This is part of a series that looks at extraordinary experiences in personal health. Share yours at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Recently I went hiking with my friends in Algonquin Park. We were walking on a trail. It was a beautiful day and I had been looking forward to it.
Then I looked behind me, and I thought I saw the two guys who raped me. I had a panic attack and I started freaking out. It was unbearable. My heart rate went up. I felt shaky and sweaty and extremely overwhelmed.
It didn't feel like I was in Algonquin Park. It felt like I was in the same scenario as I was when I was 14, when it all happened. Every feeling and every emotion I had came back and it was happening all over again. I was lucky I was with two friends. But when you're, say, working or at a mall and you experience a flashback, you're back in this whole different state of mind. You kind of feel like you're crazy and you're being looked at. It's not a pleasant feeling to start with, for obvious reasons, but you're also forced to relive something that you never wanted to live in the first place.
It's kind of hard to explain, but the flashback and my initial reaction only lasted a couple of minutes. But that, in turn, made my panic attack last 15 minutes. And that, in turn, was in my head for the rest of the day. You feel like you can't go anywhere without feeling unsafe.
I just sat down and had a good cry. I have something called a "Bad Day List," with things like writing and playing the guitar on it. When I don't know what to do or where to turn, there's always an option there that can make me happy. It's the whole idea that if you add more love in your life, you can heal. I keep that list on my phone and it's posted in my room. So whenever something like that happens, I go to that list and do something that makes me feel better.
So I let out my emotions at that moment. I had a little scream and a cry and talked to my friends about what was going on. I told them I wasn't okay right then. We ended up leaving. My friends, being the great people they are, and I listened to music on the way home, had some laughs, and we stopped and had dinner to make it seem like it was more of a normal day, even though we were like, "This day sucks."
But it's all about putting a different spin on the way you look at it. It's about changing your thought process in terms of, "Is this really happening?" and "Am I in a safe spot?" and asking myself those questions. "Yes, I am in a safe place." "This isn't real." "I am okay." It's going from being totally terrified to thinking, "You're in control of your body. You're in control of your mind. You can change what's happening at this moment."
As silly as that may sound, it has worked wonders.
In April, I was having flashbacks every day, all the time. But right now, I'm doing really well. For six years, I had felt I couldn't talk about what happened to me. I never felt there was anyone or anywhere to go, or any way I could be heard, I guess. But I've worked beyond hard this year and am at a place where I'm finally comfortable speaking about everything.
Read more stories in this series here.
Brooke Ember, 20, lives in Bracebridge, Ont. She wrote about her experience with post-traumatic stress on the blog Anxiety Free Community.