PTSD is a triggered disorder. Meaning that; seeing, hearing, or over all experiencing things even loosely related to the trauma can cause anything from a panic attack to a full-blown flashback to sometimes, nothing.
Being triggered can look a variety of ways. It can set off a chain of obsessive compulsive behavior like picking at my skin, biting my nails, pulling my hair, scratching, or rocking back and forth. Sometimes the compulsive desire to cut is too much and I succumb to it.
I can dissociate and find it hard to track with conversation or even hear things directed at me.
Sometimes, I lose track of the passage of time and what feels like five minutes to me is in reality, a half an hour.
Panic attacks usually end in my ability to be present fully disassembling and my mind being unresponsive. Flashbacks open up a whole different can of worms for someone like me whose mind is fractured by Dissociative Identity Disorder.
Being triggered can end with me being lost inside myself until it feels safe enough to come out again.
Even seeing a picture of something I wasn’t expecting can send me into a dizzying spiral. It really is aptly named. Triggers go off as fast as a gunshot and provide pretty harmful results.
I’m not going to make a list of triggers because that could knock me out for the night, but I will tell you, it’s important that if you have PTSD to tell trustworthy people around you what your triggers are. One at a time so as not to overwhelm yourself.
I have a long list of triggers. So it’s paramount that Doug see movies before I do or to review books with others before I read them. (The Hunger Games series left me bleeding in my closet for hours and confused for days afterward.)
I have to carefully monitor what time of day I watch certain movies or read certain books, what kinds of conversation I have, and what situations I put myself in.
I can go to the zoo, just not to the aquarium.
I can see kids movies without serious vetting, but not anything else.
There is an aspect that comes out when I watch Sherlock, so I have to be careful that she feels safe and that it isn’t too late or too close to taking my medication when I decide to watch an episode.
Often, it is easy enough for me to recognize that I need to change the subject and I can say, “I need to not talk about this anymore”. If the person doesn’t understand, it usually isn’t a big deal.
But there are those of us who haven’t had the practice I have of knowing when to stop short of our triggers. There are people who don’t explain to their friends that they can’t watch that movie, talk about that scary urban legend, listen to the news, or keep their eyes open on the haunted trail. Some of us with PTSD aren’t even at the point where we know that we can tell you.
If you know someone that has PTSD, be sensitive. If they need to walk out, let them. If they need to change the subject, let them. If you know your friend has been raped, maybe don’t tell that joke. It isn’t funny anyway. Even if you don’t know any of that, just ease off.
Triggers are hard to understand. Sometimes they are connected to repressed memories and don’t make any sense at all.
Essentially we’re just trying as best we can to navigate a mine field.
Be gentle when we set one off.
Yes, we’re trying really hard to not get triggered, no we don’t need to “face it” unless we’re in a therapists office.
This isn’t a movie. This is real life. Please, just be patient with us.
photo credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/stewf/2553975875/”>Stewf</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>cc</a>