I was always dysthymic growing up. Then, in 1999, when I was 20, I really fell into an abyss and was diagnosed with clinical depression. Since then, I’ve had all kinds of therapy.
I’ve seen psychiatrists, psychologists, counsellors, life coaches, and NLP practitioners and done everything from hypnosis to CBT to dredging up sad memories and crying a lot. (A lot.) I’ve also tried herbs, relaxation, dietary changes, nine different anti-depressants, and acupuncture, among other things.
Turns out, I have the intractable sort of depression: chronic, medication-resistant, baffling to all the medical professionals/healing types who thought a few sessions with them would have me back on the street singing and dancing like Gene Kelly in Singin’ in the Rain.
That’s not to say I didn’t improve at all. I went from being wrapped in a duvet on the sofa every day to rediscovering my love of writing and actually squeezing a little enjoyment out of my life. But I still felt hopeless. Talk therapy had given me insight into the causes of my feelings but it didn’t actually help me to FEEL BETTER. I was forced to accept that this is just how I am and that no one could help me, least of all myself.
Then I discovered EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques, also known as “tapping”) thanks to a psychologist I was seeing, who suggested it as kind of a last resort. I’m more into practice than theory but from what I can tell, it’s based on the same theory as acupuncture, that we’re all made up of energy which flows along meridians and can be manipulated to make us feel better. Only instead of needles, with EFT, all you need are your hands. (“Dirty.”)
The first time I tried it, I felt ridiculous. My psychologist guided me as I used two fingers to lightly tap on acupressure points on my face, chest, and under my arm while saying a phrase that summed up what was bothering me. (I don’t remember exactly what it was, but probably some variant on the dominant insecurity of my twenties, “WHY DON’T PEOPLE LIKE ME?”)
As I was tapping and speaking, I focused on the negativity I felt in my gut, like a weight pulling me down. It was overwhelming, and as I tapped it became more intense. I wanted to cry, to stuff my face with ice cream, to throw myself out of a window just to escape the self-hate and sadness, to… nothing.
Suddenly, as I was tapping just above my chin, the intense emotion vanished, like a bubble being burst. I was flooded with relief. It wasn’t that I’d forgotten what had made me feel so bad, but there was no longer any emotion attached to it. It was amazing.
Now, I know it sounds kooky. If the pre-EFT me were reading this about someone else I’d definitely be “Hmph!”-ing right about now. No one could be more surprised by what I’m saying than me, the woman who used to think vitamin C tablets were a con.
But it’s continued to work. In fact, I don’t know how I would have got through the last year of horrifying health issues without it. Most afternoons, I take a break to lie down, do some EFT, then listen to a relaxation app. Sometimes tapping stirs up painful emotions and I’m grumpy or tired afterwards, but I’m always less hopeless and often feel lighter, like I’ve released something. (Sometimes I literally have: it’s common to yawn and even burp when an issue “shifts”, so it’s fun for all the family.)
I’ve also been seeing a specialist for the last couple of years, and she’s helped me a lot. While EFT can bring quick changes on short-term issues (if I’m upset about something someone said to me, I can be over it within half an hour, instead of stewing about it for the rest of the day like I used to), its long-term changes are more gradual. But I’ve used it to help face issues I could never get into in traditional talk therapy, and after every appointment, I feel more open-hearted and hopeful, like I’m moving in the right direction.
With past therapists, we’d rehash stuff then I’d be left to deal with with all the feelings it brought up. It was miserable, but felt deep and meaningful, like I was a character in a Woody Allen film. At EFT appointments, I often go in crying and come out laughing, like someone watching a Woody Allen film. (Circa 1979.) To have found something that works to any extent feels miraculous after so many false starts. Plus I’m not dependent on someone else: I can use these tools whenever I need to, and almost always feel at least somewhat better. I only wish I’d known about this in my duvet days.
But although I’m glad to have found it, I’m not suggesting that everyone should shred their Prozac prescriptions or run screaming from traditional therapy (unless maybe there’s a fire). There’s no one answer for everyone, and I get it if you’re skeptical about EFT: if you think it sounds ridiculous or that it doesn’t really work for me. But it does.
After words:: An (unpaid, unasked for, and who knows, possibly unwanted) recommendation of something tangentially related that I read and loved. This week? Maria Bamford and the Cathartic Comedy of Mental Illness by Marissa Carroll.