Mental Health

February 5, 2021

Bang, bang….

I'm WillowjakMama!

My blog started as a way to document my journey to wellness, but turned into a place to be inspired by others through our collective messy & authentic stories. Now it's my favourite place to be.

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“Bang bang, I shot you down
Bang bang, you hit the ground
Bang bang, that awful sound
Bang bang, I used to shoot you down..”

“Bang Bang” Nancy Sinatra/Lee Hazelwood 1966

Triggers. They can be bad; they can be good.

The trigger on my Remington Wingmaster, for example, is excellent. Just the right weight, smooth and responsive. I love pulling it over and over on a Sunday morning to bring down those pieces of orange clay flung in the air at my gun club. And maybe one day, I’ll get good enough to use it to bring down a duck dinner… we shall see. That’s a trigger that definitely makes my life better.

Likewise, the trigger on a nail gun or a power drill when you’re renovating, the triggers of a Nerf gun or a water pistol when you’re playing with a laughing toddler… also all good, and tons of fun.

Those other kinds of triggers though, the ones that aren’t physically in our hands… well, not so good. I guess this is where I should declare a trigger warning?

I’ve had a little bit of an awakening about some triggers that shot me down recently. I was already under a lot of time pressure at work, and then had some additional and unexpected demands put upon my shoulders. All in sort of a “right now” time frame. And boom. Before I could blink, I was panicking, feeling that tightening in my chest, anticipating Armageddon, looking around for any way out; and, boom…. triggered. I cannot count, in hindsight, the number of times this has snuck up on me this same way and I never understood my over-reaction. That over-reacting panic in me that is often way out of proportion to the actual events at hand. I just assumed that this was “the way I was”, that I was saddled with an unfortunate character flaw that left me with an inability to manage change, or pressure, or challenging times, without freaking the fuck out first and usually making everyone else around me uncomfortable too. In the midst of any of those times, I never was able to fend it off, hold it at bay, to change the patterns, or understand what was actually happening to create such a reaction in me.

But, before I go on, let me just stop right here for a li’l sidebar.

I hate even bringing up this subject, because in my opinion, “triggering’, “triggered” and “trigger warnings” have probably become the most incorrectly overused words in the language of late. But before you judge me a hypocrite… hear me out. I fully understand the definition of what being triggered is. I looked it up to be sure I was correct. I read that it is a very real, very scary situation for the person living it. A situation often serious enough to be dangerous. Smells, sounds, sights, specific language, a certain physical gesture… all of these otherwise innocent things can reach right down to the darkest corner of some people’s souls to a time in their lives that left a scar, and before they can blink, a random associated stimuli (trigger) can put them back into reliving whatever the original horror was all over again. It is one of the largest and most persistent problems facing victims of PTSD. Military and first responders… they often get the worst of it. However, being victims of violence or abuse, those with anxiety disorders or simply suffering a traumatic loss, or a devastating emotional trauma… they can all carry that ticking bomb around inside them too. But NO… this term does not get to be flung around as the hot catch-phrase of the moment by everyone who thinks that any negative emotional reaction is now a result of “triggering”. Triggers create a disconnect from the reality of a moment… the reliving of feelings surrounding a not-currently-happening trauma within our minds. It often takes years of professional help, meditation and therapy to remove trigger reactions from our behaviour patterns. Being upset while getting yelled at in the Timmies line up, feeling shock after watching a violent newsreel, or feeling lost and hopeless after having a nasty fight with your bestie… these are not “being triggered”, they are normal emotional reactions to current, if upsetting, circumstances (yep, I’ve heard PTSD and triggering used that way and it makes me cringe). Triggering results from an involuntary return to a traumatic and scarring episode in a person’s past life, not from what is actually in front of them now. Triggering causes the affected person to often live in constant fear of returning to the emotions and reactions of a horrible time in their lives, from encountering a seemingly unrelated current stimuli. When they encounter what the brain thinks is any outward sign of a similar pattern…off they go into defense mode, fear mode, out of control mode.

(This misguided appropriation of “trigger” reminds me of another pet peeve of mine… calling something “gay” when you are not talking about sexual orientation. No, saying “that’s so gay” is not innocuous, and not at all about anyone’s sexual orientation (or being light hearted… the other antiquated meaning of that word). It’s a straight up micro-aggression and a gross misuse of the English language. But I digress, even from the digression. Oops.)

So… saying “that’s so triggering” about something currently in front of you…you’re not “triggered”, you’re just upset with what is currently happening in front of you. So please… find a better word, our language has many. Upset, disturbed, uncomfortable, distressed, horrified… they all work. But unless you have been diagnosed with mental health conditions linked to triggering… you are not “triggered”. You may be feeling normal human revulsion at some event in front of you… that feeling of discomfort encountering shocking things is a healthy emotional reaction. But you’re incorrectly appropriating the experience of people who live with pervasive subconscious fear and pain every day when you call it “triggering”. So please, let’s don’t.

Anyhoo… back to my little moment….

I had a powerful moment in that particular trigger encounter, even in the midst of my out-of-control, out-of-proportion panic reaction. While I was in the midst of it, I finally recognized it as a trigger episode, and for some reason only known to God (or my therapist, or the full wolf moon in Leo) I was finally able to pause, step away mentally and ask myself why I felt the way that I did just then. My little introspection made me realize that it wasn’t about the current workload addition. I was reliving a traumatic time of being thrown into a job that was completely out of my comfort zone and skill set, and being left alone to sort it out which meant being completely disconnected from my family night after night, alone in an office with my doubts and fears and feeling the weight of the world and an overarching sense of inevitable failure both at work and home. It was the reliving of the season that marked, in part, the beginning of the hot mess of the end of my marriage, and the root and beginning of my difficulties in the relationship with one of my kids. The fear of loss and abject failure that this scenario left me with, I realized, has been clinging to me ever since, like cheap toilet paper, and every time I start to feel overloaded in the present… even when I know what has to be done, and am fully capable of getting it done without incurring any loss in my life, that the risk of failing at it is very low…. and that I normally DO have a team supporting me while working through it…there I was, back again in panic mode looking for a way out and a rock to hide under. A massive source of anxiety and panic attacks for me had just been laid bare.

Somehow, overcoming my shame and guilt and saying all that out loud to one of my colleagues, explaining that I was working through all that and trying not to let it derail my current train… it seemed to suddenly put the trigger lock back on the gun of my irrational fear, and it allowed my mind to clear and focus on the tasks at hand while feeling a sense of calm begin to descend where only animalistic panic had just ruled. Yes, I felt a little embarrassed in hindsight for what had escaped me before I took back the wheel of my day, but I also realized that the moments I’d just been through may possibly have been the last time that old wound might have that power over me anymore. Because I’d called that bitch out for the shadow she was. That, my friends, is about as big a win as one can get in my books, in the battle for emotional balance.

Of course, I am still somewhat wrapped in my perfectionism about this, after the fact, chiding myself for it having taken this long to “get it” and “see it”… but that’s another side trigger for another day. Recognizing as I set it aside that my perfectionism haunts me now when I feel inadequate, because it grew as a way of me grasping for control in my childhood when life seemed to be getting too out of control and my innocence was disintegrating as I got more and more exposed to the chicanes of the adult world in that way of blowing things up that only children can do. Something else for me to put in the “stop and reflect” bucket the next time I feel like I am not going to be good enough, or strong enough, or just plain enough in my life.

So I’ll take this little messy win and quietly give myself a little gold star for another inch forward in my journey of self-awareness and self-acceptance. I might still be stumbling, but at least I’m falling forward again.

Turns out that like on Shootin’ Sundays, always knowing where the key to that trigger lock is, is a good thing. Wonder which of my bad bitch triggers I can stare down and lock out next…..hold my beer, punk…I’m comin’ for ya, both barrels loaded. Bang, bang.

Deb P.

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Hi, I'm Stacey.
Welcome to the
Willowjak Blog 

My blog started as a way to document my journey to wellness, but turned into a place to be inspired by others through our collective messy & authentic stories. We chat about themes that are often ignored and voices that aren't often given a chance at the mic. Now it's my favourite place to be. 

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