If you’ve read my post ‘25 Things About My PTSD’ you know that like many PTSDers one of my prevalent PTSD symptoms was flashbacks. And if you read the post you know that the flashback I most often got caught in was the moment I felt myself leave my body.
The truth is, in the original experience of that moment during my trauma, I didn’t want to come back. I wanted to keep going into the tunnel and abandon my body forever. Later, then, it was a strange flashback in which to be stuck. Non-violent and peaceful, the memory stole over me at odd moments without a definitive trigger and the next thing I knew, I was back in that place, hovering ½ way between my physical body and a black tunnel, reliving the panic and fear of the moments prior to my escape, and then lingering in the peace of that ultimate disconnection from the world around me. Suspended there, my mind shut down and I sank into the deep, despondent wish that I could get back to the tunnel and leave behind the rest of the PTSD hell in which I lived.
Not easy, as we all know, to cope and carry on when intense moments of the past overwhelm us. I’ve been thinking, lately, how much we all struggle to control the flashback experience – or not control it. Since my PTSD experience was undiagnosed for 25 years, I just accepted that this memory would bowl me over weekly, would, itself, hover over me on a daily basis and that was just the way things would be. I didn’t develop strategies or coping mechanisms for it. I let it wash over me, felt myself float away, and knew at some point I’d come back. It was easy to live like this since the flashback wasn’t violent in nature.
But for many survivors flashbacks are a big issue that becomes physiological and destructive in its experience. We need a ‘To Do’ list for interrupting the flow; a list of strategies to reconnect us to the present moment.
This week, I’ve been on the task. I’ve polled some PTSD friends. Today, I give you a collective list of what ten PTSDers do to stop a flashback in its tracks:
1. Count 1 – 10 slowly; repeat until the flashback ends.
2. Practice breathing techniques to reconnect the body to the mind.
3. Focus on one of the five senses, i.e. slowly look at what’s around you and notice the details; take a deep breath and smell the air; chew a piece of gum and taste the fresh flavor; put your hands together and feel the skin; listen to the sound of traffic.
4. Let the flashback flow and view it as you would a movie, as if you are removed from it and it is appearing on a screen. You are in the present moment; the flashback is a separate event.
5. Snap an elastic band around your wrist.
6. Hold onto an ice cube.
7. Put a squeeze of toothpaste into your mouth (very unique texture/taste/smell).
8. Take a swig of vanilla extract.
9. Stomp your feet.
10. Say the alphabet backwards.
11. Journal. “Put it in a box” and put the box away.
12. Smelling peppermint oil (helps with head-aches, nausea, and jolts the senses).
13. Reach out. Talk with someone.
14. Surround yourself with things that help ground you (clocks, calendars, music).
15. Develop a channel for safe venting if/when necessary. In the words of one survivor: “I used to take old jars from the fridge and smash them against a brick wall several blocks from my home, slamming a door, or screaming at the top of my lungs when no-one could hear me.”
16. Stretching, Yoga, biking, running, walking, or working out.
17. Counting without limit – begin counting when it starts and don’t stop until the memory recedes.
18. For this last tip, I’m going to post the words of a vet, but any civilian can use the technique, too, by substituting his/her triggering sound: “The sound of a huey chopper would set off a flashback, so the therapist had me install a huey sound file on my computer and listen to it over and over. My anxiety still goes high at the sound but now no flashbacks.”
What tips, tricks and strategies do you use? Add to this community resource by leaving a comment.