Even if you don’t suffer with your mental health you’ve probably heard the term ‘trigger’ before. You might have seen articles on social media come with trigger warnings, which usually means they’re talking about something like drug use, abuse or some other heavy subject that might upset certain readers. But what you might not realise is that for some people, the most mundane thing can be a trigger.
Triggers, or Trauma Triggers as they’re clinically known, is something which brings a person back to a moment of trauma. Just like our memories triggers are something incredibly personal and different from person to person. For example, there’s a certain chocolate bar that reminds me of a night I felt intensely alone and abandoned. If I’m in a supermarket my eyes will almost always seek it out and then something inside of me starts to hurt. Most of the time I can take a deep breath, shake my head and walk away. Sometimes I can’t. Sometimes my head will feel like it’s caving in and I’ll feel alone and unsafe from anywhere between a couple minutes to several hours.
There’s been a lot of bad press over the last couple of years about triggers. Many people think triggers were invented by feminists or tumblr users and that trigger warnings are ‘PC gone mad’, but in my experience these people are often ignorant and uneducated in basic mental health and cling to the era where everything was swept under the rug and ignored. It’s not enough to say a movie or TV show contains ‘upsetting scenes’ and leave it at that. If something that goes out to the public contains sexual violence, abuse, substance abuse, suicide etc. then damn straight there needs to be a warning.
I’m digressing a little here from my original ‘anything can be a trigger’ point. Obviously you can’t warn for every trigger but that major ones should certainly be accounted for. Not everyone thinks to research something before they watch it and not everyone has the incredibly thoughtful and sweet friends that I do who will skip a scene, cover my eyes or hold my hand without saying a word.
What I’m trying to get at is how sometimes, every day can feel like a minefield. Episodes and bad days almost certainly bring triggers, but some days they can pop out of nowhere and drag you down into darkness. Smells, places, conversation topics, foods, objects – you can’t always tell where the next trigger is coming from.
For someone suffering with BPD, abandonment is a massive trigger. It affects my relationships and the way I talk and act around people. It’s a constant fear of not being good enough and being unworthy of someone’s love or time. These intense feelings can come from something as simple as someone not replying to a text and my head will become crippled with worries of what I did wrong or how I became such a tiring person to be around that no one wants to talk to me anymore. It’s frustrating because when you’re not in that moment you can rationally talk yourself through that situation, but when you’re there it’s utter darkness and hopelessness.
There are ways to battle these triggers and those of us who suffer don’t just take this obstacle as a defeat. If your brain is tricking you into thinking that you are unsafe, there are ways to battle against this and bring yourself back into the present. As cliche as it sounds, talking helps a lot. Being reassured by someone you trust that everything is ok has proven to be a big help to me quite a few times. There are other grounding techniques people find useful such as hot drinks, cold showers, clapping your hands or holding ice. Anything that forces you to focus on the present instead of slipping back. It’s a hard trick to master, but definitely worth the practice.
If you do find yourself suffering with triggers there’s a great article around Grounding Techniques over at Healthy Place.
Alternatively, if someone you love suffers with them, you can read this article The Body Is Not An Apology on ways you can help.