Anyone who spends any time on social media will have become familiar with the term “triggered.” Over the last few years, it has entered the public lexicon. Unfortunately, its meaning has been incorrectly implanted in the public consciousness.
“Triggered” is actually a psychological term usually related to PTSD. A trigger is an external stimuli that produces a very uncomfortable, emotional response, most often in the form of panic attacks or flashbacks. However, varied symptoms can result from the triggering of a traumatic memory. It absolutely does not mean “offended” or “hurt.” I’m sure most people will have come across the correct explanation of the term. I have certainly witnessed many try to explain why using the term as an insult or a vehicle for mockery is not okay. Yet, the misuse continues. It occurred to me that perhaps what is needed is an accurate representation of what happens when a person with PTSD is triggered. Maybe if people understood the reality, they wouldn’t throw the word around so carelessly. So, I thought I would share what “triggered” means to me.
Due to some weird olfactory sensitivity, I’ve been unable to wear my everyday perfume during pregnancy. It makes me nauseous. Now the scent I wore during my first pregnancy is a major trigger for me. Triggers can be anything, and no one has any control over what might become one. I experienced a million sights, sounds and sensations during that time, yet most of them hold little power over me. That scent, however, is potent.
It’s formidable enough to render me a sobbing wreck. Being taken off guard by that scent whilst shopping forced me to run shaking from a bookshop to vomit in the street, all the while struggling to breathe and bring myself to the present. A nurse who had too liberally applied the fragrance sent me shuddering back 15 years, leaving me so panicked I crawled behind a chair and hid. I stayed crouched on the floor desperately trying to claw my way out of the worst day of my life—completely trapped in my own personal horror film until some kind soul got me some diazepam and did me the kindness of handing it over without questions. That heady aroma has caused nightmares so vivid that I’ve woken to my own screams—dreams so painfully real, that I’ve had to keep myself awake for days. Sitting in the company of someone wearing that perfume once contaminated me. On returning home I could not rid myself of the smell. Real or imaginary, it lingered until I smashed my hand with a marble pestle. I was so tortured by the memories of this scent, that I plowed that pestle into my hand until I broke two fingers. The cracking of bones a welcome jolt back to the here now.
Triggers are uncontrollable. It’s not within the power of a traumatized person to select what reactivates their trauma, nor can they choose not to respond. Our minds shelter dark territories and they’re all one-way roads. Once you’ve slipped in, you must press through. Being triggered isn’t a foolish overreaction, nor is it the hurt feelings of the overly sensitive. It is the raw and brutal reality of those who have dealt with the unimaginable. It’s a battle scar on the brain.
I can’t stop anyone from misappropriating a word. Ignorance abounds. The only tool I have to fight with is honesty. The truth is that trivializing a serious symptom of illness hurts. It stifles the conversation and prevents people from seeking help. It makes vulnerable people feel weak, ashamed and stupid.
So, no, I’m not triggered by your cheap dig. I’m just tired of the stigma. Very, very tired.
Author: ly h Kerr
Author Bio: ly h Kerr is a freelance writer and blogger based in Glasgow. She writes on a variety of topics, but specializes in body liberation, mental and chronic illness, all with a feminist slant. She writes with passion from experience.
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