Trauma is a complicated thing, one word that can conjure up so many different facets and contexts. I think it is fair to say there is no one definitive ‘traumatic experience’ as each individual will perceive and respond to it differently. In this blog post I want to talk a bit about my own trauma and how I was helped to process it through Eye Movement Desensitisation & Reprocessing therapy.
There have been a number of events from my childhood and adolescence which I have kept hidden from the world. Things that to this day I don’t really talk about. Part of this is because they are events that are very personal to me, and the other part is because I struggle to remember them.
One such event was when I was attacked in a park at a very young age, the people attacking me used dogs to scare me whilst they stole my football. For some people this event might not have a big impact on their life, but for me it clearly caused some issues and resulted in my being absolutely petrified of dogs. The problem was, whilst the fear of dogs remained, the ability to remember the actual event was taken from my memory. Going into my adolescence I had extreme difficulty in identifying why I was so scared of dogs.
It is amazing to think how powerful the brain is? To protect itself it completely removed my ability to access a memory however did not remove the feelings or the fear associated with it. In my experience the brain does everything it can to protect itself, it works overtime to ensure that it is not damaged by events and life. Sometimes this has manifested itself for me as memory loss, others certain specific personality traits and in some cases, it manifested itself into a hallucination.
Another example of a trauma I have experienced was some incidents of people being cruel to me at school, both primary, secondary and college. People often think that physical assault can do the most damage but in my experience that couldn’t be further from the truth, the psychological pain derived from insults, name-calling and bullying can leave someone scarred for a lifetime.
Whilst there wasn’t any specific instance or event in my education that I can pinpoint as the defining traumatic moment, the culmination of events left me traumatised. I refused to leave the house, I developed a deep self-loathing for myself and eventually became consume by depression. Instead of trying to logically and sensible resolve these painful experiences, my brain sought to protect itself by avoiding and hide from them.
There are some other things and events which I am not and may never be able to talk about however the two traumas alone cause significant disturbances in my psychological functioning. The challenge for me was it wasn’t until ten years after first making contact with mental health services was I able to really start confronting them.
The reason or this is that during my adolescence I not only had these traumas to deal with but a psychotic episode, obsessive compulsive disorder and suicidal ideations. I was a ‘revolving door patient’, I was not able to get the right help in the community, so I ended up becoming so distressed I would be picked up by the police and taking to hospital.
Imagine on top of dealing with psychosis, obsessive compulsive disorder and suicidal ideations I opened up about my traumatic experiences? Opening up about trauma can have very real consequences and it is not something to be done flippantly. In my case my brain had worked incredibly hard to repress itself, incredibly hard to avoid the pain of dealing with something it felt it couldn’t deal with and confronting that when I wasn’t ready would have sent me into a meltdown.
With that being said, I did eventually get to the space where I was able to start opening up and it was during my most recent and last course of therapy. I approached this therapy wanting to confront my demons head on, I wanted to get to the bottom of things, and I felt I was in the right headspace to do so.
My therapist was fantastic, she gave me the strength to confront the traumatic experiences by building a safe and therapeutic space for me, by working with me and going at my pace. I didn’t feel like I was on the clock, I didn’t feel like I only had a few sessions, I felt supported.
Once the therapist had built this trust and created this safe space, she could then start attempting the EMDR therapy itself. It involved me taking myself back to those traumatic times of my life, but supporting my brain to reprocess how I contextualised those events through a series of eye movements and therapeutic discussions.
Instead of feeling scared or anxious or pitiful, I now look back on those events completely differently. I don’t feel frightened I feel brave, I do not feel anxious I feel comfort and I don’t feel pitiful, I feel strength.
To some it may seem like this happened over the course of a few sessions, but in reality, it was the culmination of ten years in and out of mental health services, ten years in and out of various different therapies and on various different medications, ten years of pain and being traumatised.
EMDR does not work for everyone and does not work for everything. A more recent trauma I have experienced was the sudden and unexpected loss of my girlfriend, who was the love of my life. This is a trauma that for me was so significant, so damaging it just leaves me feeling empty, with some traumas there is no resolution or peace, you have to fight through it as best you can and try to live your life.
I am now no longer scared of dogs, but more importantly for me I have been able to see some of my more difficult childhood experiences in a different light. I am no longer traumatised by them. I said to my therapist that she saved my life, in reality I think a better way of framing it is she gave me the chance I needed to finally start living my life.