Monday, June 1, 2015

Concerning Triggers and Trigger Warnings

"Trigger Warning" has become a sort of left-wing joke these days. It might as well be, "Trigger warning, bless your heart." Your poor sweet oversheltered heart.  The one too week to can't deal with reality. Your poor pathetic heart.

That's wrong. A Trigger Warning--a real one, not the ironically-named book by Neil Gaiman, not a facetious "trigger warning" with implied winking emoji--is an act of kindness to someone still bearing the wounds of  trauma. A Caution, Danger Ahead sign to people who need to take a detour or risk themselves harm.

My Post-Tramautic Stress-Disorder is slowing healing. I don't dissociate very often anymore. Now that my children are nearly grown I don't have anniversary traumas whenever they hit certain milestones. I'm pretty present, pretty stable, pretty much of the time. I'm really proud of this

We were at our mountain house in Linville for the past three days. This is an incredible sanctuary for all of us, a place where I feel entirely safe. I sleep well and heavily in Linville; I walk around with my head full of book plots and ideas. It's a dreamy, wonderful feeling.

Yesterday, while my husband, son, and some friends golfed, I played Scrabble with my daughter and her friend. We went down to the beach and I took out a stand-up paddleboard. After awhile we returned to the house. The whole time I was reading books--I read three this weekend--one was Kate Atkinson's Life After Life, surprisingly glorious, and another was Mosquitoland, which is my current pick for the Printz Award. The third, whose title I won't give because I'm reviewing it for Kirkus Reviews, is as brilliantly written and compelling as the others. It was a pretty good weekend for literature.

But when my husband returned he noticed I seemed a little prickly. He kept patting me, which I found uncharacteristically annoying. We had dinner with our friends, and I had to make more of an effort than usual to enjoy the conversation, and I figured I'd just had a bit too much luxury, or something, and needed to go back to work.

The trip home with my son was fun. As soon as I got inside my house, however, my anxiety levels shot up. Way up. I started having an old familiar feeling from my very difficult days, as though my skin were stretched too tightly over my body, crackling and tearing as I moved. I could feel my nerves tingling. Clearly I was entering full Flight-or-Fight territory, and I didn't have any idea why.

It was bedtime anyway, so I went to bed, snugged tensely against my husband, and tried to think step by step about my day. Ny anxiety surged as soon as I thought about that third book. Huh. "It's the book I read that's causing this," I told my husband, "It must be." I wasn't sure why--though the book deals with difficult subjects, it's not about sexual or physical abuse of any sort.

I got up and took a sleeping pill, then did some very deliberate yogic breathing until I fell asleep. That worked: I stayed asleep until morning with no nightmares. In the morning I couldn't wait to get to my yoga class, to my space on my yoga mat. I worked hard, and it helped a lot.

Yoga always ends with savasana, a pose of total relaxation that calms your brain and is a real challenge for me on the best of days. I took up the pose, and my body started to tremble, lightly, all over. Since this is one of the ways the brain discharges trauma, it didn't bother me at all--I just breathed and hung out, trembling. Then phrases from the book began to flit thought my mind. "'Would you leave him to babysit?...Seriously, Mum, the kid's got real problems.' ...I look down at his wrists, caught in my hands. His sleeves have ridden up, exposing deep red scratches on his arms...."

There's more, but that's enough to go on with. Only I was on my mat, breathing calmly. I'm beginning to learn to let these words, these triggers, float past. I kept breathing. My muscles relaxed, at least part of the way. I won't have to fight today. I'll even review the book, sometime later.

This is a hard-won victory for me. Others aren't so far along. Be kind about your Triggers and your Trigger Warnings. Be present, and be gentle, and be kind.

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