august 23, 2019 (the day after)
When my father and I had driven about three miles away from my apartment heading to my appointments I had the realization that I didn’t put that delicious drop of CBD under my tongue before going into session. Too late to turn around, not enough time to retract. I was going in to my second session unarmed, no armor, completely exposed.
Before the second session I had a meeting with my new APRN about my medication, which carried on late, carrying into the EMDR session, making me tardy for the second week in a row. Not being on time is something that makes the dark hairs on my arm stand up, causing chills down my spine, and nausea in my stomach (although the constant uneasiness in my gut is more likely from reflux than anxiety at this point). Although running past it’s time and into my next appointment, I found myself pretty satisfied with my new prescriber. I have a difficult time with psych APRNs and medication management. Then again, I have a hard time being med-compliant at all.
I started my journey with mental health medications in seventh grade, or at least that’s the earliest memory I have with taking them. My first mental diagnosis was ADHD; I was a disruption in schools and this drove my teachers wild, particularly a chaotic history with my science teachers, a subject I struggled with from elementary school on. I was reckless, always out of my chair, trying to talk with friends. I’m a little hesitant when I hear about ADHD and ADD. A lot of my symptoms (up and down moods, high energy, incessant talking) were precursors to my BPD, an illness I wouldn’t be properly diagnosed with until my twenties (although some therapists gossiped that it could be BPD in my teens). It was a different time and instead of looking deeper into my history to unveil severe childhood trauma it was swept under the rug and I was prescribed amphetamines. My parents saw that although in some cases my grades increased and I was performing higher, my mood would get worse when the medication left my system at night. I would be hostile, violent, screaming and slamming doors. They didn’t keep me on stimulants consecutively and I would like to use this sentence to take a moment to recognize that they did the best research and found the best doctors they could to help me as a teenager, and sometimes even know as an adult.
When I was diagnosed as Bipolar (which has now been identified as BPD, although these days I focus more on the symptoms than the name of the illness) I started being prescribed mood stabilizers. However, I found that when I took the medications after a while I felt like I didn’t need them because I felt better. I made the decision to stop taking them as prescribed or only as needed, telling doctors they stopped working and collecting more pills. I didn’t consider myself abusing medication because they were all in my name, addressed to me, an RX just for me. However, not taking medications as prescribed is abuse and in result I was not helping myself and only spiraling downward, harming my liver in the process.
Flash forward through all those awful years to now; two years on an anti-psychotic missing pills only a few times a year (although there have been one or two weeks I went med-free in protest of chemicals). I struggle to take my medications; I know rationally that they help assist in keeping me stable and I’m lucky to live in the world of modern science where I can find a remedy for my instability.
The prescriber was happy with my feedback on my medications and continued my script. She dismissed me fifteen minutes into what should have been my EMDR appointment, my body in knots preparing not to be able to partake in my session this week. However, Harry (that sounds like a good fake name for a therapist, right?) was more than prepared to take me.
We started the session reviewing the homework of John Karat Zinn’s work (a post coming later this week). Then we moved on to week two’s topic; a calm and safe place. We were working together to create my “happy place,” somewhere I could resort back to when EMDR proves to be difficult. Harry asked me if I could think of any off the top of my head and immediately I was taken back to my grandparent’s house in Maine, overlooking the sea and the islands full of seals and wildlife. Harry then asked me to describe this safe space.
I thought of their living room at Christmas, the fire place crackling and popping the wood logs, the smells of my grandfather preparing a prime rib. The wall was replaced with window, where they had a pair of binoculars to overlook the ocean below, their house hanging off the edge of the earth with a staircase leading to the waves gently crashing against the shore. I thought of walking down those stairs, hanging a left and past the neighbor’s pier, onto a dark rock formation. Climbing onto it, I would wait until the tide was too high to walk back home, letting the ocean consume me around the rock. While waiting for the water to resend and open up the sand floor for me to walk home again I would pluck the periwinkle snails off the rock and hum to them. They would journey out of their shell like a cobra slithers out of a basket to the tune of a snake charmer and I would stare at them in wonder. This was my happy place. This is where I would go if I could magically be transported anywhere on the planet.
Harry listened and let it soak in. He did this several times during our session, and I must admit it’s a bit of an annoyance. I’m not sure what to do with my eyes when he sits in silence. Do I stare at him uncomfortably until he says something? I don’t like looking at people for a long time; I dissociate. I’ve read that people with anti-social personality (or as the media likes to call them, psychopaths) tend to stare during conversation and I’m afraid of making people uncomfortable or having a therapist tack on another diagnosis to my list based off the way I look at them. I wonder if I should stare at his notes that he places in front of me? They’re all about me and the words I utter to him, but it feels like his notepad is private despite being an ode to my traumas. When I read over his notes I see he jotted down the fact that when I’m in my old grandparent’s home mentally I’m not concerned about how much space I take up. I’m a woman of a larger body set but I see myself like an elephant, filling up the empty spaces of a room, a ginormous eyesore. This is my body dysmorphia, and I’m sorry Harry but I don’t see how that pertains to my EMDR sessions quite yet. I’m trying my best not to just let my eyes wander off into the empty space of Harry’s office, however, as I’m afraid the more I let myself out loose the less I’ll remember from our sessions, and the less I will be able to do with this series.
After a beat he asked about my grandma, one of the owner’s of the house. I mention that it’s been two years since she’s passed (in a few days it’s actually her birthday). He asked me about how her death influenced me, and this is the first time I’m talking about my grandma in death rather than life.
I tell Harry about her Alzheimer’s, something I try not to think about too often. I tell him about what it’s like to watch your very best friend, your first best friend forget about who you are. I don’t tell him about the cruelty of the world, how I can’t believe in God because I can’t believe she got sick because of fate or will. That doesn’t seem fair, to take away a perfectly healthy, active powerhouse of a woman. I don’t tell Harry that I don’t think I will ever stop being angry that she’s been gone for longer than two years, the heartbreak I feel knowing we will never have play dates with my son, that I will never watch her grow really old.
Or how utterly devastated I am that I can hardly remember her stories.
For a moment, tears threaten to leak from my eyes, but I talk slow and keep breathing steady. Harry listens, he’s always listening. I’m a little bothered that we are talking about something she had felt ashamed of, like I’m disrespecting her or breaking an ancient promise to not talk about her like that. I want to remember her life, the times we gossiped over hot cakes at McDonald’s, watching her face as she sees Rocky Horror Picture Show for the first time, people watching at the mall and opening her mind to the obscure fashions of modern youth.
But I don’t cry. At least, I don’t think I did because I was focusing hard on not having an emotional breakdown the second time I’m talking to Harry. That seems more like a third date practice.
Somehow, Harry changes this conversation to a more difficult one; my arrest six years ago. He wants to explore this trauma through EMDR, the following of his finger. A brief introduction to EMDR, although I must admit I would have much preferred starting with a trauma that I wasn’t responsible for. It’s unflattering, like a body con dress over my ripples and chunks of flesh. A tight squeeze. However, I comply.
I start off by telling him a funny story of my arrest, my friends at the time starting a hashtag about freeing me from prison after reading my name in the Police Logs. No one knows that proceeding the arrest I was hospitalized for a week instead of going to jail, something I suppose I should be grateful for but I’m not completely sold on. Although I recognize at the time of the arrest I was in crisis and needed medical care, not the cracking down of good old fashioned American law, I wasn’t ready to get help and the treatment didn’t stick because of that. No one will get better (mentally) if they are not a willing participant.
And then, there was what led up to the arrest…a suicide attempt, running away, an argument, a slap, a pair of scissors. The accessories to a crime I committed.
Nothing felt quite as traumatizing in all of this, though, as coming home to an empty apartment, his things gone.
The story of my arrest is a tale all in itself and one I’m hoping I can share. But as I sit here, watching Octonauts with my son in bed, I know it’s not meant to be shared yet.
I left the session with more anxiety than I anticipated and a broken heart for the people in my past. I’ve been asked by Harry to focus in on the traumas I want to discuss, both from childhood and my relationship prior to my husband. That leaves me torn; to talk about the abuses out of my control, or the monster I became because of them.