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, it’s 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 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 ok. 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.
Whenever I have been pregnant I have been unable to wear my regular perfume. I wear the same scent everyday in life, but some weird olfactory sensitivity means during pregnancy it makes me nauseous. Thus, I change it & the scent I wore I during my first pregnancy is a major trigger for me. Triggers can be anything & no one has any control over what might become one. I experienced a million sights, sounds & sensations during that time, most of them hold little power over me. That scent, though, is potent.
Formidable enough to render me a sobbing wreck. Being taken off guard by that scent whilst shopping forced me to run shaking from a book shop to vomit in the street. All the while struggling to breath & 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 & 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 & did me the kindness of handing it over without questions. That heady aroma has caused nightmares so vivid that I’ve woken myself with 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. So tortured was I by the memories the scent brought to life that I ploughed 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 is not within the power of a traumatised person to select what reactivates their trauma. Nor can they choose not respond. Our minds shelter dark territories & they’re all one way roads. Once you’ve slipped in, you have to press on through. Being triggered isn’t a foolish over reaction. Nor is it the hurt feelings of the overly sensitive. It is the raw & 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 trivialising a serious symptom of illness hurts. It stifles the conversation & prevents people seeking help. It makes vulnerable people feel weak & ashamed & stupid.
So, no, I’m not triggered by your cheap dig. I’m just tired of the stigma. Very, very tired.