"Our minds are wonderful devices," the speaker was saying. "They protect us from extreme pain and suffering, sometimes by blocking out traumatic events in our lives. Then, when and only when our minds know that we are ready to cope with the memories and feelings, does it bring them to our attention. Many times this happens in the form of a flashback, or in a more gentle and manageable term, an involuntary reflection."
"They're 'involuntary reflections' Jethro," Jenn was whispering to him. "Involuntary. I told you."
Gibbs looked at her with a bored, half-asleep expression. He yawned.
The two of them had been sent to a seminar for agency employees who were experiencing signs of minor post-traumatic stress syndrome. They had been nominated for the seminar by Tony, Ziva, McGee, Abby, Ducky, Franks, Fornell, Cynthia, Director Morrow, and seventeen other people who all had, at various times, witnessed one or the other of them zoning out in the middle of a conversation or trading 'meaningful looks' during some situation that was obviously reminding them of something else. While it was possible that those 'involuntary reflections' had provided helpful information in the past – would Jenn have been rescued from her kidnapping if Jethro had not involuntarily reflected that she'd once left her coat on the plane? – everyone was, frankly, tired of them. So amazingly, incredibly, unbelievably tired of them.
And, truth be told, they were starting to bug Gibbs too. Jenn didn't seem to mind as much.
Tony could tell when Gibbs was having a flashback because he'd get that glazed-over look, and the team would patiently wait while Gibbs remembered some past rendezvous that would provide them with necessary information. Or not. You could never tell.
Jenn was more subtle. She usually had her flashbacks … um, I mean involuntary reflections … when she was alone in her office. So it was less obtrusive. But still.
"The very fact that flashbacks seem to be uncontrollable and unpredictable makes stopping flashback memories seemingly just another pain to bear," the speaker was saying. "When we begin to understand why we have flashbacks and are not paralyzed by them, we can move further along the path to healing."
"The path to healing?" Gibbs said, looking at Jenn. He rolled his eyes.
"Can I answer a question for you, Special Agent … Gibbs?" the speaker said as she consulted her seating chart.
He sat up a bit straighter, realizing that everyone was looking at him.
"So you're saying," he said, trying to act as though he was actually interested, "that people with flashbacks relive things that have happened as if it's happening now."
"Oh no," the instructor said, enthusiastically. "Flashbacks do not have to be episodic – that is, the re-experienced memories aren't always images, sights or sounds. There is a strong emotional component to memory as well, and flashbacks can occur as a rush of feeling, emotions, and sensations that are a part of re-experiencing past events!"
Jenn looked at Gibbs. "Feelings, emotions and sensations, Jethro," she said with amusement. "Your favorite things."
"But what causes them?" another member of the audience asked. Gibbs was relieved to have the spotlight off him, and he sneered a bit at Jenn, who was chuckling silently.
"When it occurs involuntarily, the flashback may be due to a disorder such as post-traumatic stress disorder, such as in cases of remembering a war or other trauma," the speaker said. "Or there is also Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder – that's related to the use of psychedelic drugs."
Jenn raised her hand. "What about flashbacks that happen voluntarily?" Jenn asked.
There was a pause as everyone in the room turned to look at her.
"Um … those would be called memories," one of the other group members said, in a somewhat condescending manner. The instructor nodded.
Jenn sunk a bit farther down in her seat. Gibbs chuckled.
"How do you cure them, doctor?" one of the participants asked.
The seminar leader sighed. "Well," she said, "it's really more about management than cure. These types of involuntary episodes will always be with you. But there are many types of emotional freedom techniques you can use …"
Gibbs snorted and shook his head. "Emotional freedom techniques," he said to himself as the instructor continued to drone on about various meditation exercises, hypnotism, medications and other methods to keep flashbacks under check. Gibbs glanced over at Jenn, who looked equally desperate to get out of the room. He quietly and covertly reached into his pocket and pushed a button on his phone. A few seconds later, it rang.
"Sorry," Gibbs said, apologetically, as the instructor stopped mid-sentence and pointed up to the TURN ALL CELL PHONES OFF sign at the front of the room.
"Gibbs," he said into the phone. Then, "We'll be right there."
"New case, Jenn," Gibbs said, as he quickly got up and headed for the door.
"I'm so sorry," Jenn said to the seminar leader, with a contrite look.
Seconds later they were both in the hall, leaning against the wall in thankful relief.
"That was good timing," Jenn said with a smile to Gibbs.
"Thanks," Tony said, as he joined the group.
"Wait," Jenn said, a grin forming on her face as she looked at Tony, then at Gibbs. "You set that up?"
Gibbs smiled. "I always have an escape plan, Jenn. You know that."
As if on cue, Gibbs and Jenn cocked her heads to the side just a bit. Their faces got that far away look as they started to remember another time, another place, and another escape plan. Tony reached up and smacked them each on the back of the head. They immediately came back to the present, both of them looking at Tony angrily.
"What the hell?" Gibbs said, ready to smack Tony in return.
Tony smiled. "Emotional freedom technique," he said.
There was a moment of silence as Gibbs and Jenn looked at each other and rubbed the back of their heads where they'd been hit. Then, together, they opened the door and quietly went back into the seminar.