Several weeks ago I read an article in a magazine describing and discussing the state of mental health in the United States. In the article experts estimated that about 80% of all Americans suffer from some sort of mental illness.
The article then went on to detail the different types of mental illnesses Americans experience. Not surprisingly, the number one issue is depression. Even in the land of plenty, we are an unhappy people.
I struggle with depression … and other things.
Around the same time I read that article, I received a letter from a therapist I worked with while I was incarcerated in a county jail awaiting sentencing. Before discussing the content of this letter I need to give you a little bit of back story…
There were fifteen months between the time the investigation into my crime began and my pre-sentencing hearing. I spent a large portion of those fifteen months in counseling working on the emotional impacts of events from my childhood, as well as determining the diagnosis of any mental illness I may have been suffering. As it turns out, I was diagnosed with multiple issues and face several still today.
At my pre-sentencing hearing I was placed into custody. Upon the judge’s pronouncement of my being remanded into custody my lawyer explained to the judge that I was seriously suicidal (I was) and asked that I be monitored closely. Much to the credit of the various law enforcement agencies then in control of my life, the suicidal issue was communicated to the county sheriffs at the county jail. After being processed into the jail I was immediately placed in solitary under suicide watch. I was there for three weeks.
When I was moved from solitary into general population I was told that mental health services were available if I wanted to take advantage of them. I’d had excellent luck with the therapist I’d been seeing prior to being jailed and had made significant progress with her. I wanted, and needed, to continue treatment because I knew I still had a long way to go, so I agreed to see the therapist in the county jail.
I began seeing therapists when I was 26 years old. Between 26 and the time of my incarceration at age 52 I’d been seeing counselors more than not. I knew something was wrong but could never seem to get to the root of the issue. Part of the problem was I “clicked” with so few of the professionals I worked with. I can tell you that of all the therapists I worked with, I only connected with three – and two of them have been while incarcerated! Yes, sadly, the only therapist I was ever able to work with outside was the one I was working with prior to being jailed. But this is about the letter I received several weeks ago so back on track.
While in the county jail I began seeing a social worker who specialized in counseling. Though not a psychologist by training he was skilled in counseling. His name was Ken.
Ken and I started out on rocky ground. I had never worked well with male counselors and so had pre-determined that working with one again would be unsuccessful. Ken had worked with a lot of prisoners and found that the majority participated only because they wanted it to look good to the court at sentencing; so how could he know I was serious about my mental health and willing to actually work at it? Consequently, it took a while for us to learn about each other. I learned that he was actually a therapist I “clicked” with and so could open up with and be vulnerable and honest. He learned that I was sincerely interested in my healing and would do the home work he gave me. And so we left positive marks upon each other. That was in late 2015 and early 2016.
Back to the letter…
I was standing at mail call and heard my name and was passed a letter. The return address had no name and indicated no specific business affiliation, but I recognized the city it came from as being near to the county jail I’d been held in. My first thought was that I’d just received bad news from the county jail and that for some reason I ‘d be dealing with more legal issues. It was with great trepidation that I opened that envelope. What I saw at the top of the letter inside was the name of the organization Ken worked for and at the bottom of the letter I saw Ken’s signature. I wondered what on earth Ken could want with me after more than two and a half years.
I’m glad Ken wrote.
I have to say that I was surprised, and touched, that after more than two and a half years Ken would take the time and make the effort to reach out to me. In order to write to me Ken had to find my Federal registration number, place of incarceration and obtain the address for the prison I’m in. What surprised me most though was that Ken even remembered me. I’m sure Ken has worked with over a hundred people since I left county jail. It says a lot about Ken and maybe something about me too.
Ken’s reason for writing was to share information with me about a treatment he’d recently been trained in and had some success with very quickly. The treatment is called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). Francine Shapiro originally developed the method and used it to treat PTSD (one of the issues I deal with). [The story behind Shapiro’s discovery of the method is worth a little internet research.] Anyway, it is a totally natural process that uses your brain’s own natural workings to allow you to bring forward traumas from your life and deal with the in a way that reduces your current emotional reactions and impacts. In simplest terms, and I’m NO EXPERT, the method identifies the issues, assesses the impacts and your ability to deal with it, the content of treatment, treatment itself and then monitoring/follow up. The treatment itself consists of the therapist moving a finger side to side while the patient follows the finger with their eyes, and while doing this talking through the issues identified. The theory being that the distraction of the finger allows the brain to deal with the issue with less stress. When you think about it, it’s brilliant! When you are stressed what do you do? I know that for me I seek distractions – reading, music, walking, writing, sleeping. The distractions reduce the stress. Research has shown very high success rates with a variety of diagnoses. Based on what I’ve read about EMDR (a special thanks here to my wife for sending in all of that research) it has great promise as a simple, and quick, treatment that will truly help those in need. When I am released, I will pursue this as a treatment option. Ken stressed, and I feel the same way, that should you pursue this treatment you should work with a therapist certified in EMDR as not all therapists apply the therapy in the same way and you really want the most out of the treatment.
I’m ready to get relief from all the junk I’m still carrying around. I know I’ve improved and grown greatly but there are some things I still struggle with. If you’re reading this and struggling with your own issues, your own traumas, then maybe it would be worth your time to investigate EMDR and find a certified therapist to work with.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing – EMDR.
I wish you luck. I wish you all the best. Mental illness in all its forms is a prison unto itself. As I’ve healed, I’ve felt a great relief and the lifting of a great weight. I no longer fear living in the world outside these four walls; outside the walls I’d built around myself. Yes, I know there are still a few things I need to clean up and I’m convinced EMDR may be just what I need.