I’m in the passenger seat of a car, driving home from the grocery store with my partner. I’m staring out the window. My mind is racing — it’s always racing. All of a sudden, I’m back in grade five. My stomach clenches in fear as I lean against the corner of two stone walls where I would sit at recess to avoid people. I can feel my chest aching, worrying about the next interaction I’ll have with the group of girls that bully me. I’m still staring out the car window and yet somehow I’m in two places.
I’m watching my favorite show and drinking tea. The words the fictional characters are saying to each other start to fade into the background. I’m transported back to a fight I had when I was 19. I can feel my anger choking me as the person tells me to shut-up. I am ready to cry, scream and punch things. Then I notice the aftertaste of tea in my mouth and I can hear the voices from my show again.
I’m reading a book about learning how to love myself. I feel empowered and inspired. I see the words, but I can no longer read what they say. I’m lost in my head and I’m going back to a moment when I felt disgusting and ashamed. I can feel the self-loathing coursing through my veins. My skin tingles and my eyes are getting wet. My chest is tightening and my jaw is clenched. I feel like the black hole inside is going to swallow me whole, and then I come back. I can read the words again but there’s still an emptiness in my stomach. My chest hurts and I feel tired. I no longer want to read about how to love myself.
These are what I call flashbacks. Some people may experience them differently, but this is what it feels like for me. My mind is constantly flooded with thoughts, one triggering the next, then the next. My thoughts are a stream of pictures, smells, voices and sounds. Sometimes they are merely a flash and other times, I am gone. I disconnect from the here and now and I am lost in the past. I flash back to a memory and in that moment, it feels real. I know it’s not real because I am still wherever I was when I started, but the flood of emotion it brings with it makes it feel like it just happened. I am constantly reliving my trauma and being reminded of the things I want to forget. When I have a flashback that includes someone who hurt me, it’s extremely hard not to carry that pain with me again, even if we’ve been on good terms for years since then.
When I come out of a flashback, I take some deep breaths. I remind myself it’s not real and that it’s just a memory. I tell myself that although I have a past, I don’t live there anymore. I practice my DBT Skills and prioritize self-care. I reach out for support if I need it and I let myself rest. Doing these things for myself often makes me feel better, but sometimes all I can do is wait it out.