Prolonged Exposure Therapy: Retrospect
I never did finish blogging about my experience with Prolonged Exposure Therapy. there were two sessions left, and I know I promised to catch up, but I decided not to.
here's why: I don't want or need to right now. I felt a little guilty at first, and wanted to "finish the project" by finishing the blog posts, but for the first time in years I found myself looking living in the present instead of feeling stuck in the past. so I just didn't sit down to write. since I didn't want to write those posts, I've avoided blogging in favor of other things.
today feels like a good day to wrap it up.
after the tenth session, I was still processing for a while. I found myself thinking about the things in my past that had hurt me so badly, but in a different way. the thoughts weren't menacing; they didn't grip my entire mind and body and squeeze the breath out of me. nights had always been the worst. the more triggers I'd experience in a day, the harder it was to find peace at night. I dreaded bedtime, knowing I'd lay there with a racing heart while the battles of my life replayed in my head, or while I constructed defenses for battles I knew were coming.
now at night I let the thoughts drift over me and away, whether they are bad or good. if I feel my mind reach out to grasp one, I can pull away and let it go. sleeping is easier. I don't startle awake as often. I'm still always tired, but that's a simple fact of having to operate in a day people's world with delayed sleep phase disorder and fibromyalgia (both diagnoses reconfirmed over the summer).
some situations are still very challenging. I'm still sorting out how much is due to PTSD and how much is due to sensory issues of Aspergers, which I've discovered can be significant. usually it doesn't matter what the cause is. what matters is that when I start to feel anxiety and panic, I can think and make decisions so that if I need to make adjustments, I can. I don't have to sit still and slowly (or quickly, depending on the situation) fall apart. yesterday, I ventured out to a Habitat for Humanity meeting in a church and the meeting started late, there were children present when I'd been informed children weren't allowed, and there a lot of people making lots of noise. I'd arrive on time and seated myself in the front row because there were few people, but as I waited the pews filled. then the presenter asked everyone to move forward and I panicked.
I think it felt like being in the cult, where it was always dictated by firm and fast rules where to sit and how to act. the rule was there should never be empty seats in the front rows, and no one should ever sit in the back when there was an empty seat in the front. I had to be an example, no matter how much it hurt me. no matter how much I wanted to be able to step away from the overwhelming pain of the people next to me brushing against my arms, the deafening roar of sniffling, whispering, throat clearing and page turning, the bright lights piercing the edges of my vision like needles, the awful robotic movements and threatening plastic smiles of the musicians who performed, I sat huddled in my seat working equally as hard to protect myself from the people around me as I did to take notes about everything that happened on the stage so that when I was quizzed about what I "learned", I could give an appropriate response. those days exhausted me. that life exhausted me.
I don't live by those rules any more, but conforming to a reasonable request from the presenter's point of view would have sent me into a full-on sensory meltdown, so I got up and moved. I didn't leave, although I wanted to. I went to the very back of the room, away from the other people, and through a window watched the activity at a Habitat for Humanity project that was in high gear next to the church. by giving myself that freedom to accommodate my own needs, I gave myself some time to let the urge to bolt subside. the noise was still too much, so I got out my iPod and turned on my white noise generator (set to generate pink noise because I find it very soothing) and found I could still hear the presenter if I left one earbud out. I made it through the meeting. I even raised my hand and asked a few questions.
triggers don't go away, but my response to them has changed. I think eventually some of them will go away, at least the ones that aren't due to sensory problems. what has gone away over the past 6 months is feeling like I'm reliving those horrible events over and over, every day, every time something reminds me of life in the cult or life living with my mother or my ex. my life was so out of control I couldn't even get a handle on what I needed to do to recover from a difficult day with my Aspergers son or how to take care of myself when I'm under a lot of stress or even how to respond to my neighbor when I feel like he's invading my right to be left in peace with his opinions of how my yard looks. even my nosy neighbor is easier to deal with, and I find that I'm not avoiding him as strenuously as I did. I still want him to keep his opinions to himself because I don't care what he thinks of my yard... his current complaint is that there are too many sunflowers hiding the beauty of the japanese maple which he insists is worth thousands of dollars. I think I'm going to tell him that if he complains about it again, I'll just cut it down so it's not a problem. or maybe I'll tell him I think his yard is ugly and over-groomed but since it's his, he's free to do what he likes and out of respect for his personal freedoms under the constitution I'll keep my opinions about it to myself. I'm not sure yet how I'll deal with him, but at least now he's a small annoyance instead of a major obstacle to my enjoyment of life.
I may revisit my Prolonged Exposure Therapy experience again, because I'm sure that my life is going to change as a result of investing that time and going through all that pain.
if anyone wonders if it was worth it, the answer is YES.