Next month will be one year since I “graduated” from psychotherapy. I received Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy to treat PTSD for six months. The simple summary of EMDR is to focus on isolated moments of trauma while laterally exercising both sides of your brain to desensitize and reprocess that memory so that you essentially don’t relive it again and again with the same physical, mental and emotional reactions as when the event occurred. I would come home from sessions absolutely drained and couldn’t handle much more mental stimulation for the rest of the evening. We were essentially retraining my brain to stop being in fight or flight mode 24/7. At that time, I could hardly function. If the house creaked while watching television in the evening, I turned everything off and asked Seth to check the entire house. I couldn’t sit in an empty room alone at home or at work. If someone knocked on our door, I would panic and hide. My heart physically ached and my lung capacity seemed to shrink from the anxiety settling in my chest. Everything felt like a threat, and I never felt prepared enough. Slowly but surely, EMDR was taking the edge off of my anxiety. I could remember both burglaries without reliving every detail; I even got to the point where I felt like I was watching them on television rather than experiencing them firsthand. My anxious reactions became less and less severe. Independently, my therapist and I agreed on my last session that I was ready to progress to other forms of self-help.
Our deal was that I would learn to fight and only call for another therapy appointment if I had any setbacks. I had done some research about Krav Maga at Core Combat Sports and had finally settled on a free trial class. It was intimidating walking into a martial arts gym solo and fresh out of PTSD therapy. My first experience happened to be a ground class, so we learned defense if someone mounts you on the ground. The final minutes of class are timed spars where you fight for top position with your partner. I lost every single round, and I signed up anyway. For the first time in 9 months, I felt a fight awaken; I didn’t have the skill, technique, or fundamentals to go with it, but I knew I could learn. Plus it was such an adrenaline rush that I physically shook for about 45 minutes after I left.
The owner of Core regularly says, “Action is stronger than reaction.” I chose Krav Maga because I don’t care about sport. I need to feel safe and prepared to take action. I want to learn how to fight dirty, with technique, and how to defend myself. I love this gym because they train us in a combination of combatives from boxing, wrestling, Jiu jitsu, Muay Thai and more in addition to defense on the ground, against weapons, etc. My entire body ached for at least the first three months because it’s physically demanding unlike other physical activity. I regularly come home with bruises, scratches, scars, broken blood vessels, and sore ribs that are likely out of alignment. But hey, no pain no gain right? I’m physically stronger and my mental health has improved tremendously. I feel more prepared to take care of myself. I realize that if I’m ever attacked, it will definitely be an uphill battle but I also know I will put up a hell of a fight. I am thankful for the creepy drills in class of closing my eyes and waiting to be attacked so I can fight them off. I am happy to take the punches of larger men in class (with pads) to feel the impact of their natural strength. I am particularly thankful to have been pushed up against a wall in a choke by a man who vaguely resembled the man who chased my out of my home… and that I did not panic. I just fought back. I cannot express my gratitude for all I have learned and will continue to learn from my trainers at Core Combat Sports.
I try to go to Krav at least three times a week, but I have to fight against my own brain every day. My most recent victory is that I’ve woken up by myself nearly every morning for the last week and a half. Since March 2017, Seth has moved to the couch most mornings while I shower and prepare for the day. (Yes, I know I have the best husband on the planet.) I have a difficult time being the first to leave our bedroom in the early morning hours, particularly in the dark. I’m terrified to find the house ransacked, the windows opened, and the doors unlocked; that is an image I will never forget. Lately, I’ve been trying to let him rest better, so my strategy is to wake up and lay in bed for 10-15 minutes and listen. Once I’m convinced that the quietness of the house is safe, I walk into the hallway and clear every bedroom. I turn on every light in the house. And depending on my anxiety, I sometimes walk around in my fight stance when I turn corners. I lock myself in the bathroom to shower, and listen for 2-3 minutes before I leave the bathroom to make sure there’s still not anyone in the house. It sounds absurd as I write it out, but it’s a really big victory for me. I’m fighting against every detailed memory of the first burglary in my head and though I start each morning with anxiety, it’s getting better.
I still have a ways to go in other areas of getting my life back. One day I’ll be able to sleep with our bedroom door open. It’s difficult to do when the only reason we were safe in the first burglary is because we were locked in our room sleeping. One day I’ll be able to recognize loud sounds for what they clearly are- a car door slamming, the trash can blowing over, fireworks; not every sound is someone forcing their way in. One day I’ll be able to stay home alone. I occasionally will enter the house alone if Seth is 5-10 minutes away, but it is rare. We live in a fort, but if someone wants to get in, they are going to force their way in. One day I’ll stop being so angry. I’m thankful to no longer be in constant fear, but anger is a difficult stage to move out of. I’m mad as hell that my safety was compromised and I can’t get over it. I’m angry that I don’t believe in the good of people anymore. I hate that I’m scared of a particular people group; I know not everyone who looks the same makes the same choices. For heavens sake I work with immigrants and refugees every day; I know that generalizations are crap. Overall, I’m mostly mad that it happened at all and there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it.
I am doing some things about it now to rebuild though. Krav helps me fight back physically and mentally. I am pushing myself mentally to fight back against the parts of my brain that are still holding on to trauma. But I realized while listening to the radio one morning, that I need to put most of efforts into fighting back spiritually. Two songs absolutely wrecked me on the way to work one morning.
Give me strength to raise my voice, let me testify
Oh, hear my prayer tonight, ’cause this is do or die
The time has come to make a choice
And I choose joy. (joy. by for King & Country)
If we’re gonna fly, we fly like eagles
Arms out wide
If we’re gonna fear, we fear no evil
We will rise
By your power, we will go
By your spirit, we are bold
If we’re gonna stand, we stand as giants
If we’re gonna walk, we walk as lions (Lions by Skillet)
My joy and confidence have always come from the Lord for my entire life. I’ve never gone through such difficult times as I have in the last year and a half and it’s challenged me. In my soul, I have never forgotten the truth. But on a daily basis, it is very hard to remember. If you want to help a sister out, please leave a verse or song lyric that declares the truth about God’s goodness, sovereignty, healing, purpose, and forgiveness. My goal is to make a set of 365 note cards to have one each day to pray and meditate on. We are so complex as human beings, and I learn more and more every day about the importance of taking care of my physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health because it is a roller coaster.
3 thoughts on “The Roller Coaster of Mental Health”
Day by day, and with each passing moment,
Strength I find, to meet my trials here;
Trusting in my Father’s wise bestowment,
I’ve no cause for worry or for fear.
He Whose heart is kind beyond all measure
Gives unto each day what He deems best—
Lovingly, its part of pain and pleasure,
Mingling toil with peace and rest.
Every day, the Lord Himself is near me
With a special mercy for each hour;
All my cares He fain would bear, and cheer me,
He Whose Name is Counselor and Pow’r.
The protection of His child and treasure
Is a charge that on Himself He laid;
“As thy days, thy strength shall be in measure,”
This the pledge to me He made.
Help me then in every tribulation
So to trust Thy promises, O Lord,
That I lose not faith’s sweet consolation
Offered me within Thy holy Word.
Help me, Lord, when toil and trouble meeting,
E’er to take, as from a father’s hand,
One by one, the days, the moments fleeting,
Till I reach the promised land.
Love you Ashley. You have come a long way. We are proud of you . Grammy
I’m fully known and loved by You
You won’t let go no matter what I do
And it’s not one or the other
It’s hard truth and ridiculous grace
To be known fully known and loved by You
I’m fully known and loved by You
Known by Tauren Wells