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First Person: Flashbacks, Acorns & White Stripes

FLASHBACK – I am sitting in front of my desk. Thoughts run through my mind soooo sloooowwly. My movement mimics this; I am paralyzed, welded to my seat. What am I doing here? What’s wrong? Why can’t I stand? There is no point in standing. There is no point in being.

Flashbacks can resurface unwanted; buried memories reappear uninvited. Familiar smells and past haunts can elicit such powerful emotions. They come in a rush, flooding every orifice, every space of your being. Reaction can be both emotional and physical, as a vivid spectrum of images erupt. Before you know it, you are right back in ‘that place’ as old thoughts are ignited. Suddenly, you go from being stable and in charge of your psyche, to bowing to its every whim. Sucked into a vortex that is the flashback. I feel plagued by the depressive horrors of my past. For me these memories are hypnotic, their wrenching power pulling me ever further down the rabbit hole.

Response from others when I talk about my flashbacks is matter of fact: It is not real.  You can deal with it.

That may be, but the feeling is very visceral and very real. If you have ever experienced flashbacks you will know exactly how real they seem. They take you right back to that moment…it is as if you are re-living the experience which can leave you feeling lonelier than ever. They are a constant haunting reminder of the struggles you have been through, and they can happen at any time.

It has been three years since the worst of the flashbacks. For a while I pushed them down, deep inside of me. I was embarrassed to admit the effects they had. This however, only led to eruptions in the form of panic attacks. From what I have learnt, you are presented with two options: Let the images and thoughts catch you in their rapture, allowing the talons to wind around your mind; or stand your ground.

I was taught how to handle and address these thoughts and behaviours so I could tackle my problems bit by bit, thus keeping the anxiety and depression at bay. I am reminded of what I learnt from the White Stripes song ‘Little Acorns’. The song opens with the story of a girl called Janet. She watches as a squirrel stores up acorns for the winter. Janet thinks if the little squirrel could take care of itself, so could she. The advice of Jack White is then to rip all your problems apart and carry them off in a shopping cart. However, I think the likes of Tesco, Asda and Sainsburys (to name a few) would have something to say about the mass stealing of shopping trolleys. So I do not advise that.

However, what I have taken from the song is to view my thoughts as acorns, so I can better take charge of my state of mind. Thoughts are easier to deal with this way. Therefore, just like the squirrel storing acorns, I replace deluded acorns with healthy acorns. For example, with flashbacks, I have to remember: This is just a reminder of the past. That was then, and this is now. Even though this memory makes me feel upset, it’s not actually happening again.

In times when the flashbacks cause me to compare my current self to my past ‘more controlled’ self, the result is disheartening as if, in comparison, I am somehow worse off now. I end up looking back with longing at the time I felt safe and secure, numbed from the world by depression.  Sounds perverse, but that’s how I would feel.  Luckily, I now know better.  I can control my thoughts when a flashback hits:  Am I doing that ‘compare and despair’ thing? What would be a more balanced and helpful way of looking at it? I must remember what depression took from me – emotion, feeling, joy, friends, a job, a life.

Flashbacks: Don’t lose yourself to the illusion. How do you deal with yours?

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