I've already covered before what the difference between real triggers are and what tumblr triggers are. I even did a video on PTSD and having it, and why I think trigger warnings on the internet are bullshit.
But for some reason I wanted to go more in depth as to what a flashback feels like if people didn't understand. It's not the same as being triggered or at least not all the time. Triggers can lead to flashbacks but don't always have to, and flashbacks can be triggered but aren't necessarily considered "triggers". As I mention in the video a trigger is something that literally causes so much panic in you that you believe you are going to die. It's a massive physical fight or flight responses. It's not getting kind of uncomfortable or squirmy or even a bit uneasy. When triggered, actually triggered (not "OMG someone was mean to me in the internet" triggered) you have not only an emotional by a physical fear response. As I said this doesn't mean it has to lead to an actual flashback.
Recently, before my diagnosis, my panic attacks started to get really bad. I didn't know why. I kept complaining about how bad they were to my therapist who told me to see a psychiatrist because she thought something more was wrong than usual. I saw a new psychiatrist cause I hadn't seen one in years (nor had I needed to) and she asked me to describe the problem. We went over a bunch of things for an "intake". That's where you are asked a ton of psychology questions and it helps the psychiatrist determine your official diagnosis. Before that point I thought maybe it was PTSD but I also though that it wasn't because I thought I wasn't having flashbacks or anything. Turns out what I was calling "really bad panic attacks" were actually flashbacks.
Now that I know the difference between the two I can more or less tell people what each is like. However this will differ from person to person. This is only my experiences. Keep in mind the classification of what is and what isn't a flashback is the same but how people feel and react to them can vary. Here's how I experience it and what I feel.
When I have a panic attack triggered by well whatever it is that triggers me (I'd be really stupid to mention it here considering a lot of people hate me and would use it against me) I feel a sudden sense of dread and a rush of panic. I feel unsafe. My heart starts to pound and it gets harder to breathe. I sometimes need to move around, at least move my hands. I get a bit sweaty and if it's bad enough I will shake, even get nauseated due to the intense level of panic. I am fully aware of where I am and what is going on but the only thought in my head when this happens is I need to get away from whatever triggered me. Unfortunately sometimes it can be a word I heard so it keeps repeating in my head. Also my memory for really horrible shit is "awesome" apparently so images will keep playing back in my head. Not only that but whatever image just triggered me my brain says "here are some more images you saw once that triggered you, think of them all at once and don't stop" because I also have OCD and the compulsion to memorize everything. Situations, phrases, words, dialogue from shows. From a young age memorization and rituals helped me keep my sanity during the abuse I was put through so I unconsciously find myself repeating things or phrases to make sure I remember them correctly. It's a blessing and a curse because I can remember that shit but not where I left my keys 5 minutes ago. In any case this is what a panic attack feels like for me and this would be classified as an actual triggered anxiety attack for people who actually have them not tumblr cry babies.
Thankfully these happened very rarely for me but they do happen. It depends on how stressed I am or what the trigger is. The triggers for these are so incredibly specific that it's not easy for me to have flashbacks because luckily I more or less figured out what they were. Still not going to mention them here but I can say unless you are in a group of very specific people you wouldn't be able to trigger a flashback anyway. Moving on. So when this happens it's...very bad. Luckily I do not disassociate with my flashbacks like some people do. However, when I have them it is like I am back in that situation in my head. For instance lets say when you were a kid you were at a party and some crazy ass clown ran in there and stabbed a bunch of people and you saw everything. Keep that in mind. So say this is my memory and I was having a flashback of it. What I would experience would be...everything. Sensory memories, I'd smell things that were at the party (Flowers/Grass/cake/food) if I had eaten something during the time of the memory I would taste the food as well. I would hear the voices of the screaming people and I would feel the exact same fear and trauma of that same crazy clown all in my head like it was happening right in front of me. Once again, when this happens I am very aware of who I am and where I am but it's almost as if my brain has been overtaken by a literal movie I don't want to see. The images are that vivid and I can taste, smell, and feel things around me from that specific movie.
I guess that doesn't sound so awful until you realize that I ONLY ever get this vivid of memories of horrible things. If I had flashbacks of this type with GOOD things well then I wouldn't need to be in therapy cause I'd be having a good time. Flashbacks like this are intense and emotionally exhausting, not to mention terrifying. Now, what I mentioned was disassociation which some people have when they have flashbacks. These are the types of people who are usually joked about in sitcoms. The Vietnam vet who dives under a table and thinks he's back in the jungle because he's also back in the actual memory. I don't do that but I am suddenly in the light of day overcome with too many stimuli of things from long past because of the trauma that I went through prior to that moment. Since I previously believe that PTSD was only for people who had gone to war, or who had been through something epically awful (witnessing a death, escaping a death, constant rape/abuse whatever) I hadn't even considered what was going on with me was PTSD until I was told by a psychiatrist I was having flashbacks. Part of me still wants to be in denial, say that I wasn't really abused "that badly" but then when I look back and I think about how it ACTUALLY was...how it shaped so much of who I am today...the diagnosis more than likely isn't wrong.
So that's all of the post and I was writing it for anyone who was curious as to what I personally feel when I go through flashbacks. I know that things vary, and with PTSD you can have mild instances of it (me) or you can have extremely bad ones (War Vets and the like). If you are going to tell me PTSD is over diagnosed and NO ONE GETS IT BUT WAR VETS you can seriously fuck off because that's not how this mental illness works. PTSD like every other mental illness has varying levels from mild to extreme so if you aren't away of this actual concept then you don't know psychology as well as you think and you aren't going to educate anyone (least of all me) by explaining that I "Really don't have PTSD". Thanks.