How EMDR Cured My PTSD

I remember the day well, I’d just installed a new security camera in the kitchen window and I sat down to install the software. As I twisted to pick up my laptop, I breathed in. The air didn’t feel right, it felt weird, thick. It tasted strange and I panicked.

I threw my laptop down on the sofa and stood up. Maybe it was me? Maybe I smelt something strange? I sniffed the fan vent on my laptop, maybe it was overheating? Nope, that wasn’t it.

I stood up quickly in a panicked state. What could I smell? What was it? And what was wrong with my vision? Why did it seem.. distorted? Oh god… am I dying?

I walked out to the kitchen, willing myself to just keep moving, allow it to happen, allow it to be. It’s a panic attack and I can get through it. But that was when I saw it – flames.

I closed the kitchen door and ushered Hugo outside. As I grabbed the front door handle, it swung open immediately. I thanked the stars and everyone above that I’d had new trainers delivered earlier that day. Without that delivery, the door would still be locked and most likely to be sans keys.

I hammered my neighbour’s door, the middle-aged couple in the corner house were the only people that I remotely trusted. Only remotely mind you, but still.

“Rob, I’ve got a fire”, it was the only words that I was able to say.

Rob dashed into my home and tried to extinguish the flames. By the time he got inside, it was already too late. The kitchen and lounge were filled with black, acrid smoke.

I stood outside my home and shook. Rob’s partner closed Hugo in their kitchen then came to comfort me while Rob called the fire brigade. Within moments, I heard the distant sound of sirens. They were here: The fire brigade.

I wanted to cry and I couldn’t, I felt like collapsing and yet willed myself to stay awake. Seeing me stumble, one of the firemen caught me.

“Are you okay? Would you like some oxygen?”. I shook my head. I could feel my heart beating inside my chest, How the hell could I be so stupid?!

In those moments, I thought a lot of things about me. I thought about the fact my mother had always said that my brother would be the first to fly the next, and the fact that this was probably the reason why. I wondered how bad the damage was and all of the things that might be burning inside. I thought about how I might have escaped if the door was locked and the fact that Hugo and me were still alive. I thought about the fact that I am the daughter of a former member of the fire service and I was taught a lot about fire safety, yet still managed to burn out my home. Sat in Rob’s lounge and now clutching my then 8-month-old puppy to my chest, I cried blackened tears into his pure white fur. How could I be so fucking stupid?!

“Would you like to come and see the damage?” the flames were out and now I could see all that remained of my home. My home, the home that I used to live in. Walking inside, everything was decorated with black soot – even the dozens of spider webs. I cringed- so much for managing the cleaning!

The moments after the fire are still pretty blurry, and maybe it’s for the best. I do remember watching the fire brigade tape off the area and I remember somebody calling my family. When I saw my Dad, I ran and gave him the tightest hug I think he’s ever seen.

“Am I glad to see you” I whispered, “I.. I thought it was the end..”

The following weeks were a kind of clean up operation and salvaging as much as we could. I do remember the day after the fire and the speculation that I’d even started the blaze. I hadn’t, not intentionally.

“Don’t leave me.. you can’t leave me like this” my Dad sobbed as my Mum left for work. I led on an air mattress on the floor and pretended to be asleep, but really, I was wide awake. Oh Dad.. he’d never been like this. He was even more scared and anxious than I was.

The cause of the fire was me knocking a dial on my electric cooker, completely unbeknown to me. The damn thing! I hate them now. There was no sound, nothing to say that it was heating on a full six, It had heated the end of the wooden bread bin on the worktop next to the cooker, with bread, sugar and tea only adding to the blaze. The refridgerator buckled and our coffee machine melted. The smoke alarm hadn’t gone off, despite me testing the battery not more than two months previously. I was unlucky and yet grateful for a lot of things!

When someone stipulates that you started a fire to get away from problem housing, you really start to believe it. Several people that I’d told about the fire had the audacity to suggest I started it. I was fortunate that my new neighbour saw common sense.

When I saw my doctor, she was more concerned with my mental health than my physical wellbeing. My spirometry results came back fine and she couldn’t hear any wheezing. With me given a clean bill of health, she took one look at me.

“How are you feeling?”. I shooked my head as the tears rolled down my cheeks. I was ruined, broken, destroyed. How could I be so stupid?!

“I’m guessing you’ve heard of PTSD?”. I stopped crying and looked at her,

“Isn’t that what they get in the military? Shell shock?”, she smiled empathetically,

“Not completely. Anyone can develop PTSD and from any thing. Any traumatic event. is that not what this is?”

I regarded her carefully, willing her to go on, “so what are you suggesting?”

“We could try a short course of selecti-“

“Not interested, it’s on my files that I don’t get along with them” I interrupted.

“Okay.. what about therapy?” I nodded reluctantly,

“Provided it’s not the group therapy thing again.”

This time around, I was provided with a completely different therapy. I’d had Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for OCD before, but today would be different.

“I want you to watch my finger”, the therapist began, “keep your head still, and follow my finger from left to right.. left to right” she said softly, moving her finger back and forth quite quickly.

Initially, the movements made me feel a little sick. It was hard to keep up and allow my eyes to move when the rest of me was steady. What kind of therapy is this?

“Go back to the fire.. when you saw the fire. I want you to think about how you felt, really feel it..allow yourself to be there..”

The tears fell again.

“Think about all of the details.. the fire brigade, the smoke.. how you felt when you told your family, your husband..”

“Think about the damage.. all of the things you’ve lost.. how you felt.. how silly you were..”

“I was… so fucking silly. So fucking stupid” I agreed, keeping my focus on her finger.

“Very good! Stay with it for a few more moments.”

Oh my god! I felt completely destroyed, what kind of a sadist is she?!

“Now I want you to think about where you are.. I want you to think about what you have.. all that you have and all that you are. I want you to think about what they’d tell you, what they’ve told you.”

I cried still more,

“I have my family, I have love. It isn’t my fault, they’d say it was an accident” I said softly. I had to repeat it to really absorb it, it was an accident!

She smiled, finally resting her hand on her lap, “well done”.

We had a few more sessions after this, but each time was less and less in the end. By the end of six sessions, I was almost mentally made up, it really was an accident! Bounding back into my doctor’s surgery, I nearly took the door off ot it’s hinges.

“We did EMDR, and it feels great!” I said. My doctor looked at me,

“Really, really great! I’m finally accepting things!”

EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing is a relatively new form of psychotherapy. It’s not widely available and not every therapist practices or understands it. EMDR is also frequently confused with hynosis, and yet it’s not hypnosis. You are fully awake and completely able to pull yourself out of the trance-like state at any time. So.. I suppose.. a lot like hypnosis, actually!

Please don’t attempt EMDR without a qualified professional. Some scars really are too deep to try and manage on our own and you can end up doing a lot more harm than good. If you’re interested in exploring EMDR to heal painful memories, please do find a qualified therapist near you – your health is not worth gambling on.

I hope you enjoyed this read and I thank you for taking the time to listen to me. I still remember the fire as we all remember the worst moments that happened to us, and yet, as I sit here in a much better, much happier home and with Hugo curled up by my feet, I have to suppose that just sometimes even our darkest moments can have a happy ending.

Have a lovely evening, folks, and I’ll see you back here tomorrow for my next post.

Until next time,

Stay safe & have fun,

Helen xx


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4 thoughts on “How EMDR Cured My PTSD

  1. Good post, but sorry to hear about your traumatic experience.
    I dread fire, living in flats.
    Tried to get EMDR myself, only to find it was no longer available in this area.

    1. I’m so sorry to hear that. Have you looked for online courses? I’m not sure what’s out there or if it’s even possible, but there may be someone who offers sessions via video feed perhaps?

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