Troubling Triggers

The word “trigger” is one that has been thrown around much more often than it should. It’s just one of those “cool” phrases to use online to turn mental illness into a glamorous state of being.

But contrary to the overuse of the term, I do think it’s important to address this concept as it pertains to mental health. For those of us volatile to dips in mental health with a history of any difficulties, there can be certain situations that can be a tipping point for a relapse.

Understandably, moods are bound to change regardless of our surroundings, but even if you’re in a good place, certain things can just be uncomfortable or downright dangerous.

This topic came to mind after seeing a news story of how two girls completed suicide. However, it turns out that both girls had watched the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why before doing so. Obviously the families of these girls, with the one piece of tangible reasoning they can grasp, are placing blame on the video streaming site.

Putting blame entirely on Netflix is as bad as blaming every circumstance other than mental illness for suicide. However, I do think that the show was a trigger to young people already facing plenty of issues themselves. A confirmation that following through with their dangerous thoughts was a sensible choice.

For most people, triggers don’t come from television shows, but these shows could easily portray concepts that cause anxiety, that allow depressive thoughts to resurface.

A common misconception is that if we are exposed to our triggers more often, they are easier to manage. That we become used to how we feel and “overcome” our hesitation. Rarely is this true. Phobias and triggers are not synonymous. You should feel no obligation to face your triggers if you don’t feel comfortable.

Instead of devaluing someone for avoiding what is harmful to them, we should applaud the fact they’re aware of what disrupts their mental well-being and taking care of themselves accordingly. Nothing is more empowering than having insight into our health and making the best choices for ourselves. And if doing so doesn’t limit our lives or hurt others, nobody should judge however that self-care may look.

You’re probably wondering, do I have triggers? Of course. There’s a reason why I don’t wear a FitBit, weigh myself, or go out often to loud, crowded places without a valid reason. I know that by being proactive, I can prevent myself from having to deal with what I know might drive me to some unhealthy behaviors.

Is this a form of avoidance? That by not addressing these triggers head-on, I’m not actively seeking recovery? I don’t think so. You shouldn’t feel guilty for making your life as nontoxic as possible. You are the one living your life, and if that means that you don’t associate yourself with certain people or don’t partake in certain activities, then that’s okay.

It’s been a new thing these days for certain people to critique how often we might label a certain social media post or program with a “trigger warning.” But why is this any different from other health conditions? You wouldn’t ask a diabetic person to eat a ton of desserts to raise their blood sugar through the roof, nor would you put a jar of peanut butter in somebody’s face who has a food-borne allergy, expecting them to adapt to that situation and become more resilient.

It’s more understandable to make these comparisons, but mental health triggers can be much more complicated. As with mental and physical illness, the latter tends to be much more visible, more black-and-white. Mental health thrives in the grey area. The mental triggers, as with physical ones, can be mild or severe. They can come from anywhere that has some emotional ties. Most people wouldn’t even question eating certain foods or discussing certain topics, but who knows what goes through somebody else’s head doing the same thing. Triggers require others to be flexible and aware. They are not the outright cause of mental illness, but they are catalysts for trouble.

While not every single word or image we see or hear should require listing out every possible reason that it could offend someone else, but we ourselves should notice whatever signs we know are associated with our personal triggers and treating them accordingly. Nobody else has to be involved in disclosing every single detail we might encounter, but the people around us should act simply as moral support. They might not fully understand why a simple TV show or social situation might cause full-out panic or depression, but they can acknowledge that you might do things differently than others, and that’s okay.

Whether you have triggers or not, be mindful and empathetic of those who do have them, who may need your emotional support to simply live a full life. And these triggers are not glamorous. It’s not some new trend to say you have social anxiety or are depressed. Triggers have and will drive some people over the edge. Once we actually start taking that threat seriously, we can continue moving forward as a cognizant society.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

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