The best way to describe how flashbacks feel for me is to say what it's not. It's NOT the instant replay of a movie that runs through your head, as most PTSD videos would have you believe, or instantly seeing a dead friend talking to you.
It's a feeling. For me, the feeling is pure, unadulterated dread. The certain knowledge that something terrible is going to happen, and there's nothing you can do to stop it.
A civilian example would be for those of you who've ever driven in the snow and lost grip with your tires right near a drop off...
(More explanation on the flip)
It really hits you right in the gut, and you feel very afraid. The sudden, horrible knowledge just strikes home and for an instant, all you can feel is this awful certainty of tragedy. You start to expect the same things you saw back in the day, expecting every car to suddenly have the rear tires blown out. (Goofy, yeah, but the three IED's I saw all went off at the back of vehicles. Two US and One Iraqi.)
And then it's over. Sometimes it's a minute, sometimes it's a few, but that's what it feels like.
What triggers it? Well, they say it's traumatic stress, but honestly, what really triggers it is the inconsequential things that were going on WHEN you were feeling that horrible stress.
For example, somebody pointing a toy gun, or a real one, at me causes an instant feeling of anger now. It's not a full blown flashback, just a trained response that there's very little I can do to block. I try, and honestly, I've gotten better about it, but even depictions of somebody causally threatening someone with a gun cause me to get my bristles up.
The ones that REALLY get me are temperature, smells, and light. I got hit outside Mosul around this time of year, so as a result clear winter sunset tends to set me off pretty bad. Combine that with a chill wind and the smell of dust and BAM, almost instant flashback. I try to control it when it happens, and once again, it's getting better, but it's still something I try to minimize. I try not to go out close to sunset, just because I know the combination of sensations sets my brain off.
So there it is. A serious diary from me about something totally inconsequential. There's a whole mess of different ways that people feel, and I'm not pretending that I speak for everybody who's got PTSD. I'm just saying how I feel when it hits.
But of course, the Army said I haven't got it. Lucky me. If these feelings aren't PTSD, then I must be crazy. Of course, the Army says I'm not Crazy either. Course I was following orders when I went to the doctor and didn't talk about things that "Only happen once in a while".
I am getting better. I will get better, but I don't know how many guys/gals in my situation won't. If you have good thoughts, give em to the folks who don't talk about it and suffer in silence, because there's a hell of a lot more of em than the Army says there are.