Twice a week, while I was working, writing and rebuilding a life, I would try to hold everything together the best I could, only to be able to let it all go beyond the walls of M.J.'s sweet, small, safe office. Sometimes I would just hug a pillow and cry for our hour session while she held me. Sometimes we would have calm, rational talks about hopes, dreams, finances and everything in between. Sometimes we would just talk about our favorite ice cream. Sometimes I wouldn't say anything at all, and that was okay, too. Once I just napped on her sofa for an hour.
Mostly M.J. taught me about my emotions. She showed me how I had learned to only be angry at myself, never others. She taught me that sadness can be sweet and healing. That mourning is beautiful. That joy... that we must cultivate and search for joyful moments like it's our job.
One day while at her office I was thinking just super irrationally. I felt twisted and panicked, stuck in the negative and I wasn't able to visualize anything worthwhile about myself or my future. We had made so much progress, but that day she couldn't do or say anything help me think clearly.
She asked if I would be willing to meet with her husband. He was a Harvard professor just down the hall, and she had told him a little about my case. They believed that he might be able to help.
I walked down the hall to find a very friendly-looking, older man. He was maybe in his early 60s at the time, short stature, not intimidating to me in the least. He offered me a seat in an overstuffed chair and we talked for about a half an hour about life, the weather, and then finally about my symptoms.
He asked if I would humor him by putting on these funny looking glasses. They looked just like those tinted ones you get when you have your eyes dilated at the optometrist. The only thing was that part of the glasses wasn't shaded at all - just on the left edge. I put them on and he asked me to look at him from the side of the glasses that weren't covered, so I was seeing him from my peripheral vision.
"Describe what you see," he said. "Describe me."
"I don't know. You seem nice," I said. "I've liked talking to you." I even chuckled a little.
"What are you laughing at?"
"I don't know. This all seems a little silly."
"Fair. Can you talk to me a little about how you're feeling about your life?"
I told him I felt generally optimistic, in control, hopeful. That I knew I had a lot of work to do, but that I was confident I could get through it all with time.
Then he asked me to try on another set of glasses, only this one was shaded on the opposite side. I put them on and within seconds I was in a full panic attack. The room looked cramped, and this man in front of me looked evil and predatory. Tears instantly fell. My hands shook. I couldn't breathe at all.
He quickly traded those glasses for the other glasses, and within seconds I was calm again.
"What's happening to me?" I asked. It seemed like there were two people living inside of me, both with different perceptions of my current space. Kind of like in Wayne's World when Wayne does his camera one, camera two. One camera believed the man in front of me was dangerous, the other saw him as just a harmless old man.
Anyway, what I was experiencing was an activation of each hemisphere of my brain.
Dr. Schiffer is a leading scholar in dual brain theory, the theory that posits that each hemisphere is comprised of two different personalities. His work is dedicated to showing how trauma seems to be housed in one side of the brain, allowing the other hemisphere to be able to be called on to do the logical, more mature processing and healing.
So those glasses were activating each side of my brain by blocking everything but my peripheral vision. Doing so showed us which side of my brain we needed to keep activated in order for me to stay calm and to be able to do the logical, mature work of healing and navigating the world. The activated mature side can actually talk to the traumatized side to let her know that she's got everything under control, that she's protected and safe.
This is one of the strangest and most interesting therapies I've found so far, and it's one that I can easily call on when I'm feeling out of sorts or if I feel a panic coming on.
Sounds kind of zany and freakish, I know. But one thing I've learned is that the brain is still wild, uncharted territory.