A trigger warning is defined as, “a statement at the start of a piece of writing, video, etc., alerting the reader or viewer to the fact that it contains potentially distressing material (often used to introduce a description of such content).”
Up until Josie’s essay,“Why Asking For Trigger Warnings After A Loss Shouldn’t Be Taboo”, I never considered the importance of trigger warnings when it comes to grief and loss. Even though I’ve been in her same exact shoes; I too know what it’s like when you start feeling shaky, it becomes hard to breathe, and cold sweats are overpowering.
My triggers are talk of ICU, end of life care or hospitals in general. Josie’s is drugs. Regardless of your trigger(s), you should have the right to say, “hey can you give me a heads up before we start a conversation on this?” or if the conversation has already started, “hey, I can’t emotionally handle this right now.”
You should be able to do this without having your trauma questioned and without having to apologize for it.
I’m no expert in how to make this exchange more seamless, because to be honest it was in editing Josie’s essay that I realized this is something I deal with as well.
Here are some things I’ll be keeping in mind when finding myself in social situations that focus on my triggers that can maybe also help you:
you have a right to say something
You’re a part of the conversation, so this gives you a stake in how it plays out. If you’re not comfortable with the topic at hand then you have a right to say that you’d rather not talk about this particular thing. Those who you’re speaking to will react in one of two ways — be totally fine with it or ignore your request. If your request is ignored, then it’s not impolite to just remove yourself from the conversation.
baby steps count for a lot
Go to the bathroom. Show a funny meme. Point to a cute individual at the next table. Distractions and diversions count for a lot, especially if you’re not interested in calling the topic out just yet. (Or if you don’t want to answer questions.)
let your closest friends know
One of my favorite parts of Josie’s essay is that she explains how her friends help change the subject at times. She shared her trigger with them and they’re helping her carry the weight. If possible, tell your friends about your trigger, so they can stand guard for you as well.
acknowledge what your triggers are + don’t let them make you feel “other”
This may be the hardest one. I know I’ve always gotten shaky and anxious when people start talking about ICUs or hospitals in general, but it wasn’t until reading the essay that I realized those were some of my triggers. It’s so easy to feel bad that you can’t get through conversations about these topics, but try to reframe it. (I know, easier said than done.) But even if it’s just for a second, remind yourself that there’s so much strength in knowing the conversations that you can’t have.