Hey all! Sorry for the absence. I was on a brief holiday with my family in beautiful Palm Springs, CA. After a lovely 4.5 days of thawing out, I am back in the Midwestern tundra and ready to write. For almost 2 weeks now, I have had a post brewing in my mind. I have something which I think is valuable to put down, but I want to be careful that it is done correctly and with the right intention. Done poorly, this post could be misinterpreted entirely. So, with a thoughtful heart, I want to talk to you today about Triggers.
Hello. I have an anxiety disorder. Unless you also have an anxiety disorder, it is very unlikely that you truly understand what it is like to live with one. That is the first reason for why I forgive you for sometimes getting it wrong. That is, for making mistakes with how you talk to me. I forgive you, because you don’t understand, and that is not your fault.
You see, most people who have an anxiety disorder have what are known as “triggers”. Triggers are things, events, people, etc. which incite anxiety in that person, or trigger it, hence the name. For most anxiety sufferers, we can give you a neatly composed list of our known triggers (some have more, some have less), because when you have anxiety, you learn rather quickly which things upset you, and then proceed to avoid them like the plague. Unfortunately, we can be surprised by triggers. We can be totally caught off guard by things that we did not expect to upset us. Sometimes this is because a trigger existed which we had simply not discovered yet, and sometimes this is because we are simply in a fragile or vulnerable state, for whatever reason, and end up being triggered by something that would otherwise be innocuous. Sometimes, you might be talking to us and you may inadvertently trigger our anxiety with something that you say. For example, someone who knows and loves me very well, once said something very flippantly about something that happens to be my largest anxiety trigger, and I ended up skipping 2 meals and 1 night of sleep before I was able to come out of the anxious tailspin that followed that one, simple sentence. I didn’t say anything to them about it, because I didn’t want to embarrass them, and I knew that they would never intentionally upset me. We know that you don’t mean to hurt us. This is the second reason for which I forgive you. I know that you would never hurt me on purpose.
On that note, the way that I react to being triggered is my problem. My anxiety disorder is not your problem. Part of what I learn in therapy is how to bolster myself against triggers, so that they do not affect me so poignantly. My anxiety disorder and its management is my responsibility. This is the third reason for which I forgive you. I forgive you because the way that I react and the manner in which I manage my anxiety is ultimately my responsibility, and not yours.
The thing is, I’m not perfect at it yet. I don’t always get it right, and even the most diligent of anxious people will occasionally find themselves in a fear spiral after a triggering conversation or experience. My techniques are not perfect, my tool box doesn’t always have the right gadget, and sometimes my best tool is You.
So here’s what it comes down to, for those of you who know and love an anxious person. If you know them well, you likely know what their triggers are, or what they might be. If this is the case, I hope it goes without saying, but just don’t. If you are about to share an anecdote or story which touches on a trigger of your anxious companion, just don’t. We know that you won’t always know, but when you do, just don’t. Please. If you know them well enough and are comfortable, ask your anxious friend what you might be able to do, or not do, in order to best support them in their battle with anxiety. Ask them what topics you should avoid. They will likely love you forever for caring enough to ask, I promise.
One of the worst parts of having anxiety is knowing you have anxiety. It is frustrating beyond explanation to know that your fear reaction is often not situation-appropriate. It is embarrassing to be so afraid that you are sweating through your clothes just because someone casually brought up a triggering topic. It is an all encompassing mental illness. We are trying though, most of us. We are trying every single day to be better at managing it. We attend therapy regularly. We have ah-ha moments. We eradicate OCD ticks by, very uncomfortably, attacking them head on. We take medication. We meditate. We practice using our intellectual brains instead of our anxious ones. We avoid our triggers like the hell-beasts that they are, because we are trying to be better. So, when I ask you to help by being conscious of what you say to us, and how you say it, know that I am not asking you to do all the work. Trust me, we are working hard, every single day. I am only asking for a little boost. A little support. A little love. When you know someone with anxiety, speak thoughtfully. Your words have so much power, and we will always appreciate the careful way in which you wield them.
Peace and love to you all.
* – Keep an eye out for the follow up to this post – A Day In The Life of An Anxious Mom, where I will journal throughout an entire day and share it here! Embrace the chaos!! We will probably laugh, we might cry, but it will definitely be an enlightening experience.
** – My next series of prompted writing starts TOMORROW! Catch me here on the blog every day for 31 days, as I follow a series of writing prompts. More details about the exact prompts I’m using will be shared in the first post, up sometime tomorrow.
*** – Lastly, the blog underwent a bit of a readership boost last week and I just want to take a minute to wildly flail my arms and say HELLO!!! I AM SO GLAD YOU ARE HERE!!!! Thanks for joining us on this wild and crazy adventure. I hope you laugh, I hope you cry (but only if they are emotion releasing, productive tears) and I hope you find some community in this space. I am, as always, an open book. Comment. Email. Reach out. I love to interact. I love to answer questions and I love to get to know you all!