Triggers are something I am still learning about. I know I have many, but for a while, I didn’t fully understand what was happening when I was triggered. It just felt a lot like I was losing control. Other people haven’t always been understanding towards my triggers either – sometimes even deliberately exacerbating them to see if I will “freak out”. I guess my emotional reactions to triggers have provided some entertainment, at least.
A trigger is something which reminds me of previous trauma I have experienced. The thing about complex post-traumatic stress disorder is that my triggers are complex, and there are many. It can happen at any time, in any place and in front of anyone. It can be humiliating. Even more humiliating, when your emotional flashbacks are met with questions and raised eyebrows. I cannot count the number of times someone’s face has given away their scepticism about my mental health problem.
An emotional flashback is what occurs when I am met with a trigger. I have struggled mainly with emotional, as opposed to visual flashbacks. When I experience an emotional flashback, my brain is sending signals to my body that I am re-experiencing past trauma. The emotions that occur are mostly fear, panic and anger and always, without fail, end with depression, shame, and guilt.
There was one particular occasion two years ago when attending an appointment, I became triggered due to being lost and not being able to find the front door of the building I was supposed to enter. I phoned my friend, hyperventilating and shouting, completely losing control of my emotions and being saturated with panic and anger. I was in complete despair and cursing out my entire existence. The emotions that I feel can be all-consuming and difficult to deal with. I appear irrational, and dramatic because the response I am having is better suited to a past traumatic event I experienced: I got lost when driving and my partner at the time attempted to crash the car. So now, being lost is a massive trigger for me.
When I was still driving, for months on end I kept getting lost on the way to work even though I had driven there a million times. There was one occasion I had to pull over and be sick. I would attempt to call my work to explain but would be in such a state of frenzied panic that my ability to cope with working was understandably coming into question. Attempting to deal with these emotional reactions was, at that time, impossible.
A lot of triggers for me are discernible to those around me if I do have an emotional flashback. I have experienced abusive relationships in the past, therefore an obvious (you would think) trigger for me would be aggression, threats of violence or violence. Any harsh words or raised voices can also induce an emotional flashback. However, it is not as uncomplicated as simply an act of violence or a hurtful word that can trigger me and that’s it. Triggers are entirely complex. Something as seemingly trivial as a song can induce feelings of intense fear or anger, or both.
Experiencing emotional flashbacks in the presence of others has been an extremely difficult effect of trauma to deal with. Due to the extremity of my reactions to certain triggers I have been met with many expressions of fear, anger or suddenly, some people have become experts on my triggers and tried to dictate to me what they can and can’t possibly be. Trauma is complex, and so are the effects. If, as an outsider, you witness someone experiencing an emotional flashback and find it confusing, or exhausting – please, try to imagine what it must be like to live every day wondering if today you might be triggered and once again lose control of your emotions in the company of others.
I have so many possible triggers awaiting me on the other side of my door that life is a lot easier for me to just stay inside. I am less likely to become triggered in the safety of my own home, my safe place – or my comfort zone and so I am not often “out and about”. It has been incredibly isolating. I have found myself peering over my social media pages wishing my life was like the ones I can gawk at online.
At times I can feel stagnant in life because I am so controlled by fear that I don’t often leave the house. I don’t often experience anything. Anytime I have been “out experiencing life”, (I am remembering a holiday to Croatia which became a trigger-laden experience for me), I have become overwhelmed at some point. I have found myself wanting to retreat to my safe place.
As I continue to do meditation and use writing as therapy, I am finding the desire to experience life. I have started to set myself daily goals to get out of the house with the intention of building my confidence up and replace the crippling fear that accompanies trauma. I no longer succumb to the weight of the void of depression and find life meaningless anymore, (there are days that are a bit duller but never as black as they once were) but I am still wrestling heavily with fear and with anger.
I am taking steps to deal with these effects of trauma that I deal with daily. Meditation and yoga are helping, I also make sure I eat well and resist emotionally binge-eating as a means of coping as much as possible. I use grounding techniques (which I will write about in a separate blog entry so as not to make my entries entirely too laborious to read) and I read and write as much as I can. I love the escapism of reading and writing; of disappearing into another world in a book or pouring my soul out onto a page. These things provide me with a release, they provide insight and clarity.
Triggers are complex and healing from trauma can be a lengthy process. The wounds are deep and intricate and need to be cared for gently and carefully. If you know of anyone who has suffered trauma, or who has even just had a hard time – please be patient. All people are suffering, and some are in the chaotic phase of healing. I feel as a collective, we need to accept that sometimes there are happenings and behaviours in life that we just don’t understand, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.