I would blank out into this thousand-yard stare replaying the event in my head and would be scared over something moving or someone touching my shoulder.
And finally I would cry myself to sleep at night, not a sad or angry cry, just there staring at the wall with tears rolling down my face.
So I’m a bit of a nerd and I started researching what was happening to me. And I learned that your brain talks through the exchanging of charged particles through neural pathways. And when these pathways get used more, it’s easier for your brain to follow.
Now most people have heard of “fight or flight” and what this is, is it’s an instinct that happens when your body feels in danger. Your amygdala which is the oldest part of your brain takes control and tells the rest of your brain what to do and your body.
Now if there’s a tiger in front of you, you’re really not going to benefit that much from thinking: what am I going to do next? Oh what’s the tiger going to do next? It’s a lot more beneficial for your longevity if you fight the tiger or run away really fast. And that’s what the amygdala triggers.
Now my brain thought that the right way to act in a sad or scary situation was to do what my amygdala set on June 15th, which makes sense. It was just trying to protect me. But what it was actually resulting in was a torrent of emotions that I had never felt before.
Now despite all this, I was just telling myself: “Joey, you’re just a freshman. You’re just anxious about this semester starting to ramp up, and you’re homesick.” Now you know that part in a movie where things start to really get bad, this is that part. And the part where they really started to not get okay were my dreams. I was struggling to sleep without nightmares and eventually started sleepwalking. And one night I started sleepwalking, left my dorm room, left my building, and ended up eight miles away from campus, in rainbow flip-flops.
I was eventually found by the police, disoriented and confused. And their first thought was: “Dang, this college freshman definitely cannot handle his booze.” So he took me to the hospital and called my parents and eventually everyone realized that I wasn’t drunk or on drugs but I was having a PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder) breakdown.
Now this sleepwalking incident was a wake-up call for me and my parents that I needed help, and that I wasn’t okay. And since my dad is a retired marine, we’re well connected with the military community. And we’re pointed in the direction of EMDR which stands for eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. And it’s a way to help our brains deal with trauma.
So I took a three-week leave of absence from school to go home to Virginia and start EMDR therapy. The first session was about an hour and a half and the therapist went over all the science of everything, which again I was into. She told me that EMDR is based on the research of REM sleep which is rapid eye movement sleep. And what happens during REM sleep or what’s theorized at least is your eyes are moving back and forth rapidly and randomly and you’re filing away all the information from the day.
So if you had a stressful day at work, your dreams might have some relation to that. Now REM sleep is almost like the visualization of what’s happening and those come out as dreams.
What was happening when I was dreaming was I was seeing June 15th in a different light. Now your brain during REM sleep is moving everything from your short-term to your long-term. And it kind of reads what it is, labels it and then sends away for filing. And it doesn’t always come across exactly in your dreams.
What was happening in my dreams was I was replaying the event over and over and over again because my brain couldn’t file it. It just kept trying to refile and refile. But it just wasn’t able to.
Now the way a typical EMDR session would go is the therapist would hold their fingers about 6 to 12 inches away from my face and swipe from my left peripheral to my right peripheral, back and forth. And they call this bilateral stimulation, because it stimulates both hemispheres of your brain.
She would tell me to put myself back into June 15th, back into the sedan and let her know what I was feeling and what was happening. And when I came to a part where I was upset or didn’t really understand what was happening or angry, she would input a sentence or two, and then we would swipe on that. And now I kind of cement that thinking into my head.
Now there were two really big problems that I was having with June 15th. The first was that I felt responsible for what the girls had seen. Now if you remember I turned left, but there’s a way to get home straight. And I thought that because I turned left that that was the reason the girls saw what happened that I was the reason they saw it. If I would have gone straight they would be fine.