#Triggered Jokes

January 2000 - About 6 months after the first break in. You know what makes you grumpy? Not being able to unpack your belongings for 4+ months because you don't have a permanent home yet.

Three months after my family uprooted ourselves and moved across the country to escape the man who repeatedly broke into our home and threatened to murder me by setting me on fire and burning me alive. I guess all the nightmares and fire and noise-triggered panic attacks I experienced for years after this were pretty funny when you think about it.

“Sherlock sucks.”

#Triggered

He posts it as a joke. He’s making fun of all the little internet kiddies who use “triggered” when they really mean “I don’t like that thing you just said.”

But those little internet kiddies aren’t reading his comment. I am. And those kids misappropriated that word from the people who need it. Those kids aren’t triggered. They’re irritated. They’re offended. They’re angry. They are not triggered.

What is a Trigger?

When a person has lived through a trauma, sometimes they develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This isn’t the “trauma” of having your favorite TV show cancelled. This is serious, you really could have died, trauma.

These are people who’ve survived wars, survived terrorist attacks, survived sexual assault, survived murder attempts. We’re talking some hardcore shit here.

When you’re faced with a life-or-death situation, part of your brain kicks in to protect you. Your heart rate goes up. Your system gets flooded with adrenaline. Your breathing changes. Because you need to either fight off something that wants to kill you or you need to run like hell away from that thing that wants to kill you.

And you can’t control how fast your heart races. I mean, go ahead. Try telling your heart to stay at exactly 90 BPM. Didn’t work? Well, it doesn’t work for people with PTSD either. They have no control over how their body reacts when their PTSD symptoms are triggered.

And that’s what “triggered” actually means. It doesn’t mean you’re mad. It doesn’t mean you’re offended. It means your PTSD symptoms have kicked into high gear.

Some symptoms of PTSD hang around most of the time. A person might be extra jumpy and always scope out the nearest exits when they go somewhere new. Other symptoms lay dormant until they’re triggered.

Acorns trigger my symptoms.

When I’m in my house at night and an acorn falls on my roof, I know it’s just a stupid acorn. I’m not delusional or anything. I know it’s not anything dangerous. But that sudden thump on my roof when it hits activates my fight-or-flight response. My heart rate goes up. My breathing gets shallower. My eyes go wide. I’m reliving the same terror I felt when I was 18 and my life was actually in danger. If you’ve ever had a panic attack, you have some idea of what I’m talking about. It’s not fun when you aren’t in control of what your body is doing.

My conscious mind knows it’s just a stupid acorn, but my unconscious mind was trained a long time ago to spring into action when it perceives a threat. A loud noise is perceived as a threat.

There was a period of time in my life when not being hyper-alert might have gotten me murdered. This same heart-racing reaction, 17 years ago, could have saved my life. Now, it’s a nuisance. But, again, our hearts don’t listen to our commands.

A trigger can be anything that jerks a person with PTSD out of the present and smashes them up against the wall of their past trauma. It’s violent and it’s ugly.

I’m lucky. I don’t actually trigger all that easily, and when I do I’m pretty good at coping with everything until my body chills the eff out and goes back to normal.

What the #Triggered Joke Says

When I see someone post #Triggered as a joke, it tells me they are not a safe person for me to be around. They don’t understand the long-lasting effects of being traumatized, or they just don’t care.

And you know what else is a trigger for me?

Christians.

I already have a hard time trusting anyone who claims to be a Christian. I was traumatized by a group of Christians, after all. A #Triggered joke from one of them is like kicking me when I’m already down.

Oh, I get that they don’t mean it “that way”, but let’s get real. “Trigger” means something. Just because some kids use it incorrectly doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a real meaning.

But, Kristy, how can you get down on people who just don’t understand how damaging those jokes can be? Ignorance is innocence, right?

Well, this is me, explaining how damaging those jokes can be. And I don’t attack people when they do it. I try to educate them, but most people tend to be pretty damn resistant to be corrected on this one. I guess defending their joke is usually more important than saying, “I’m sorry I was an asshole to all the people out there who have uncontrollable and painful reactions to traumatic triggers.”

One of the factors that contribute to developing PTSD is a lack of social support after a traumatic event. And one of the contributing factors in healing from PTSD is positive social support. Which one do you think a “triggered” joke looks like?

It’s Just a Joke

Is it a joke that I was almost murdered? That when I was still just a kid, I woke up every day, wondering if that was my last day? If I’d have to kill or be killed?

Is it a joke that when I hear a noise at night, my body immediately jumps to, “I’m about to be murdered!”, even though I’m sitting there telling myself that that’s a ridiculous reaction?

Is it a joke that some vets can’t go to fireworks shows with their families because it takes them right back to a time when they were in a life-or-death situation, maybe even when they saw people being killed?

Triggers aren’t comments that offend us or upset us. Triggers are things that make us feel like we’re about to die. How is that funny?

But, Kristy, I’m not making fun of people with PTSD. I’m making fun of those kids who misuse “trigger”. Really? By making #Triggered comments that those kids won’t see, but people with PTSD will? By making a joke that further supports the misuse of that word, as if those kids are the ones who get to define it?

It’s Not My Problem

No, it’s not your problem. Lucky you.

I can’t speak for every single person who’s experienced a traumatic event, or for every person who developed PTSD symptoms after it, but I can speak for me. I don’t expect people to tip-toe around me. I don’t ask people to avoid talking about stalkers or assault or Christians. Sometimes people say something that sets me off on an unwanted heart-pumping adventure through my mental issues. But, that really isn’t that person’s problem. It’s my problem, and I deal with it on my own.

I can’t expect everyone to know what might trigger everyone’s PTSD. Hell, half the time people with PTSD don’t know what might trigger their PTSD, so we’re never going to be able to do that.

What I can expect is people to show some compassion and respect for people who have PTSD. To not make fun of people who were strong enough to survive whatever it was that could have killed them. To not make fun of people who are unexpectedly ambushed by their past, and have to learn how to live like that. It’s not easy to do.

Maybe you didn’t know making that #Triggered joke was such a big deal. Well, now you know. I forgive you. Now, do better.

Or don’t. Say what you want, but know that your words affect other people. It’s your call whether or not that matters to you.

For more information about PTSD.

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