Emotional Flashbacks Don’t Have to be Destabilising

Mauve Daisies 2020, photograph

I had an emotional flashback on Monday. I had a deadline for an expression of interest for an art project yesterday. I feel wiped out today. An emotional flashback results in my body going into shock. There are no visual memories, which is why I sometimes find it confusing to understand – seeing is believing, right? It is purely a bodily reaction to a past trauma. My extremities go very pale and I shiver. It’s when I start shivering that I think, ‘wait, what’s going on?’ 

I don’t remember the exact point it starts, just when I’m in it. I’d been reading an article about Dance Movement Therapy for sexually traumatised women and there must have been a reaction to something in that. I moved from my computer to sit on the sofa with my feet on a footstool. Wrapped in a blanket, I closed my eyes and watched my breathing. I noticed how it was like the sea. I stayed with this sense of the sea, hearing and feeling my breathing. 

Red Daisies 2020, photograph

After an hour the shivering stopped and I had to pick up my van from its MOT. As I walked through town I felt my feet connecting with and pushing against the pavement. The breeze and sun kissed my skin. I put my attention on my glutes and noticed how they worked in conjunction with my feet. My heart was beating fast; there was still some anxiety present. Eventually my heart rate  slowed down and I felt like more of me had returned to my body. It’s really important to be mindful during and after an emotional flashback. It brings me into my body and reminds me that it is my body, and it’s not for use by anyone else.

a photo of seed pods taken from below with the sky above them.
Blue Sky 2020, photograph

Two days after the emotional flashback I notice my intention and action get slightly mixed up. For example, when I intend to delete a space in this text, I add one instead. I chuckle and then, with conscious effort, I delete both spaces. Lots of little things like that are occurring so everything is harder work than usual. I was going to drive up North for university today, but noticing these things makes me realise I need a couple more days to recover before a long drive. I spent the whole day in bed yesterday. I was working – writing, coaching, posting, applying, but from the comfort of my bed.

In the past I would have criticised myself for not being able to carry on at ‘normal’ speed but I’ve learnt to be compassionate with myself instead. It makes such a difference. Emotional flashbacks don’t have to be destabilising – using mindfulness and compassion take the judgement away. Judgement makes everything feel bad.

Red Sky 2020, photograph

Whilst in bed yesterday I edited some photographs that I took whilst walking by the beach and along the canal in Lancashire. You can see them in this post. I’m really enjoying playing with the features of my editing app. This is another important part of recovery: doing things we enjoy.

6 thoughts on “Emotional Flashbacks Don’t Have to be Destabilising”

  1. hi Julia, I understand the inability to function at normal speed due to mental trauma of one sort or another. But you sound like you do function even if its from the bed! I seem to just stop and it takes me ages to start again. As a result I have missed out on loads of opportunities in recent years. I hope you are feeling better.

    1. Hey Margaret, yes, it’s true that I do function to a degree now (there was also a lot of spacing out whilst in bed). It hasn’t always been the case. I’ve also missed out on loads of opportunities. It sucks doesn’t it? ❤️

  2. What is normal? Opportunities come when least expected. Don’t think of it as missing opportunities but accept it wasn’t the right time to take them up. Sometimes being in bed when you feel like this, is what is most important. Be kind to yourself. I have a back injury when I can’t make art and find my bed the best place, but I can read and write there or listen to Praxis Webinars. This is my normal. Love to you both.

    1. What is normal indeed. You’re right; it’s different for everyone. And the practice of being kind does help enormously. Sounds like you respond to the conditions in ways that work for you. <3 Melissa

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