WONDERFUL LETTERS FROM RECENT PATIENT
Val Letter from last year
In December of 2014, while I was working, I noticed a blinding white aura in my right eye. My first thought was that something must be stuck in my eye, so I went to a mirror. There was nothing physically in my eyeball. I felt no symptoms beyond the aura, other than it felt somehow “electric”. Since my wife gets strong migraine headaches from time to time, and each one is proceeded by her seeing spots and auras, I began to suspect I was getting my first migraine headache. I know migraines can be very painful, nauseating and debilitating, so I quickly began to worry. I compounded the worry with the fact that I’d never had a migraine before, so why at 39 years old would I get one suddenly? Was something wrong with my brain? Was I having a stroke? Aneurysm? Brain tumor? My thoughts began to race faster and faster until I was feeling dizzy and completely panicked. I’d never had any type of panic or anxiety attack before so I was caught completely off guard. My breathing sped up, my heart was racing, light and sound were making me feel ill and I was having a terrible time trying to concentrate. I drove home while shielding my eyes from the sun. I tried to lie down and sleep but my mind was racing out of control with worry. After many hours of lying there, I had calmed down enough to fall asleep.
The next day I went to work and tried to chalk it up as a fluke migraine, but I was terrified it would happen again. I imagined all sorts of awful scenarios: brain cancer, an aneurism that drops me dead, going blind, going crazy, etc… Because my mind was so occupied with worry, concentration became nearly impossible — I was in a state of hyper awareness. Light, especially fluorescent light, felt unbearable. That night while waiting in line at a store, I began to have another panic attack. My “awareness” suddenly felt unreal, and I immediately clicked into fight-or-flight mode. Time seemed to stand still and I wasn’t sure if I should drop everything and bolt from the store, or continue standing there and risk dropping dead or fainting or having some serious medical emergency. I did make it through the line but now I knew the panic could come at any time and at any place…and I was terrified. The sensations of terror were very painful, and after all, wasn’t it my body’s way of trying to tell me something was seriously physically wrong?
The following day I tried to work but after only a short time, the fluorescent lights were too much for me. I started to feel the panic sensations come on. The color in my vision changed for a moment, as though the saturation was being adjusted. This sent shockwaves of terror through me. When I called the doctor, the nurse on the phone asked that I come to the emergency room right away. My wife took me to the ER and by then I was hyperventilating and an absolute mess. They took me in right and began running many tests, including a CT scan of my brain. After all the tests came back with no indications of a serious medical condition, they gave me a prescription of the anti-anxiety drug Ativan and scheduled an appointment with therapist Walter Patrick Martin at Psycare.
The Ativan worked on calming my anxiety well enough that I was able to function enough to get through the days until my therapy appointment. Having never been a fan of pills, I only took the Ativan if I was beginning to feel a heavy panic attack. This method left me feeling anxious most of the time, but just knowing I had a pill if needed seemed to help somewhat. Each time I experienced another attack however, I was certain the doctors has missed something.
I started reading online about the connection between anxiety, depression, stress, migraines, and panic attacks. I looked for these connections in my life. This was certainly a stressful time for me for a number of reasons –my wife was 8 months pregnant with our first child and we needed to move so that my in-laws could help when the baby was born. We were moving an hour away and looking for a property management company to rent out our condo. I had experienced the death of a close friend to an accident about 6 weeks prior. Depression runs in my family – my dad had committed suicide when I was 2 and my grandfather had attempted suicide. I had experienced depression before but it was nothing like this. What I was feeling now on a daily basis was heavy fight-or-flight anxiety, headaches, confusion, constant over-thinking, sensitivity to light/sound/physical exercise, and moments of change in my vision and perception. The over-thinking had me feeling chronically tired. I was exhausted from constantly self-evaluating my health and anxiety symptoms.
My first meeting with the therapist Walter Martin went very well. We talked about all the symptoms I’d been having and I told him about the death of my friend and of my dad’s suicide. We agreed to meet once a week. By the second week, he showed me how to practice the Emotional Freedom Technique, and mentioned that some of my symptoms align with the symptoms of PTSD – something I hadn’t considered. We put a plan together to work first on processing my emotions over the death of my friend, and then we’d spend time working on how my father’s suicide has impacted my life.
We met each week and I kept practicing the EFT. I was feeling improvement and was optimistic, but was still having an occasional panic attack and still carrying much anxiety and a general feeling of illness, similar to a hangover. After reading about the benefits of meditation on depression and anxiety, I bought a book called “Wherever You Go, There You Are” by Jon Kabat-Zinn and began to practice meditation each morning. Right away I began to see how my thoughts were affecting how I was feeling. I bought another book called “When Panic Attacks” by David D. Burns. It’s a book about the many types of Cognitive Behavior Therapies and how they can be applied in your own life. I started to really educate myself about anxiety and depression.
After the birth of my daughter in February I wasn’t able to meet with Mr. Martin for about a month. Shortly before our next scheduled visit in January, I had another strong panic attack at work and was feeling pretty miserable. Walter showed me a belly-breathing exercise and gave me some literature on another belly-breathing exercise that I began to practice. Once I learned them well enough, these breathing exercises helped keep my panic from escalating.
On our next visit, we started EDMR treatment, with the focus being on the sudden death of my close friend. Since I was particularly troubled that I wasn’t able to help his family and our mutual friends more than offering condolence, we specifically addressed that feeling of not being enough help. I was asked to think of the most distressing moment, to remember the sights, colors, smell, feelings I had, sensations my body felt at that time, and to focus on those things. Recalling these things was very emotional for me and I began to cry. Mr. Martin then began to move a pointer horizontally back and forth and had me follow it with my eyes while I held my focus on the trauma I had felt. As I followed the pointer he asked that I focus on where in my body I was feeling this distress. As I focused on my tightened chest, neck, and headache, the waving pointer began to feel like it was “erasing” my pain, like wiping chalk from a chalkboard. After a minute or so he stopped and we assessed my level of discomfort. I was now only feeling tightness in my throat and a headache. We did the waving pointer again, this time focused on my throat and head. After a short time we reassessed and now there was only a mild headache. We did the waving pointer one more time and my pain and discomfort was completely gone. Just like that. Months of agony and anxiety was instantly relieved. I walked out of the office elated. On the drive home I was able to listen to music for the first time in months because sound was no longer bothering me. The sick hangover feeling was completely gone and has never returned. The color changes in my vision have never happened again.
For the next week I was in a general state of euphoria. I could finally focus again. My head was clear and I wasn’t overthinking. My sense of humor returned. My sensitivity to light disappeared. I met with Mr. Martin the following week and couldn’t thank him enough.
The day after that meeting I had another panic attack. This time it seemed to be triggered by a simple head rush that I got when I stood up quickly from a crouched position. Something about the sensation of the head rush was similar enough to my panic attack symptoms that I instantly started feeling an attack. I was tempted to take an Ativan, but instead I did the belly-breathing exercises over and over until the panic subsided, which was a few hours. The next day I was rather depressed. My bubble of optimism had been burst. I was hoping to have never felt another panic attack again.
On our next visit, I asked Mr. Martin if we could do the EMDR treatment while focusing on the panic attack symptoms specifically. My anxiety seemed to be themed on the panic attacks themselves. In essence, I was afraid of experiencing that terror again. We went through the EMDR treatment in a similar way to the first time. This time was not as profound for me as our first EMDR session, and although I did feel like it worked, I had no way to really test it.
The following week we had an EMDR session in which we focused on my dad’s suicide. I had been carrying that grief my entire life. Undoubtedly the unresolved grief was causing depression and anxiety. I had always felt like carrying this pain was somehow “honoring” my father, and I didn’t dare let go because that’s all that I had of him in my life. Of course in hindsight I see the flaw in that logic. This EMDR session was much more like the first one, except this time instead of visualizing the pointer “erasing” the stress, I envisioned myself climbing out of a deep natural well – scaling the walls of the well and up into the light. Again I felt instant relief from my grief stress.
The EMDR process administered by Walter Patrick Martin has been monumental in my recovery from these anxiety/panic attacks. My physiological suffering was unbearable and I can’t imagine any other process that could work so completely and so quickly. I continue to meditate daily and have been attack-free for weeks. I no longer carry the anxiety that I had for the last 5 months.
Each person’s story is unique and I imagine the healing process for each person is unique as well. The most valuable tools to my recovery have been EMDR, meditation, belly-breathing, EFT, and cognitive behavior education. I encourage anyone suffering anxiety, panic attacks, PTSD, depression, chronic pain or addiction to explore these therapies. This process worked for me and I’m confident there’s a process that will work for you as well.
EXAMPLE: First session of EMDR Therapy
We are ALL good and worthwhile people deserving of recovery and healing.