Headspace #4

We’ve all come across “trigger warnings” – on Facebook posts, on news articles – and for many people they can be a joke, a sign that young people today are all wrapped in cotton wool. Today’s post tackles this notion head on and calls for us all not to joke about something that can cause serious pain for someone with a mental health condition, particularly PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).

Triggered by Toast

“LOL TRIGGERED! xD” a comment reads on a Facebook video my ‘friend’ is tagged in. What the video is about I can’t remember, because I read this on something new and ‘funny’ every day. Someone sends me a snapchat of their child having a tantrum with the words [TRIGGER WARNING :P] sarcastically covering the video. I’m reading the newspaper on the bus and I see yet another article on whether millennials are overdramatic and easily offended, mocking ‘social justice warriors’ for being ‘easily triggered’, and later in a conversation someone comments on it agreeing that our generation should just ‘get over themselves’.

If this seems funny to you, please let me remind you that the original concept of the term ‘triggered’ is deeply entwined with mental health, particularly PTSD. Triggering happens when something, anything, sets off a negative emotional response such as fear, depression, flashbacks, or various other responses. These triggers are individual to the person experiencing these things, and yes to you they may seem insignificant and even silly but to that person it is a whole load of pain. So if you have never been triggered, please let me tell you how it feels.

I was finally diagnosed with PTSD ten months ago after years of suffering from flashbacks, hallucinations, and dissociative episodes. I am not a soldier or a victim of war or combat. I am a survivor of rape and sexual abuse. And when I am ‘triggered’ I vividly relive my experiences over and over again. The real world does not exist to me in that moment, because all I can think and feel and smell and hear is my abuse happening to me in real time. I can hear his voice and his breath in my ear and I can hear myself crying. I can feel the physical sensations of him touching me and my heart beats faster and I start to sweat and hyperventilate and sometimes I vomit. Once, I pissed myself because I was frozen to the spot. I can smell his cologne and the laundry detergent I used to clean my clothes 13 times. I can smell burning toast.

I’m not going to tell you not to have fun and you can keep your ‘dank memes’ if you’d like. I know we’re all bored of discussions about content and trigger warnings and arguments about feminism encouraging victimisation and all that bollocks, and you can think of me as sensitive and soft if you’d like.

But for me and many others out there being ‘triggered’ is not funny at all. It is a specific term used to describe a particularly horrific and disruptive symptom of my mental illness. And your humour and use of that term in a patronising, mocking way, is preventing me and others like me from talking openly about our experiences with mental health, and the accommodations and support we need to move on and recover.

I need someone to acknowledge that yes, avoiding going out on a night out with my friends so I don’t have to see or smell the Catholic Society giving out free toast at the bottom of bitch hill at the end of the night IS insane, which is exactly why it’s no laughing matter.

So please, keep your jokes and your memes because heavens know we all need humour to cope, but leave triggers out of it, and open up for the floor for real discussion on the seriousness of what happens when someone is triggered.



For more information on PTSD, and links to how to get support, head to https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/#.WcjNSLpFzg8

And next time you see someone joking about trigger warnings, thank them for starting a conversation about how we talk about mental health and then point out that triggering “is a specific term used to describe a particularly horrific and disruptive symptom of [someone’s] mental illness”. We wouldn’t stop and laugh at someone who has had an amputation, or make jokes about people in wheelchairs, so why should we do it about triggering? Together, we can help tackle stigma and make the world a slightly nicer place.


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