I have been trying to find an appropriate way to write about a particular “emotional” experience that I have endured for years. I wouldn’t blog about this were it not for the fact that most survivors of trauma seem to experience something quite similar. What is it?
It isn’t exactly the Foreshortened Future experience, and it isn’t the “catastrophizing” thought distortion either. One could say that it is a combination of both. It is somewhat unique unto itself. Essentially, it is a fundamental feeling of dread that something terrible is going to happen. It usually comes out of nowhere most often when nothing terribly stressful is happening and particularly when you’re feeling happy. It almost feels like you’re being watched, but it’s not paranoia. As if Life Itself is watching you. Waiting to destroy your happiness. To inflict something torturous and terrible on you. It is the emotional experience of “the other shoe is going to drop” x 100.
It creates fear and panic. An anxiety extraordinaire. And no matter what I’ve done in terms of CBT, DBT, EMDR, and therapy, this flavor of terror has stubbornly stuck around. I’ve grown so tired of it that I generally don’t discuss it when it strikes. I live with it until it passes. It is so familiar to me. I cognize myself out of it, and my therapists praise me for that. I don’t feel good about it. I feel exhausted and somewhat defeated. This just doesn’t feel good enough.
In the midst of one of these unusual “anxiety attacks”, a friend suggested I try breathing essential oils. There are some oils that are particularly good at crossing the blood-brain barrier and affecting the limbic system. I had those oils on hand. I gave it a shot, and it was effective. I was pleasantly surprised. She then suggested that I introduce some cognitions while smelling the oils the next time. This experience felt very similar to EMDR using essential oils (and I do not recommend doing that if you have a lot of unresolved trauma because it was remarkably potent).
What came to mind, quite out of the blue, during that most particular feeling of dread was an ordeal from my time with trafficking. It came so far out of left field that it stunned me. I said out loud, “What does that have to do with anything?”
I’ll write about it here because I think that it is so important in terms of present experiences of trauma and anxiety that we can experience. I did not receive any justice in terms of the legal system regarding my trafficking experience. I got away and survived it. The man who abducted me was never caught, but he knew where I lived. And, he knew where I was going to go for college. He made threats to find me and murder me when I was in the trafficking environment should I try to escape. Law enforcement agents explained to me that should I see him, I was to notify them, but they admitted that I was vulnerable to “secondary contact”. For at least two years, I lived with feelings of terror and dread that he would find me again. I had nightmares. I looked over my shoulder. I checked and double-checked my car. I wouldn’t go anywhere alone. Whenever I relaxed enough to start to enjoy myself, I suddenly couldn’t because he might show up. That might be the time that he would make good on his threats. It probably took a full five years to stop looking over my shoulder and another ten to stop believing that, at some point, he was going to find me and kill me. My heart still skips a beat today if I see someone who resembles him.
How does this connect to the present dreadful anxiety attacks? I suspect that what is happening today are actually the same feelings of dread that were related to the post-traumatic experience of leaving the trafficking environment, but they have lost their context. Those feelings were never processed. So, they continue to play out until they are processed. I never talked about them. There was no one to talk to during that time. I just had to start college and pretend that none of it ever happened. Those feelings are so strong today because I was in a marriage that triggered those feelings of dread and enlivened them. They are now front and center. They appear as an emotional flashback void of visual cues. The way to deal with them properly is to go all the way back to their source, but, if you have profound trauma, do not do that alone. You need the guidance and support of a trained clinician.
I am always fascinated by how we function. Our brains seem to be fighting us, but they aren’t. We just lack information. What amazes me more is that when we’re finally able to listen and receive information, our brains speak to us. When I finally sat down and asked, the memory came forward clearly. I almost dismissed it because it made no sense to me.
I encourage you to take time out of your day or week to journal or pay attention to what your mind is offering. Some of it is white noise and cognitive distortions, but not all of it.
And, if you really want to look into something interesting, then check this out: