According to the DSM-5, sufferers of Posttraumatic stress disorder will repeatedly experience at least one of the following intrusion symptoms:
- Unwanted upsetting memories;
- Emotional distress after exposure to traumatic reminders;
- Physical reactivity after exposure to traumatic reminders;
For me, triggering events manifest in extreme anxiety and stress. The sensation is similar to "startle" — racing pulse, shortness of breath, mental logjam — except it lasts hours, coming and going in waves.
But with that, at least, there's a trigger, a clear cause and effect to learn from and avoid (avoidant behaviors being another PTSD staple).
The flashbacks are more troubling and confusing because they only come around in the complete absence of triggers. They sneak in and fill the vacuums of idle time with a weird, seamless alternate reality.
It is sort of like a waking dream. The scene changes go unnoticed. One moment I put my book down, the next I'm in the middle of confusing social situations, struggling to find my footing.
But as with dreams, flashbacks can sometimes be made lucid by recognizing when you're stuck inside one. (The anxiety and stress are a good clue. Haha.)
The most common advice for such situations is to "focus on your breathing". Clear your mind of all thoughts other than inhala on the inhale and exhala on the exhale. Inhaha, exhala, inhala…
Unfortunately in my case, I get easily lost in endless patterns and forget which direction is which, then realize I've forgotten, then choke. Haha.
I have found working my way up and down the alphabet to be more helpful. At least until I reach garbage letters like "J" and "K" and "Q" and "X" and "Z".
Fuck those letters.