Posts tagged ‘post-traumatic stress disorder’
As I explained in my previous post, I got these weird symptoms after being in a bike accident. The symptoms turned out to be something called post-traumatic stress reaction. I felt better already after realizing what was going on and the symptoms were relieved. Still after one and a half year I wasn’t totally rid of them; I still felt like being overly alert. I was still anxious in a way that I hadn’t been before and I still sometimes had the most surreal feeling.
I decided, that as a therapist, I must be willing to try therapy at least once in my life. Best case scenario, it would help, worst case, I would still be better able to put myself into my client’s shoes.
I searched down a trauma therapist with the qualification to do EMDR (Eye Movement De-sensitizing and Reprocessing) and we settled an appointment.
When I went to see my therapist (don’t I just sound so American!) the session lasted 45 minutes. Within that time the therapist fully interviewed me on what happened in the accident and how my life was now. Already after this first visit I felt incredibly good and happy leaving the place. It’s a totally different gig talking about issues to a stranger, better yet, to a professional, than to friends and family, which naturally are equally important. Just different.
The second time we also had 45 minutes session. This time we got into more detail about the accident and my feelings and symptoms related to it. She made an assessment about my stress level and concluded, that I still did have post-traumatic stress. Hearing that was relieving. I also realized several things about myself and my life which was valuable.
The third time was settled double the length (1,5 h) to perform the actual EMDR therapy as I had requested. First I had to come up with a “safe place”: an image of a place, where I could “go” if the situation got hard to deal with. My safe place would naturally be a rock island, me laying there in the sun, waves going back and forth, seagulls screaming.
Before starting the therapist came to sit in front of me. She told me that whenever I might feel too anxious or wanted to stop, I could say so. The work began with me focusing on the one image of the accident that first comes to my mind thinking of it and sort of symbolized the event. She moved her hand in front of me and I had to follow the hand with my gaze. After awhile she asked whether any feelings were arising or did I feel anything in my body. I tried to describe the feelings and/or bodily sensations as accurately as possible.
She then advised me to concentrate on the feeling/bodily sensation that had risen and continued making the hand movements. This went on and on as my feelings developed from guilt to fear to relief. In the beginning I felt mostly like crying and described a lump in my throat. Then my neck felt stiff as it would when getting ready to crash with the bike. Finally the top most feeling was happiness and I started smiling and laughing. I no longer felt the lump or need to cry but I felt light and happy. The picture of the crash we started with was now a distant and cartoon like, not realistic. I got rid of my guilt. Also, I was free to learn my lesson; I have to be careful in the traffic.
After the EMDR work we had a short chat about the process and agreed on one final meeting in May to just check upon things.
Because I’ve only got this one experience and it was my first time in therapy I really couldn’t say whether it would’ve helped just to talk about the accident. Still I feel, that using EMDR helped focusing on the exact event and the exact reactions the accident provoked and hence helped me to get past the feeling that I should’ve done something myself to prevent it from happening. The change in my mind was a lot quicker than I had expected and I was amazed how well it “worked”. Seriously: the memory and the thoughts in my mind were different.
As a disclaimer I must mention that the therapist said that EMDR works pretty well in these kind of situations when the traumatizing event is “limited”. If it turns out that the person has a lot of baggage besides the one traumatizing experience EMDR might not be the right form of therapy.
If you have an experience regarding EMDR or other therapy, please share it in the comments section.
It was years ago when I first read about this wicked sounding new method EMDR (Eye movement de-sensitizing and re-processing) from David Servan Schreiber’s book Healing without Freud and Prozac. Back then I just thought that the idea of re-processing traumatic memories via eye movement was super interesting and somehow made sense. And so the story goes that one gets a chance to try the intriguing method on herself. NOTE: I’m not telling this to dwell on self-pity. I’m telling this to make other people recognize if they are going trough something similar and to encourage people to get help.
It all started back in the summer of 2009. After work I hopped on my bike around 3:40 pm started cycling towards home. Almost the whole route is via bicycle road so it’s not too stressful.
I saw a pick up truck waiting to pass the bicycle road to drive to Kivinokka. Other cyclists were driving past the stopped vehicle. I had just accelerated my speed and was about to pass the pick up. But no: the driver somehow missed me and drove just in front of me causing me to inevitably crash into his car. I remember thinking I’M GONNA CRASH and starting to reach for the hand break. Too late, of course.
I hit the pick up hard and crashed against my bike and the car. I flew in the air and everything seemed to happen in slow motion. Finally I landed. On my feet. It was miraculous! I had no idea about my air acrobatics and I just stood there wondering am I really still alive? I still have all my limbs? Is this real? Am I not brain-damaged or paralyzed (the benefits of being an occupational therapist include knowing EVERY POSSIBLE thing that can go wrong)?
My bike was under the front tire, totally crushed. A cyclist following me on the road had stopped and tried asking me whether I was okay. He said to witness the happening if needed. I tried to think clearly and asked for the driver’s contact information. He gave me his business card. His name was Dick.
The cyclist gave his name and phone number. I started walking towards the closest metro station in Kulosaari with the twister bike, my left leg and arm bruised from collapsing into my bike and the car. I felt unreal. I thought to call to my mom but my family was in Greece. I called to my boyfriend and burst out crying, trying to tell what happened. I manage to walk the kilometer to the metro station and get into a train. I kept bursting into uncontrollable tears.
I remember thinking: my bike is broken, I gotta get it fixed. So I took it to the bike repair in Sörnäinen. While leaving my ruined bike there and still bursting into tears, no one asked me whether I was okay or what happened. They just promised to fix the bike though it would cost a lot o money.
I walked home, still bruised and trying not to cry. I took the dog out and after awhile left to meet a colleague for dinner. I told her everything and she was flabbergasted. It was her that started suggesting that maybe I should see a doctor. So we made a plan that I’m going to a pharmacy to see whether they would have anything to my wounds. I walked into a pharmacy and the lady there was in horror about my condition. She told me “you’ve just been going around the whole day in shock!”. It was her that first realized the accident happened on a way from work so it was work related.
So next morning after cycling to work with my spare bike I went to see a doctor. Painkillers and some liniment for bruises. The doctor suggested that I would report the driver to the police. I tried and visited the police station. As I found out later, the policeman hadn’t done a report. After a year Dick paid the costs for my bike repair and iPod plugs from his company’s account.
Meanwhile I was still a bit shocked but thought I managed with a little damage. It wasn’t until three or so weeks after the event I started to feel weird. I experienced for example the following:
- feeling unreal: am I really here? Do I really exist?
- thought I just barely missed dying several times a day while cycling
- afraid of all the parked cars to drive in front of me
- sudden physical alert reactions: heart beating fast, feeling panicked
- felt hopeless for the first time in my life; I even thought I could as well die
- bursts into crying over nothing or the world’s hungry, hurt or dying people
- easily irritated and unhappy
I was getting very anxious about my situation. I couldn’t figure out what was happening to me and I most certainly didn’t put all these things together but “treated” them as separate symptoms. I was very, very sad for feeling depressed and I thought I’m never gonna be myself again.
I remember particularly well my boyfriend’s friend’s birthday at a Russian restaurant (Cheers, Pekka!): during the dinner I felt couple of times SO BAD that I thought I just have to leave immediately. The feeling came without no apparent reason. I had to fight hard not to cry. And everybody around me was witty and happy and the food was excellent… Still I felt I could barely exist.
Finally it dawned on my mom. Could it be a post-traumatic stress reaction? Suddenly everything started to add up. I felt relieved. After the realization the symptoms got a bit better and I would say in a year they got significantly less disturbing. They didn’t totally disappear though, so in the beginning of this year I decided to do something about it. I searched for an EMDR trauma therapist. More on that in the Part Two. To be continued…