Tag Archives: mental health

Reader: You asked me previously to write about EMDR and here it is. It’s taken a while, but I wanted to get it right.

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) was developed by American psychologist, Francine Shapiro after she made a chance observation one day while walking in the woods, that moving her eyes from side to side appeared to reduce the discomfort of disturbing thoughts and memories. She worked to research and develops the techniques over the 1990s and it is now a recognized psychotherapy that enables people to heal from the symptoms and emotional distress that are the result of disturbing and traumatic life experiences.

The theory is, that our brains process memories we experience during Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. When a person experiences a traumatic event or situation, the memory of it can sometimes fail to get processed by our brains effectively, causing them to experience the memory as if they are actually happening, instead of relating to it as a past experience. Such a response to trauma can often be identified by a particularly vivid or detailed memory of a situation such as the precise pattern of a carpet, a smell, a taste, an image etc. These can easily and repeatedly trigger thoughts of the experience as if it was really happening to the extent that the person’s life and identify becomes defined by that memory or group of memories…

EMDR now has a strong international evidence base. One particularly remarkable study found that 100% of people who’d encountered a single traumatic experience where no longer diagnosed of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following 6×50 minute sessions of EMDR and 77% of people who encountered multiple traumatic events were PTSD free in 12 sessions. EMDR is recognised by the American Psychiatric Association, the World Health Organisation and the Department of Defense as an effective treatment of trauma related mental health conditions.

What I particularly liked about it and responded well to, was that there was very little talking involved (unlike cognitive, talking based therapies). I didn’t need to describe past experiences in detail, I didn’t need to worry about saying the right thing, or the wrong thing or missing something important out. There was nothing to work out. To someone with an excessively busy and ruminating mind, this was so refreshingly uncomplicated. I left the first session even, wondering whether anything had really happened at all. I wasn’t really accustomed to “gentle” therapy as being effective and was about to right it off when the “real work” began after the session and my brain kicked into action.

The treatment came in phases:
Phase 1 is a brief history taking. What’s currently not working and a very succinct account of memories that we wanted to concentrate on. There were four particular ones for me and we explored when and how they get triggered, and how it would be if these memories did not have such an impact on my life – I hadn’t thought that could even be possible. Those memories were not hard at all to identify; they regularly appeared in my mind and popped up immediately with minimal exploration, as real as if they were happening. In brief they were:
1. being overpowered and briefly suffocated as a child
2. a nun telling me I was disgusting and should be ashamed of myself & locking me in a cupboard
3. rape
4. abortion
The common theme with these memories appeared to be entrapment and shame. I was surprised to discover that although I came to no physical harm at the hands of the nun; the encounter with her was the most impactful, being related to my identity. This throws the old saying that “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” completely out of the water.

Phase 2 related to finding ways to cope when things got shakey. And they did get shakey. The job of R, the therapist was to produce rapid change in my brain and my job was to ensure my brain could cope with that rapid change, and commit to asking for help if I needed it. Fortunately, I had the support of R and several other people who knew I was undergoing this therapy, who I could call upon when I didn’t know which way was up. I was also taught grounding and de-escalation techniques and advised not to meditate or indulge in overthinking as this may make the experience too overwhelming. Instead I exercised, I wrote and had acupuncture as an added method of releasing tension and stress (the latter was helpful but not necessary).

Phases 3 -6 targeted on the specific memories. Starting from the earliest, I was invited to get present to the experience through a chosen visual image relating to the memory. The pattern on a pair of trousers, the carpet I was on, the contorted face of the nun etc.. Again this was not hard for my brain to imagine, these memories being so close to the surface of my thinking experience.

Once my mind was occupied with the memory… I was asked what showed up, just to notice what happened, whatever it was. Sometimes it would be a smell, sometimes a visual image, sometimes a word popped into my head, a texture, a feeling… often, a well of emotion would accompany what I recalled. Tears would flow down my cheeks. Sometimes, I panicked and R would bring me “back into the room” by asking me to feel my feet or the chair I was sitting on. She ensured I knew I was safe, despite not feeling it at times… She was wonderful.

Once I’d described what I noticed, often in one short phrase or a sentence… R would move her upright index finger towards the right and left in front of my face, a bit like a pendulum, it felt slightly hypnotic. My eyes would accompany her finger rapidly looking to the right and left for around 2-3 minutes. She sometimes used another technique, which was a small buzzer in each of my hands which would alternate buzzing from my right to left hand. My eyes would often follow suit. This was the gentler of the two techniques by far and was used to “open out” and explore the memory more, when it got too emotionally intense. I was often amazed at what showed up.

During the therapy sessions, I was also asked to describe the experience through my identity or belief about my identity. R would often ask “and what are you telling yourself” and I’d answer such things as: “I’m powerless” and “I should be ashamed of myself (but why?)” and “I’m disgusting, she must be right, she’s an adult” and “I can’t get clean, I want to be clean”. Throughout the course of the therapy, over several weeks, these beliefs gradually changed. I found myself saying instead “I chose to submit to stay safe”, “I have nothing to be ashamed of” and “I am clean” and “I don’t have to agree with the opinion of others”.

Although many of the sessions themselves were powerful, the real work happened outside of the sessions. I’d return home, completely shattered and wanting to sleep, remaining disorientated for a few days afterwards. Often, I didn’t have a clue what was going on and leaving the house to meet others was out of the question. At one point my anxiety escalated but I remembered that I’d taken on the responsibility to ask for help when I needed it. It also took trusting myself in what I needed. I committed to taking care of myself through the process.

The final phase of the therapy, after around 10 weeks, was to revisit the earlier memories to see how I now responded to the memories, and if there was anything else to explore.

Since the therapy, I’ve learned:

• That I needed psychological help. I’m grateful that I had access to that help. No amount of transformation workshops, brooding or journaling or meditation was going to process those traumatic memories. My brain, in response to emotionally painful memories, took on a strategy to keep myself safe: it told me to submit, pretend to be weak, stay quiet, ignore my needs, that to experience love & intimacy I must endure physical pain, not to disagree or say no or rock the boat and it kept repeating those strategies, often to my detriment.

• That I’m emotionally strong. It took nearly everything I had to get through it. The process during the sessions was straightforward, complex and gentle. The processing at home most certainly wasn’t. In order to get through it I had to surrender control of my beliefs, expectations and world view; that’s that hard part. The belief that I’m strong has gradually grown as I’ve taken on running again and am training to 10k and half marathon level. I’m not fast yet, by I keep going and I do not stop. I’m also working with a trainer so that I can do chin ups, something I’ve never been able to do. Last week I amazed myself by walking my hands across parallel bars. My mentor is a 10 year old boy called George who of course, launches himself at the monkey bars with ease and laughs while he does chin ups. I love the cheeky little shit.

• That I don’t have to know how something works in order for it to be effective.

• That I get to choose which story I believe. If it doesn’t involve self-compassion, it doesn’t work. Another mentor is Maya Angelou (“Still I rise”).

The circumstances of my life were not my fault.
The experience of my life however, is certainly my responsibility.

Further information can be found about EMDR here:



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mental health

Note from Amy: “Adseg” refers to “administrative segregation,” or keeping a prisoner isolated from other prisoners, as Brent Brents is.
AdSeg is typically done as punishment; in Brents’ case, it’s done to protect him from other prisoners.

Here is the official definition, from the National Institute of Justice website: Prisoners are placed in solitary confinement, or administrative segregation, for violent or disruptive behavior. AS typically involves single-cell confinement for 23 hours daily; inmates are allowed one hour out of the cell for exercise and showers.

I realy am sick of Adseg. It realy does a Number on ones physical and mental health. I just have to keep up the hope and hard work. Have faith right.

-Brent Brents 4-28-15

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the leap from feeling the pain of loneliness to Rage

In February 2005, Brent Brents went on his final and most horrific crime spree, of which I write about in Diary of a Predator: A Memoir,  the book that is based upon his case. Recently he sent me a letter reflecting on this awful anniversary, and this is what he said:

I hate this part of February. I still can’t forgive myself for any of it. Valentine’s Day is like this big ugly reminder of all the hate, rage, and lost feeling. Over the years since I’ve been back in prison, I’ve come to realize that being Lonely really does fuck up ones thinking If you let it. Add Loneliness, Anti Social, and rage and you get one very cowardly, angry person who truly doesn’t know how to enteract or Communicate his desire to belong. I really didn’t have the mental health stuff all in check like i thought.  So it was easy for me to make the leap from feeling the pain of loneliness to Rage.

Once i began I didn’t want to stop. The more i did, the more i wanted to release the rage i had kept inside all those years. It’s difficult to reconcile me Then, to me Now.

Why is it we fight the Mental health Diagnosis. Years ago i was told i should probably be medicated. Maybe it would have helped. I can’t say for sure. But i doubt it i liked my drugs and the violence to much. But Now i enjoy the drug free life, I like knowing i have No stress over certain things in my life.

But the bigger truth in all this is I am constantly learning New things about emotions. I like this feeling of Compasion. And empathy is painful but necissary to really understand people and their feelings. Plus it helps me to feel like a real person.

-Brent Brents 2-11-13

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IRS-Instant Rage Syndrome

A few weeks ago, I got a message to this site for Brent Brents that said in part:

“…i am the child of a monster as you know. We have the same father. I think we have a choice in life i choose not to be a product of my gentics.You made a choice to become what you are.”
The message was from a woman named Shelley, who is Brent’s half sister. She and her brother David were children from Brent’s father Ron and a different wife. Like Brent, they were both physically and sexually abused by their father. Unlike Brent, they were both removed from the home after the father threw a 3-year-old David into the television set.
Also like Brent, Shelley says she has struggled all her life with something she calls IRS, or Instant Rage Syndrome. Her saving grace, she said, was having children; she swore she would not repeat the pattern of violence.
I sent Brent her message, and he wrote back:
First of all i am sorry that he hurt you and David. And that it damaged you two in ways i am all to familiar with. Having said that, you may or may not be thinking coming from me, it’s meaningless. Please know in my heart i truly am sorry. Six years ago i wouldn’t have gave a shit about you or anyone else.
Secondly, i spent roughly 30 + years using his bullshit as my excuse to fuck the world and get all i could. I chose rape because i knew the emotional toll it takes on a persons soul. I don’t use excuses or copouts anymore. No excuse is good enough to warrant all that i have done over the years.
My eyes are wide open Now, my heart is no longer black with rage. I even feel love, compassion and empathy. Alot of people assume that i feel sorry for myself, for ending up in prison. That was the case at one point. Now i know i belong here.
Amy told me about your rage issue. We share that you and i. I can be fine and happy one minute, and the next something so tiny can set me off. I avoided Mental health Meds until about six months ago. Oh Man what a help. Some of the side effects really suck. But honestly i regret Not having been open to them 20 years ago.
Having said all this i truly am sorry Shelley that you and David had to suffer the ways you did. And i am also sorry about David. I know first hand what being Rons child is like, And it sucked to watch him Literaly Fuck us and beat us all to a tiny spec of collective obedience of God Ron worshippers, brain washed and scared to death.
I am really not angry any more. Mostly Sad…
It’s None of my business, but it seems like we all somehow have a Mental health disorder or disease. As you have aged have you gotten better or worse? Mine seems to have gotten worse over the last 10 years. So much so that i have to take a staggering amount of drugs to maintain from hour to hour-day to day. My rage got to a point of helplessness. I Literally Could Not explain to anyone how it felt to have this Hateful, bitter rage, Combine this obsessive, compulsivety for violence and sexual violence.
Shame and regret are Constant companions. None of what i did to those i hurt makes any Kind of sense. I get to see my face in a mirror 3x a week and all i can see staring back is the one person i swore i would Never become.
Don’t think i am trying to soften you up. Trying to be all Brother and Sister. Quite frankly, there are only two people i trust and want any kind of relationships with. It’s all i can handle…
And yes Shelley i made choices. Ones that haunt my every minute of my life. Your post on the website reads kind of bitter. Amy said it may be because there is No One left in our family to lash out at. So if it’s me you lash out at, I am Ok with that. It’s Not a Martyr thing. I just know how it was when my outrage fell on deaf ears.
And most importantly Shelley it does my heart good to know that at least one of us can carry on this families blood, without the violence and sickness. I have to close now my tremors are getting to bad to write.
B.     -Brent Brents, 12-18-11

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