n. the lever pressed by the finger to discharge a firearm
n. an event that precipitates other events
They come in droves.
There is a guy in my class who is completely obnoxious. From the way he constantly talks over the professor to the way he blurts out his answers to the fact that he comes in twenty minutes late on a consistent basis. His voice grates on my nerves.
The school mascot is an asshat. He runs down the hall in a bear costume that probably reeks from those who have worn it before him, coming up behind random people to scream and hug them. Because we like that. Not.
Fireworks. Loud, exploding balls of color in the sky.
A hand that drifts too low.
It is possible to be in one place, doing one activity, and then suddenly find yourself in a completely different spot, doing a completely different activity. It’s sort of like what happens when you daydream; you temporarily lose touch with what’s happening around you. This is called disassociation, where a person becomes mentally removed from their surroundings. You have little to no memory of your body and what it was doing. You are trapped inside of yourself. You are in a flashback.
We are sitting in the waiting room. I can’t remember how I got here. I have always hated waiting room due to the massive amount of paperwork that generally comes along with them. She tries to distract me; she seems to know. We talk about shows, performing. She used to be an actress. I’m surprised; I shouldn’t be, but I am. Anything and everything crosses the discussion. I am focused, present. This was the idea, I think.
The door opens and we go in. Down a hall.
The therapist seems nice, but that doesn’t make any difference in my head. “Why are you here?”
I shake my head. I shrug. I can’t answer. Everything hurts. I stare at her, hoping she will help me focus again. Hoping she will say something, do something. I’m not ready for this. My eyes beg her to tell my story. She does. The conversation gets fuzzy.
I don’t remember the words she says.
A flashback is what is referred to as a re-experiencing symptom of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A flashback is not a seizure; it’s a completely different entity. In a flashback, it feels like the traumatic event is happening all over again. Repetition to infinity. A soldier who hears a loud noise such as a car backfiring could be taken back to a time when they shot someone during wartime. A rape victim could begin to feel pain that isn’t there anymore or smell things that they smelled during the assault. How it happens is different for everyone. Some people will hear sounds, or see sights from the time of the traumatic event. Other people will be completely sucked in, as if they are in the event and it is happening to them all over again.
I am in a parking lot, the parking lot, walking with my coworkers. There is something behind the dumpsters, in the dark. Close to my car. The shadows obscure whatever it is.
My palms are coated with sweat. My heart races. I can feel the beat in my ears.
Someone says something to me, grabs my arm. I have stopped halfway between work and the car. I know what the shadow is. He’s back. For me.
I sink down to the ground.
I can feel his fingers on my arm. His mouth on mine. His tongue on my face. His breath in my ear. I am dirty. Damaged. And that’s all there is. The outside world, the real world, does not exist.
I can’t hear or see anything else.
It is important to track the things you are thinking and feeling right before a flashback happens, whenever possible. It’s good to note the things that were happening. These are triggers. Be it a loud noise, cracking knuckles, being touched in a certain way, or the certain way a person’s voice sounds, they can put you in a dissociative tailspin. If you know they are coming, you have a chance to stop the flashback before it happens.
I am in class.
Peer review. I am sitting next to this person I barely know. I should know him, since we’ve been in the same class for the entire semester. There are only eight of us. We exchange papers; it is apparent that we are supposed to learn from each other, though I’m not sure how. I stare down at his paper, clicking my pen on the desk. I try to discern a thesis, but I am only aware of how close he is to me.
It feels like inches. I can’t think. I read the same sentence four times. I look up at the professor. I’m melting; I want to say something. But I can’t. So I try again. The words blur together, but I manage to make a few corrections. He doesn’t have an entire paper, and I’m completely lost. I give it back. I’m not me. I’m not academic, I’m not smart. I’m someone else, stuck somewhere else.
He asks me a question, something about the comments he had written on my paper. Did I intend to use a certain source? I wasn’t sure. The professor asks if we are done. I answer that I’m not sure why we were together in the first place. I don’t mean it the way it sounds. I wasn’t try to be mean. I was trying to get through it. I want to explain myself, but I can’t. I fail. I get up; I can’t remember what he says as I go. I have gone back to my own desk, by the door, but I still feel like he is right next to me. I’m pretty sure it’s not even him I feel. It’s someone else. It’s him.
I push back out of the desk and out of the classroom. I lock myself in a bathroom stall. I cry. Alone. I can’t break out of it.
To break out of a flashback, you need to be grounded. You can become grounded using the five senses of sight, taste, sound, touch, and smell. Look around and make a mental list of everything that surrounds you. Eat something with a strong taste, like a lemon or tabasco. Play loud music. Hold a piece of ice. Sniff something with a strong odor. It’s about redirecting yourself, finding something else to focus on. But when you’re gone too far inside, it can be hard to do these things on your own. You have to trust other people, in a time of your life when you don’t think you can. You have to let them know. You have to let them in.