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FLASHBACKS: A COMPLETE GUIDE TO TIME TRAVEL

Two weeks ago I had seven flashbacks in a day. This is more than I have had in years. They are not pleasant things to experience. At all. However, the difference now is that I know what to do. I am able to open my bag of tricks and pull out all the right coping mechanisms to minimise the distress. Plus, I am now much better at taking care of myself afterwards. That helps.

I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. And I have had since 2014, although my diagnosis did not come until nearly nine months later. This is because I am very good at “the brave face”, of keeping going, and of telling people that I am ok. But even I reached a point where I could no longer fool anyone. Perhaps that is a different story for another time.

I am now in a state of recovery. I manage my symptoms well, am completely medication free, and dedicate my time and my business to helping others. My motto is this: if I can help prevent just one person getting to the place I did then it is all worth it. This is what keeps me going through the tougher days. And with the state of the world at the moment, it is no surprise that I had a bit of a wobble.

In days gone by my flashbacks always took me back to the same place. Being in front of a mirror. In a flat. Surveying the results of the unkindness that had been inflicted on me. I did not suffer much. Nor did I suffer long. But this, compounded with everything else going on in my life, broke me. This is where the elastic band of my already stretched resilience snapped completely.

FLASHBACKS: ROAD TO NOWHERE

Have you ever read The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger? It’s beautiful, I highly recommend it. The main character, Henry, is drawn through time at unpredictable intervals to significant moments in his life. This is how I see my flashbacks, as time travel. And that incident in that flat was a defining significant moment in my psychological decline.

The recent flashbacks however did not take me there. In fact they didn’t take me anywhere. Instead I got lost somewhere between dream and reality. Between fantasy and memory. For those of you who have never experienced a flashback, mine begin in my stomach. It is as if a hand grabs me there and pulls me forwards. Then my surroundings dissolve into the place I have been taken.

Time slows down. I am away milliseconds but it often feels longer. Then my head kicks in and brings me back. I shake. I feel a little nauseous. But I am ok, even if it does make me worry. Flashbacks are a completely normal part of PTSD. PTSD is a completely normal reaction to stressful events. But it is also normal to feel unnerved when they happen.

Therefore, I want to put my experiences to use. I want to help my fellow time travellers navigate their journey as smoothly as possible. Below then, I have put together some tips and tricks for surviving flashbacks. Not just when they happen but also for the before and after. I hope you find these useful.

THE TRAVELLER’S GUIDE

When a flashback occurs:

  • DO NOT panic. As I said, these are normal.

  • INSTEAD take deep breaths. Slowing down your breathing will help you to return quicker.

  • TRY TO engage your senses. What can you feel, see, touch, smell, or hear in the present?

  • TELL YOURSELF that you are safe. This will pass. You will be ok.

When a flashback has passed:

  • DO NOT be unkind to yourself. This is not your fault.

  • INSTEAD get a hug. Whether that’s from a person, a pet or a blanket.

  • TRY TO get some rest. That might be sleep, cancelling commitments, or just sitting quietly.

  • TELL YOURSELF that it is over now. Try to follow up with a GP or therapist.

If you feel like a flashback might happen:

  • DO NOT be alone unnecessarily.

  • INSTEAD reach out for support. This could be from loved ones, support systems or charities.

  • TRY TO get to a place where you feel safe. Engage in grounding techniques like mindfulness.

  • TELL YOURSELF that you will get through this. You are doing all the right things.

You can read more about my life and my work in trauma via my website which can be found here. Or you can contact me directly on gemmalouisecoaching@gmail.com.

 

To help us raise awareness of trauma, recovery and wellbeing, we have also recently launched a YouTube channel called Life Beyond Repair. Here you will find interviews with individuals who have come through their own struggles and are now using their stories to inspire others. Check it out.