I had a flashback today. They don’t happen very often, but when they do, they shake me to the core.
It started with an argument at home. In a moment of anger and frustration as he stormed out of the room, he shoved a floor fan on the other side of the bed, knocking it over. He hadn’t meant to scare or startle me. In that brief moment of frustration, he had lashed out without thinking, not even realising the effect it might have on me.
It was an instant trigger for me.
I know he has never hit me or laid his hands on me in any way. I know he isn’t even normally explosive like that. I know he’d never hurt me nor would he ever intentionally do anything to scare or trigger me. Yet, in that moment, everything I knew flew right out the window.
I was suddenly that 8-year-old girl again, that girl that knew when things went flying it was only a matter of moments until the pain began. I was that little girl again, scrambling off the bed and cowering in the corner of the room in a tight ball, wishing I could shrink down to nothing and fade away. I was that girl again, panicked because my arms were too tiny to shield myself, that I didn’t have enough arms to block the whirlwind of hits and kicks I knew were inevitably coming.
I don’t know if my flashbacks are the same as other people’s because I wouldn’t dream to even ask anyone else with PTSD how their attacks play out. I do know, though, that my mind works differently than many people’s. You see, among other issues, I have a condition called aphantasia. In simplest terms, I cannot visualise. When most people are told to imagine an apple, they can create an image of an apple in their mind. Though I know what an apple is and can list all types of factual things about an apple, I cannot form an image of one in my mind. The same goes with memories. I can list all types of facts about an occasion but I cannot create an image of it from memory.
Because of that fact, my flashbacks do not have images from my past. My body, however, remembers other things. I’ve always considered it a type of muscle memory of sorts, triggered by my PTSD. My mind has retained how those blows felt raining down again and again so when I am pulled back into my past for a flashback, it is those sensations and memories and not visualisations that I experience again.
As I lay curled up in a ball in the corner, I swear I could feel that barrage of swings and kicks as if they were happening right at that moment. My ribs ached from blows delivered back when I was a child. I struggled to catch my breath as the wind I breathed decades ago felt knocked out of me again. I felt I needed to protect myself, shield my head and my body, bracing myself for damage long healed. I could feel bruises blossoming on my skin as a far off voice that felt disconnected and not my own pleaded to not be hurt, cried for it to stop, begged to be left alone. I was trapped in that moment, reliving the abuse of my childhood.
I was vaguely aware of his presence and of disjointed words being said that seemed to disperse before they ever reached my ears. Though some small part of me recognised his presence, he felt no more real at that moment than I did. The only thing that felt real was that scared little child who desperately wanted to protect herself from any more hurt.