I struggle to remember the number of medical visits and examinations I’ve had. Because my diagnosis took years, I became a face doctors saw regularly. Having so many medical appointments didn’t mean I got used to them, though. Physical examinations are something I’ve struggled with since childhood.
At 12, when I got my first period, I lost such an incredible amount of blood that I ended up hospitalized. To make matters worse, this was southern Spain in the 1990s, so there weren’t many guidelines on how to treat a child with gynecological issues. My mother helplessly watched as doctors separated me from her without explanation. I ended up traumatized by invasive examinations and a long hospital stay in a wing full of adults, sharing my room with women suffering from miscarriages and difficult labors.
As the years passed, I began experiencing distressing physical symptoms whenever I went to the gynecologist. It would start as a sharp pain in my temples and then move to the bridge of my nose. On the examination bed, my entire body would cease up. On many occasions, it became physically impossible to examine me. Even talking about gynecological stuff with friends would set me off. I would have to either leave the room or discreetly shut my eyes and cover my ears.
Experimenting with EMDR
Last year, while struggling with severe anxiety due to my upcoming surgery, I was referred to a mental health specialist. Within a few weeks, the specialist diagnosed me with post-traumatic stress disorder. Doctors offered me eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR).
During EMDR, patients make side-to-side eye movements while discussing a traumatic event. The therapist may tap their finger or play a tone.
I focused and followed my therapist’s fingers with my eyes, side to side, while recalling traumatic incidents. Bringing up such painful images proved to be tougher than anticipated. Each session left me physically and emotionally drained. The day after therapy usually was a write-off. The National Health Service covered almost four months of EMDR therapy, one session per week.
But lying there, shockingly, I felt nothing at all. I wasn’t 100 percent comfortable, but I mean, who’s comfortable when half-naked and prodded while surrounded by strangers? Mostly bored and calmly horizontal, I waited for it to end. There was no anxiety, no panicking, no physical manifestations of my traumas.
What I had experienced since the age of 12 unexpectedly evaporated.
With EMDR, the idea is that patients “process” traumatic events. “Processing” means storing these experiences in a different part of the brain, so they are thought of as past memories that should not trigger any strong physical or emotional reactions.
EMDR is still considered a new form of therapy, and currently, it still isn’t fully understood. Like with any form of therapy, it can be effective on some people and not so much on others. Additionally, the fact that you have to bring up memories makes it quite a heavy-duty therapy. I still don’t know if my experience at the most recent medical appointment was a fluke, but I can now have conversations about gynecological issues, and even watch shows on TV about it — something previously impossible. Only time will tell whether these effects are permanent. For me, the hard work seems to have paid off.
Note: Endometriosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Endometriosis News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to endometriosis.