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What it's like to experience emotional flashbacks

December 29, 2014, 5:30 am | This story has an Influence Score of 3673

By riazhussain

Haseena works at an administrative post in an educational institute in Pakistan. She is twenty six- year-old. She is smart, healthy and blessed with a cheerful and smiling countenance. Her colleagues know her for her politeness, punctuality and high work ethics that she observes as a professional. But, at times, her cheerfulness is overshadowed by sudden fits of sadness. During these episodes she looks grim and gloomy. Her eyes become red and watery.  But, only a few people know the reason behind these fits of sadness. She does not unpack her heart to everyone. She tells her close friends that ‘beneath all these smiles and laughers, there is a pain in heart that never goes away’. In such involuntary fits of grief and sadness, she becomes dazed and confused. What is her ‘pain that never goes away’?

Her close friends say these fits of sadness are the flashbacks caused by the painful deaths and suffering of her father and mother. They tell us that in these flashbacks she appears to re-experience the fragments of the pain she had when her father and mother died. Sounds, smells and images of their deaths surround her. She begins to feel the sensations she had when they died in front of her own eyes, leaving her and her siblings alone in the wide and hectic world. Her flashbacks get triggered unintentionally. Most of the time, they get triggered when she is at home. The things and objects which her parents used in their lives remind her of their affection and parental love. There is her father’s favorite chair on which her father sat cross-legged. There is the writing desk on which her father used to scribble his notes. Looking at these and other such things, she begins to sob silently and breaks down into tears. Then she gets lost in her memory lane. She remembers her father surprising her and her siblings with gifts. She remembers her father saying he wished he could live to see his children complete their education. She remembers the wonderful time her family had when her father would take them to the mountains during summer vacations. Amid all these memories, she searches for some support. She tries to feel her couch or bed, grabs a pillow or a blanket to save herself from the onslaught of these flashbacks. She knows very well that she cannot do anything to bring them back but still she is unable to control her flashbacks. ‘Those moments’ haunt her.

Talking about their deaths, she says that her father had his own business.  He got diabetes when he was in his mid-thirties. Then, hypertension affected his kidneys. He went for kidney transplant and this kidney transplant, eventually, cost him his life. His prolonged illness ruined his business. After the transplant, he had become too weak to hold his body together.  He fell down two times and broke his legs. At last, he left the world when he was fifty two-year-old. When people were taking his dead body for funeral, her head throbbed and shook with shock. His death left deep scars in the heart of her mother. She could not bear the shock and fell ill. In the long run, she succumbed to her inner injuries and illness and died.  She could not see three full moons after the death of her husband. These deaths made Haseena develop a listless attitude towards life. But, she had to support her family. So, she took the administrative job to look after her young siblings.

She knows that life can never be same after their deaths. Life does not contain any charm for her now. On the job, she tries to keep herself composed by keeping her sorrows packed in her heart. But, the human mind is a fragile thing. The flashbacks about the blissful moments she spent with her father and mother make her happy but when she realizes the fact that they will never return, tears roll down silently her checks. She sees visuals and her body begins to shake. She finds it hard to organize her thoughts when we ask her about her past. She says, ‘life vanished with the deaths of my parents’.

Flashbacks are not rare phenomenon. They may occur to people who have gone through terrible and traumatic suffering. Flashbacks are common among combat veterans or war veterans who, during action, witnessed people killed in wars. Their deaths haunt them throughout their lives. Flashbacks are portrayed in movies where certain characters get flashbacks about their past experiences. Actually, a flashback is a psychological phenomenon in which an individual psychologically and involuntarily relives elements of a past experience. People can get flashbacks about happy and terrible experiences. Flashbacks create problems for people when they are about unhappy events and traumatic experiences. Flashbacks about traumatic experiences are so powerful and disruptive that they disconnect people from the present situation. They may not be in the present moment even if they are surrounded by crowds. The intensity of flashbacks varies from situation to situation and person to person. There may be people who are fully immersed in the flashbacks and there may be people who remain conscious of the present situation in their flashbacks. Thus, intense flashbacks may render people incapable of carrying out their day-to-day life.

According to therapists, people should try to process their flashbacks in a positive manner. They should not suppress their thoughts and memories. They should try to keep themselves busy. Besides, they can alleviate the onslaught of their terrible flashbacks by unpacking their hearts to some trusted therapist and sincere friends. By talking with their friends about their own past experiences, people undergo catharsis.  Such friendly discussions re-connect them with the world and alleviate their weird fears. Therapists are of the view that people experiencing terrible flashbacks should try to interrupt the flow of their flashbacks. They should try to distract themselves by talking to friends, listening to music, watching a movie or by visiting some scenic spot.  What is important in coping with flashbacks is their own willpower. They should try to keep their hopes alive. When all their efforts fail to contain flashbacks, they should be patient, take interest in the sunny side of life. Flashbacks may take years to settle. Therefore, they should not worry about their mental recovery. Time is a great healer and, eventually, will pull you out of your flashbacks if you don’t lose hope.  Hope is what Hasena has not lost despite going through all the pain and suffering. She says that every day in the early morning she looks at the rising sun that warms the earth with its powerful energy and light. The rising sun is a symbol of life and happiness. It inspires her with hope, energy; courage and confidence that she needs to carry on her daily life.   



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