What’s an episode like, what happens? PTSD is by nature a very individual tormentor. I don’t believe it’s possible to write a complete generic example of an episode, so this is just my experience. This description was written for my family to try and explain:
In short, it’s terrifying. It is so hard to describe these episodes, as even though I knew I was sitting at a table or lying safe in my bed for example, I experienced a complete flooding of my brain and re-lived the sexual abuse act by act. I felt haunted by his face, could smell his drunk breath, remember his disgusting body and was flooded with actual real-time, as if it were happening, feelings. (Apparently, neurological mapping can demonstrate this flooding clearly). I re-lived it step by step and once it started it was a spiral of fear, every experience linked to another, it was so extreme.
It’s like the past IS the present. I felt like I was going mad. Things I had put in the dark recesses of my brain re-appeared. I would be crying and shaking but unable to make it stop. Then I would find it hard to breathe. There was an overwhelming feeling of being unsafe, as if he was about to get me again. It was so vivid, it was horrific. Afterwards I would feel as if I had been hit by a truck. This would recur a number of times in a short space of time over a period of days or up to a week depending on the severity of the episode. Especially with the first one, the shame at being like this was also unbearable, and as I didn’t have the doctor then it was even more scary as I didn’t understand why / what was happening.
What was even more terrifying was that I wanted to die during these episodes. I’m sorry to tell you that. That’s when I realized how dangerous this was, as that is not like me. I thank goodness for the rational, relatively smart, part of my brain, as I wholly believe without this I would not have survived. During these episodes I could see how easily people in the throes of it would kill themselves and the very fact I could consider dying as an option was just horrific. I didn’t think I could ever face another episode, and never wanted to face that tunnel of despair again.
To know what they’re like and then think you may be in that place again, but maybe that time you won’t be strong enough, is really terrifying.
Alongside the actual episodes, there have also been some pretty spectacular nightmares. I started to become too scared to sleep. It was suddenly impossible to clear my brain of the sexual abuse. Everything was associated, everything reminded me of an experience I didn’t want to remember again. It was like some hideous kind of groundhog day and no amount of positive thinking or distractive activities could get me out.