Archive for the ‘therapy’ Category


Posted: 28 July 2017 in therapy

Another go at EMDR was more successful than the last. For me, anyway. Phoebe (that’s the therapist) says it’s all successful in that even talking about the trauma and not “doing” anything about it helps. I’m not entirely convinced I A) should even be there and B) am at all capable of getting through this. She looked a bit mystified when I told her that and, after reassuring me that I was actively getting through it, wondered at part A. Why do you think you shouldn’t be here, she asked?

It’s because there are so many worse traumas in the world. Like the friend who lost his dad in the twin towers on 9/11. Or the children who are abused. Or the adults who are assaulted. I can’t quite reconcile my role in these memories with the level of trauma I think counts as actual trauma. Why can’t I get over this, after all? Why is it so hard? Phoebe is struck by the disconnect and reassured me, again, that this is trauma with the big T.

We spent most of our time revisiting the moment I witnessed the drowning. It’s so distant when I put it like that. So…third person. It was me who threw the life preserver. Me who could have jumped off the bow of the boat to try to lift him up to breathe air. Me who watched, helplessly, as the life preserver drifted on the surface of the river. Me who reeled it back in and rode away in the boat. I did everything I could, that much I’m sure of. I could only have jumped in but there were hippos and crocodiles and I didn’t know why two perfectly good swimmers hadn’t been able to stay afloat. It wasn’t safe. That was a fair choice.

During the EMDR I focused on that moment. Which brought me (of course, it’s always the same) to fast, hot tears. I ached for his mother. I felt overwhelmingly sad that his life had ended in a cold muddy African river and not in old age, quietly, in some sort recliner, equally old dog at his side. Phoebe asked me to dive back into my own physical feelings and I did. In that way it’s much like mindfulness. My stomach hurts, my shoulders tighten. The EMDR sets were shorter than I remember them from the first time but perhaps that’s because I lost my shit and so we’re taking baby steps.

He should have gotten to have a baby of his own. I can’t even remember his name.


**frank talk about my head horrors. also, assume I’m okay with my therapists and their opinions and I’m confident it’s the right choice.**

EMDR has not been a roaring success. Or maybe it has. On my second visit, we tried using two handheld vibrating eggs (which I had trouble not equating to questionable sex toys) and headphones. The eggs buzzed alternately in time with an unpleasant chime in alternating ears. The chimes made me think of ambulances in foreign countries which made me think of hospitals in foreign countries (my experience being limited to two other countries, to be fair), which made me think of hallways in all hospitals, which made me think of dying people in hospitals, and from there it was an easy jump to code whatever color, morgues, and a capital letter Panic Attack.

I took off the headphones, tried again, and shortly after completely crumpled. I thought it was pretty intense but assumed that was me being trapped in my brain until one therapist talked to the other (I KNOW, TWO) and recommended stopping in favor of a gentler approach less likely to cause a total mental break. They called it something else probably, but it sounded like that, and it’s scary as fuck to think that I can’t even trust my own brain to cooperate.

That said, I suddenly spend less time spontaneously seeing decaying corpses in front of me at meetings, on the sidewalk, at the dinner table, next to me in bed. And, as I reflect, it seems that probably wasn’t normal. At least, not as many as three times an hour, which adds up to approximately 42 visits to a crowded, un-airconditioned, steaming hot, third world morgue each day. I suppose that COULD break a person. I’m down to a dozen or so, of a more general dead body sort. I get to see my yellow-grey father at least twice a day of course, not exactly the way I’d choose to remember him; more than a few random bodies on the side of the road; and, the cool, sterile, final-ness of a CSI morgue which, given the alternative, is a gold star imagination path.

Maybe it’s because we’ve had the memorial for my dad. I wasn’t particularly attached to his ashes (after all, he and I spend a lot of unpleasant time together every day) but I have been hopeful that this will give my mom a place to move forward from and provide some closure for my sisters. I’m sure on a subconscious level the end of the dying process had an impact. At the third EMDR appointment, we skipped the vibrating eggs (ha) again (see above concern about breakage) and talked in depth about what continuing could mean and the alternatives. I’m pretty sure trying again is the right decision and she feels confident that I have the skills to “keep myself safe” which sounds flaky but makes sense in the sense that I have a stockpile of tools to physically reground myself in the present and not end up lost among the flies which *can* happen but isn’t likely in her super lovely office.

I’m worried though. Worried that my wife secretly thinks I’m a disaster. Or worse, that she’s afraid of me. At best, I hope it’s only that she wishes I’d dealt with this sooner or that she hadn’t married me. She did it twice though, so she’s pretty much lost her opportunity to complain. I worry she doesn’t understand that the reason I’m telling more stories about the good times (when I can remember them) is because I’m trying to repair all the broken places. I’m afraid she’ll think I’m stuck in the past or making something out of nothing. I’m worried she goes to sleep at night wondering when I’ll wake her up with a nightmare next. I’m worried she thinks this foever will be a weight around our collective necks.

I’m also worried about myself. What happens when my wife and I are doing something more…well, you know…and I get an unwelcome and unrelated memory? Are my personal tastes in that area because I need intensity to rule out any other thoughts? And is that bad? And does that keep us from connecting frequently, because what I want is not what she wants? I suppose I could leverage my not inconsiderable time in therapy to address this but it’s embarrassing and I never remember to think this clearly (well, it’s clear to me) in the office.

Turns out I have about four more paragraphs of anxieties, none of which are the actual trauma on repeat in my brain, all of which relate to my wife, my work, and my relationships. I feel ridiculous for spelling them out, so I won’t go further. Here’s hoping that it was the EMDR, as the therapist suggests, and that a second attempt will keep helping.

More Therapy Less Counseling

Posted: 16 June 2017 in therapy

Well I thought I was going to tackle some EMDR. I didn’t. Mostly because I spent the better part of the hour reminding myself to breathe so that I could talk so that I could be honest because I’m not taking time and spending money to still be having night terrors. And I was honest, more honest than I usually am talking about the scary stuff. I guess honest isn’t the right word. Open, probably. I don’t lie but I do withhold. Lots.

And lots.

And lots.

I had to breathe so I could ask questions and say the really dumb stuff, to get it out of the way. This trauma probably isn’t bad as far as trauma goes. This isn’t something that needs therapy. It’s a waste of her time. I’m preventing her from helping me because I can’t seem to get my shit together, unclench my fists, breathe the color back into my lips. I suppose you know the answers to those and of course you know that she did, too. I also know the answers but that’s what crazy is. It knows the answers and it doesn’t care.

This therapist is the sort of smart that works for me. Frank, compassionate, confident. She was certain that this would happen (though my kind of smart also includes a purposeful lie here and there) and that we wouldn’t be doing any explicit EMDR that visit. She defined therapy as different than counseling. She said that we were still doing the work, if if it didn’t appear that we were doing the work. I could tell she believed this fully although I’m still not sure. She told me that my story had haunted her and then she assured me that it was okay to have told her, that it didn’t damage her, but that this is big and terrible trauma and while it isn’t going away, she and I together can stop it from screaming into my ears.

The last week has been better. Fewer nightmares but more details. The color of the shirt on one dead child, dressing him in the hall of the morgue as he flopped, no, stood stiffly, somehow both, between two men. Blue. The room full of body-sized boxes stacked to the ceiling, empty but shiny silver. Not what an American coffin looks like on TV. The demonstration of the seal and the sympathetic but graphic explanation of the function of the plug to drain bodily fluids. I wish I’d listened more carefully. You’d think that if I was going to be stuck with this horror, I’d at least get some good writing material out of it.

My next visit is Friday and I’ve given myself one monstrous task before then. This trauma is not nothing. Anything that can strip a person of part of themselves is not nothing. I will believe that and treat it with respect.


It’s Not in the Bag

Posted: 7 June 2017 in therapy
I am struggling to breathe. My heart is racing over in over in short bursts all day long. Even when I think I’m focused, or calm, or even bordering on relaxed (though let’s be honest, lately relaxed means something entirely different than the actual definition of the word). This isn’t grief over the loss of my dad in the sense that I need his presence or miss the role he played in my life. You can argue with me, but I have so much else, I believe wholeheartedly that I’ve handled those specific things well enough. My pounding heart tells me there is so much else.
My relationship with my mom, of course. It’s a lot, of course. Our connection is frayed and knotted together, different textures and itchy, abrading, too rough to hold. I don’t like it, I’m not strong enough to sever it, and I’m too practical – every so often you wish you had a piece of rope and anything will do, as long as you have it.
My relationship with my colleagues and professional commitments. Suddenly I feel like my work was less important that it was. Maybe that change was coming before my dad died. I feel like it happened when I wasn’t looking, while I was too distracted to try to catch the rudder before it turned. I feel like others have taken on my responsibilities and my value is reduced because I prioritized my family over my work. I feel unduly punished and taken advantage of by people I’d have considered above it.
My relationship with activism and my own identity as a highly privileged person who is shockingly (to myself) fragile. I’m angry about that and while I want to fight and advocate and resist, I have needed to rely on others to do it. I’m ashamed of that and I know I need to do better.
My relationship with death. I hold a lot every day and I’ve fit it into a sloppy, ripped bag in my brain where it regularly leaks and smells and leaves stains I have to scrub for days. My chief coping skill with so many other things is to write. Sometimes it’s in my head. Scrolling words I don’t share. Sometimes it’s here or on an ever-unpublished note between meetings. I do not write about the things in the bag. I don’t acknowledge the bag except to constantly clean around it. The closest I’ve gotten is a Facebook message to a former teacher who publishes raw works about witnessing the death of his friends in the Vietnam War. His advice was to write it down, even if others read it who can’t unknow what they’ve read. I’ve tried, here, I can’t. It’s not so I can keep it in the bag. I just…can’t.
I’m spending a lot of energy and committing intellectual space to take each of these relationships and find a resolutions. I’m also seeking my courage which is pitifully lacking. Most of these are daily pursuits. I can’t always look my shame in the face. I can’t manhandle my work environment minute to minute when I can focus on my emotional reaction to those minutes. I can’t look in the bag. The contents of the bag look at me. Death doesn’t care what I’m doing or what other things I’m tackling. The things in the bag prefer dreamtime, the moments when I think I’m on a break from this work, and undermine the accomplishments I make in any other area. The bag dines on my confidence.
That’s bullshit.
Tomorrow I’m going to the new therapist to tackle some EMDR. I’m hopeful but it’s weak hope. I’m scared and anxious and (there goes my heart). I don’t have the required safe space I’m supposed to have discovered by now. I don’t know what this looks like and I didn’t (was unable to chose not to) do any research about the technique. I told myself when I tried that it was “confidence in my therapist” or “a commitment to avoiding misinformation” It was probably more of the same though, more of my inability to navigate my brain with the bag. I have to go to work afterward. It’s a tangle.
I’m terrified.

I’ve taken to saying holy cow! when what I really want to say is Fuck.

What I want to say is that I’ve been hurtling through this year, but that doesn’t quite fit.  I feel like I’m moving slowly, taking measured steps forward while huge barrels of icy water crash down around me.  What I want to say is that this has been an outstanding year.  But it isn’t really true either.  I’d count my blessings for you but you’d be bored – the list is so long.

On the other hand, since my daughter was born in June, I have watched my mother change from a person I recognized (no matter how I felt about that) to a woman who is a rather unpleasant stranger.  I’ve attributed this to the death of my maternal grandmother in November but really it could be something entirely mental health related.  My grandmother lived with my parents and the fall that precipitated her death was dramatic.  In the end, it wrung my mother dry.  We flew cross-country with our 6 month old in the winter for the memorial and that was the last time I saw any familiar part of my mother.  In April, my paternal grandmother died.  My parents handled this as they characteristically do; in an effort not to upset my sisters and I in any way, they downplayed her imminent death and eventual funeral.  Within 24 hours of hearing she had just days, I was on the opposite coast with my hand on her shoulder as she passed away.  I think there’s a lot I want to say about that.  I know that if I had told my parents I was going prior to rather than after my arrival, they would have discouraged me and been disappointed that I’d gone.  As it was, I felt disobedient for skulking around.  It was important.  That’s what I want to say.  Last week, I learned that the menacing looking black patch on my arm was melanoma and I’ll be heading in for a biopsy of my lymph nodes.  While I keep saying it’s nothing, the odds are unlikely, we caught it early enough, what I want to say is this sort of thing wouldn’t happen to me.  Cancer is just not what I see happening.  I’m pretty sure though, that saying that is a good way to get kicked in the teeth.

It’s a lot for one year.  Even if it’s a health scare and not a health crisis, it’s still two grandmothers (three if you throw in D’s Annabelle in early fall) and one mother short than when I started.  I catch myself trying not to hold still, moving forward steadily, hoping not to get drenched again.

Folks, this could be considered graphic.

Sometimes, I’m a pretty bad wife. Occasionally, I’ll insist the chicken is still frozen so that we have to have pizza instead. And, every so often, I’ll stick my head out from a  book and say, “Why is the cat meowing?” without even checking to see if he has food. I know, dastardly. I don’t even make up for it in other ways. You see, I don’t like to touch the wet laundry unless there’s lotion nearby and I don’t like to fold things that are inside out. I don’t like to unpack things and I don’t like to talk about key racks, picture frames, closet organizers or decor. But, at least I do these thing every so often. Throwing her a bone, so to speak. Like I said, I’m a pretty bad wife.

I don’t think I’d had a single panic attack until I rode a collapsing deck down a couple of stories. After that, creaking wood sent me into heart-fluttering shakes. But otherwise? Totally okay. Totally okay in all areas except, apparently, disco rice. I would link that, but I’m not up for whatever images might be behind that Google search. No, seriously.

I think I’ve been storing up panic. Pre-deck crunch, I went to Africa a reletively undamaged person. In fact, I’d say my interests ran to the macabre and that I had a stronger stomach for gore than most. And then I spent one very hot afternoon in an African morgue. Culturally, it was fascinating, though that word implies a lightheartedness I don’t intend.

A crowd of women in colorful fabric crouched around a small set of steps in the morgue courtyard. The courtyard itself was pretty, trees and benches dotted a walled cement area framed on one side by tall concrete and the other by a low L-shaped building. The women wailed. Isn’t that what you’re meant to do when mourning? It’s not really crying anymore, it’s a ripping sort of hollow sob that rises and falls with your breath and your memories. I watched them cluster and mourn while I was taking a break from watching a body.

This was on the heels of several mundane things. The stereo from the embassy truck was stolen after delivering the coffin. My boss yelled at me on the cell phone for not being able to be two places at once. I watched dried leaves drift on the pavement. It also followed some firsts for me.  Speaking with the tender-voiced manager of the morgue about why we would need to use our U.S. coffin. Explaining why someone needed to stay with the body. Learning about the draining mechanism in the steel lining of a coffin.

Even now, I’m unable to give eloquence to that afternoon. There was blood in swirls on the floor. And, there were bodies. More than I expected. Stacked and carried in ways I hadn’t expected. A smell that never faded, even after hours. And of course, there were bugs. This is not CSI’s cool, dimly lit morgue. This is a bright, summery place with no air conditioning and wide open doors and windows. Honestly, it was easier to stare at the tiled walls than at the waiting body. Or worse, the wide hallway with a slide-show of atrocity. At least, it was easier until I realized that I wasn’t dizzy so much as the tile was moving. And that the small, white bugs responsible for the movement were everywhere.

You know, that’s all I can say today about that day. And it’s the first time I think I’ve put it into writing. Shared with someone who wasn’t my partner or a therapist. I’m not sure how I developed the idea that the larvae exclusively populated one-hour crime shows, read-in-a-day detective thrillers and third world countries. How privileged to assume wealth is an inoculation.

One weekend before we moved in, we left a trash bag with discarded sandwich wrappings on the floor of our new kitchen. When we came back a few days later, I picked up the nearly empty bag to toss with the rest of the painting detrius. I’m sure I don’t need to explain what was under the bag. I can’t anyway.  The 20 minutes of sobbing and shaking that followed was enough to turn D. pale. That was a real panic attack. It put my issues with cracking wood to shame. She cleaned up the mess and soaked the kitchen in chemicals. I don’t know how long it took or how awful it was. I’m not even sure where I went in my mind as it happened.

Last night, we discovered our outdoor trashcan had picked up unwanted visitors. First a few, then a lot. I think we’re both happy that I wasn’t the one who discovered it. Regardless, I also wasn’t the one who dealt with it. If, by dealing, you mean dousing the interior with dichotomous earth and returning, green, to the house with this statement “Let’s throw out the whole can.” I can’t help but wonder if she’d be less squicked if I hadn’t turned the first instance into weeping, startling panic. But they are gross, and I don’t blame her for wanting to spare the trash collectors.

Summary?  She is amazing and I am damaged.  I’m the lucky one.

Maybe my hopes were too high when I signed up for a travel writing class.  I had some secret goals (make new friends, stop being crazy) and some not so secret goals (write).  Apparently I didn’t know or had forgotten that adults taking writing classes are at best quirky and at worst pretentious assholes.  Unfortunately, my class was not split so evenly down the middle.

Points for not automatically assuming I’m one of the pretentious assholes.

I don’t know what it is.  Perhaps it’s a way to distinguish oneself.  Look at me, I’m incredibly creative, I’ve been all these places and I’m really into this writing class.  So much more into it than you.  It’s the “than you” I take issue with.  It doesn’t seem to be enough to just be the most shining light in the class.  Some of these folks need to be the loudest, the funniest, the most well-traveled, and deliver the most fantastic turn of phrase.  The most polite description I can think of (other than pretentious assholes) is teacher’s pets.

As the kid who always did well enough to escape notice but little to stand out, I wish these grown up children would give up already.  I did accomplish one goal: to write.  I enjoyed that bit.  I did not make friends.

As a side note, I also did not get less crazy. When the writing prompt is to write about some place you’ve been and you end up writing about an African morgue and then your next three pieces are about burning trash heaps, dead babies and motorcycle accidents, you begin to wonder if writing is enough to remedy the crazy inheritance from your former job.

I’ve got two classes left but I’m not going back.  On the other hand, I have a medicinal herbs class beginning this week and I’m thrilled about that.