The Past Me, the Present Me

By mid of November, our plan was counting 3 more therapy sessions to go.

Brother and Sister by Josh Kenzer I had been feeling good for months, but there was an image that was still hurting pretty bad every time it surfaced: it was the memory of those awful days, in which my worst anxiety had kept my body trapped inside my house and my life trapped inside my head.

My therapist welcomed me with her usual smile: “Today we can address those memories, by going back to EMDR.” [1]
We had used EMDR for the first couple of sessions, then spontaneously moved to a more traditional talking therapy for the following months. Now we were going back to EMDR, for this specific occasion.

“Today we can make the Past A. (where A. stands for my real name) talk to the Present A., if you agree, of course.”
“Ok” I agreed, without actually having understood much about what was going to happen, except for the fact that the Past A. was myself during the worst days of my life and the Present A. was… well, the Present A. was the current me, the one who had been discovering and collecting some of her new resources since then and had been feeling way better in the previous months.

Therapist: “Find yourself a comfortable position on your chair, close your eyes and breathe a few times deeply.”
A: “…”

T: “Visualize the memory of one of those moments. Visualize the Past A. Look at the details of the scene and, when you feel ready, describe them to me.”
A: “… It’s morning, I’m in my room, it’s wake-up time. But I’ve actually been awake all night long.
My head is confused, I can’t think rationally.
I’m not asleep, but I’m not completely awake either.
I’m not able to think, I’ve just got images in my mind.
I wait for my brother to go out heading to his office, then I get up and reach for my father. I tell him that my head is confused, that I’m not feeling well at all.
My room is still dark, while the sun is shining in the other rooms already.”

T: “How does the Past A. feel?”
A: “She’s desperate. Completely desperate… She can’t think. And she’s tired… She’s exhausted.”

T: “Let’s make the Past A. meet the Present A. and let the Past A. speak: what does she want, what does she wish for, what does she need?”
A: “I want to go to bed, then to wake up the morning after and realize that everything is gone, that everything is magically solved, even if I know that it is impossible.”

T: “Leave rationality aside for a moment. Don’t think about what’s possible and what’s not, let the Past A. express herself freely.”
A: “Ok… The night that has just gone has been the worst night of my life. I’ve been nervous all night long, I’ve tossed and turned, exhausted and haunted by terrible thoughts.”

T: “Do you remember those thoughts?”
A: “Yes. In the previous weeks I had started having the sensation that there were no more objectives in my life, that being alive wasn’t worth it any longer, that my life had become completely pointless.
I had started taking paroxetine 2 or 3 days before and I had read on its information leaflet that paroxetine had caused suicidal instincts in some. This became my obsession for days and that obsession had been stuck in my mind during the whole night.”

T: “Let’s make the Present A. approach the Past A. and hold her by her hand. What is the Past A. telling to the Present A.?”
A: “That there’s no way out, that there’s no possible solution to the situation she’s stuck in.”

T: “What does the Present A. reply to her?”
A: “That there’s a solution, she knows it. That the solution is partially already ongoing, even if everything has just begun. That Paroxetine will need some time to start working, that therapy has just begun few weeks ago. That she has to trust the neurologist who told her that the only way out is to go on with the cure. That she has to trust her parents who are suggesting her to go on with Paroxetine. That it takes patience, that it takes time. That she needs to trust.”

T: “Is there any way the Present A. can help the Past A.? Is there anything she could do to make her feel better?”
A: “Yes. She could hug her.” My voice is just a whisper now.

T: “Will the Past A. let her do it?”
A: “Yes.”

T: “Then, hug her.”
A: “…”

T: “How does the Past A. feel now?”
A: “Released… No, released is too much. But there’s some warmth in it. There’s some comfort. Yes, comforted. Comforted is the right word.”

T: “So it’s the two of you, the Present A. is holding hands with the Past A.. Describe me the scene.”
A: “We’re in the dark. Or better, the Past A. is coming from a dark place, now we are halfway between dark and light.”

T: “What is the Present A. saying to the Past A.?”
A: “Come on, let’s go.”

T: “What is the Present A. doing?”
A: “She’s dragging the Past A. along.”

T: “What does the Past A. think about what’s happening? How does she feel?”
A: “She’s tired. She wishes she could trust. She doesn’t know how things will go, but she knows that this is her last ditch effort.”

T: “What is the Past A. wishing to hear from the Present A.?”
A: “She’s wishing to be promised that everything is going to be all right.”

T: “And what does the Present A. reply to her?”
A: “That such a promise is hard to make, but she can trust her. Because she’s been there and she’s gone through it. That there is a solution, or that there could be one, even when you can’t see it.” My voice is shaky again.

T: “Does the Past A. trust her?”
A: “… I don’t know if she trusts her, but she knows that this is her last possible chance and she wants to grab on to it.”

T: “What is the Past A. saying?”
A: “I hope. I hope I can trust. Let’s hope it’s going to work out.”

T: “How does the Past A. feel in front of the Present A., now that she has hugged and comforted her?”
A: “She feels that the burden she’s been carrying on her shoulders is a little lighter, that the weight of the responsibility to be the one who has to solve it all by herself is now shared with someone else.”

T: “What can the Past A. do about that?”
A: “She could trust the Present A., she could rely on her.”

T: “Now take a deep breath and open your eyes.”
A: “…”
I open my eyes and slowly get back into the room again.

T: “How do you feel?”
A: “It was intense.” I reply in a sigh. “Really intense. I still feel a bit…”

T: “A bit shaken?”
A: “Yes. A bit shaken.”

T: “What does it feel like to see the Past A. again?”
A: “It moves me. It makes me want to cry.”

T: “You can let yourself go” she replies to me, with such a natural tone in her voice.
She looks into my eyes while she’s talking. She’s still sitting next to me, where she was a moment ago, during the EMDR.

You can let yourself go, her words echo in my head for a moment and take shape into new thoughts: I can let myself go
I can let myself burst into tears and let everything get out. I can show myself for what I am and that would be ok. It would be acceptable and it would be accepted. It would be understandable and it would be understood.

You. Can. Let. Yourself. Go.
Five words in less than two seconds. But they warmed me.
It hasn’t happened often in my life to be told that I can let myself go. It hasn’t ever happened at all actually.

So I can let myself go.
I can allow myself to, I can do it, there would be nothing wrong, there would be no danger.
I can release my parking brake, I can loosen my reins, I can set all that I’ve been holding inside finally free.
And it would be safe. It would be good.

I won’t anyway. I won’t cry this time. The moment has gone.
But I know I can let myself go now. And that is quite something for me today.

 


 

[1]
EMDR is a therapy technique used to process distressing memories, that consists – please forgive me for my very basic description – in having the patient recall those distressing images, while receiving a bilateral sensory input by the therapist.
Going through different phases, it begins with the therapist asking the patient to recall and visualize the disturbing image. The patient is then asked to describe the emotions arisen by that image and to identify where those feelings are being sensed in the his/her body.
In the following sequence, the patient is asked to stay with that image, while the therapist executes a bilateral sensory stimulation. As far as I know, several different stimulation techniques may be used. The one that proved more comfortable to me is tapping. So while I was sitting in my chair, my eyes closed and my hands placed on my knees, my therapist, sitting close and facing me, gently tapped on the back of my hands with her own hands, alternating right and left.
Personally, I’ve intentionally decided not to read too much about EMDR, I rathered simply trust my therapist and let her guide me, experiencing EMDR, rather than “learning” about it on my laptop screen. I preferred not to influence my experience with whatever idea I would have built about it by reading some stuff on the Internet. And I would personally suggest to do the same to anyone who is or may be using this technique.
Anyway should you be curious about it and should you wish to browse the web for info, just google EMDR and have fun…

 


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