Combo Post: EMDR Session #4 and Dietary Results #3

I like writing when things are improving and find it hard to write when I have set backs. Hence, the slow blogging lately. But it dawned on me that not wanting to write when I’m struggling holds myself to an unrealistic standard. This is supposed to be raw and real, not some perfect internet version of a hard journey.

What prompted me to realize the perceptual flaw was a treadmill workout where I set the incline on high and crouch low, thus climbing upwards. I do the same climb on each side, then backwards. Last, I run. Fast. Somewhere between my right side and turning around, it dawned on me this is just like life. You’re in a slow climb from every angle. Sometimes it speeds up and you struggle to keep pace. In the end you’re sore as hell. Afterwards your muscles rebuild, you’re stronger. That’s exactly where I am mentally—somewhere between going backwards, super fast and pain. It will eventually make me stronger. I just need to keep climbing.

A few days before my last EMDR session I wanted to give up. It honestly freaked me out. As a self-proclaimed overachiever, I’ve never wanted to give up on anything. Janet asked whether I wanted to go through with EMDR session number 4. My reply was that I had to. If I didn’t there was a strong possibility I was going to trash all the progress I’d made and retreat.

After session #4, which was full of overwhelming memories of cruelty, I came full circle again: I am on this path so I do not repeat what was done to me. I am doing this primarily for my son. If I stop, the potential that I damage him increases. When faced with that reality, there is only one choice to keep going. I have nothing to lose and everything to gain (and give). I’m pushing forward through the hurt, doubt and occasional lack of self-control in attempt to learn everything I can to recreate my own normal.  Giving up has officially been removed from my mental health vocabulary.

My doctor’s appointment involved a lot less emotions. My vitamin B, D and magnesium tests were back. The D and magnesium were on point. And while my vitamin B was in the 600’s (above normal levels), my doctor wants to see it in the 900’s so I started a B12 dropper in the a.m. I was also having some sluggishness in the morning so I added in another supplement called phosphatidylserine to energize my cell structure. It is a chemical made in your body which has other benefits too—mood, concentration, memory, stress reduction. I’d also been having more stomach issues than normal so my doctor suggested total corn elimination. I rarely eat corn itself, but I love tortilla chips with hot salsa (and Mexican food in general). Since corn can also be used in cooking oil, salad dressing, basically anything at restaurants I am opting for a food sensitivity blood test instead. I’ll get the results and modify as necessary. I’ve fallen back love with cooking so hopefully I can narrow down the aggravating foods to continue building up my GF DF recipe collection.

The only other goal I have now is incorporating more fun into my life. Whether that means little adventures with my son, dinner with close friends or just watching a show I like, I am savoring the good times, bringing me one step closer to the long-term goal of a quieter mind and eventually mediation….baby steps.

Talk Therapy Session 1

It’s been several weeks since I’ve sat down with my thoughts to write. Since then I’ve been across the country a couple times, taken an exam for a professional designation and began studying for another and played mom/wife/chef/maid on rinse-repeat. The hustle gave me time to put some things into action. And once I did, I wanted to talk about them with Janet. (That is the name of my wonderful life guide—a more accurate title than ‘therapist’.)

I don’t enjoy talk therapy because with such a persuasive profession I find myself naturally saying things to please the other person when I run out of concrete things to talk about. I realized this a couple years ago with a different therapist and instantly became too cheap to continue paying them to listen to my bullshit. But I wanted to tell someone about my observations and external changes that was more than a friend, and I already had an appointment scheduled with Janet. So hours after my last plane landed in to her office I went.

Lately I’ve been toying with what I’ll dub ‘the third law of feelings’: how I react has an equal reaction. Feelings are different from the physics of relativity so rather than an opposite reaction occurring, the reaction of feelings typically mirror each other. If you approach something with anger, you get defensiveness or greater anger. If you’re kind, you get gentleness or understanding in return. Again, this isn’t a brilliant revelation on my part. Most people reading this probably already incorporate the law of feelings into their daily lives.

But what I’ve found interesting about my application of the law is how far I’ve been able to take it. The level of self-control I’ve been able to achieve has been something I’ve been working on for years. I don’t know if it is the EMDR, the food, the supplements, a combination of all the lifestyle changes. But what started off as a slow drip has become an intense focus on my own feelings and reactions.

For a while now, I’ve been trying to implement the successes of my job into daily life hoping that there’s a greater connection. My reactions in my career are calculated. Not in a negative way but in a way that is purposeful. Each expression is gauged to achieve a certain outcome. Once I realized I wasn’t applying that to other aspects of my life, I got really serious about the resutl I was trying to attain when I expressed my feelings. I slowed things way down, sifted through the possible outcomes and weighed any reactive emotions that could follow. Crazy things started happening. First, I got what I wanted a lot more. My voice was larger even at a softer decibel. Second, I had more energy because I wasn’t spending all of it spinning my wheels trying to be heard. Third, I became really comfortable with not agreeing. This one has changed my life the most.

For the first time, I am completely content conveying my perspective and that being that. I don’t need to persuade anyone to agree with me or to make any point in general. I can say my peace, shrug my shoulders and go about my day. And magically, everything is still fine. This level of communication in my day to day life has encouraged me to re-visit meditation. Despite wanting to badly, I have never been able to still my mind on the level it takes to meditate. But I think I am really, really close.

The calm still feels weird sometimes, and I get the urge to destroy it out of fear. But now I can see that coming and predict how it will end to avoid throwing myself a curve ball in what has been a game of perfect pitches lately. EMDR session #4 is in a couple weeks, and I am optimistic that with a few more sessions I will have washed myself free of the barriers I’ve longed to flush. 

EMDR: Session 3

I went into the next EMDR session frustrated. I'd been on somewhat of a high with what I've learned and the progress I was making. But with every few steps forwards is an inevitable step back. By the time I hit the therapy chair it felt like I was doing the moonwalk. 

For people who know me that read these posts, I can guess (hope) they see me as a strong, successful woman. It takes a lot of courage to propel yourself forward for a couple decades. Not many people know about my fears, and those who do only know a fraction of why they exist, how they came to be or how much control they've had over certain aspects of my life. 

I write on this website for a couple reasons: #1 I've been blessed with the resources to try a bunch of treatments, take a zillion supplements, buy high-quality food, etc. Some of these lifestyle changes have been expensive, and I want people to be able to explore things that have worked for me without baring the overall cost of them. #2 I love to cook and need a place to keep my new recipes all in one place. Plus, having to come up with new ones to post keeps me motivated and accountable. And #3, the biggie, I am really terrible at vulnerability. 

Writing on this site scares me. I am a perfectionist, and this site is a place where I could fail, be judged or deemed wrong. I like to joke that I have a B+ personality--type A with a good sense of humor. But that's bullshit. I am type A+++. What's your game--I will win it; What's your score--I will beat it; What's your argument--I will top it. Whew. Striving for external perfection has been somewhat exhausting.  

What I am learning is that I need to be afraid. So much so that if zero people read this, I would still tell myself people are just to hold my own feet to the fire. I am that committed to making myself uncomfortable. If I keep doing the same shit with the same mindset nothing is going to shake loose. But we all know that; it’s not a prolific statement. 

But this is...eventually, keep reading…I sat back down at my work desk after that third session thinking I had a couple hours to recover before a presentation to my company’s department heads, only to learn that the meeting time had been set when I was gone. And I was 7 minutes late. (Holy hell.) A few minutes after I joined the call (I work remotely), it was game time.  I had no clue how I came across, just that I’d made it through the call. The next day my boss called to say I’d received a random bonus sparked by impressing one of the top 3 people in my organization with my presentation. I was externally grateful, yet internally reflective. The kudos and the money are great. But the feeling of accomplishment that I delivered in the middle of an emotional storm sparked a realization: I control my own thoughts. Every single one of them. None of my past baggage was on that conference call. It was still there; it just didn’t have a role because I didn’t let it because it would have hindered my performance.

For far too long, I’ve felt trapped by my memories or lack thereof.  And I’ve been allowing them enough real estate in my mind to control my behavior.  What if I let some of them go? I have no idea, and I’m slightly terrified. Moments of calm tend make me nervous, skeptical to the point where I create waves of comfortable chaos.

To fully heal, craving chaos must stop (THIS is the prolific statement). I’m not exactly sure how. But my reaction in every moment is a choice and a good starting point. Every word, thought, scowl, smile or tear is my chance to change what happens next. I didn’t get to be a master at my job overnight. It took practice, control, patience. I haven’t been applying these things to other areas of my life. So the personal me is listening to the professional me. It’s all I can think of to do right now.

Dietary Results: Round Two

Before I get to the results of my hormone and stool tests, I’m providing the results of a little self-experiment. My second EMDR session fell on day 86 of consciously being gluten and dairy free, limiting corn, soy and sugar. ALL I wanted to do when I walked out of that session was do some good ol’ emotional eating at the Indian buffet by my house. I text a couple people that I was going to emo eat some wheat and dairy (secretly hoping they’d persuade me otherwise). The responses were wish I could meet you there or that sounds delicious. No one said you’ll poop for two days straight, contemplate napping during the workday, ache all over and generally be an unmotivated, pain in the ass. Next time I get the urge to eat my feelings I will drive to the co-op and buy a piece or two of their homemade gluten free, dairy free chocolate cake. Almost the same comfort but without all the unpleasant consequences.

Several days later, I was able to log into Genova Labs and see my test results prior to my doctor’s appointment. The results looked scary with graphs and percentages, but it turns out it wasn’t as bad as my doctor expected. Basically, I have high estrogen and low lipids in my gallbladder. My body isn’t making the right enzymes to carry estrogen out of my system, and my gallbladder isn’t breaking down fats to absorb nutrients in my food. My yeast, cortisol and melatonin were all good, same with the “good” bacteria levels that come from taking a probiotic.

The most interesting part of this appointment was when I asked if the high estrogen was related to having a baby three years ago. My doctor said this too is gut-related. During lows of prior failed treatments, I would occasionally wonder if the best part of my life, my son, was a catalyst for feeling like shit. It is an awkward relief to know I would have suffered an internal breakdown regardless of getting pregnant. My gut had been failing for years and having a baby didn’t make the dominos fall any faster.

To treat the estrogen, I now take a daily supplement called estrodim. It should level out my estrogen and raise my testosterone (because the two work hand in hand). To help with nutrient absorption, I take 1 ox bile pill after eating a few bites of food at each meal. This has been the hardest supplement to remember because stopping mid-meal to take an itty bitty bill is completely foreign. I’ve put a few and in my wallet, kitchen, office… basically everywhere to help me remember.

My updated supplements are:

1.       Thorne Research Basic Nutrients (multi vitamin) 2 pills

2.       Ortho molecular Ortho Biotic (probiotic) 1 pill

3.       Ortho molecular Orthomega (fish oil) 1 pill

4.       Metagenics Mag Glycinate (Magnesium)-went from 1 to 2 pills a day (am and pm)

5.       Now brand Aloe 1 pill

6.       200 mg Gabapentin- went from 100 mg at night to 100 mg am and pm (prescription drug)

7.       10mg Trintellix- increased from 5 mg to 10 mg (head med) 

8.        Ortho molecular Estrodim- 1 pill at night

9.        Allergy Research Group Ox Bile – 1 pill with each meal

This brings my daily pill total to 14. Thus far, the only side effect is the estrodim making me sleep more soundly.  In a couple months, I retest the B and D vitamin levels, along with the magnesium. I hope to add in another magnesium and possibly another aloe, but the magnesium is chalky and the hardest to swallow so I’ll revisit it after the retest. I don’t go back to the doctor until those tests are performed so for a couple months I am focusing on the EMDR. My doctor says the stress of the EMDR is bound to negatively affect my gut. So counteract that, there will be no random gorging of off-limit food, adherence to my supplement schedule and an extra focus on journaling as a release. Staying focused on healing.

EMDR: Session 2

I walked in and sat down in the chair for my second round of brain ping pong, and for the first time in approximately two months of treatment I wanted to be there. Typically, when my therapist asks how I am my response is that I wish I was somewhere else. I follow that up quickly with the classic ‘it’s me, not you’ so it’s not offensive; it’s just honest. But not this time. I genuinely wanted to go back in to my brain to see what I could shake loose. My curiosity had peaked.

I chose to stick with the same memory. I was stressing a bit trying to think of what I wanted to remember for the second session. Then it hit me during a point of journaling that there was more left to explore in the first memory.  After I dumped the outside world in my box and sat on my mental beach for a while, she asked me to pull up the lowest point of the memory. To my surprise, my brain didn’t go to the door I desperately worked to get open and escape through like it did during the first session. It went to when I tried to walk back in through the door. It went to when no one wanted me to come home.

I’m not going to go into how much these sessions hurt. I was a kid. It all hurts. I want to talk about how the pain has changed and the connections I’ve made from the pain. As you can probably guess, I am not in therapy because of one instance with one door. I’m there for a series of things that took place long before and long after. When I compile all of those together, I never considered the damage from not being allowed to come home. I had a new home. I took care of myself. I went on to be a self-sufficient, successful adult. I considered all the things I did in between character building.

Thoughts have flickered from time to time that possibly some of my greatest achievements come from places of hurt. It’s a huge mind fuck so I tend to brush that off as quickly as possible. But there is something there to think about, not in terms of measuring success but in terms of analyzing the motivation stemming from feeling abandoned.

Along with that internal motivation has come a whole host of misguided feelings, misinterpretations, ridiculous standards placed on myself and others. Bad has come from bad, along with a shit ton of good. That’s where I am at in this mental storm. I’m making peace with the fact that motivation from pain worked when life was uncomfortable. It worked when the struggle to eat was a daily battle. It worked when substance abuse was a common environment. It worked when I was trying to achieve a handful of educational and career goals.

But now, it just doesn’t work. My life is beyond comfortable and my goals are smaller, more streamlined to build on things I’ve already achieved. The people in my life are caring and dependable. So why am I still operating from that closed door? And more importantly, how do I stop? Thus, the journey continues….

EMDR: Session 1

Similar to the dietary results, this topic will also be ongoing since it involves a series of treatment sessions. Part of the voluminous paperwork I completed prior to my first doctor’s visit asked a few questions about childhood and certain traumas. When it came to that part of the actual appointment I couldn’t answer many of the questions asked. Frankly, I have very few memories. And the ones I do apparently contained enough PTSD flags to prompt the doctor to recommend a specific kind of therapy called EMDR.

From my bio you’ve learned I tried therapy multiple times. It was mostly cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and the Gestalt method. These are known as talk therapy. EMDR doesn’t focus on talking. Developed in the late 1980’s and first used on combat victims, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing focuses on creating new neuropathways. This is called neurogenesis, the brain’s ability to change. Neurons inside the brain strengthen with repetition so if your childhood environment was loving you create a normal neuropathway for processing thoughts. If you suffer a traumatic event or consistent trauma, you create a neuropathway where you store memories that are unhealthy, depressive. Certain situations, topics, events then process through this neuropathway making your behaviors and reactions abnormal, triggering panic, etc.

Since EMDR makes and strengthens new neural pathways, rather than the trauma memory going through the old, panicked neuropathway it goes through the new pathway. This allows for a detached way of thinking about it that is reasonable, restrained, less emotionally charged. All of this takes place internally so the focus during a session isn’t on talking.  Let’s stop and be real for a minute—this is crazy fucked up, right. But remember, I’ve tried everything so I’m game with playing inside my brain.

There are a few methods used in this form of therapy. One is with light and eye movement. My therapist doesn’t use that method. Instead I use hand buzzers which fit into each of my palms and vibrate on the pressure points throughout a session. There is some leadup to a session to learn about your trauma and develop an action plan. The actual session itself involves going inside your worst memory and watching it as if it was a movie. While you’re inside the memory, the buzzers pulse in different patterns. When you’re outside the memory, you’re asked targeted questions about the physical and emotional sensations you’re feeling. Then you go back into the memory again. You do this cycle for approximately an hour.

Without going into too much detail about my specific memory, I want you to know what EMDR feels like during and afterwards because the effects last for days. You prep a bit mentally before you dive in by putting all outside thoughts inside a box and creating a safe place. (Mine is sitting on a beach during a sunset watching waves roll in.) The intervals when you’re inside the memory feel long. I ran through a section of my memory a couple times during each interval, seeing and remembering things I had long forgotten. Some sensations felt real, some didn’t. Panic and guilt were the two most prominent real feelings I had. My memory involves not being able to get a door open to escape. I could feel myself struggle with the doorknob like a pulsing lump in my jugular. At one point, I resorted to my childlike self and verbally expressed self-blame for the situation happening. The physical pain I thankfully couldn’t “feel”, but I was aware that the memory version of myself was hurting.

As I touched on above, you answer questions throughout the intervals so you stay slightly present. One of my answers involved how I vow never to treat my child. You end back in your safe place, then talk a bit about what transpired. During that talk, my therapist said the connection to myself as a mother when I was inside the memory is the first indication of my brain separating itself from the memory and starting to process it logically. This 'separation' continued for the next five days as thoughts would randomly pop into my head connecting my present life to the past.  

Afterwards, I felt raw. I explained it to a friend as if someone had taken a Brillo pad to my insides. That feeling lasted about a day. I was encouraged to write down my feelings and sensations in the days following. When I sat down at the next session (which does involve talking because your brain can’t handle back to back buzz sessions), I was surprised to see the transition in my writing develop from emotional to rational as I began to apply that memory to thoughts in my current life. I could see how the past is shaping things I’m currently doing which is negatively impairing my growth as a person, hurting others and holding me back from enjoying life in general.

Two weeks have passed since the first session, and overall I’ve felt calmer, lighter. I haven’t word-vomited out of anxiety. I’ve been able to separate an irrational thought from a typical response so they don't happen. Situations seem slower, like slow motion, where I now get a choice over my reaction. It’s interesting and somewhat of a relief. Living an increasingly emotionally-based, reactive life has been exhausting and stressful.

EMDR is best described as a wound transformation. You develop an intellectual perspective to your memories, which in turn transforms them into something logical, manageable, applicable. My next buzz session is in a week. I’m oddly looking forward to the internal scrubbing. I haven’t decided if I am going to stay in this memory or focus on another. Either way, I probably have another 3-4 sessions to see the full effects.

While this may sound like voodoo to some, the purported statistics are that 100% of single trauma victims and 77% of multiple trauma victims no longer have PTSD after 6 sessions. Only time will tell whether I become a statistic. And for once, I really hope I do.

Dietary Results: Round One

So you have learned (or haven’t learned) from my bio page that phase one of my path to feeling better was addressing leaky gut and a hormone imbalance. (The PTSD treatment will come later as that is complex and unique.)

Prior to that first doctor’s appointment, I had never heard of leaky gut. I thought my diet was well-balanced and happily filled out the food chart I was asked to take to the appointment. Turns out, the gluten, soy, dairy and corn in my diet were damaging the lining of my small intestine and letting bacteria into my blood stream. The bacteria then produced an autoimmune response in my body by not allowing it to absorb nutrients, screwing up my hormones and stunting the production of serotonin. Basically, the lining of the small intestine is as important as the more popular organs—heart, lungs, liver—yet we’re damaging it daily with delicious food and causing ourselves tons of ailments we treat with pills. It’s a crazy yet completely plausible concept. My doctor told me 80% of the population have it so there is a chance you have some level of it. If you regularly feel tired, foggy, grouchy, joint and back pain, migraines, gas, bloating, insomnia, crave sugar or carbs, have skin rashes, depression or anxiety it’s something to seriously consider. In my case, I had likely damaged my small intestine by slowly letting in more and more bad bacteria with each serious (hospitalization, IV’s) case of food poisoning. Other things like repeated steroid (prednisone, cortisone) use and regularly using OTC pain relievers can irritate the lining of the small intestine enough to trigger leaky gut. Years of poor eating habits can also do the same.

Treating leaky gut is done by rebuilding the gut lining through an elimination diet. The body treats a host of foods as toxic including gluten, dairy, and sugar. Then there are the actual chemical-laden foods, corn and soy, which contain tons of GMO’s, plus peanuts and coffee which are basically mold from being grown in a hot, wet climate. (See the Research page for more info on coffee.) I eliminated gluten, diary and peanuts immediately and limited corn and soy. In a time where everything, including the eggs at IHOP include soy, full soy elimination is nearly impossible. And not all soy is created equal as some organic soy proteins have health benefits. Next I had 7 different blood tests to get a better perspective on what was being absorbed and what wasn’t. One of my favorite parts about my new doctor is medical evidence. I’ve felt bad for so long that knowing why is almost as important to me as feeling better.

Within two weeks on the new diet I stopped feeling generally puffy. I hadn’t realized just how constantly bloated I was or how swollen my entire body felt. After a month, the ache in my lower back had disappeared. After 60 days, my mood on all days besides 2-3 hormonal ones were happier. My energy was higher, my skin was clearer, brighter, and my heart beat only elevated to a paniced level twice. Right now, I am eagerly awaiting the 90 day mark for the full host of improvements. I am at the point where I feel so good I can look at a basket of rolls on the table at Logan’s with disinterest. I have no desire to eat a piece of cake or scoop of ice cream at a birthday party. And as I approach the time where I can add things back into my diet, I probably won’t. I am becoming content with eating like this for the remainder of my life. I miss pizza and Indian food occasionally, but I’d rather feel amazing.

My blood tests showed low-average B and D vitamins, higher than normal yeast, negative for celiac, above-average kidney function and somewhat low magnesium. I now take a shit ton of supplements to aid in healing and address the deficiencies. I’ve made a list for reference:

1.       Thorne Research Basic Nutrients (multi vitamin) 2 pills

2.       Ortho molecular Ortho Biotic (probiotic) 1 pill

3.       Ortho molecular Orthomega (fish oil) 1 pill

4.       Metagenics Mag Glycinate (Magnesium) currently half a pill

5.       Now brand Aloe 1 pill

6.       Gabapentin 100 mg (prescription drug)

7.       Trintellix 5 mg (head med) 

The multivitamin addresses raising the B and D vitamins. The probiotic helps heal the gut, process foods and fights off illness. I cannot stress the importance of a probiotic and will write more on it in a future post. The fish oil and aloe heal the gut lining and promote good gut bacteria. Besides being a needed mineral for over 300 enzyme reactions, the magnesium aids sleep in combination with the Gabapentin. Sleep is also paramount to feeling better; your body must rest to heal and function properly. Gabapentin, traditionally a seizure medication, stimulates my GABA neurotransmitter to help with anxiety, overall calmness. (The development of rapid heart palpitations aka panic attacks and increased OCD are two things that told me something bigger was wrong inside my body these past couple years.) I take some of these supplements in the morning, some after dinner and some at night. It is a commitment.

The leaky gut diet also includes eating 40% non-starchy vegetables, 30% protein, 15% healthy fats and 15% carbs at least 80% of time, plus drinking half your body weight in ounces of clean water a day. This diet doesn’t include much sugar or alcohol. I’ve never been really into sweets, but I do love a microbrew beer every once and a while. Now I have an occasional cider or glass of prosecco. This diet produces weight loss regardless of whether you are trying to. I lost 10 lbs in two months and am already a petite person. The interesting thing is that I lost it from mostly my hips and waist, two places were fat loss tends to be stubborn. I’ve lifted weights for a decade and where I was lifting 4-5 days a week, I am now lifting 3 days a week as I become accustomed to maintaining weight and eating the right kinds of carbohydrates.

As for the hormonal imbalance, I did what is called a rhythm test to measure my estradiol, progesterone, testosterone and cortisol. I spit in vials every few days which I stored in the freezer over the course of a month. I learn the results of the spit test, along with a home stool test which will address the high yeast, at the end of this month. I’m oddly excited like a child on Christmas morning to find out what else is broken inside my body because I am super motivated to fix this shit for good.

Since I waited for two years to get in to Parkview Integrative Medicine and felt crappy for even longer, I have been a very compliant patient. I was somewhat desperate to feel better having run out of options, so the lifestyle changes were welcome. Plus I’m cheap as hell, and although I have full coverage insurance the out of pocket expenses for doctor’s appointments, supplements, and labs add up. I want to get my money’s worth out of this treatment.

If you’re interested in making similar lifestyle changes, I recommend not half-assing it so you can experience the full benefits. Small changes are good, but they won’t produce the same results. Take 90 days, go balls out and see what happens. In the big picture of life, it’s not that long to try something that could potentially change everything.