My EMDR Journey So Far (Part 2)
Welcome to Part 2 of my EMDR (eye movement desensitization reprocessing) journey so far. As I mentioned, I'm just about a year into this type of therapy and have seen positive things and have noticed my sleep patterns starting to change for the better (most of the time). You can read more in part 1 of my EMDR journey.
How I feel after an EMDR session
You may leave most sessions feeling exhausted – not just emotionally but physically. I usually get a headache a few hours later and am able to fall and stay asleep that night because of how intense some sessions can be. I was warned about the state of exhaustion I would experience, but it’s nothing compared to what I thought it would be.
I've been told that my therapy and EMDR sessions will likely last years because I have a long history of traumas. Because I have seen small improvements to my sleep and have been able to process some of the smaller things in a different way after we’ve done a session (days to weeks to months), I feel like this is the best type of therapy for me.
What is my goal?
Because my sleep is so affected by nightmares from trauma, the goal is to be able to better control my hysteria and anxiety after having bad dreams.
Hopefully, in the end, these dreams will occur less and less for me, letting my body fall naturally asleep with so much less stress.
What's happening during my rapid eye movement?
Some researchers and specialists believe this:
The repeated redirection of attention caused by the eye movements used in EMDR brings about a neurobiological state which resembles REM sleep. In this state, traumatic and emotionally charged memories can be processed into more ordinary and less emotionally overwhelming memories so that the emotional charge of the trauma is relieved.1
Makes sense, right? I know that even with the use of my tappers, my eyes rapidly are moving back and forth during the entire session. Using your eyes so rapidly while engaged in churning old memories that are painful can change the rhythm of your eye movements a lot during one 60 minute session.
It’s crazy how often my eyes move and how often I don’t notice it because I’m engaged in a certain breathing pattern, I’m tuned in to the voice of my therapist, and I’m totally unaware of anything else except the energy in the room and that I am in a safe place.
There are still hard days
There will be both good and bad sessions. Each trauma we experience that steals us of energy steals us of quality sleep (or any sleep at all) and is processed differently when we remember the details and say them out loud.
It’s flipping hard, especially when you’ve done your best to suppress your trauma over years or even decades. The session I recently experienced seemed to follow me over the course of the following 2 weeks. It robbed me of sleep; I was hyper-vigilant and felt revictimized.
Despite using all of the tools in my toolbox, breathing exercises, and using my “container” to place figurative objects, faces, people, bad experiences, and sometimes audio memories, there was no sleep.
Looking on the bright side
But here’s the good thing – there is scientific research that finds EMDR can actually help you correct sleep disturbances. Francine Shapiro, who developed this specialized type of therapy, states, “Processing (or reprocessing) is thus defined as the forging of the associations required for learning to take place as the information pertaining to the traumatic event is adaptively resolved.”2
Staying on the EMDR journey
Though I mentioned that I have had issues sleeping after a pretty heavy session that dealt with chronic trauma over the years, I’ve also noticed that I am better at spotting when I’ll have sleep disturbances. And I won’t go to bed until I’ve done therapy-directed exercises, breathing exercises, and a bit of reprocessing myself in order to calm my nerves.
There is so much more to learn about EMDR therapy and how it benefits REM sleep, sleep disturbances, and how we as patients are able to fall back asleep feeling safe after nightmares, flashbacks, and sleep disruptions related to PTSD. I still have a long way to go before we process the hardest of my traumas, and I know I have a long, hard road ahead of me. But to me, it’s worth the hard work.
Looking forward to sharing my successes
I’m tired of my insomnia related to PTSD, which disrupts my entire sleep cycle, making me completely unaware of some things in my day.
I look forward to sharing my successes with you, big and small, and hope that some of you struggling with depression and anxiety or PTSD may be willing to give this a shot when they’ve exhausted all other options.
Have you ever tried meditation to help with insomnia?