Saturday, July 27, 2013

Triggers, Triggers, Everywhere.....

I would like to bring up a more complicated discussion today. Triggers and how they affect us as not just mental illness sufferers but also how it affects people who have endured violence and abuse and those that suffer from addiction issues.

Triggers, triggers, everywhere......

Trigger: anything, as an act or event, that initiates or precipitates a reaction or series of reactions.

An example of a good trigger would be the smell of cookies baking. Thoughts of happier times possibly childhood visits with your favorite grandma. You are reverted back to something pleasant and peaceful. The smell of cookies baking is almost as good as the taste of them or the feeling of fullness after eating them. Some triggers are not good. Some are highly unpleasant and debilitating.

I grew up very aware of what triggers are. My mother endured violent sexual abuse as a child at the hands of her father. A man who was violently sexually abused himself by his mother, grandmother, and his mother and grandmother's "clients". A chain, if you will, of devastation that ran through my family. A sick and disgusting history of extreme cruelty that ran like poison through the generations.

It was not unusual to come home after school and find my mother hiding in the closet crying and speaking in a child like voice. Scared and confused. It was not uncommon to not be able to touch or hug her because she was being triggered by touch. It was not uncommon for her to be washing dishes and just start throwing them to the floor to get the pain out. It took extensive therapy to get this to become less and to deal with the flashbacks that she was going through. As she got better she no longer hid in closets or broke plates or needed physical space from being touched at least from me. However, there were many times when we would be walking through a grocery store and she would freeze in her tracks and start to shake. Something had triggered her. A smell, a touch, a taste would bring back a flashback. Sometimes it was something that was said or not even what was said but how it was said. I was very aware of triggers and specifically her triggers so we could avoid them or if it was impossible to avoid them I would know how to help her when she was thrown back to the abuse memories. It is hard for others to comprehend what triggers are like unless they have a close friend or family member that have them themselves.

Triggers can give you flashbacks from a violent or abusive event.

Another set of people that have triggers are those that deal with addiction issues. This is why it is recommended that in recovery you do not keep the same addict friends and go to the same places where you used to use. They can become triggers that can give you stronger urges to use again.

And finally we have the mental illness community. Some of us have triggers specific to our diagnoses. I have OCD and I have triggers. It is a fact that certain things actually can trigger responses from me that are purely OCD related. I like to say something has triggered my OCD to be worse. I don't like to say that something triggers my OCD. That gives the impression that my OCD is only present when I encounter triggers. That is not the case. My OCD is constant. I am able to deal with it or overcome it to the point that many times it is not blatantly evident. That does not mean it ceases to irritate or plague me, it just means you are less likely to know it does by just looking at me.

Certain things trigger my OCD to be worse. I have triggers. I try to avoid them but as you know that is not always possible. I am aware of them but sometimes I am caught off guard. They cause me to have a visceral reaction. A physical flinching. It takes self talking and breathing. Triggers can cause an avoidance of the situation and most commonly a panic attack or extreme anxiety. And I am not the only one. People that suffer from mental illness regardless of the diagnoses can and do have triggers that make their symptoms worse or more evident.

An example is when someone touches my face, specifically my brother who finds my reaction to be highly amusing. This causes me to flinch and run to go scrub my face raw. I hate this trigger. Hate it with a extreme passion. It is debilitating, agonizing, and painful. I hate the loss of control. I hate the way it makes me feel. I hate that I am unable to control my reaction.

Many mental illness sufferers have triggers whether it be phobias, anxiety, flash backs, or uncomfortable reactions. The need to avoid or run away from triggers is very strong and it can result in missing out on things that we would like to actually participate in.

Stress is a huge trigger for most of us. Where normal people would become frustrated or upset, we can become unable to function. Lack of sleep makes many cranky, for a mental illness sufferer it can be harder to manage our symptoms. Triggers that cause us extreme anxiety can be highly disruptive to our schedules.

So in conclusion, triggers suck. They are everywhere and having mental illness means that at some point you are going to encounter them. At some point, you are going to have to deal with the big, ugly, pink elephant in the room. For normal people they see a world full of possibility. For us the world can seem like a trap ready to spring. For us the world looks like a huge potential for triggers to reach out and grab you. For us, there are triggers, triggers, everywhere. It can be quite frightening. It doesn't mean that we aren't capable of being out the world and doing the things we love. It simply means that we have to work harder to be able to do so. It can be done and it would be truly magnificent that if you know someone that has issues with triggers that you be understanding and supportive.

Neurotic Nelly


  1. It's hard enough even thinking about possible triggers to even get out most of the time. Sick and sad.

  2. nelly, amazing. spoken and written so beautifully, so honestly and so correctly!!!

  3. Thank you so very much KLC! :)

  4. It feels like you were writing this about my life. Triggers triggers everywhere! Thanks so much for sharing this.