|Sometimes, it's all you can do to just pick up a book...|
I've have mentioned in previous posts about my knack for modifying my own memory - it is something I have done unconsciously since I was a young girl. I still have no recollection at all of my grandfather's funeral when I was 13, though I know I attended and was inconsolable. But I don't remember it. Lost memories are only half the story though and while ignorance is bliss - what you can't remember can't hurt you, right? - the flashbacks that inevitably follow are anything but.
There was a time when I thought a flashback was just a lazy story-telling technique used by third rate novelists. Then I started having them myself. At first I didn't even know they were flashbacks. I'd be doing something mundane, like driving my car to the supermarket, when suddenly my mind would be filled with images, sounds, smells and conversations from the past. It was like watching a movie in my own mind, of my life as it was several years, sometimes decades, earlier. It would be over quickly to begin with and I'd just shake my head and think "Well, that was weird!" and carry on with whatever I was doing.
The flashbacks themselves were not horrific and nothing terrible happened in them - they were just weird and strange and disorienting. Sometimes I'd flashback to good times I'd forgotten as well, but while the memories were pleasant the flashback experience was still tough to get through. This is because a flashback isn't quite the same a memory - it isn't just a case of sitting there reminiscing. Flashbacks are like an assault on your mind, you have no control over them at all, you cannot make them stop and there is usually no warning as to when one will show up to ruin your day. They leave you exhausted, shaken, trembling in a cold sweat and totally drained of energy. To put it bluntly, they're a bitch, but you just have to get through them and move on with your day. This is much easier said than done!
For me the worst time was 2011 - 2013. Not only were the flashbacks happening everyday, but I had two separate bereavements to contend with also. It was a dark place and I was bloody miserable for a bloody long time, but I soldiered on and got through it somehow.
Of course, as soon as I realized something strange was going on I looked for answers. I sought the help of two doctors. One ignored me completely and the other fobbed me off with Vitamin D supplements, which did nothing to help me at all, though I expect my bones were grateful to him at the time. I wasn't so grateful and we had something of a doctor/patient domestic! It was obvious that the NHS wasn't going to step up to the task and ride in to rescue me, so being a bolshie Bruce I decided to just set about fixing myself. I had a long think about it and then looked to the one place that has never let me down - I looked to the page and found the help I needed in the form of books on healing, stress, trauma etc. These books helped me to make sense of what was going on and why people suffer flashbacks in the first place. I also started to keep a healing journal in summer 2012 and I believe that this was the turning point for me. As soon as I began to document the flashbacks and how they made me feel etc, the flashbacks began to ease off - not immediately, but within six months I felt I had a way to deal with it, and within a year I felt I had a firm grip on the problem, and within two years I knew that the worst was behind me and I was on the mend.
I also found help, understanding and kindred spirits in random meetings with military men. These men knew exactly what I was experiencing as they experienced it themselves. They called it PTSD. They were a great help to me, so I began to read more books, this time looking for titles about mental resilience and mind-training written by servicemen, recommended to me by a soldier and ex-RAF guy. Again, the page didn't let me down, and these military books gave me the information I needed to keep on getting myself better and to speed up my recovery.
I still forget things now and then, so my next task is to work on improving my short-term memory. I'm happy to report that the flashbacks have pretty much ceased for the most part, and my life is back to normal. I feel strong again and back in control and I'd like to thank all those readers who left comments, tweets and emails for me following the bereavements - they really did help me a lot. And that's the reason for this super long post. I wanted to write out my experiences so that if you, or someone you know, is dealing with something similar, you can find the books that were of huge benefit to me in my recovery. I hope you have better luck with your doctor than I had with mine, and while I can't conjure up a couple of hot military men to assist you, I can pass on what I know...start a healing journal and write all the flashbacks down; get them out of your head and pin the little blighters down on the page. Read as much as you can about self-healing, trauma etc. These are the books that I found most useful and they are all available from Amazon UK;
Healing from Trauma; A Survivors Guide to Understanding Your Symptoms and Reclaiming Your Life by Jasmin Lee Cori
Self-Compassion by Kristin Neff, PhD
The NHS let me down, but the Military came through for me at the darkest hour so when you begin to feel a tad stronger try these...
Unleash the Warrior Within by Richard 'Mack' Machowicz
The Way of the Seal by Mark Divine
Unbeatable Mind by Mark Divine.
I hope this post finds those who need it most and that it proves helpful to them. Let me know how you're getting on at firstname.lastname@example.org
Love to you all