I’m driving in my car on my way to work this morning. It’s a little after 8 and I’ve just dropped my daughter off at daycare. I’ve been up since 5:30 and already done 50 minutes of yoga and 20 minutes of prayer and meditation as well as gotten a shower. This is my morning routine and yoga was sweaty and felt good. My mind was incredibly distracted during meditation though. It was as if it could sense what lied ahead.
I’m driving. Traffic is slow, but I don’t mind because I have plenty of time and an audio book playing that I’m really into. It’s called Man Seeks God by New York journalist Eric Weiner. After a health scare and a nurse posing a very nerve wracking question of “have you found your God yet,” the answer being no, as a non religious Jewish born journalist, he sets off on a quest to find “his” god. He does this by “shopping” religions.
Of the over 9000 registered religions, he narrows it down to 9 he will try out. First he tried Sufism, which was a new religion to me. Buddhism was next and I learned so much I didn’t know about the religion. I found it so fascinating and, combined with the author’s humor, I was hooked. Next was Christianity, my claimed religion, but shadowing a monastary that runs a homeless shelter in the Bronx of New York, one dedicated to live in poverty BY CHOICE because it’s a blessing had me insightfully looking at living in poverty and hating it NOT by choice. NEVER by choice. I was getting so much out of the book (and still am) and then it switched to Raelic, a very absured sounding religion with the belief aliens created us to live happy lives and satisfy our sensual desires and all of a sudden it triggered a flashback. Bam! And like that, I was teleported through time and space, reliving an awful moment in life all over again before being spit back in the current day and time, shaking, weak, and doused with mental dissociative fugue and fogginess of my mind.
I pulled up to work quite shaken up and disassociated. Instantly I felt a rise in my base anxiety. I felt physically and mentally exhausted. Flashbacks are so incredibly physically draining for me. I was very disconnected from my body and felt so numb as I turned off my car and went inside. I felt confused. Everything felt familiar and so different. I felt like I hadn’t left work the day before and simply walked out the door at the end of my shift and walked back in. I couldn’t even begin to communicate this with anyone so I kept to myself and tried to focus on my breathing instead before my shift started.
My anxiety grew over my confusion of the day and not being able to ground myself back into the present moment. I helped two coworkers with book delivery at the library. I discussed this religion with my coworker who is well versed in subjects like this and tend to have insightful deep conversations with. Another coworker who had heard something about this very strange religion chimed in and they laughed about it.
I wasn’t laughing. Refraining from mentioning the memory of the flashback I had been teleported to, I instead compared it to another psych hospital experience with two patients who got into a very heated fight over which one was the true prophet of God. I have been to 6 psychiatric hospitals mostly for miraculously failed suicide attempts which should have killed me. I have strong conviction God has chosen me for a purpose and that I have unique abilities to sense energies in this world most can’t. I started to deeply worry my entire reality was really just delusional insanity and the people around me all just humor crazy Liz. I was completely broken from reality and the only bit of sanity I could hold onto was the realization I was no longer in reality, or at least not the same reality that those outside of me were witness to.
With that, the flashback came back, gripping me with a death vice grip, teleporting me once again through time and space, and then spewing me back to where I was in a flash so quickly, it was undetectable to those right beside me. I wanted to leave work. I couldn’t though. I’m taking some days off this week and next for different reasons and I have exhausted my PTO so I tried to suppress the emotions worsened by the second trip without having begun to recover from the first.
I shelved books the rest of my shift and fought tears and avoided talking to anyone. I wrote a poem:
how can i say i’m not okay
whence you ask me why
my reply would be
i had more than a memory
Flashbacks are so much more than a memory. Memories are past events in your life you remember. Most of my flashbacks’ memories are events I can only remember when flashing back. Also memories might make you feel sad or angry, etc when remembering them, when interrupted from thought, knowing exactly where you are and the day and time whereas flashbacks teleport you through time and space and your mind and body are transformed to the past you and like the cruelest form of torture, you are forced to relive that same experience, helpless to change it or do anything about it; your world enters a paradox unbeknownst to anyone else. When you’re spat back to the current day and time, your mind is so befuddled. There’s this mental sticky residue left from the travel. Exhaustion and confusion plague you. Time is lost and the aftershock is almost worse than the flashback. Oh no, flashbacks are not memories. They are more.
I left work. I had an hour when I got to my side of town before I needed to be at church to update the chalkboard for our Wednesday fellowship dinners which I was excited when asked two weeks prior to undertake. I could feel myself in a disassociated dream and was desperate to wake up, and was scared. I decided eating might help so I ran to the store and grabbed an herbal tea and vegan peanut butter cup, a comfort food. I couldn’t bring myself to eat but I nursed my tea and made up my mind to go to church early and spend time alone in the sanctuary. God. I need God. I don’t know what else to do I thought.
I sat alone and wrote. I thought getting the memory out would help. It was on paper but I didn’t feel much release. I needed to cry but the tears no longer wanted to come. I can’t cry in my disassociated dream state and it’s painful like needing to throw up but being unable. It was 10 minutes past but I knew my pastor was in a meeting anyway, so I prayed and then found her. She asked how I was. I forced a superficial “fine” and further forced some more small talk to be polite.
Alone in a large storage space with the chalkboard easles, I updated the fellowship dinner menu and on the other one the inspirational verse while listening to music. Once again I wanted to cry. I wanted to talk to someone. I thought it might help if I could share my memory of the flashback with someone and give me the release I needed. I decided after I was done, I would see if I could talk to my pastor for a minute.
When I went up she was working but said it was okay for me to come in. For whatever reason, probably because I was vulnerable from already being disassociated, my anxiety climbed into response mode. I began to jump at every noise. My thoughts completely jumbled inside my head as I kept laughing uncomfortably and apologizing. Used to this by now from me, she was patient and kind. After rambling (a sign of my high anxiety) I got to the memory, but it was too much to recall and my mind completely went offline. I tried to pull out my notebook I had just journaled in with the intent of just reading the memory but I realized, terrified, I couldn’t make sense of the marks on the page. I apologized and said nevermind and thanked her and got up to leave but before I could get out she asked if I was okay.
I stopped and turned and feeling completely helpless, said in complete honesty, “I don’t know.” Comeplete hopelessness filled and penetrated my every pore and cell and fiber of my body.
“Do you want me to pray?”
I sighed relieved. “Yes,” I said. This was what I wanted. I wanted to pray with someone. I always feel like pastor prayers are more powerful than regular prayers, though I think both of my pastors would deny this. She came and sat beside me, per my request, and she prayed. I don’t remember anything she said; I just remember feeling relieved. I am someone who believes in the power of prayer and felt like this was good and would help like taking medicine you know will help your pain even if you have to wait 15-30 minutes for it to kick in. It was like I was getting medicine.
I thanked her and left for real this time, got my daughter, swung by my moms house and got some alcohol (only a few bottles of pumpkin ale now sitting in my fridge) and came home. I’ve been on edge with my daughter and we were both yelling at each other after she decided to squeeze an entire juice bottle on the floor for whatever reason (she’s 5). I tried to call a friend but he didn’t pick up so I wrote instead. Because this is what I do when the world feels overwhelming; I write. I write in hopes someone will care and understand and that someone else will be struggling too and find comfort in not being alone and being able to relate.
I think what’s hardest for me about such bad PTSD is never knowing what, when, or where a flashback will get triggered. It was an audio book about faith. There are some things I know are horrible triggers and I avoid (ie certain songs, sexual talk and movies, books or anything about rape or mental health issues, classroom settings, etc) but most triggers, certain words, smells, new songs, etc are completely unforeseeable. There was no reason this book should make me cautious and I have a feeling nothing else in the book will be a problem. I hate it. I hate my disorder. I hate flashbacks. I hate disassociation dream state. I hate appearing normal and present when I’m fighting hell in another reality. But I guess if I can say anything I don’t hate, it’s that I’m grateful I have people in my life who will try to listen and care, who stay present even when I can’t. I’m grateful I’ve come far enough to talk about my experiences so that I can help others. I’m grateful I survived all of my near fatal suicide attempts and that I’m alive. I will keep fighting and reading and learning and talking. I will use my darkness to allow Gods light to shine brighter in me and the darkness will not overcome. Thank you for reading this. Namaste.