My triggers aren’t limited to my posttraumatic stress disorder. Because I have CPTSD, it’s ahem more complex than PTSD from concrete traumatic events. (This isn’t to say CPTSD is more advanced or whatever; they’re variations, with trauma coming from different events, factors, and points in life.)
As such, I’m triggered by different things, not always associated with trauma.
The thing about triggers is they’re not a guaranteed way to get a reaction. I’m not triggered every time I’m exposed to one of my triggers—which is something people might not understand. I am aware of my triggers, and I am also aware of how well I can manage any possible reactions if I’m exposed to them. Just because slamming doors triggers me doesn’t mean I’m going to have a mental breakdown every time someone slams a door. (I might have in the past, before I started therapy and learning how to manage my mental health.)
Here are the triggers I’m fairly certain are related to my PTSD:
- loud footsteps
- slamming doors and cupboards
- hands moving to my face
- yelling/loud voices
- walking near moving trucks or cars
My PTSD triggers need to happen in real life. I need to hear and experience them to be triggered by them—a video game with stomping sounds, or a movie where people yell, won’t trigger traumatic flashbacks and my fight-flee-or-freeze response.
Here are the triggers unrelated to PTSD:
- bodily mutilation, on humans or animals
- existentialism (I’m not even kidding with this one)
I’m still bouncing around on how I feel about the PTSD diagnosis, but I’ve been diagnosed twice with depression by medical practitioners in different cities, so I’m going to say I have depression. The triggers above are more likely to initiate “bad vibes” and a depressive mood, or make me incredibly upset.
The way I manage my triggers, and when I’m triggered, depends entirely on how I get triggered and what triggered me.
If I’m triggered in a verbal conversation with someone, or by something happening around me, I make a quick note to the people around me (who know about my mental health) that I’m not comfortable with the topic or the environment. My biggest response to my PTSD triggers is to get anxious or angry. I’ll complain about what I hear, because that’s the only way I can tell myself, “This isn’t a precursor to harm. It’s a trivial thing. People can complain about trivial things, things that don’t matter too much.” If you follow me on Twitter, I have occasionally talked about living with people who have heavy footsteps.
The triggers I struggle with more are the images and videos. I feel sick when I see photos of hurt people or animals, especially ones that are like, “Little Benjamin the beagle needs emergency surgery after being attacked, help the crowdsourcing campaign!” followed by a picture of little Benjamin’s hurt body. Just fucking don’t. It’s a graphic image. Content warnings for graphic imagery occur on television, but not on the Internet, and that’s why I need to avoid social media when I have bad mental health.
I could elaborate more on the specifics and individual situations, but it’ll be faster and more efficient to sum up my known triggers, how they influence my mental health, and how I attempt to manage them.
Trigger: loud footsteps, slamming doors and cupboards, yelling/loud voices, walking near moving trucks or cars
Effect: fight, flee, or freeze response; irritability; anxiety
Management: I’m still trying to figure out how to manage this trigger. At the moment, it leads to a bunch of complaining about whatever noises I’m hearing.
Trigger: hands moving to my face
Effect: knee-jerk reaction to get the hell away from you; fight, flee, or freeze response; accelerated heart rate; flashbacks; anxiety
Management: I snap or explain the situation to the person who triggered me.
Trigger: corpses, death
Effect: anxiety; suicidal urges; upset stomach; symptoms of grief (crying, loss of appetite, sadness, etc.); hopelessness
Management: I’m usually triggered by images of this one, but occasionally written or heard can trigger me; so getting away from the pictures helps, along with distracting myself with puzzles and other cognitive engagement (like games!).
Trigger: self-harm, bodily mutilation, suicide
Effect: urge to hurt myself; upset stomach; crying; suicidal ideation, urges, or rumination
Management: I’m only triggered by visuals of this trigger, and I manage it with deep breathing, distracting myself with puzzles and games (cognitive engagement), meditating, and doing “body scan” exercises to remind myself of compassionate touch/perspective on my skin, instead of pain.
Effect: suicidal ideation, urges, or rumination; anxiety; hopelessness
Management: I end and avoid conversations or discussions rooted in existentialism. Considering my purpose on the planet, or wondering the meaning of my life, is a sure-fire way to make my mental illness difficult to manage.
My intensive short-term therapy last year ended up being the best place for me to learn how to manage my mental health when my mental illnesses are triggered. I left out some of the more situation-specific triggers that can worsen my mental health, but on the whole, this post is fairly exhaustive of my life. Not every trigger has the same reaction and the same way of dealing with it. I’ve spent at least a year now trying to figure out the best solutions to navigate my mental illness without reinforcing harmful behaviours.
It’s been hard.