My mind is now its’ own universe, everything else is foggy and distant. I feel too many emotions at once. They jumble around, bouncing off each other, competing for the top spot. I’m angry, sad, frightened, ashamed, and confused. I am in the danger of the past. My breathing is slow, almost imperceptible. My chest is tight and I’m running out of air. I feel trapped in place, unable to move. All reminiscent of back then.
I’m not completely sure if I actually exist, I feel inhuman. My mind tells me this is where I live now. There are only these thoughts and feelings – past, present, or future. There is only this despair. I lose contact with parts of my body. I don’t hear the background noises anymore. In my eyes is that far away look of someone who is not fully present.
I’m afraid, I’m agitated, and I can’t control the tears. The critical thoughts arrive. “You are pathetic. Why can’t you keep your shit together? These feelings are senseless and it’s your fault you’re having them. No one likes you, they never have. People are dangerous; it’s best you avoid them. Why can’t you be normal? Stop crying! It wasn’t that bad. There are people who have experienced worse, who frankly are doing much better.”
I am in the process of dying.
I am in that moment when a foot misses a stair and the heart stops beating before tumbling into the void of perpetual nothing. I am no one and nowhere.
It’s hard, but I do talk to select people about how I am feeling. Some folks are helpful; others say things that are laughable. I feel invalidated and unheard. Why can’t they see me? Why can’t they see that I’m dying? Another thought of old.
I want to be held as I sob, for as long as it takes. Perhaps no amount of time would ever be enough. I want to be reminded to breathe, and for them to do the breathing with me. I don’t want to be told that I am safe but rather shown. Respect me, and that what I am feeling is real at this moment. Emotional Flashbacks are truly the same to my body and mind as if they were happening now.
I want to be told that it’s not my fault that my nervous system is hardwired to sense danger. I want there to be room for me to think. My brain is in quicksand and I need to be given time to find my words. I want any helper to talk slowly, calmly, and in a soft tone – but not in a way that is patronizing. I want to have my hand held. I want there to be no judgments, just kind curiosity. I want reassurances that I am not garbage, that I am not broken, and that all parts of me are welcome.
I can’t say these things out loud, at least rarely; I wish that I could and that they would be well received. I find it hard to trust and I expect should I dare to say these things, it would be what brings abandonment. The script is from long ago. But in truth, there have been those who have surprised me with their capacity to remain with me in my pain.
My mind is a chalkboard and the truths that I know are erased. I have to learn all over again that none of this is my fault. My therapist picks up the piece of chalk and writes; “You are allowed to have opinions”. A friend; “You are a special person who is loved”. A doctor; “You are worth my time”. Then an acquaintance, coworker, Internet friend, and so many others start to write other prompts.
My brain isn’t so sure at first, but eventually, it considers these various statements, and it wants to write some of its own. I pick up the chalk, and write; “This isn’t your fault. You are doing the best that you can. You can’t control your reactions, and you didn’t ask for this. You aren’t a horrible person. The feelings are real but feelings are not facts. You will feel something else in time, probably much sooner than you think.”
Then the moment comes, I am me again. I am no longer dying, my thoughts are clearer, I can laugh, create, and I can breathe. Both pictures of being triggered and being well, feel real to me when I’m in them- and that’s what I want you to understand.
Authors note: This is my description of what being triggered or in an Emotional Flashback is like for me as an individual with C-PTSD. I share as I do in my writings for two main reasons. One is that writing is often how I process and re-engage my “now brain”. With this comes the added bonus that I typically share what I write with the members of my support team. Secondly, my hope is to offer my words to those who may experience similar things, but who may never hear anyone else describe it, or who have been unable to create these descriptions themselves. I wish to drive away from the myth of aloneness.
Please do note, that the feelings I describe and my wishes on how to be supported, are not blanket statements for me and certainly not for anyone else.
If you’d like to follow along with my journey, you can find me on Instagram as @mentalhealthyxe
Heidi Fischer is a mental health advocate who lives in Saskatoon, Canada. Heidi enjoys writing about her personal experience with C-PTSD, Depression, and Anxiety. Heidi is the creator of a popular mental health Instagram called @mentalhealthyxe and can also be found on her website mentalhealthyxe.com.