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7 Things I Wish People Understood About Being Triggered

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One minute I am fine. I am talking and interacting and living in the moment. I am loving my life, happy to be where I am, thankful for everything and there is sunlight pouring in through every crevice of my world. I can go to the supermarket by myself, I can put on makeup. I have no fear of going to take the dog for a walk and I may even trike up a conversation with a stranger. Driving to see my horse is something I look forward to and walking my dog is as easy as saying, “Jasper, wanna go for a walkies?”

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And then something happens. I can’t tell you what that is or where it came from, but suddenly I’m frozen. My gaze zooms out of focus and I am so far away. Next thing I know I can’t go outside. I can’t stop looking out the window, wondering what’s coming. I can’t stop looking over my shoulder at the gas station because there is a man standing at the pump next to mine and I’ve seen him looking at me once or twice. I can’t stop the thoughts zipping through my head. Is he going to grab me and shove me in his car? Is he really watching me? I look around and wonder who might be willing to help me if it comes to that. Maybe the woman with the child in the back seat? What about the college-looking guy with his baseball cap on backwards? Driving the 30 minutes to the barn fills me with a terror and dread I just can’t explain and I can’t muster the courage to walk around the block I’ve traveled hundreds of times so my dog can get outside.

The point is I’m no longer myself. Something has triggered me to be thrown back into the part of me that never goes away. I’m tired of the rolling eyes and the exasperated sighs. So to those who don’t get it, here’s what I wish you would know:

1. This is not a freaking joke.

So don’t treat it like one. How is it funny to force me to get dropped right back in the midst of one of the most horrible moments of my life? How is that something you can laugh at? How would you feel if you were powerless to stop reliving those events? How could you make memes about it? Why do I have to see this on the internet as a joke when I live that nightmare every day? How insulting.

2. Sometimes I don’t know what my triggers are.

At least not all of them. It could be a smell, a gesture, a facial expression, being touched by certain people, a phrase, a tone of voice, the abstract angle of where the walls meet in the corner of the room. Topics of conversation. politics. Someone sitting too close or a room with no windows and no nearby means of escape. Please, just be patient — I’m trying to figure this out, too.

3. I’m not acting this way because I’m begging for attention.

When I’m triggered, most of the things that happen in that moment are out of my control and I would give anything to not have to struggle with this anymore. I’m no longer in my body or in my right mind because I have to fight to survive all over again. I am immobilized, unable to control anything, and sometimes all the interventions I’ve learned during my inpatient treatment and along the way just don’t work. I mean, look at me: rocking on the couch, hands gripping the side of my head, eyes squeezed shut because reality is just too much for me. Why would I fake this? Why would I pretend to feel this way? Do you know how awful it is? I’m not looking for pity or sympathy. I’m looking for escape: I’m looking for help.

4. Don’t you dare make me feel small and pathetic for using the word “triggered.”

I have every right to use this word because certain things really are triggering — an unstoppable chain of thought that sends me rocketing into the past just because of one careless moment. So I’m going to use that word, because that’s exactly how this feels.

5. I don’t use it as an excuse.

I’m not trying to get out of a meeting with my boss or play hooky at school, to stay home all day or get money from the government (which I’m not). I have been living in hell for so long that I’m trying to learn how to walk on the earth again. Adjusting is hard. Facing my pain is hard. So when I explode, I’m backsliding, too, back to square one sometimes. Do you know how much that sucks? But just ride it through with me, because this isn’t easy. Try to see things from my perspective. Maybe you can help calm me down because sometimes all I need is to know you’re not going anywhere.

6. Just be aware of what you’re saying and doing.

If one in six women are sexually assaulted in the United States alone — not to mention countless other men and women who never report their assorted traumas — there’s a pretty good chance you know someone who has faced sexual assault and is still paying the consequences. I may smile and laugh at atrocious and insensitive comments, but you’ll never have any idea of the battle raging in my head as I try to justify whatever was just said. Maybe I love you or maybe I’m too ashamed or afraid to raise my voice because I’ve been conditioned to receive more pain and agony just for standing up for myself. But just… be considerate. Please.

7. Be empathetic.

I have lived with monsters both in the real world and the ones that continue sinking their claws into my brain just when I think it’s safe to grow and move on. Please be a decent human being.

If you or a loved one is affected by sexual abuse or assault and need help, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.

Thinkstock photo via n_chetkova.

Originally published: August 24, 2017
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