porch with my childhood best friend, rude comments people made, things I tried or did to alleviate the distress and emotional toll of living in a body I didn’t feel comfortable in. Some real deep dives on things that always seemed like surface level whatever, now felt like revelations. The more I talked, the more I heard what I was saying. The more sense things started making, even things like my lack of returning to places where I previously lived. Honestly, it’s wild.

Then comes the light bar and the reprocessing and installation.

One week she says, “okay, next on your timeline is the dinner dance dress”

I stare at her through the screen “What about it?”

She says “I don’t know, that’s all you said” and try as I might, I got nothing. I said “uhhhh I cannot remember what was distressing about that. If I had to guess it was being an almost 200 pound girl who couldn’t fit in the dinner dance dresses other girls my age were getting, but I don’t have any feelings about that”

aaaaaaaaand I was stunned.

I remember EVERYTHING, I can transport myself right back to almost any emotional experience in my life and I couldn’t do it. There was nothing. Logical explanation but nothing emotional. Nothing shameful. Nothing that felt like some distressing life altering experience.

“This is weird” I say.

She explains that when the brain reprocesses events, sometimes what happens is that later events are no longer distressing, because what was causing them to be that way has been reprocessed. Even as I am typing that I’m thinking how amazing the whole thing is. Then what usually happens when I take a drastic step or big leap, I wish I had done it sooner.

“I could have been unburdened years ago, EMDRuserious!?”

We laugh and she says, “so do you still think it’s bullshit?”

And I don’t, not even a little.

fart party

This is never going to be a professional blog (see: title) or solid resource for mental health information; but as a person with mental health, who works in mental health, you can expect some overlap. There has been a lot of talk about physical space and social distancing lately, which has got me thinking about emotional space and the idea of privacy.

I was talking to someone today and we were talking about how someone in her family asked about her kids and some decision she made. She admitted to being sort of taken aback by it, and responded to avoid conflict but something about it irked her. Was she the topic of conversation? We talked about how her family always held what I called ‘fart parties’. Someone in the family would do something, anything – as insignificant as fart and immediately the news spread. Quickly the family would decide on a meet up spot, who would bring what food and drink and desserts and then they would sit and discuss the fart, and of course, the farter (farter need not be present). These people were so enmeshed in each others lives and business that the idea of privacy or omission was foreign. If the farter didn’t want to disclose what they ate prior to the incident, the group would be incredulous. How could you not tell us? We need to know every detail about the fart, we’re family! If the details weren’t disclosed, the family might talk about the fart for weeks separately and then reference it for months or years to come. She acknowledged my point and countered it that all families are like this. I was hesitant to agree, but couldn’t fully disagree because I vividly remember a game of telephone my mother played with her mom and sisters (both blood and in-law) when I confessed that I had gotten my period in the school bathroom in sixth or seventh grade. Not a fart party, but an overshare for sure.

I have always been an open book, but have joked that you need to come to the library. I am willing to share almost anything about my life from crapping my pants while simultaneously barfing on the church altar in 5th grade to the experience of weight loss surgery, moving 1000 miles away from your family and (finally) deciding on a career path at the tail end of your thirties. The information is available but the way it is dispersed is in my control. Usually. That’s not to say there haven’t been times when something is repeated or shared by someone other than me, but I’ve learned to be more selective with my sharing, considering the potential spread. I’m not ashamed of any of my choices or behaviors, though I know who may use them as ammo, or throw a fart party – it’s important to be clear about what in your life is open for discussion, and what isn’t.

My favorite thing to talk about with clients, and in leading groups, is boundaries. It has become a favorite thing to talk about with friends, too. Boundaries are, simply put: the rules that you make for yourself in terms of how you will let other treat you, what access you will allow them to have to you and your life and how you will respond if these rules aren’t followed. Boundaries can be hard to put in place. ¬†A lot of the time it’s because what we have to say or do to set a boundary, is counter to what we have been doing, or been taught to do. Boundaries limit our obligations, in the sense that they keep us from doing and allowing things because “that’s the way it’s always been” or “that’s how we do it”. That we can be a partner, parents, extended family, siblings, friend, neighbor …. anyone who has an attachment to a situation.

It isn’t always family that we need boundaries with, but that seems to be a big one. There may be familial traditions or expectations that, when you distance yourself, make you an outsider or cause a vague bullying. This is typically true when your behavior is counter to the behavior of the group. When people change something, those around them may want to deflect the attention from their own needs, or self examination. A lot of people don’t like the idea, or don’t want the responsibility of self-exploration. The pushback on boundaries is often from people who don’t want to self-examine or don’t like change. That’s not hard and fast; there are plenty of reasons people might push back, but they are not your reasons.

The most important way (I think) to set a boundary is to be direct. As a recovering people-pleaser, I know that this is as harder than it sounds. We want to say yes to people who need something for us, we want to make others happy, we want to avoid conflict, we want to keep things status quo. That’s admirable, but not if it makes you want to die inside. (dramatic) I spent many years saying yes to things out loud and then regretting it and feigning illness, other plans, or following through while being angry about it because I didn’t feel like it was okay to say no. I felt like that might rock the boat or break tradition or disappoint someone else. Know what? It might have … and so what? Why is our sense of obligation often tied to others responses and reactions and not our own? That’s a question for another time, honestly. A few other key ways to approach boundaries are knowing your limits, prioritizing self-care, considering the audience, exploring your feelings and giving yourself permission to alter the boundaries you set when it seems reasonable.

Boundaries can be set for all sorts of life areas; personal space, time and energy, ¬†sexuality, belongings, cultural or ethical beliefs. Boundaries are super personal and cannot be decided for us, they are rules that we make up about our own lives and our own needs. There’s no checklist for setting boundaries – only to not be too rigid, or too loose with them. The more rigid your boundaries are you may miss out on experiences or relationships that are beneficial. the more loose your boundaries are you may not feel capable or able of making decisions for your self, or you may feel pressure to give and do for others without hesitation.

The bottom line is we get one life and we have to live it in the way that works best for us – EVEN if it’s different than what your family wants or what your friends expect. You know how when you are on an airplane and they talk about putting your oxygen mask on first, before helping others? We need to get our head out of the clouds and think this way on the ground, too.

I am.

I haven’t posted anything here in a few months, and I may not have written anything that wasn’t a paper or discussion board response in just as long. I am writing this from a dorm room in Colorado where I am for the week as part of my Counselor Education Program. One of my daily sessions is group therapy and today we were given prompts to write a “poem” that we shared and discussed, so I thought I’d make that the meat of this post, to sort of bring me back to this blog.

I am

I am open and strong
I wonder what comes next
I hear music everywhere
I see something good in everything
I want to be the best version of myself
I am open and strong

I pretend to know what I’m doing
I feel happy when I think about the fall
I touch the lives of others
I worry about everyone
I cry when I think about losing loved ones
I am open and strong

I understand that I determine my worth
I say that the time will pass anyway
I dream about everything
I try to make others comfortable in my presence
I hope that I give off the vibes i intend
I am open and strong

Goodnight.