On Flashback and Fear

Trauma Fuel

The reflection that you are about to read, I wrote in November last year on the night of the Paris attack. That was the night of my last rather bad flashback. My kids fell asleep and I turned the TV on so unprepared for what I was about to hear. I saw the news report and the space around me narrowed in an instant. It felt like a vacuum that is pulling me to a place that I am desperately trying to avoid. But I couldn’t do it. There was no avoidance and no way out. That night I relived the worst six hours of my life when the house I lived and worked in was stormed by six suicide bombers ready to execute their plan while I was convinced that my colleagues and I were living through the last hours of our lives…

After the flashback on the night of the Paris attack, I went to my bedroom where my daughter was sleeping and lied down next to her gently so I don’t wake her up. I was crying so much, I made the pillow wet. I put my arm around her as if she was my little raft for me to hold on to and not sink further down. Then, I heard my son getting off his bed and his tiny feet tapping across the hallway into my bedroom. He climbed up on the bed, squeezing himself in between his sister and me, oblivious to the inner drama that I was going through and put his little arm around my neck, falling asleep. As always, their mere existence managed to calm me down, steady my breathing and my heart rate, like my two little lifejackets that keep me on the surface of the ocean of terror.

I took a deep breath, placed my computer on my lap and started writing…

‘I cannot begin to explain how I feel after hearing the news about the attacks in Paris tonight. Am I pissed off? Outraged? Terribly sad? Or desperate to learn that somehow, somewhere I am not surprised and I feared that this would happen. Paris? Is it a surprise? Only a few hours after the attacks, while the hostage situation still lasted, some analysis came out indicating that as shocking as they are these attacks should not come as a surprise, neither should location.

I cried. I cried when I heard the news and I felt physically weak. My hands started to shake, my heart was pounding, I couldn’t breathe and I couldn’t sit still, but I walked in circles in our living room while I was searching for the news on BBC or ITV or Channel 4 or any news channel, so I could get some live updates about the situation in Paris. There were none, I couldn’t find any update on TV and I started to panic. My palms started to sweat and I opened my Facebook account on my laptop, my Apple news on my iPad and my Twitter on my phone and I was not happy with the speed of the live updates! I wanted all the numbers, the actions, the statements, the reports and I wanted them all now. And the whole time, I cried. I am crying now while I’m typing this because I remember and I understand the noise, the fear and the terror of the victims, the hopelessness and powerlessness, the feeling of seeing your end and being convinced that you will not come out of there alive. Those who do survive, they will not believe it and will be wondering how did they survive.

The noise is constant. Those short moments when there is no noise, the fear is louder and tangible. Eerie silence. Then the noise starts again and death appears and people lose their lives. Just like that. I can’t stand the noise now. Once one life is taken, the death stays there, it lingers on. You think about your end, you see it coming and you think about your worst fears and you hope they don’t come true in your final moments. You hope that you will not go in pain, that you will not suffer too much as if the fact that you think about all this and the fact that you found yourself in this situation is not suffering enough. You think how powerless you are and how there is absolutely nothing you can do to change the situation you’re in. But you don’t say it out loud. When it comes to saying out loud, you say ‘we will get out of here’, ‘we will be ok’. And you don’t believe it. You know it is not true.

The fear doesn’t go away. It stays with you, you just learn to live with it. Fear and you adjust to each other. You get better, you process the trauma, you deal with it in different ways, you overcome it to a certain extent and the fear adjusts to it. It changes size, it changes shape and it changes you.

You will never be the same person again. I am not the same person.’

I analysed my emotions so many times before that night and I knew my fears and my triggers but this time, I dwelled on it long enough to wrap it up in words stamp it with ‘outgoing’ and ship it out of me. No, it is not as easy as writing a couple of paragraphs, I am most certainly not saying that. But I lived the fear every single day for over five years and that was the night I distanced myself from it successfully. My stress level goes up, naturally, when I hear the news of yet another terrorist attack, but I don’t dwell on my fear for as long anymore.

Since the Paris attack, there were many terrorist attacks, unfortunately, Ankara, Istanbul, Beirut, Bamako, Brussels to name only a few. There are whole countries experiencing them on a daily basis and every time I hear about them I grab my two little rafts to get me trough the day because that is what I learnt: to take things a day at a time. Day by day…

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