New diagnosis, acknowledging and asking for help with PTSD – part two.

Opening up was difficult after holding everything in for so long, but it was also freeing to finally tell someone. It was an emotional conversation, I cried, we cuddled together, and once I was done speaking we stayed that way for a while. I was physically and mentally drained, and I can’t imagine how it feels to hear a loved one tell you something like that.

I needed to get proper help to deal with everything that had happened so I said that I would start looking for local counsellors. My plan was to check prices against availability and qualifications (people train in specific areas so not every person will be able to help or be suitable to your problem and/or personality). My OH* said he thought I may be able to get help through his work benefits, which he had added me to the year before. So we both started looking.

I emailed my manager and essentially told her the minimum but still brutally honest details that this had happened when I was younger and that I was having flashbacks and nightmares and needed to get professional help, so I wouldn’t be working for a little while. I’m not sure if telling her was the right thing or what I could have said without letting her know the truth, but as shocking and unexpected as that must have been for her she was very good about getting back to me, saying she would let HR know (not the details) that I was going through something and would be asking what sort of mental health support they could provide.

I reached out to one person online as you had to give them a certain amount of information before they got in touch to see if you could work together and get you booked in, then later that same day it was confirmed that I was covered under the OH’s work benefits.

I called with my plan number and was put through to the right department after a brief conversation. I had to complete a mental health assessment over the phone, similar to ones I have done with my GP before but with more detailed questions around trauma. The results confirmed that I had severe depression, severe anxiety, and was suffering from PTSD. I was already on medication for my depression and I had stopped taking medication for my anxiety a few years ago due to the side effects.

The person on the phone was actually really kind and helpful and they authorised the treatment for me straight away and set me up with the booking coordinator to get me booked in with one of the available counsellors. I was asked if I was ok to do the sessions over the phone or online as due to Covid no in person sessions could take place, obviously I was happy to do this as I was pretty desperate for help but I also had to confirm if I was happy to continue that way if things re-opened. If I’d waited for a local counsellor I would’ve had to wait several weeks but if location wasn’t an issue they had an appointment in a few days, so, I went with that.

I let my manager know the steps that I had taken as well as sending a copy of the results to my local GP so they could update my record and sign me off of work. Originally I didn’t want to be signed off as I had already had long term sick leave the year previous due to my depression and didn’t want things to slip back again, however, since the escalation of the flashbacks and me finally telling someone what had happened it had dominated pretty much every moment of my day and I was still not sleeping so there was no chance I could have performed my job well at all.

The first phone appointment was shorter than I expected, we introduced ourselves and did another little assessment but mostly I had to talk about what had happened, what thoughts and feelings I was having and what the memories and images I was seeing were and rating how badly it was affecting my day to day life. Once I was done they explained the type of therapy they thought would be most beneficial for me, something called EMDR.

FOR CLINICIANS

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a psychotherapy treatment that was originally designed to alleviate the distress associated with traumatic memories (Shapiro, 1989a, 1989b). Shapiro’s (2001) Adaptive Information Processing model posits that EMDR therapy facilitates the accessing and processing of traumatic memories and other adverse life experience to bring these to an adaptive resolution. After successful treatment with EMDR therapy, affective distress is relieved, negative beliefs are reformulated, and physiological arousal is reduced. During EMDR therapy the client attends to emotionally disturbing material in brief sequential doses while simultaneously focusing on an external stimulus. Therapist directed lateral eye movements are the most commonly used external stimulus but a variety of other stimuli including hand-tapping and audio stimulation are often used (Shapiro, 1991). Shapiro (1995, 2001) hypothesizes that EMDR therapy facilitates the accessing of the traumatic memory network, so that information processing is enhanced, with new associations forged between the traumatic memory and more adaptive memories or information. These new associations are thought to result in complete information processing, new learning, elimination of emotional distress, and development of cognitive insights. EMDR therapy uses a three pronged protocol: (1) the past events that have laid the groundwork for dysfunction are processed, forging new associative links with adaptive information; (2) the current circumstances that elicit distress are targeted, and internal and external triggers are desensitized; (3) imaginal templates of future events are incorporated, to assist the client in acquiring the skills needed for adaptive functioning.

FOR LAYPEOPLE

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a psychotherapy that enables people to heal from the symptoms and emotional distress that are the result of disturbing life experiences.  Repeated studies show that by using EMDR therapy people can experience the benefits of psychotherapy that once took years to make a difference. It is widely assumed that severe emotional pain requires a long time to heal.  EMDR therapy shows that the mind can in fact heal from psychological trauma much as the body recovers from physical trauma.  When you cut your hand, your body works to close the wound.  If a foreign object or repeated injury irritates the wound, it festers and causes pain.  Once the block is removed, healing resumes.  EMDR therapy demonstrates that a similar sequence of events occurs with mental processes.  The brain’s information processing system naturally moves toward mental health.  If the system is blocked or imbalanced by the impact of a disturbing event, the emotional wound festers and can cause intense suffering.  Once the block is removed, healing resumes.  Using the detailed protocols and procedures learned in EMDR therapy training sessions, clinicians help clients activate their natural healing processes. (Information sourced from https://www.emdr.com)

I didn’t really understand what it meant but they said they’d had a lot of success helping trauma patients with this and had seen results in a much shorter time period than traditional therapy. I was up for trying anything that might help, though I was sceptical of how much it could do considering how long I’d already spent being tortured by the memories and flashbacks. This call was on a Friday morning and we booked our first actual therapy session for the following Wednesday over Zoom.

I let my OH and family know what the plan was and did a little research into EMDR so I could have a better idea of what to expect, but to be honest, it didn’t really sink in and I had no idea what was going to happen. The morning of my first session came around real quick, and I was a bag of nerves. We did my scores and then we jumped straight into it.

I had to focus on one of the images I’d described previously, that I see in my flashbacks, close my eyes and start tapping. You can do the tapping on your arms, your chest or your legs (potentially more this is just what was suggested to me) and I went with my legs. I did this for an unknown period of time (it literally could have been seconds or minutes and I’d have no idea) then I was asked to stop, take a deep breath and vocalise whatever it was I felt or saw. I then had to focus on that, tap and then the whole thing would continue that way.

I can honestly say I was not expecting it to be as brutal as it was. The feelings you have, the thoughts, the random images.. they can be completely overwhelming and at one point I even had to run to the bathroom to be sick. Apparently this was a good thing as some people cry, some people are ill, some people see weird crazy images.. it’s all personal to the individual and where they hold their trauma. The session only lasted around half an hour and even though I had to stop a couple times when we ended with a relaxation technique I was completely drained. My whole mind and body was just.. out of it, it was such an overwhelming experience. We did my scores again and then we booked in our next session, with my therapist confirming they were pleased with how the session went and reminding me what to do if anything came up before we met again. They did also confirm that nightmares were a pretty common theme after people started EMDR and as I’d been having them a lot lately anyway I figured it’d just be more of the same.

My OH had booked some time out in their calendar for after my session finished and to be honest all I had the energy to do was lay down and get cuddled by them while I had a little cry and tried not to be sick again.

*Other Half / Partner

2 thoughts on “New diagnosis, acknowledging and asking for help with PTSD – part two.

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