Triggers, Triggers, Triggers

Content Warning: Trauma, PTSD, depression, guilt

Originally published on my SFW blog here

Part of my mental health plan I am creating with my therapist is a focus on trauma therapy. Until I sat down with her last year and reviewed my evaluation, I never considered myself as someone who had gone through trauma. Sure, I had been through some stuff. Who hasn’t? But trauma? That was reserved for people who had been to war, or experienced something truly horrific. Right?

She explained to me that trauma is trauma. No one person is more entitled to have PTSD than another. I realize, typing these words right now, it’s something I am still struggling to accept. It’s just another thing that makes me feel guilty. Simply admitting to myself that I might have PTSD makes me feel guilty. That’s fucked up. Now, at least I realize that it is indeed fucked up I feel that way, and not just take it as fact.

Progress, yo.

Since it took me until thirty-five to hear those words and learn I have been minimizing my trauma my entire life, obviously I hadn’t been dealing with it. This is all new for me.

I’ve never been honest with myself. Not deliberately, of course, but through sheer ignorance. I didn’t know I wasn’t being honest with myself. I didn’t know the things I felt weren’t true. No one ever told me that. Now, it’s like an unstoppable barrage. I notice almost all of my feelings and thoughts instantly. I am hyper-aware every single time I get triggered.

Recognizing the triggers was the first step. Knowing why they elicit an emotional and sometimes physiological response is something I am keenly aware of. But actually stopping them from affecting me is an entirely different beast. I have recently attached a deep feeling of guilt to some of them, so it’s a double dose of uncomfortable, painful feelings. I get so angry and frustrated at myself every time, without fail.

Since I struggle so much with controlling the negative, intrusive thoughts and feelings, focusing on changing my behavior has been crucial to me. But I haven’t found it easy. When I find myself having an intense emotional response to a situation (that I am able to recognize doesn’t merit one) I have to actively change what I would normally do when I feel that way. That means I have to keep moving and stay busy. I do something productive; cleaning, making the bed, laundry, go for a walk, picking up the million blocks that seem to multiply on the floor every day. You get the idea. I have to get that energy out physically and sometimes that helps lessen the overwhelming negative thoughts. If I instead do what I have always done and shut down, isolate and make myself small, I end up wallowing in the familiar, awful feelings. Which, obviously doesn’t help anyone.

The guilt that inevitably rears its poisonous head results from not being able to stomach that something I’ve been reassured about thousands of times is still a concept I’m unable to accept or believe. It makes me feel like shit because I can’t make my brain stop working this way immediately. It makes me feel like I don’t have control. Like I’m not trying hard enough or working hard enough to fix my broken pieces that have sharp jagged edges and tend to hurt the few people near me. It’s just feels unbearable and impossible sometimes.

I am never more aware of it than when I am hormonal, and already feeling a little sensitive. Though my entire life, all I have heard when I dared voice an opinion was I was “too sensitive” anyway. It is hard to develop a thicker skin when you’re constantly peeling back layers of scars, trying to find a clean spot to start from.

I am trying. Like, really trying. I know that. I also know that I am allowed to have bad days and slip-ups. I know that they are all learning opportunities. I am trying to have more patience with myself. That doesn’t keep me from panicking when I feel like I am lost and drowning in the murk though. I know I am flailing, grasping for anything, and that fear is always right there, like a life preserver with conditions.

Fear slips in and fills up open, empty, raw spaces almost seamlessly. It fits all warm and snuggly and convinces you that you need it to be safe. So you begin to rely on it, get to know it. Taste and love it. Not realizing that it is slowly draining your happiness, your confidence and your motivation to keep going.

Fear promised me a safe, familiar box. It wasn’t a very big box, and it seemed to be lined in razors and needles, but it was always there when I needed to hide. At least it was. Now…now it is different. That safe space is tainted. There are holes in it. It isn’t able to hide its ulterior motives anymore. I can point at it and know it is fear and a distortion…mostly. But it doesn’t stop me from feeling as though I should be in survival mode.

It is what I imagine religious people had in mind when creating their “Limbo”. It feels like being afraid of what’s ahead of me, so I turn around to my familiar safety and defenses only to find it isn’t there. Not really. So I am just there. Alone. Disoriented, losing all sense of direction. Unable to comprehend that if I just stopped, took a deep breath and looked around, my partner is right there. He is always right there. I wish I could set that as my default. I’m working on it.

That is a significant source of my guilt right now. Not being able to just be. It makes me feel unappreciative. Like a disappointment when I can’t just get it. I feel like Kanye who just can’t understand the fish sticks joke. I can feel my partner silently begging me “get it, come on, Nikki, just get it!” and still, I struggle.

I have to focus on the fact that I recognize these things now. That’s new. That’s growth. That’s progress. And that is the path to healing. I am trying to stop minimizing my accomplishments and dwelling on the fact that I am not “healed”. The positive, proud feelings are just as, if not more important to feel and enjoy. I am starting a little late, but I am starting and I feel pretty damn good about that.


  • Nikki

    Nikki is a photographer, writer, artist, and advocate of radical self-love. She writes about mental health, gaming, sex, and inclusivity.

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