Usually I write poetry or “whatever” passes for it here. And I find the process of writing and sharing very healing.
Just like all human beings, I am on a continual healing journey. As we heal, we grow to know ourselves and our worlds better. Over the last 9 months or so I have been in therapy to help me deal with anxiety. While in the past I may have had mild bouts of depression that I managed with exercise and yoga, about 2.5 years ago, my anxiety escalated to the point where my usual tools were not working. I could run 5 to 7 miles 5 times/ week, go to yoga several times/ week, try to meditate and I was constantly on the verge of tears, angry with my kids, losing weight, and living with a feeling of dread about the present and the future.
I found a therapist who worked with Buddhist psychology techniques… it was awesome, but not enough, and my nurse practitioner started me on zoloft. I was facing major life changes with moving across the country, starting a new job, raising my 2 and 4 year old daughters… and also I think now in retrospect dealing with the trauma with a near death car accident on the 101 outside of San Francisco. Though the accident happened one year prior to the onset of the continual anxiety, the impact I felt was truly physical in nature a full year later. I was still suffering near constant lumbar-thoracic back pain, not sleeping well, and constantly worried about my children (who were in the car at the time of the accident, but emerged apparently unscathed).
The zoloft helped for awhile. Especially when I first started the medicine, I felt like a “nearly normal person”. I remember even thinking, oh yes, this is what it feels like to feel normal; conversely, I also thought, so maybe there is something really, really wrong with me that I need a medication to feel what it feels like to be normal. And then I thought, well perhaps my serotonin is just absent, missing in action. And at one point I had a panic attack about 2 months after starting the lowest dose of the medication and I progressed to a slightly higher dose. I made the move across the country, and left my therapist. I started to see a more generic therapist after the move, and it was useless: I was doing everything right and none of it mattered. I was at the bottom of the wheel and wallowing in it big time, my amygdala firing, waking up with anxiety before the alarm went off, before my feet could even touch the earth each morning my stomach was in a pit and I was worrying about what I had forgotten to do.
Perhaps a year or so after starting the medication, I was anxious all of the time again anyway. At two years on the medication, I realized from talking to a friend who was also on the medication, that I was both numbed to my feelings, but also still very anxious. We were driving to a professional conference and I would literally yelp out when I perceived any danger in the driving situation. I decided it was time to come of the medication and find out what was really going on with my brain and my emotions. I also had to cut a family trip short because I did not have enough medication with me to stay longer and the withdrawal process from zoloft can be physically taxing and dangerous. Though I was only on 50 mg of zoloft, I started a very slow weaning process over about two months until I was free of the medication. I had several brain zaps, where the brain feels like it is shaking around in the head and I had some very foggy days, but the weaning was successful and the side effects experienced during the weaning process, coupled with the dependence on the medication that requires such slow weaning, convinced me that this medication is not for me.
During the weaning process and into the fall, I was doing yoga, meditating, jogging, and seeing a therapist. We mostly did talk therapy with me crying about feeling overwhelmed, doing too much, my challenges in my life as a mother and a wife, the loss of my family of origin, the anxiety I felt everyday around work and the workplace. I did do some EMDR and found some relief, but it seemed we never really got to the heart of the matter.
EMDR is the acronym for eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. It sounds a little odd, but basically, the person who has a traumatic event in their past (and who does not have this in their history?) recalls the event, and then creates a new positive experience around the event while receiving the bilateral stimulation (this can be eye movements, but there is more comfort in hearing a bilateral tone or using hand stimulation or even bilateral tapping). The event is processed and it may take several run throughs, until the person can rate the event as no longer distressing (a o on a scale of 0-10). The person is also encouraged during the event to scan the body and find where the trauma is experienced and held.
Over a period of three weekly one hour sessions, I processed the car accident. I was able to see how God was with me throughout, we were protected by angels, how the screams and fears could be turned into God’s song, how in the end the car’s destruction and the shifts in my own cellular make up was really just about molecules; molecules changing patterns.
After 3.5 years of living with this daily anxiety, the anxiety is now gone. I worry a bit that the anxiety might return, but I am also reveling in the relief of not having my amygdala constantly firing. No longer do I wake up with my heart pounding and my stomach turning into a bundle of nerves. I am able to let go of outcomes, and realize whatever I have forgotten about doing today will be there tomorrow. I am enjoying my children more, loving my husband more, and feeling my feelings more. I am more easily able to walk into meditation and calm spaces.
The gratitude I feel for this tool being available cannot be adequately expressed here. But I am walking around in life with a feeling of peace and calm on a near continual basis. And I may have some more traumas to process, in the past and in the future, but for right here and now, I know this tool is available to guide me through. If you are suffering from a traumatic event and experiencing anxiety, you may also want to consult with an EMDR trained therapist to see if this is a tool that could be of help to you.