Out of nowhere

It came out of nowhere. Overwhelming pain more present than memory, as if lifted up and planted back in that moment, that time, with no escape, no recourse but to live, once again, those minutes; to experience again the emotions, visceral as they were, searing as they were that first time.

Perhaps the day had got to me, perhaps I was tired… who knows. Whatever it was, watching my son in the dentists’ chair triggered a flashback of an intensity that I have not experienced in the past three years. It still wasn’t as bad as it used to be. Nowhere near. This time I was, at least, aware of reality and could move through it. The past overlaid the present instead of erasing it as it used to. Even so, I have long since ceased to be on guard against such things and it caught me by surprise.

When it first started, when my son was released from hospital and I could begin to breathe again the hope of a long road to recovery, when there was the possibility of relaxing a little the reins on emotion, the pressure on the floodgates was too much…PTSD set in and the flashbacks were severe. A whiff of a particular aftershave, a colour, a phrase… all could have me frozen for long minutes in a supermarket aisle. Back then it could happen once a blue moon or ten times a day, and at night there were the nightmares that woke you screaming. I feared sleep; feared what I would see in dream. I did not dare to drive. It is difficult to describe how utterly these things overwhelm your senses, emotions and reactions.

The treatment was to relive the misfiled memories deliberately, facing each one, over and over, in an effort to desensitise, and in order to re-file them properly. The logic is that such memories were too much, too traumatic and were hastily shoved in a dark corner instead of being properly dealt with; instead of being consigned to archives of the past they are allowed to lie around the surface of memory, falling open whenever they choose and dragging you into a ‘present’ that is really a replay of the past.

It is normal to look back on a traumatic event with horror. Normal to have the occasional nightmare, to weep with pain or shake with remembered fear at memory of extreme distress or to have those memories resurface and replay in the mind. PTSD doesn’t work like that. It is a time machine. You are there.

The treatment is traumatic in itself. But it works. Eventually.

What it cannot do is completely erase the subliminal triggers because there are potentially so many, both real and symbolic. Today it may have been the combination of the antiseptic atmosphere, the masks and the sound of the oral suction machine… it may have been, but it could just as easily have been the dentist’s aftershave. Impossible to tell. Whatever it was, for half an hour I shook, sweated, and fought back tears, whilst striving to present the appearance of normality, caught between reliving and reality, though with, thankfully, a perfect grasp this time on the reality of now.

And this time my son was there, and himself. That was then; this is now… the litany with which you finish each of those therapeutic relivings.

Ani met me as I came in and, unusually, came for cuddles. I needed that while I took a deep breath and decided what to do. Did I write about it? Yes. Not for sympathy, because none is needed. Not for pity, or even understanding. That was then; this is now. And this was merely a minor, if unpleasant, hiccough in the greater scheme of things.

Why, then, write about it at all?

Because PTSD is a hugely misunderstood effect of trauma. I found that while most people know of post-traumatic stress syndrome few have any knowledge of what really it is and what it can do to those affected by it. It can happen to anyone following an incident of sufficient gravity… not only soldiers on the front line; it can happen after road accidents, war, natural disasters, terrorist attacks, rape, abuse and violence… the list goes on.

It is estimated that almost 260 million people had PTSD last year alone.

I would never have thought it could happen to me. You don’t… you’re ‘not that type’ of person. Except, there is no ‘type’. The truth is it can affect anyone witnessing or experiencing horrific events and the helplessness that goes with them. There are all the usual studies and diagnostic guidelines, but the variables are endless.

The strange thing is that knowing all this, there is still a lingering stigma attached to PTSD, the insidious trace of shame that defies the circuits of logic because you ‘didn’t cope’. And that says an awful lot about how society handles such things, even today. It took until 2006 before there was sufficient understanding of the condition that shell-shocked, court-martialled ‘deserters’ from WWI were pardoned posthumously by the British government.

It’s worth thinking about.

If you or someone you know may be suffering the effects of PTSD please seek help from your local health professional or through one of the many specialist organisations. Support on both professional and personal levels make a huge difference and there can be light at the end of the tunnel.

About Sue Vincent

Sue Vincent is a Yorkshire-born writer and one of the Directors of The Silent Eye, a modern Mystery School. She writes alone and with Stuart France, exploring ancient myths, the mysterious landscape of Albion and the inner journey of the soul. Find out more at France and Vincent. She is owned by a small dog who also blogs. Follow her at scvincent.com and on Twitter @SCVincent. Find her books on Goodreads and follow her on Amazon worldwide to find out about new releases and offers. Email: findme@scvincent.com.
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26 Responses to Out of nowhere

  1. I had a similar experience recently. Was in a car accident, totaled car, could not bring myself to buy the same one even though I loved it because I got a sort of panic feeling just seeing the vehicle at the collision shop!


  2. alienorajt says:

    Thank you for your courage in sharing this, Sue. My heart goes out to you, and I wish I had been near enough to give you a hug. You are right, though: There is still stigma, and misunderstanding, attached to PTSD – and judgement on one’s temporary inability to cope. There is, as you say, no type: It is indiscriminate, affecting strong and weak, rich and poor alike.
    Now, I am going to share it on; I think this is a must-read piece. xxx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sue Vincent says:

      Thank you, Alienora. Hugs matter.. but Nick gave me one and under the circumstances, that was probably the perfect antidote.

      I was a tad put out though that it could still sneak up on me like that. xxx


  3. You are a special lady. ❤ ❤ ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pete Hulme says:

    Thanks, Sue, for having the courage to share this. I will be sharing this tomorrow on my blog, if you don’t mind. The points you make are vitally important.


  5. sknicholls says:

    Wow! That’s something, and so very visceral. Not nearly as much a traumatic event, but every time I am around carnations and smell their fragrance I am immediately transported back to my mother’s funeral and that was when I was eight years old. The sights, sounds and feelings are all there. The first time it happened, I was in the supermarket and looked down to see the white gloves on my hands that I had worn to the funeral. It was surreal. A flashback, all around me were funeral flowers, the songs in my ears, the pastor and people. I could not imagine going through what you’ve been through. PTSD is like that, though, and no there is no type of person. It just happens….an odd glitch in the way our brain is wired.


    • Sue Vincent says:

      The flashbacks are all encompassing, aren’t they? PTSD seems to have a lot to do with the ‘fight or flight’ response that doesn”t switch off when it should, as well as the filing of memory.
      For a child of eight that must have been a horrendous upheaval with so many emotions to process and such a helpless place to be. x


  6. Really well written. I wish the treatments for PTSD were more consistently effective. At least here in the States, there are a lot of approaches which don’t necessarily work equally well for everyone. Getting the RIGHT help can be difficult. Thanks again.


    • Sue Vincent says:

      Recognising PTSD is possibly the hardest as avoidance is a common symptom… many simply turn away from anything that reminds them. Then finding the right help, as you say, is often difficult. Support from friends and family seems to play a vital part, but it is often all too hard to see beyond the symptoms of the pain to the cause and many who should be close are alienated.
      But there is help and it can be adressed.


  7. Éilis Niamh says:

    Hi Sue. Many many hugs. I get flashbacks too. I haven’t had to deal with nearly as much trauma as you’ve been through but I’m still dealing with PTSD and its recalcitrant ability to rear its head unexpectedly. I wish I could say I do this well when this happens to me, but have compassion for yourself. More hugs.


  8. theowllady says:

    I”m so sorry this happened to you and applaud you for sharing. @v@ ❤


  9. Pingback: Recommended Link: Out of Nowhere | Everybody Means Something

  10. Pingback: Moving Past PTSD triggers | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

  11. Wonderful article, Sue – especially since it underlines the reality that PTSD triggers aren’t always as predictable as many people believe. Sometimes we can trace the link, other times we cannot – and NONE of us *want* to continue to suffer.

    The event that began it all will never leave your memory, of course, but I hope that now you are no longer at the effect of PTSD triggers at all, much less to this level. Brave post – and braver still to be willing to share almost three years later. Thank you.


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