When My PTSD Was Triggered by a News Article Similar to My Experience
I make a conscious effort to try and stay off certain news outlets. It’s a tricky line to walk sometimes because I’m inherently curious and interested in what is happening in current events around the world. I don’t want to live in a bubble. I want to know whats happening. I want to be able to critically think about things so I can form my opinions and have thoughtful conversations.
While I was going through the throes of processing my memories, my therapist had me follow the “puppy and kitten rule.” My symptoms were at their worst. I was in and out flashbacks, my anxiety was almost constant, along with panic, fear and a complete lack of feeling safe.
The puppy and kitten rule was that I could watch anything as long as it included cute puppies and kittens. I stayed away from the intense news, was mindful of what I watched on tv and what movies I saw. I watched lots of comedy. There were times when I broke the rule. I watched a movie with violence, or there were sensationalized cases in the media of abuse or exploitation I couldn’t avoid, and I would get triggered.
As I began to manage my symptoms, had more tools, felt some sense of safety and was not living in a constant state of panic, the puppy/kitten rule was lifted. Because I had been so careful about what I ingested from media outlets for so long, I developed an avoidance for watching or seeking out certain information because I knew it may be triggering.
Recently, there has been a story in my newsfeeds when I check my email or scroll through some media outlets. I have done my best to avoid opening the articles and reading through them. No one around me is talking about it, because in reality, this news story would not be on their radar. It wouldn’t interest them. But because my trauma is sort-of similar to this continuing story, I am on high alert when I scroll past it. I have a definite curiosity about the details but haven’t read anything besides the headlines.
Today, when I logged on to check my email, the headline had changed. It caught my attention and I clicked on it and read. Because I haven’t read any other details I was kind of lost in the information, but I got the gist of it. I understood and could relate to what happened to the victim speaking out. I felt sick that this kind of trafficking still goes on, and in my mind will probably continue to exist in the underbelly of our society.
Then I got triggered.
I’m not used to those kinds of triggers any longer. There is plenty for me to navigate in my daily life, and anniversary times of the year, and I thought I was further along in my healing journey and I would be OK. But post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) doesn’t operate that way. It doesn’t care that I was just reading an article, and it doesn’t care that this organization had absolutely nothing to do with me. I have never heard of it, and don’t know anything about it. PTSD simply understands that my sense of safety and trust is destroyed because of the trauma I experienced, and my brain and body will go into the memory and protection mode automatically.
After reading the article, I could tell that something was awry in my body/mind/spirit. I could tell things were stirred up in a way that I could spiral down the cycle of panic, fear and shame. I closed the computer, went to gentle yoga, then acupuncture, then reached out to my therapist.
I know I can’t just forget about what I read. I am trying to stay with the feelings, gain perspective and use my tools to stay grounded. It’s been a difficult day. I’m irritable as I fight the flashbacks, and I’m upset with myself that I read the article. I’m also trying to forgive myself for having a natural curiosity, and an interest in the subject matter because it hits so close to home for me.
Seeing things written, or in movies, TV or media can bring a sort of validation: a sense of, “Look, I’m not making this up!” When you are a trauma survivor, you look for validation. My trauma is so “out of the ordinary” and so not-relatable that it’s extremely rare that I feel validation. It’s part of acceptance and knowing that my truth is validation enough. But that doesn’t come easy, and it ebbs and flows.
Today was validation that I can indeed still be triggered by the news. With this information, I know I need to remember the puppy/kitten rule when it comes to specific topics, take good self-care and keep scrolling.
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Getty Images photo via fizkes