Dec 30, 2018

Life after a near drowning: My experience with EMDR

On August 5th of 2018, we nearly lost our (now) three year old.  She was lifeless, gray and limp in our arms.  It’s a story that I wrote about in this blog post here and it changed our lives forever.

I expected to live my entire life without ever coming close to holding my nearly-dead child (sounds morbid, and it is, but that’s what happened) in my arms. Yet, that’s exactly what I did.  One afternoon, that would otherwise be just a blip in my lifetime, really and truly messed me up.

And here’s how I have been handling that.

For the first several weeks I cried.  A LOT.

I thought about the accident.  A LOT.

I blamed myself.  A LOT.

I relived every. single. second.

Every. Single. Day.

Immediately after I posted about the accident on my Instagram account, someone mentioned EMDR therapy.  I brushed it off.  Thinking I would be fine.  That I just needed a bit of time.  And honestly?  I thought EMDR therapy sounded crazy.

Turns out?  It’s not.

EMDR stands for eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy.  You can read all about it on the EMDR Institute website. Basically, this therapy is for patients with post traumatic stress.  The patient recalls distressing memories while generating one type of bilateral movement.  For example, side to side eye movement or hand tapping.

In my case, my counselor (which, is another thing that I thought I didn’t need) had me hold a vibrating disc in each hand while I recalled my most distressing moments of the accident.

Does this sound crazy to you?  Because I was very skeptical.  However, I was ready to try anything in order to get some sleep and be happy again.

Some may ask why I didn’t just “talk through” the accident each time I went to a session and that’s a great question.  I mean, isn’t that what a counselor is for?  The reason I didn’t choose to “talk it out” is because what good is sitting there and crying over and over and over?  Each week?  Every single visit?  Just TRYING to talk about it was difficult and would get me nowhere.  I didn’t want to RELIVE this Terrible Awful every Tuesday.  I wanted to CHANGE the way I thought about it so that I could move on with my life.  EMDR works quickly (4 sessions for me) and it’s like my brain is rewired now.

Here’s how it went:

I go in and sit across from the counselor.  Both feet on the floor (or tiptoes for me because I’m short) and palms up.  She get the device set up and places the discs in my hands.  Each is about the size of a half dollar.  I grip the discs as I close my eyes and she asks “what is the most anxiety causing moment of that day?”.  I respond with “holding my limp, unconscious, gray toddler and thinking this is the moment she dies”.  Counselor replies “Go with that”.

Then, the discs vibrate.

left, right, left, right, left, right.

This goes for about 30 seconds.  Usually, I cry.

The vibrating stops, my eyes still closed, she asks me to take a deep breath, and tell her what is happening now.

Depending on what I’m thinking, I give an answer.

She will say “go with that”

Alternating vibrations start again.

*take a deep breath*

What is happening now?

I reply and it continues. This goes for several minutes.

The counselor asks me to bring up that first moment again.  Where I’m holding a limp, unconscious, gray toddler, and has me rate it from 1-10 with 10 being the most anxiety-causing.  Depending on my answer, we continue.  After a bit she will stop and ask me to rate my fear/stress/anxiety from 1-10 again.  Throughout the session, believe it or not, my number always went down.  From 10, to 7-ish, to 5, and so on.

Each week we would do the same thing until eventually my distress is nearly gone and I could tell someone about the accident without crying.  I can think about her lifeless body right now, but it’s not AS upsetting to me as before.

At our last session, my counselor asked me what my number is now and I replied “a two”.  She asked me why it wasn’t zero, as it should be.  And the thing is?  I don’t WANT it to be at zero.  I NEED to remember just a teeny bit of fear.  Just a bit of terror, I guess you could say.  I don’t want to forget what happened that day because it reminds me of what a gift we were given…. TWICE.  It reminds me to always be on my toes, but that even if things get by me?  God is in control.  God gave us this child again and I must remember that.  Being at a zero would mean I’m okay with ALL of it and I’m not.  I still need that teeny bit of memory in the back of my mind so that I can do better, be better and be grateful.  Always.

All of this said, I wanted to pass along my experience with EMDR in case someone else is suffering from PTSD.  Talk therapy is good and works, but I didn’t want to spend weeks and weeks talking through something so painful and anxiety provoking.  With EMDR, I was much better and in control of my thoughts within 4 sessions.  I highly recommend it and am happy to answer any questions.

Now, go hug your babies, people.

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  1. Beth says:

    Thank you for this.
    My friend has recommended EMDR because I nearly drowned at 22 and I currently cannot get my breathing right in freestyle.