Anyone with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder knows how flashbacks can interrupt and hinder lives. For those people without a knowledge of mental health issues, it can be hard to understand. Flashbacks are more than just remembering the event. When a flashback occurs, like the name suggests, they actually take you back in time. Now, this isn’t time travel; however, in your mind, it feels like you are reexperiencing the trauma. It feels like you’re back in that place.
When flashbacks occur they generally happen because of a trigger. A place, taste, scent, touch, or some other sensation reminded you of your trauma and triggered the flashback. When that moment occurs you can no longer tell that the trauma isn’t over until you come out of the flashback. It feels like the trauma is happening again.
There are some ways to ground yourself to stay in the present, and as you work through your trauma and learn coping skills the flashbacks become fewer and farther in between. It can take a while to get to that point though, and some people will deal with flashbacks for the rest of their lives.
I’ve dealt with flashbacks of my rape for a couple years now. It took me a while to get a grasp on them. When they first began, it took me a while to calm down and realize that I was in the present. I was not being raped again; it was just a flashback. Now I’m able to bring myself out sometimes and I understand what is happening a lot sooner. I’m now able to use my grounding and coping skills to calm myself down.
The main coping skill I use for grounding is stating where I am. I would say something like, “My name is Caitlin. It is May 16, 2017. I am on campus. I am in my dorm room. The door is locked. I’m sitting at my desk. The lamp is on. Jenny is with me. I am safe.” Doing that really helps me stay in the moment and be present. Another coping skill I use is naming 5 things I see, hear, smell, and feel. That also grounds me in reality.
The most important thing to remember is that the trauma is over. You might flash back to the past, but you live in the present. A flashback is so much more than a memory; it is a re-experiencing of it. However, it can be overcome. Through time, therapy, and healing we can take back our lives.
Caitlin Wren is a mental and chronic illness advocate. She shares her journey with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome on her blog. She is currently finishing up her freshman year in college and lives with her mobility assistance dog, Jenny. You can find Caitlin on Instagram.