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I recently found a temporal lobe epilepsy site from the UK that listed flashbacks as a symptom. This surprised me at first because I have seen a big increase in online TLE information over the last eight years since my diagnosis. There are all sorts of studies and papers about drugs, risks and possible causes for those willing to look. But flashbacks was a new one for me. Well, maybe not new in terms of experience, but new in the descriptive listings. 

Flashbacks are something I am just now, at this late date, beginning to grasp and attempt to understand. No one ever explained flashbacks to me, much less told me that I might be having them. As a result, I grew up with flashbacks that I mentally described as intense memories, as opposed to regular memories. 

I experience regular memories by seeing them and feeling them through the filter of time. I also can’t control them. 

Flashbacks are entirely different. They are like memories on steroids. They come unbidden and take over. They take me back to the original experiences and make me relive them in real time. They affect me physically, mentally, and emotionally. If the flashback is of something traumatic, I get the same adrenaline rush, the fear, the panic, the sadness. If it is of something I loved, I feel that love or the intense sadness if it’s associated with someone who has died. 

I had a rather mild flashback the other day. It was in the morning. I was doing my usual household chores, gingerly because of a migraine. At least I thought I had a migraine as a result of the antibiotics I was taking for an upper respiratory infection. The TV was on as I made the bed, and an old show from the late ‘80s came on. 

I remembered the town and the house where we lived at the time of the show. Then the memories intensified. Emotions flooded in. My current home looked different, as if I were seeing it through a distorted lens. I actually felt that if I opened my front door, I would see a small town in Louisiana and not the Houston suburb where I now live.

Memories that were small, obscure and unimportant rushed back. All these feelings and sensations added up to more than a TV show triggering a momentary thought. The impressions continued until my head pain intensified and erased the feelings. I realized then that I had been caught up in a TLE cycle.

I would have loved to have understood all of this a lot earlier in my life before I let it have a destructive impact on me and on those I love. Flashbacks sound interesting and not very dangerous, but they can tear your life apart if they come back at times of weakness and pain. 

I hope the medical community in the United States will start looking closely at this. Until then, I also hope people experiencing these kinds of flashbacks will work to understand their power and not let them destroy the present or their lives.

Reference: www.epilepsy.org.uk/info/seizures/focal-partial