The process of processing

I have written two fairly detailed blog posts on the assault I suffered, and what happened to me after that.

Unsurprisingly, the assault has had a profound effect on my life.

Imagine someone punching you. It hurts, right? Now imagine them punching you every single day. Ouch. Then imagine them punching you every hour of every single day.

That’s what the memory of my assault is like. I don’t go through a single day without something happening that causes that memory to pop up in my mind. I tried to work out how often it was, and I reckon a conservative estimate is every hour. The assault happened nearly two years ago. I’ve been punched every hour for nearly two years. And the memory doesn’t lessen or get hazy – I can recall every single thing he said and did, the smells, the sounds; every single detail is etched on to my brain. The memory is as disturbing to me as the event itself was.

So it’s no wonder I’m tired, really.

In my last post, I mentioned that I was starting a new therapy. I also got a shiny new diagnosis – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It’s funny – I’ve never even considered it, but once I got the diagnosis, it made so much sense to me. Of course that’s what I have. Of course that’s why I’m still in the same psychological state as I was two years ago, and why my depression has got worse – my mind is in shock. It can’t cope with what has happened to me and it is draining all my resources to just get me through each day.

The diagnosis of PTSD and that the reason my depression has been so unmanageable over the last two years  can be, largely, attributed to the assault, led my therapist to recommend  Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing therapy (EMDR). This is used to treat people who have experienced traumatic incident/incidents but are unable to process them.  It’s often used on people who have returned from war, or have suffered childhood abuse. The aim is to help the brain process the memory of the traumatic incident so that it becomes a ‘neutral’ memory from the past, rather than a disturbing memory that is still controlling you.

This explanation from the EMDR association website sums up both the theory, and what happens in an EMDR session, far better than I could:

“How Does EMDR Work?

When a person is involved in a distressing event, they may feel overwhelmed and their brain may be unable to process the information like a normal memory. The distressing memory seems to become frozen on a neurological level. When a person recalls the distressing memory, the person can re-experience what they saw, heard, smelt, tasted or felt, and this can be quite intense.

The alternating left-right stimulation of the brain with eye movements, sounds or taps during EMDR, seems to stimulate the frozen or blocked information processing system.

In the process the distressing memories seem to lose their intensity, so that the memories are less distressing and seem more like ‘ordinary’ memories. The effect is believed to be similar to that which occurs naturally during REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement) when your eyes rapidly move from side to side. EMDR helps reduce the distress of all the different kinds of memories, whether it was what you saw, heard, smelt, tasted, felt or thought.”

I’ve had two sessions of EMDR so far. I am given a machine to hold that vibrates in each hand, so that my brain is stimulated by the left to right movement of the vibration. At the same time, the therapist asks me to recall the assault – everything I could see, hear, smell, and feel at the time. Every few minutes, she asks me to tell her what I am feeling now. Each session lasts about 60 minutes.

As well as trying to process the memory of the assault, I’m also battling against the little voice inside me telling me that I should have done more. I should have shouted, or pushed him away. Or got up and moved from my seat. I remember showing one of the managers at my old work something from the rape crisis centre that explicitly stated that many survivors of assault and rape react in the same way – they shut down, unable to fight against the trauma or run away from it. He laughed at me. He said that was fair enough – but what I’d gone through wasn’t serious enough for that, so I should have been able to shout out.

Because I didn’t react in the way that my managers, or the police to some extent, believed I should, I didn’t get taken seriously. Because of their lack of understanding, and unwillingness to learn, I lost my job and got labelled a liar. Thus cementing what I already thought about myself: I should have done more.

I’ve kind of always known that we have three natural, in-built responses to trauma – fight, flight or freeze. But I also really thought that, if faced with danger, I would either fight back or run away. I never imagined I would completely freeze up, unable to speak or move. But that’s what I did. My body went in to ‘freeze’ mode to protect me against what was happening. And that response is hardwired in to my brain. There’s nothing I could have done to change it.

The sessions have, so far, been two of the most traumatic and exhausting hours of my life. At first I could feel my usual anxiety – sweaty palms, racing heart, the knot in my chest that feels like it’s going to rip me open, every muscle in my body tensing up. But, by the end I was getting a different feeling. I wouldn’t say that the anger and upset and panic had gone… but I was able to conjure up the images without getting the usual physical symptoms. Furthermore, I was able to ‘watch’ the assault and begin to accept that I did everything I was physically and mentally able to do at the time.

I’ve got a lot more sessions to go, and other things to focus on as well as the assault, but I’m starting to see glimmers of hope on the horizon. I feel able to make plans again – I should be back at work in the next few weeks and I’m thinking about holidays I can go on later in the year. I’m approaching these plans tentatively – I’ve rushed myself back in to the real world too quickly before and it ended really badly, but I really think that the combination of the EMDR, the new medication and my sheer bloody-mindedness will mean that I do get there. One tiny, but positive, step at a time.

Leave a comment


  1. Polly, you demonstrate much courage in sharing your words here.

    I am so glad you’re getting some decent therapy rather than the mutter mutter mutter stuff they were trying to palm you off with before.

    And so heart glad you are starting to feel a wee bit better.

  2. Great to see your progress and great to see you blogging. Looking forward to more as you continue this positive journey. 🙂

    • Thanks dude, you know how much I’m grateful to you for all the support you give me, but I’m going to say thank you again anyway!

  3. My dear and lovely Polly, I am moved to tears by your accounts.
    You are so brave to face into this and the EMDR sounds good. It sounds a bit like Emotional Freedom Technique and Tapping, which I did a few years ago to clear out a backlog of crap from my system. A life long process I guess, but boy does it get easier!

    If there is anything I can ever do? You know you are always welcome here with Deborah and I. With no pressure, demands, just love and support and a change of air.

    lots of love darling


  4. Thank god for the internet or we’d all still be at the mercy of the ‘experts’.


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