Triggering Triggers (PTSD)

Trigger Warning!!

Triggers can pop up just about anywhere.  Just when you think that you have tackled an issue, whether it is dealing with a traumatic experience or re-living memories in a disorder called (PTSD), post-traumatic stress disorder, triggers may resurface.

A trigger is something that sets off a memory tape or flashback transporting the person back to the event of her/his original trauma.

For me, traveling the tough therapy road, confronting issues relating back to my horrid past of childhood sexual and emotional abuse (PTSD), I lived with flashbacks and frightening dreams.  Certain smells, certain surroundings…..hard to pinpoint, can trigger a recollection.  Luckily, I have moved on with my life and can swiftly shove these painful thoughts aside.  It took years though to be able to achieve this.

A couple of years ago, a tough test for me tackling triggers was put to the test.  Nine years of hospitalizations ended in 2002, and I had not visited the inside of any hospital ward since that time.  My psychiatrist’s office was in the hospital, and although I had to pass by the doors to the ward for each appointment with him, it never bothered me due to the fact that I was an outpatient now.

A close friend was now admitted to this floor, and although I gulped at first, wondering “should I visit or should I stay away”, I chose to visit her and give her my support.

The diary of my visit:

Sam, the security guard smiles, recalling me from past admissions.  He unlocks the door and I enter the ward.  The same shiny, pea-green colored floors greet me and I begin my walk. I make an effort not to stare into the rooms, but eyes focus on the ends of the beds peeking through each room, observing the same tatty chairs by the wall, and sad multi-coloured curtains on the secured windows.

Continuing, I arrive at the nurse’s station and inquire where my friend’s room is.  I don’t recognize any nurse on duty, feeling slightly disappointed due to the fact that I would have liked to have said hello to some of the nurses, who at times, were my savior.  At this moment, I’m not experiencing any triggers.

Lingering down the hallway, each room appears empty, but then this is the weekend.  The TV room is also empty, magazines scattered, same old couch with the tattered arms.  I feel a slight shudder now, but I brush it off.  I’m alright.

My hands feel icy cold until I enter my friend’s room.  I take a seat in a chair by the corner wall and unexpectedly feel panic.  After a few minutes of chatter, I figure out that the trigger, for some reason, is the bedspread on the empty bed beside her.  I am fixated on this unsightly, pink, cotton spread.  I continue on with the conversation, yet I’m obsessed and staring at this bedspread.  A flood of horrid memories surface.  I am a balancing act; chatting with her, yet chatting with no one, and conceivably not making enjoyable conversation.  She never commented and the 1 ½ hours flew by.

I believe that the bedspread represented the years I spent laying on my hospital bed, staring at the ceiling, waiting for hope to arrive, hence discovering that it wasn’t coming my way.  I was overwhelmed by crippling depression and days were mostly spent planning my demise.  Those memories were painful and catapulted me back in time to when this all began with therapy for PTSD; it was all too overwhelming.  You think you are getting on with your life, leather-skinned that nothing will penetrate, when all of a sudden ‘whoosh’, these dreadful feelings rush back.

I was once again hospitalized in 2012 on the mental health floor, this time in a newer hospital, however, the same ugly pink bedspreads were on the beds.  I experienced triggers as soon as I was led to my room and viewed the bed.  That first night in the hospital was rough as the flashbacks that disappeared for years returned, but as the days passed it was easier to deal with. 

As for triggers.  It’s a case of deep breathing. Scary moments to say the least.  Triggers – emerge when you least expect them, and you can’t always be prepared.   Just do your very best and stay strong.  Remember, you are a survivor and a warrior!!

Written and copyrighted by Deb McCarthy/2017

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2 thoughts on “Triggering Triggers (PTSD)

  1. twinkletoes2017 says:

    Oh god that’s horrible, I’m not surprised that triggered you at all. You were very kind and brave to go and visit your friend there, very selfless.

    I think I may have triggered myself this morning reading a book about ending therapy – it made my heart race and think all sorts about the possibility of my T leaving! It happens so quickly doesn’t it? Horrible x


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