So, the main thing is that I’ve been getting tests done to verify whether or not my cancer has come back, and of course that whole thing is taking up a lot of my attention. Of which more in later posts.
I’ve also started seeing a therapist that uses a therapy process called EMDR. It’s to help me overcome my driving phobia (among other things). EMDR (stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is becoming increasingly popular as a therapy specializing in trauma recovery. It has had amazing results helping people suffering from PTSD: soldiers, assault victims, etc. in a relatively short time.
Thus far, nobody really knows what REM sleep is for, much less how EMDR therapy works, but the theory is something like this. REM sleep is a phase of sleep when the brain processes and resolves the things that are going on in our lives, usually via highly symbolic dreams, integrating them into the neural networks that make up our concept of reality. A kind of nightly upgrade.
This process doesn’t always work automatically for some people however. For some of us, especially during childhood, traumatic events somehow freeze and resist processing. Our memories of such events usually feel like they’re happening over and over again. We want to resist having such distressing thoughts come back to mind, and yet they seem to have a life of their own. They are beyond our conscious control.
The EMDR therapist guides you by purposefully bringing the distressing thoughts to mind while your eyes move back and forth (left, right, left, right), which mimmics REM eye movements, only in a waking state. It mysteriously jars such thoughts loose, so that they can be reprocessed and integrated into our thought processes, along with the rest of our life experiences. We may never forget the experience, but it won't have the unnerving emotional component that feels as though we're practically re-living the experience. You can imagine how helpful this could be to some of our returning veterans!
My Driving Phobia
As a young woman, I was a passenger during a car accident. We were both thrown forward; the driver hit the steering wheel and I hit the window. My face shattered the windshield, which was made of the old-fashioned glass that broke into knife-life shards. It badly cut up my face and my left hand, which I had instinctively thrown up over my face. I was told I might not be able to use that hand very well again (it turned out better than expected) and that I was lucky I wasn’t blinded (for which I’m grateful).
Long story short, I’ve been irrationally freaked out ever since!
I put off learning how to drive until I was in my mid-30s. I then took driving lessons but was always a nervous, hyper-careful driver. It has always been a stressful, nerve-wracking experience, and I suspect the years I spent commuting to work aged me prematurely. In my early 50s I experienced dizziness and severe heart palpitations while driving over the Oakland Bay Bridge (I lived in Berkeley and worked in San Francisco at that time). I was terrified that I might faint while driving in crowded, high-speed traffic conditions in the midst of 5-6 lanes.
My doctor suspected heart disease. My tests proved that I was actually having panic attacks, so she sent me to a therapist, who taught me breathing exercises. That helped control the dizziness, but I continued to experience dread and fear.
Now that I work at home, it means I don’t have to commute. I only drive to get necessary errands done that are relatively close to home: shopping, post office etc. But as you can imagine, this really narrows down my life. This is my third year living in Albuquerque and I’ve hardly explored the area at all. I like staying home, but this is ridiculous!
My sessions included a lot of preparatory talk therapy followed by brief EMDR sessions, where we work on a specific problem. So far I’ve only had one brief session on the driving phobia, but it had immediate results. I noticed the difference as soon as I got into my car to drive home. The usual feeling of dread had completely disappeared.
That week I had put off getting my blood drawn numerous times because of my dread of driving, especially to an unfamiliar location. But after the EMDR session, I decided to drive straight to the lab instead of going home. This is a pretty big deal for me. I didn’t feel nervous at all. That was amazing.
However I’m still nervous when I’m in the passenger seat. And there’s no way I’m driving on the freeway, or out of town. Obviously I’ve still got some processing to do, but now I have reason to hope that I can finally be free of this weird problem.