All that I am, all that I ever was…

I am more than my mental health. I am more than my homelessness. I am more than any one aspect of me. I am Addy. And this is…

How to cope with PTSD flashbacks?

5 Comments

I feel it pertinent to point out that this isn’t a ‘how to’ post. You may feel slightly jipped to discover this, especially since the first two words of the post title are “how” and “to”, but I did place a wee question mark at the end of the title, meaning I need your help. And with your help, perhaps we can write the ‘how to’ post that you were probably expecting.

My PTSD is a complicated beast. It doesn’t just come from one traumatic incident, but several, the memories of which have combined to form an almost impenetrable wall of trauma that I have no idea how to deal with. Firstly (and foremost) there is the emotional abuse that I was the victim of. Without question this causes the most damaging of my PTSD symptoms. Secondly, there is the assault and rape I experienced when I was in Adelaide in 2007. Thirdly, there is the recurrent memories of being homeless; of being ostracised by society and forced to exist in a sub-human state on the streets of Melbourne and beyond. Fourthly, comes the various physical assaults that I received during this homeless existence. On a daily basis I am hounded by flashbacks of these four incidents; flashbacks that occur without warning, leaving me a quivering, delusional wreck.

Over the last few months, ever since becoming unwell, the memories of the emotional abuse I received have been impossible to contend with. I have been regularly conversing with a hallucination of my abuser to the point I devolve into a fuming, shouty monster. Lord knows what my neighbours think of me, for the walls between us are thin, and my voice is raging. I will scream, yell, holler, bellow, bawl and shriek as I replay specific abusive events and attempt to discover why she saw fit to abuse me. I am desperate for answers, desperate for closure, but I know I can never receive it so my voice rages ever louder. I want to know why she decided to destroy my sense of self, why she was so cruel and callous in her criticism and insults, why she worked so hard to drive a wedge between my friends and I, why she decided I didn’t deserve to be in tertiary education and why she decided I should die because “my voice is so boring and monotonous it inflicts pain on everyone I talk to“. I need to know why I deserved the abuse she gave me. But like I said, I know I will never discover these answers, I will never have the closure I need, so how do I cope with it? How do I live with the trauma rather than let it control me?

At least fourteen hours a day are lost to these fuming, shouting sessions. They occur when I’m home, they occur when I’m walking down the street and they occur when I’m surrounded by people in the high street. And I have no idea how to stop it. I have no idea how to cope with these intolerable flashbacks.

My GP believes a new anti-psychotic will help – a week into taking it, it hasn’t. I’ve tried mindfulness techniques. I’ve tried my usual coping mechanisms. I’ve tried CBT and DBT techniques. I’ve tried flooding myself with distraction. But nothing has worked. I always devolve into the shouting, always devolve into the trauma and always allow it to control my thinking, my actions and everything in between.

Hence the question – how to cope with PTSD flashbacks? How do you cope with your PTSD flashbacks? How do you stop it controlling your life?

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5 thoughts on “How to cope with PTSD flashbacks?

  1. I can only tell you what I did when I was in the thick of it, 25 years ago.

    First, if you have access to talk therapy, a good therapist can be helpful with the emotional abuse stuff.

    Second, very very simple forms of mindfulness were the best for me. I would make lists of the things I saw around me. If I was feeling frantic, then I made lists of the things I was frantic about. As a fellow-traveler once told me, sometimes you can’t help but obsess – but maybe you can pick the things you obsess about. List making was a help to me. I told myself that the paper was “holding things” for me, so that I didn’t have to hold them, I could let go of them.

    Third, I found books to get lost in. For me it was old science fiction, space opera stuff; I got a big bag of it from a used book shop and just buried myself in it. For you it might be something else, or it might be movies or old TV shows on youtube. Anything that will allow you to simply forget who you are for a little while can be a relief. It won’t cure anything but it can be a respite.

    Fourth, experiment with what you can do with your body that gives you a feeling of safety. Wrapping tightly in a blanket? Hiding in a tent in the bed? Wearing a hat? The taste of chocolate? The smell of a certain kind of soap? One of the things we learn as babies is to “self-soothe” and if you can figure out something that will soothe you even for a while, it’s golden. It may take some experimenting. For me it was a particular memory, and I would burrow into that memory as if my life depended on it.

    Fifth, ask your doctor about the availability of a support group of people in a similar situation. Sometimes that can be a big help.

    Nothing will “always work” but if you can find a few things that comfort you, you’ll be able to make it through. Others have survived. Good luck.

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    • Sorry it’s taken me a while to respond to your comment. For some reason it got stuck in my spam folder and I’ve only just rescued it from near-oblivion. Your comment is wonderfully kind and helpful, so thank you for taking the time to write! :)

      I recently (a few days ago) asked my GP to refer me to a psychologist so I could have someone to talk to about this subject. I haven’t seen them yet but am looking forward to getting stuck into some talk therapy to try and deal with the emotional abuse trauma that plagues me so. Mindfulness is something that I try to practice as and when I can, unfortunately when I get ‘lost’ to a PTSD flashback it is very difficult for me to pull myself away from it long enough for the mindfulness to work effectively; it does however assist (at times) to preventing the flashbacks from happening in the first place. As for books, I find reading quite difficult at the moment due to depression causing an inability to concentrate, I do however lose myself to TV Shows and movies on DVD and find this does help from time to time. I also have a blanket that I love curling up in for some self-soothing behavior, however, the weather is still very warm where I live in Australia so this tends to heat me up too much and becomes uncomfortable. I’m looking forward to winter when I can do this more often! :) As for the support group, my GP has said there are none for PTSD in the local area. One has just started that deals with anxiety, which I’m thinking of attending one day, but until then I will have to make do with the new psychologist he’s referred me to.

      Once again, thank you for you lovely comment. Wishing you a wonderful day! :)

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  2. Hi
    I have no magic answer but my first thought is that anti psychotics won’t work within a week you will have to take them for at least a month before they will have any sort of effect.
    You have obviously tried most things but DBT is the thing most would refer to. The other thing is trying to move forward rather than asking yourself why. Now some years later it doesn’t matter why, it happened and cannot be changed so the only the only thing is to try and move forward. Try and break down each part down rather than looking at them as a whole. You mentioned the rape but your anger doesn’t seem to have anything to do with that. So concentrate on what the one issue is that most bothers you first then move on to the next. Go one step at a time each issue seperately. It is apparent to me that your anger is based on your second relationship I won’t mention her name, so you need counselling to get this out of your system and move on from that trauma but forget WHY that doesn’t matter the issue is: let’s put this behind me it happened years ago. it cannot be undone but must be sent to the depths of my memory storage unit or better still press the delete button, but easier said than done.
    So list the issues and put them in order and then tackle one at a time.

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  3. A few thoughts came to me upon reading this blog. In my experience u have to try to learn to live with these experiences as u can’t change them . … Easier said than done. U learn to accept them. Easier said than done. But one of the things I did learn was that u don’t let them destroy you. It’s a case, maybe , of letting go . V scary. I know. Don’t know if this makes any sense but it’s the way I cope. One day at a time. xxx

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