Trigger words.

explanations, ptsd

From what I understand, it’s not at all uncommon to have trigger words— if you spend a few seconds on Tumblr, you’re likely to see tags such as “tw: rape” or “tw: abuse.”

I feel what makes my trigger words unusual is that words with negative associations don’t set me off at all; rather, words generally associated with positive things trigger the hell out of me, provoking a wave of despair and guilt so strong that it’s sometimes hard to withstand.

For years, I wondered why certain words and objects/occurrences made me feel so horrible. The sound of an ice cream truck, for example, never fails to bring on the bad feelings. Seeing an ad in a crossword book for a personalized name poem–”A special gift for a beloved child,” the ad proclaimed–made me wish I were dead so I wouldn’t have to feel so sad and guilty. I recently had to take Wite-Out to the back of a bag of milano cookies after seeing the phrase “You deserve” printed on the packaging.

It wasn’t until just a few weeks ago that I realized what all these happy, terrible things had in common, and I’m pretty sure it stems back to my inappropriate and often overwhelming feelings of guilt. From what I understand, it’s pretty common for people with PTSD to suffer from these emotions; unfortunately, it’s not something that the mentally healthy can really understand, much like my friends who aren’t depressed can’t comprehend my indifference to my own existence.

The guilt–the “dark core,” as my therapist calls it–tells me that I am unworthy of happiness, undeserving of good things—that it’s so far beyond my grasp at this point that yearning for it is pointless, not to mention pathetic.

Love, happiness, deserve, special, beloved—all of these trigger the hell out of me. Even things like ice cream can set me off because even though I know the “dark core” is, frankly, full of shit, there’s a part of me that still believes I don’t deserve good things. Years of abuse and trauma have all but ruined innocent pleasures for me, and while I’m trying very hard to correct the negative automatic thoughts, it’s a slow process and is often frustrating. Since I haven’t nailed down every single trigger (and I doubt I ever will—there are far too many of them), it’s difficult to avoid everything that triggers me, and when I’m triggered, the rush of negative emotions is strong enough to set me back and nearly undo all the progress I’ve made.

PTSD is such a bitch. Trauma is a bitch. Feeling “out of it” all the time because my defense mechanisms are operating on high-alert 24/7 is incredibly frustrating, eclipsed only by the terrible feelings that come from being triggered. I seem to be unable to handle happiness—take a moment to imagine what that must be like. But as terrible as it is, it motivates me to fight even harder to get better. I know there are so many things I’m missing out on because years of trauma have conditioned me to shy away from happiness and positive experiences (probably because I’ve experienced time and time again how fleeting happiness is). It’s easier, my brain tells me, to avoid good things than to experience them for just a moment, only to have them snatched away and replaced with heaps of horrible shit.

Can anyone relate? I hope this makes sense—it’s surprisingly difficult to articulate what it’s like to be triggered, what it’s like to live in my reality. But my hope is, as always, that writing about it (even if the writing comes out abstract and difficult to follow) will help people understand what it’s like to have PTSD, to fight against crippling depression every day.

I am trying to stay alive. That takes up most of my energy on a day-to-day basis, and trying to overcome the triggers and seek out happiness and positivity in my life is sometimes exhausting. But I’ve never been one to shy away from a challenge or give up on something just because it’s hard.

Even though I’ve never thought I’d live a particularly long time (another thing that’s pretty common among PTSD sufferers), statistics say I’m going to be here for a while—I might as well try to make my world a brighter, better place. I don’t want to be miserable forever.

Is happiness a struggle for you? Please let me know I’m not alone.

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One thought on “Trigger words.

  1. You are not alone (and I’m proud of you!) After my parents left me in the dust to scramble for a job and a place to live, I started having panic attacks. I couldn’t attend church because the phrase “I love you and you are mine” – among other things – would send me REELING. Disney movies with strong parent/child interactions, things where a child is lost, et cetera all STILL set me off, years after the fact. I go from functioning adult to bucket of tears in approximately 0.25 seconds. I feel as though you’re really the only one who understands this.

    And you’re right, you never do back down from challenges. Your wrist tattoo does not lie! Love you, dearest. 🙂

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