That’s the nickname my Dad has started calling me after experiencing my flashbacks first hand for the first time last week. I like that he accepts that it is what it is, and is trying to keep it light but I also know how difficult and distressing he finds seeing it.
When I have a flashback I’m no longer present in the current moment so I am largely unaware of how I look and act to others. In my own experience, I become both trapped in my mind and body as I relive the event. To me: it’s dark, I can feel him on top of me and inside me. I hear him breathing. I feel his hands around my neck and I struggle to breathe. I’m terrified, I’m in agony both physically and mentally.
I asked my housemate and one of my best friends, David, to write down for me what it’s like to witness as he has throughout this experience, been supportive and caring to the hilt and more. He writes that, “You are unresponsive to what happens around you. It looks like you shut off from your surroundings but you look hypervigilent – your eyes are very wide and you look scared. You do generally start hyperventilating and sweating a lot and become very rigid. You usually whimper or start crying and you will usually start desperately touching your throat and gasping for air. You don’t always say anything but when you do you’ll say things like “no” or “stop”.”
Unfortunately I learned the hard way that it isn’t something I can really be roused from successfully. As I seem to be in a state of extreme vigilance, any contact is normally met with aggression or violence. For example, one of the first few times David tried to gently coax me back to reality, I lashed out, punched him and gave him a black eye. I have no memory of doing that! He never blamed me and actually saw the funny side of it, but I still feel very guilty and it just makes me want to avoid contact more. I do have to say though that on behalf of myself, other best friends and family that David has been absolutely incredible with me and I would, quite literally, not be here if it wasn’t for him as he was the one who found me after my suicide attempt. He has gone above and beyond in his love and care for me, even when I’ve been volatile and ungrateful in response, and he’s never so much as asked for a thank you. But Dave, from the bottom of my heart – I love you, and thank you.
The anticipation of a flashback is often enough to trigger one off, and that’s a hard feeling to manage. I feel like I’m on high alert all the time and that’s totally exhausting. I also get scared of going to sleep at night now because I have nightnares, and despite having sleeping problems for all of my adult life, my sleeping has been the worst it’s ever been since January. I wake up feeling alone and terrified, and most nights I desperately wish I had someone there to tell me it’s going to be alright and they’re there for me. However, that in itself is such a catch twenty-two because although I really feel like I would like to have a relationship and have that security of someone there who could care for me, I’m so worried about letting someone in and trusting them in case they hurt me mentally or physically. It’s a deflating realisation, and one that makes me feel like perhaps it’s for the best that I am by myself and really, like I often wonder, who would put up with that? If you had the choice, I’m sure it would be with someone who doesn’t have so much emotional baggage.
It’s for these reasons amongst others that I’m choosing to stay at a treatment centre in LA next month for an incredibly intense few weeks of therapy. This condition really is ruining my life, and I want so much to feel happy and safe instead of scared and alone all the time. I want to be able to talk to people who understand and feel like I won’t be judged. I really hope it’s the right decision though. Some people have said I’m putting too much on myself by doing this and I should take more time, but I feel like I’m at my wits end so what else am I meant to do? I guess this might be a make or break decision.