The other day on Facebook I stumbled across an amazing page. The “Ghosts of History” photo series made by Jo Hedwig Teeuwisse, (page is in Dutch, use Google Translate) shows pictures of the past combined with pictures of the present.
The scenes are absolutely haunting. Looking through these photos has brought home to me more than ever before, just how much soldiers during the war sacrificed for their country – and many still fight on our behalf today. It is one thing to read about it and ‘know’ about it, but it can be hard for the past to feel real.
I know I will no longer take my freedom and my standard of living for granted – I will be saying thank you every single day.
It’s well documented that many returning soldiers battle Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – PTSD – many for the rest of their lives.
Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a severe anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to any event that results in psychological trauma. This event may involve the threat of death to oneself or to someone else, or to one’s own or someone else’s physical, sexual, or psychological integrity, overwhelming the individual’s ability to cope. As an effect of psychological trauma, PTSD is less frequent and more enduring than the more commonly seen post traumatic stress (also known asacute stress response). Diagnostic symptoms for PTSD include re-experiencing the original trauma(s) through flashbacks or nightmares, avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma, and increased arousal—such as difficulty falling or staying asleep,anger, and hypervigilance. Formal diagnostic criteria (both DSM-IV-TR and ICD-10) require that the symptoms last more than one month and cause significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning. (Source)
But it’s not just soldiers who suffer from this. Anyone who is experienced to a traumatic event can develop PTSD.
I have Complex Post Traumatic Disorder – C- PTSD.
Complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) is a psychological injury that results from protracted exposure to prolonged social and/or interpersonal trauma in the context of either captivity or entrapment (i.e. the lack of a viable escape route for the victim) that results in the lack or loss of control, helplessness, and deformations of identity and sense of self. (Source)
When I stumbled on these photos, of course I was fascinated (I love history among other things), saddened, and grateful – but also excited. For a long time I have tried to explain to my treatment team what it’s like to be in my mind on an every day basis. I have flashbacks every single day, throughout the day. Most of them are what I would call ‘mild’ – and would probably be better using something other than ‘flash’ to describe how I’m plunged back into my past against my will, because it’s more like a slow, lingering dalliance.
Imagine you are walking through your local park, surrounded by trees, grass underfoot, birds flying around you. But you don’t just see your park. You aren’t ‘all there’ – part of you is walking through your back yard 20, 25, 30 years ago. And faintly, in the same place as your park, you can see your house, your swing set, the longer grass and weeds of your yard, the dog trotting round…
When these happen – as they do all the time and in so many places – more of ‘me’ seems to be in that past than stays in the present. It’s lead to several people over time describing me as ‘not being all there’ and I guess they are right. I’m trapped in something that really wasn’t fair to have lived through the first time, let alone again and again for the rest of my life.
Seeing these photos of the past superimposed into the present are so much like what my own reality is – living past and present simultaneously.
Please note – this is not something that I have chosen to experience or revisit. My therapist is going to help me learn to emotionally detach from the flashbacks, but it’s not something I can just decide to not have any more and that be it. The thoughts are intrusive and unwanted, and constant.
I’m so relieved to know that there is help for this, I do accept that there isn’t any ‘cure’ and there isn’t any undoing of the past – but to know that I can learn to keep myself safe, detach emotions from the flashbacks I experience, and hopefully have some peace from them – gives me hope.
I am really interested in hearing about your experiences, how you are affected, what has helped, how you cope.
(All images taken from the Ghosts of History Facebook page.)