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When You Feel a Flashback Going Through Your Body With Complex PTSD

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I was diagnosed with complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) last year. I started experiencing what is known as somatic flashbacks. During these I rarely see visual imagery of my traumatic event that occurred, but I will physically feel it completely. It’s as if my body relives my trauma through physical sensations and tension all over again.

• What is PTSD?

Once I am triggered enough to have one of these flashbacks, there is nothing I can do to calm myself down or regulate my anxiety. My body becomes so extremely tense that my muscles will ache from it. It’s as if it’s holding onto the sense of safety that was stolen from me. My legs will lock up and my whole face will become clenched. I then feel an intense heat through out my body as at the same time I try to bear the tension. I then will start making constant noises sounding like I am in immense pain and being tortured. I will then breathe rapidly out of control. I can squirm at times and I even scream. These attacks can last up for 10 minutes.

This is where my body is remembering. My body is feeling and reliving my trauma right in that moment all over again. The tension is so unbearable that I will clench my lips together and tremble from me trying to bear it. Those who have seen me have these flashback attacks will say my facial expressions have them feel like they are watching me go through my trauma. I’m not at all present while this happens. My body completely takes over, and it’s transported back in time experiencing the horror of it all over again.

The most frustrating thing about these is people assume I am seeing something visually to create the level of fear that is on my face, as most do with flashbacks, but I’m not. It’s not me remembering and it’s not my brain remembering. It’s my body. People will ask “what do you see right now?” Or “can you replace the image that’s so distressing to you?” They don’t realize that I’m in no control at this point and my body is so triggered it responds the way it does. The sensations I can feel in these attacks bring out specific noises that are very telling, so if someone didn’t know what this trauma was they will be able to piece it together after seeing me have one of these flashbacks. That leaves them feeling incredibly unsettling for others. It will leave me with a sense of guilt and self-consciousness. It’s like my loved ones are seeing my worst fear, but also my most vulnerable and exposed self.

It’s like this time I have an audience of who I love watching what happened to me. After these attacks my body will feel so physically exhausted that it will shut down. I will become in an extreme, dissociated trance-like state. I go into the freeze response where I become immobile for up to 30 minutes. After I’m out of these type episodes I can barely move or walk for hours. I’m so physically and emotionally drained that getting upstairs is almost impossible to do.

These somatic flashbacks I have are absolutely hell to go through and yet I can have up to two a day. It’s unimaginable to describe knowing logically you are safe in the present while your body is convinced you are stuck in the past, and there is nothing you could ever do to have it believe otherwise.

Image via Raul Rodriguez

Originally published: January 28, 2021
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