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Triggered: Trying to Cope with Emotional Flashbacks.

Triggers are something I am still learning about. I know I have many, but for a while, I didn’t fully understand what was happening when I was triggered. It just felt a lot like I was losing control. Other people haven’t always been understanding towards my triggers either – sometimes even deliberately exacerbating them to see if I will “freak out”. I guess my emotional reactions to triggers have provided some entertainment, at least.

A trigger is something which reminds me of previous trauma I have experienced. The thing about complex post-traumatic stress disorder is that my triggers are complex, and there are many. It can happen at any time, in any place and in front of anyone. It can be humiliating. Even more humiliating, when your emotional flashbacks are met with questions and raised eyebrows. I cannot count the number of times someone’s face has given away their scepticism about my mental health problem.

An emotional flashback is what occurs when I am met with a trigger. I have struggled mainly with emotional, as opposed to visual flashbacks. When I experience an emotional flashback, my brain is sending signals to my body that I am re-experiencing past trauma. The emotions that occur are mostly fear, panic and anger and always, without fail, end with depression, shame, and guilt.

There was one particular occasion two years ago when attending an appointment, I became triggered due to being lost and not being able to find the front door of the building I was supposed to enter. I phoned my friend, hyperventilating and shouting, completely losing control of my emotions and being saturated with panic and anger. I was in complete despair and cursing out my entire existence. The emotions that I feel can be all-consuming and difficult to deal with. I appear irrational, and dramatic because the response I am having is better suited to a past traumatic event I experienced: I got lost when driving and my partner at the time attempted to crash the car. So now, being lost is a massive trigger for me.

When I was still driving, for months on end I kept getting lost on the way to work even though I had driven there a million times. There was one occasion I had to pull over and be sick. I would attempt to call my work to explain but would be in such a state of frenzied panic that my ability to cope with working was understandably coming into question. Attempting to deal with these emotional reactions was, at that time, impossible.

A lot of triggers for me are discernible to those around me if I do have an emotional flashback. I have experienced abusive relationships in the past, therefore an obvious (you would think) trigger for me would be aggression, threats of violence or violence. Any harsh words or raised voices can also induce an emotional flashback. However, it is not as uncomplicated as simply an act of violence or a hurtful word that can trigger me and that’s it. Triggers are entirely complex. Something as seemingly trivial as a song can induce feelings of intense fear or anger, or both.

Experiencing emotional flashbacks in the presence of others has been an extremely difficult effect of trauma to deal with. Due to the extremity of my reactions to certain triggers I have been met with many expressions of fear, anger or suddenly, some people have become experts on my triggers and tried to dictate to me what they can and can’t possibly be. Trauma is complex, and so are the effects. If, as an outsider, you witness someone experiencing an emotional flashback and find it confusing, or exhausting – please, try to imagine what it must be like to live every day wondering if today you might be triggered and once again lose control of your emotions in the company of others.

I have so many possible triggers awaiting me on the other side of my door that life is a lot easier for me to just stay inside. I am less likely to become triggered in the safety of my own home, my safe place – or my comfort zone and so I am not often “out and about”. It has been incredibly isolating. I have found myself peering over my social media pages wishing my life was like the ones I can gawk at online.

At times I can feel stagnant in life because I am so controlled by fear that I don’t often leave the house. I don’t often experience anything. Anytime I have been “out experiencing life”, (I am remembering a holiday to Croatia which became a trigger-laden experience for me), I have become overwhelmed at some point. I have found myself wanting to retreat to my safe place.

As I continue to do meditation and use writing as therapy, I am finding the desire to experience life. I have started to set myself daily goals to get out of the house with the intention of building my confidence up and replace the crippling fear that accompanies trauma. I no longer succumb to the weight of the void of depression and find life meaningless anymore, (there are days that are a bit duller but never as black as they once were) but I am still wrestling heavily with fear and with anger.

I am taking steps to deal with these effects of trauma that I deal with daily. Meditation and yoga are helping, I also make sure I eat well and resist emotionally binge-eating as a means of coping as much as possible. I use grounding techniques (which I will write about in a separate blog entry so as not to make my entries entirely too laborious to read) and I read and write as much as I can. I love the escapism of reading and writing; of disappearing into another world in a book or pouring my soul out onto a page. These things provide me with a release, they provide insight and clarity.

Triggers are complex and healing from trauma can be a lengthy process. The wounds are deep and intricate and need to be cared for gently and carefully. If you know of anyone who has suffered trauma, or who has even just had a hard time – please be patient. All people are suffering, and some are in the chaotic phase of healing. I feel as a collective, we need to accept that sometimes there are happenings and behaviours in life that we just don’t understand, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

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Haunted.

your words are woven into my soul
your voice resounds in my head
at night when i close my eyes
i see your smiling face

a grin of malice
of deceit, pain, decay
i feel your grip around my neck
another sleepless night

you’re behind every corner
the driver of every car
you’re every face in every crowd
the echo in my mind

your pain was liquid in a deadly vile
you have poisoned my whole life
what prayer, or cleanse, or ritual
could rid you from my being

my relentless inner demon
you have burrowed deep inside
a constant painful reminder
of the fragility of life

Nightmares – An Exhausting Effect of Trauma

Last night my subconscious was plagued with a series of nightmares. I spent the entire night and early hours waking up suddenly, scared to drift back to sleep, to eventually drift back to sleep and fall back into the same nightmare. Without going into the gruesome details of my trauma (I want to wait until I have received therapy before diving all-guns-blazing into my past), the nightmares I experience are regular and often have the same theme. I am either being chased, attacked by a group of people, or I am being attacked so badly I need help and the people closest to me (in real life) appear in the dream with me, to help I always assume, but then they leave me at the mercy of my dream-land tormentors. My nightmares are a painful reminder that I am still haunted by my past.


I have decided to write about this as the effect these nightmares have on me is palpable. When I wake, I am immersed in the feelings associated with the dream; I wake up terrified and upset. The quality of the rest of my day is flavoured by the previous night’s dreams. Today, for example, I feel exhausted. I had been running, pleading and begging all night. I feel great sadness (which I can only compare to the feeling of grieving), I feel betrayed, scared, wary and I feel alert. I feel very much that I have gone into “protection mode”. I want to stay inside and do very little. The effort to even type this now feels too much, as I don’t want to live and dwell in my nightmares, but I also feel the overwhelming urge to articulate these feelings; to be able to bring life to them and present them in a way that is understandable and relatable to others. I want to raise awareness. Complex PTSD and other mental health issues are not straight forward. They are not easily understood. Trauma is not a simple thing to recover from. It infects every area of your life.


I wake up after nightmares depleted of all energy and usually spend the day thinking “when will this end, when will I get over this, when will I manage to sleep for a full week without having even just one nightmare?”. There are many days where I am plagued with questions. In the absence of therapy (I am still on a waiting list for trauma therapy), I am not entirely sure how to stop these nightmares, but I know that after having them I must approach the rest of my day and endeavours gently. I am usually on edge, irritable or teary-eyed, or I am simultaneously all of these things. The weight of the trauma I have experienced can make me want to retreat into my bed and spend my day under the covers, hiding and pretending life has been paused for a day, just so that I can try and collect myself before facing the day again.


Today I am not putting pressure on myself. I will take the day slowly, I will do things that bring me peace and comfort; writing for example, escaping into the novel I am reading, meditating, a short and gentle yoga practice, burning incense and having a bath with essential oils or spending the day in front of Netflix watching something light-hearted, as a distraction from the deep ache within. This is what is needed on a day like this. I will not be rushing around, tidying and cleaning, or even forcing myself outside, I won’t be exercising and training as I have been – today is a self-care day. I will be gentle, loving and caring towards myself. My mind has been through a lot, and my heart and body are carrying the after-effects of my nightmares.

Healing involves feeling, feeling the pain and doing what you can to alleviate that pain (in healthy ways, if possible). There are days where my confidence is sparkling and so are my eyes, and then other days are like today and my eyes appear dull and my demeanour, sombre. The difference is always noticeable to those around me.


These are the effects of trauma. I need to take things day-to-day, one step at a time because I can be making terrific progress and then be hurled back to square one as soon as I have a nightmare. I strongly believe that by accepting there are not-so-good days and by applying self-care techniques whilst awaiting therapy, eventually, the nightmares will stop. The pain will lessen. It is already happening. It just takes time.


Self-care and self-love are “techniques” everyone should be practising. If you feel low or worrisome – do something for yourself. Do something you enjoy. Give yourself permission to slow down, to take a nap, to throw on your favourite sitcom and binge-watch it until you feel a little better, take a bath, read your favourite magazine… Do what you can to take time for yourself, to carry and care for the pain you are feeling.


It is not selfish to love yourself. It is essential. Take the time you need for yourself.

Sophia

Divine energy flows from within
the feminine
SHE is me
I am her

We dance together in circles
my heart aligned with hers
She is love, beauty and joy
She protects, She defends

She is my warrior
my honour
my love
my kind and patient mother

Never alone am I
I never have been, never will be
I have always been her
SHE has always been me



Machiavelli – A Poem

my mind is plagued with questions
about this current conflict
and i wonder why
we are enemies at war

i feel attacked
and the reason
escapes me
you have hated
alienated
lied about and blamed me

so vicious
such poison
it’s unnerving
put yourself in my position
ask yourself
am i truly deserving?

my authenticity scares you
truth makes your blood run cold
how long before
your closet of skeletons
swallows you whole?

the suffocating fog finally ascends
a thought pierces
and i wonder

am i just a mirror?
do i reflect what you don’t want to see?

do you reflect my pain
back onto me?

i know you have scars
a multitude
like stars they glisten and gleam
with a blinding sparkle
of painful deceit

yes, i know you were broken
just like me

so i will throw down my sword
but keep up my shield
we both know that pain
is a skillful enemy

i will keep you at a distance
we’ll stay far apart
but i know that the wounds
are the same on our hearts