Posted on

I keep having terrifying flashbacks


Dear Life Coach,

I can’t stop these thoughts! They play over and over and over again in my mind; my rolling and tumbling against the debris, with the dirty water in my mouth, my eyes and on my skin. I cried out for help, and it seemed that God heard me, because right after that I saw a branch in the water. I grabbed it and thankfully it was still attached to the tree and I hung on for dear life.{{more}} It was pitch black with just a glimmer of light from across the road. I had been washed out of my house and swept down the gully. It was terrifying. Now, when I least expect it, it flashes across my mind – like a movie. It’s in my head day and night; popping up here and popping up there and preventing me from concentrating. I am also anxious whenever I cross a bridge, because it reminds me of everything; I fear I may fall in once again. Please help me get this out of my head!

Movie Head (MH)

Dear MH,

You were swept away in the floods and now you have recurrent flashbacks and you want them gone from your head.

Your Situation:

Given the fact that you were swept away in the flood and spared only with your life, it is clear that you have developed some of the symptoms of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, which can occur in the aftermath of a flood, during the ensuing months. Some of these symptoms are as follows: experiencing a life threatening event; recurrent recollections of the event that causes distress; avoiding anything that is a reminder of the event; hypersensitivity to minor threats; and impairment in social functioning. I will address these briefly.

Experiencing a Life Threatening Event

You were swept out of your house by flood waters and, as such, you came face to face with death. It was unexpected and sudden; you were helpless and vulnerable. You thought that you were going to die. In short, you lived through a nightmare; you were traumatized (placed in a situation that caused psychic pain) – something that no one should have to endure. Fortunately, you made it and are alive to tell the tale.

Recurrent, Distressing Recollections of the Event

Individuals who experience trauma may have recurring memories, dreams or nightmares connected to the event. You are having flashbacks that are so vivid that you feel that you are having the experience all over again.

Avoiding Reminders of the Event

It is natural that passing over a gully would cause you to remember your ordeal and that you would try to avoid it because of its painful associations with that event.

Hypersensitivity to Minor Threats

Individuals who have experienced trauma have a greater sensitivity to small threats in their environment and are therefore more easily aroused, easily startled, hyper-alert, may have sleep problems, anxiety, and difficulty concentrating. They may also experience guilt about surviving while others did not.

Impairment in Daily Social Functioning

With recurrent negative flashbacks, a lack of sleep, poor concentration and hyper-vigilance, the individual who receives no treatment is likely to become impaired in daily social functioning, school or work avoidance, isolation and depression.

What to Do:

See Your Doctor

If flashbacks are frequent and severe, please see your doctor immediately, as anti-depressant and or anti-anxiety medication may be prescribed to provide some relief.

See a Therapist

A therapist may be able to use certain behaviour exposure techniques to help reduce your symptoms and return you to a normal level of functioning.

Group Therapy

Being in a group with other individuals who have experienced life threatening situations will help you to ventilate and provide you with support; the ‘all in the same boat’ experience.

Use the Thought Stopping Technique

Whenever the flashbacks come, say out loud to yourself or in a whisper “Stop!” Then think of something pleasant, for example, a fun day at the beach. Do this every time until the thoughts go away.

Talk With Family and Friends

The more you talk about the event, the quicker your mind will flush out the events of the trauma. It is very important, however, that you talk with individuals who will understand and empathize instead of bring you down. With their affirmation, you will make progress in your recovery.

Stay Involved

Keep yourself busy; stay occupied doing things that you like. Go to work or school. The less time you spend doing nothing, the better off you will be. If you are unoccupied, you will have more time to wallow in sadness and self-pity and moan about the past. As you have more and more positive experiences, the negatives will fade into the past.

MH, negative flashbacks are definitely not nice; they can be distressing and all consuming, but remember, you can only think about one thing at a time. So, stop each thought, then think about the many other wonderful things in your life and eventually the thoughts will go away.

I wish you well as you work to overcome such a traumatic life experience.

Life Coach