My flashbacks start with fuzziness. A dizziness that swirls in my skull, somewhere between a buzz and a murmur. Then the jolt in my arm kicks in, the ragged breathing, the frantic up-and-down of my chest until my necklace bounces against my collar. There is nausea sometimes, or tears, or just a stillness I can’t get out of. My flashbacks lock me in a night from years ago, leave me clawing at the present. It’s 2017, I tell myself. Existing in this year is a fight.
It’s been two years since I exhibited the symptoms of PTSD, and one year since I started acknowledging it. My PTSD is disruptive and dissociative; it wobbles across a spectrum. It’s hard to pin down. I’ll go weeks without a flashback and think I’m cured — sane, normal, able to sleep without night terrors or go to class without breaking down. But then I dissociate again. I walk into the wrong house. I shudder over a toilet, my hand slick with vomit, without remembering how I got there.
I’ve seen six counselors over the last two years. I go to therapy twice a week. I tell my professors, sorry my assignment isn’t totally complete, my PTSD’s been really bad. Sometimes they don’t understand the acronym. Sometimes I have to explain that I’m not an army veteran, that trauma is possible outside of the military. There’s no template for revealing PTSD— I’ve casually referenced my disorder at pregames, on dates. But I still check “no” when job applications ask if I have a disability. I still struggle to identify myself as mentally ill.
I try to be kind to myself. Capital–B Bad days aren’t my fault; there’s no way to rationalize my disorder, or to remove every trigger from my life. But the most frustrating part of PTSD is the sense that I’m losing time — on this campus I love, in this snug enclave where I live with my best friends and enjoy my classes and dance dizzily through my weekends, I can’t be fully present. My brain won’t let me stay here.
This past week, the Bad days coalesced. A combination of stress, triggers, and chemicals sent me flashbacks twice a day, leaving me heaving outside Wawa and picking my skin apart in class. In the seconds immediately after a flashback, reality asserts itself in strips: the cool ceramic of the bathtub I’ve climbed in fully clothed, the taste of thick, hot coffee and the blush across the sky. The present manifests in pieces, and the effect is gradually, achingly beautiful. I wrestle my brain to stay here. But when I do, there’s nowhere I’d rather be.