My Nightmares Are Real-life Flashbacks

Brittany Foster avatar

by Brittany Foster |

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When I was younger, I had recurring nightmares about a kidnapping. Usually, I was the hero chasing the kidnapper. These nightmares would spark panic attacks when, in my waking hours, I couldn’t quickly locate my sisters in public places. I had an irrational fear of something terrible happening to them.

I learned in therapy that my fears were deeply rooted in my feelings of mistrust brought on by medical traumas. At the time, I didn’t understand why adults couldn’t protect me. I didn’t understand where my pain was coming from or how to stop it from happening.

As I matured and became more knowledgeable about my health conditions, the kidnapping nightmares eventually stopped. I no longer have many dreams about things that never happened. Instead, my nightmares have turned into PTSD flashbacks. I dream of events in my life that I fear might happen again. Some nights, I wake up in a full sweat from dreaming about physical pain, being wrongfully labeled, or something terrible happening during a surgery.

When I was younger, my mom could talk me through the panic after a nightmare about my sisters being taken. I wish someone could assure me now that my dreams are based on irrational fears. I wish they could convince me that they aren’t real and that they would never happen.

The truth is, nobody can tell me it’s going to be OK because my dreams are deeply rooted in my fear of what has already happened. My nightmares are flashbacks of some of my worst moments — ones I have tried so hard to bury.

When I wake up sweating after dreaming of being in uncontrolled pain, it’s because I have been in that situation. I have been in a hospital following surgery without effective pain management. I have begged surgeons to help, only to be given a dose of medication that barely touched my agony.

I fear being told, “It’s all in your head.” I have heard those words before. I fear not being taken seriously and having my concerns dismissed. I worry about something happening during surgery or waking up remembering what it feels like to be extubated. I have flashbacks of waking up during surgery because it has happened to me.

When I find myself being plagued with recurring dreams that are rooted in my post-traumatic stress disorder, I have to talk about them. I have to tell someone I trust about what I’m going through or the dreams feel like they will never end. It is hard to escape from nightmares that have been my reality.

The best thing I can do for myself is to talk about the nightmares and how they make me feel. It helps ease the trauma when I allow myself to express my fear, anxiety, and concerns. It gives my mind a break from reliving it.


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Brenda Denzler avatar

Brenda Denzler

My recurring nightmares were of "someone" (or more than one "someone") being about to do something to me "for my own good." But they wouldn't talk to me about what they wanted to do. They didn't care what I thought or wanted. I was a thing upon which they were going to perform this action..."for my own good."

I would wake up in a huge panic, sometimes quietly sobbing. I had to tell myself that it was just another one of those dreams, and try to go back to sleep. I had no idea why I had these dreams. I had them for about 40-50 years before I discovered the reason: trauma due to medical treatments I had when a small child.

I appreciate reading your trauma stories. It always helps to know how others live with mPTSD.


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