I Wish Life Came with Trigger Warnings

Content warning: Exploration of triggers, homelessness, parental isolation, genocide, resource hoarding, environmental issues, violence against women and children, animal cruelty, war crimes, police brutality, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG)

**  If ever you read my blog and you think the content should come with a warning or an additional warning, please send me a message and I will add it into the text. It doesn’t matter if you think you’re the only person in the world who is being triggered by it. A trigger is a trigger. **

The term “Trigger warning” (sometimes called a “content warning”) seems to be popping up more and more lately on the internet, in classrooms, and in formal trainings. To the average eye, this sign to proceed with caution goes unnoticed or overlooked. To those who experience triggers as a result of having faced trauma, these warnings serve as an invitation to proceed or take care of self and move along. I wish life came with trigger warnings. I try to be mindful to post content warnings in my work for Motherhood Observation but sometimes I forget.

In this beloved era of social media, we often see people say they’re triggered about the most mundane or humorous things. For example, when you come across a meme that accurately describes your life, you may feel like the original poster made that post specifically for you. Thus, you are “triggered”, and so you fill up the comments section with this exact sentiment. But, what about those who are actually triggered online? Where is the humor in it for them? I’ve come to understand some postings as honest cries for help in the form of a joke. It is a defense mechanism that our generation has perfected. I do it myself with my “Motherhood Observation” posts on Facebook. Sometimes, a silent cry for help is masked with #sendhelp. But, no. I really do need help.

Some people have experienced trauma in one off incidents like a car accident and some of us have experienced it over many years (i.e. women in or recovering from domestic abuse situations). Trauma affects everyone differently. Everyone’s journey from surviving to thriving excels, plateaus, and plummets in various cycles. It’s almost as though we are riding a roller coaster. Sometimes, we are at the top of the coaster, buckled in, seemingly having our shit together while others ask “How do they do it?”. Other times, we are in the front row of the Leviathan, holding on for dear life as it has our way with us. It’s when we’re plummeting down this cycle that triggers can be overwhelming. It’s here where we fall off the coaster and that’s what I’m on the verge of now.

If I could start my life from scratch, I wouldn’t change shit¹

Last week, I explored my most current bout of depression (that I am still in) with a post titled, “You Are Not a Burden, Mama”. In doing so, I began to examine my triggers. I found that I experience triggers in cycles. Right now, I am in the midst of the downside of a cycle, fighting hard to change the narrative. As much as I want to be better, I am exhausted. I don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel yet but I know it will come as it always has, as it always will. As explained in “You Are Not a Burden, Mama”, triggers are everywhere. You would be surprised at how even the simplest of things can present themselves as triggers. You may think to yourself, “It’s not that serious”, but trust me when I say that I am very aware that it doesn’t have to be but it is. I wish I was “normal”. If I could start my life from scratch, I wouldn’t change shit but sometimes I wish I could take a break from life. I wish I could put it on pause to allow myself a moment’s rest but triggers don’t work like that. Some triggers I’m accustomed to because I’ve learned to take preventative measures or at least be mindful in the moments that they occur. Many of which stem from my adolescent years when I was a foster child and being trafficked. Others are newer and when they hit me, they hit hard. For instance, being homeless and living in a shelter triggered memories of being kicked out of my mother’s house at the age of 16 with virtually nowhere to go. Thankfully, I got through both of those scenarios with my sanity intact (for the most part) but I didn’t survive them unscathed. The reality may not have continued but the triggers my brain conjured up continue to walk with me.

Trauma brain

That’s the thing about triggers. It’s like having a second brain. My first brain, which is sort of my auto pilot, allows me to navigate my life on a day-to-day basis. When a trigger (re)surfaces, my second brain takes control. My second brain stores the memories impacted by trauma. As this brain begins to dominate the way my thoughts are delivered, those thoughts begin to manifest themselves in my present reality. When I’m being triggered, my first brain knows that I am no longer in that place but when my second, trauma brain is at the forefront, it’s different. It’s as though it is saying, “What if…?”, “What about…?” or “Remember when…”. Most importantly, my second brain thinks I’m in danger. Now, what is the body’s physical response to danger? As a result of being triggered, I experience severe headaches, stomach aches, insomnia, and crying fits to name a few. Occasionally, my body’s response is to come down with a cold, forcing me into rest. Can you imagine how exhausting that is? At any given time, I can be forced into trying to differentiate between my first and second brain while honing in on my physical symptoms, while being a single mother to twin toddlers. I gotta take my hat off to my damn self.  

I try to rest assured that triggers are my brain’s way of keeping track of potential danger, derived from experience. Triggers are necessary. This is one way that I am able to strengthen my intuitive muscles. Triggers are my brain’s “gut feeling”. I’m learning to discern between intuition (gut feeling) and trauma induced triggers. I’m also learning that it’s my responsibility to sustain myself when being triggered but it never hurts to be supported through these instances.

The isolation that I experience is triggering. In my present reality, where I think with my first brain, I’d like to believe that this isolation is temporary. My current living situation is a stepping stone of my transition into home, wherever that may be. My second brain, however, remembers the time when my mother kicked me out, my best friend left me stranded, and my (then) pimp purposely isolated me in an empty apartment in Montreal to condition and prepare me to enter the sex trade. Obviously, I know that none of those things is happening this very moment but my trauma brain is yelling, “GET OUT OF THERE BEFORE IT HAPPENS AGAIN!”. I have to force myself to stay put for the time being. I’m forced to soak up the stability that I do have as an uncomfortable sacrifice for the stability that I would like to have, for myself and my children.

I went through the storm not knowing whether it was green on the other side or not²

I put it on everything I love that I am trying my absolute hardest. I want those who think I have my shit together “because I’m an author” or what have you that I’m still a work in progress. This healing is neither linear nor guaranteed. Everyday I wake up, I have to make a conscious decision to work through my trauma. The amount of difficulty I face would be much easier if I simply gave up and believe me, sometimes I want to but I can’t do that.

Many are called, few are chosen³

Fortunately, I am one of the few who have been chosen to be aware of intergenerational trauma. Unfortunately, that awareness comes at the expense of my mental health sometimes. With this awareness comes a call to action. Right now, I am being called to raise awareness for human trafficking in our country and to speak on the things that I experience as a mother that women have previously been expected to be silent about. Sometimes, I have no idea how I will bring my full vision to life. On my better days, I know that I’m capable and more than qualified to do so. Whether either of those is true or not, God doesn’t call the qualified, She qualifies the called. All I have to do is continue taking it day by day, putting one foot in front of the other, utilizing the resources that are available to me and breaking down the barriers where resources are inaccessible. Most importantly, I must take care of myself in the midst of all of this.

I am because you are

This is why sisterhood is so important. There are few things more inspiring to me than seeing another sister killin’ it. I give thanks for the light workers and trail blazers who find it in them to answer the call to action. I’m especially grateful for the black women who not only continue to break through the glass ceiling but for those who stomp on expectations, defying the odds, creating new ways for us to get it. From Assata Shakur to Ijeoma Umebinyuo to Adora Nwofor and Rasheda Symonds, these are some of the sheroes that I look up to. These are the black women who make it possible for me to face each hardship that comes my way. Their resilience, words, and spirit make it possible for me to navigate the struggle.

Emotional labour

In navigating that struggle, I try to be mindful of the ways in which I engage with people. I try to be mindful of the emotional labour that I request of others and that they may request of me. I have to be honest about what I need, when I need it. This means that in making requests of others or sharing information with them, such as triggers, I have to be prepared for them to be unable or unwilling to hold space for me. In turn, I have to make others aware that I won’t and can’t always hold space for them. What’s helped with this dynamic is attending therapy, bi-weekly. Instead of expecting my friends and loved ones to “fix” me, I’m able to unload my issues and find solutions for myself while being supported by a professional. It’s unhealthy to always expect emotional labour from someone, particularly in imbalanced romantic relationships. It’s especially damaging when men expect as much from women at the expense of their well being and sanity. We never know if our unloading of information may be triggering to the person who is receiving our energy.

It sickens me the way that society expects emotional labour from mothers, on top of everything else. The many demands placed upon mothers are unrealistic. For starters, many women are treated as a breeding ground for children, as if she has no other value in society. A woman’s image is seldom separated from her present or potential journey of motherhood. When you pay attention to the media, almost immediately you will see that the matriarch of the family is the burden bearer of all of the complex, emotional situations of her family. Mothers are made to handle these scenarios with patience and grace, something that all of us don’t have all of the time. Mothers are typically portrayed as being in service to and not in need of service and support.

Expectations

For me, these unrealistic expectations trigger a time in my life when I would have done anything to gain the love and affection of my mother. Later it was of my (then) boyfriend turned pimp. I never learned healthy emotional regulation as a child. As a result, I developed extremely high expectations of myself in order to get attention. I still carry a lot of these expectations for the same reason. As an adult, these expectations of self have evolved to include various other reasons, some beneficial and some I could do without. As a mother, I have very high expectations of myself because I have a vivid vision of who I would like to be for myself and children. Inevitably, because motherhood is often unpredictable, I often fall short of my own expectations, thus causing me to feel inadequate. These high expectations even extend to my closest family and friends. I have severed relationships with those who don’t or can’t rise to the occasion, sometimes to a fault. With this, I’m working on analyzing my relationships more closely before making the decision to walk away.

Each one, reach one

Navigating triggers is in no way a simple task. It’s even more difficult when trying to have dialogue with those who don’t identify with having triggers. Unfortunately, not everyone understands but it’s imperative that we continue to speak our truth. Despite the potential of adverse responses, we can’t continue to suffer in silence. All this does is perpetuate cycles of trauma. Recently, a woman on my Facebook had shared a picture of a man who’d been violent towards me. Normally I would bypass such posts, as they happen often with this particular man being in the public eye, but for whatever reason I was triggered seeing his face that day. I was hesitant to say anything. Afterall, she doesn’t owe me anything or so I thought. I scrapped that thought and told myself that although generally speaking, none of us owe each other anything, I deemed her as someone who is a safe bet to be vulnerable with. I inboxed her, briefly explaining the situation and asked if she could refrain from sharing his posts. Thankfully, she obliged, even going so far as to apologize for what I had to deal with. Of course, she didn’t have to do that but I’m grateful nonetheless. She didn’t question my experiences or stick up for him. She was very empathetic and has since stuck to her word. Her empathy gave me the courage I needed when the same request was made of me, not directly but as a community call out. I’m grateful for those who are understanding. It’s true when they say each one, reach one.

I wish life came with trigger warnings

With all of the violence going on in the world, the least we can do is be compassionate towards one another. There is enough genocide, resource hoarding, environmental issues, violence against women and children, and animal cruelty in the world to last us a zillion lifetimes. You can log onto any social media site and see war crimes and police brutality. If you refuse to ignore it, you can see the seemingly insuperable injustices of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. None of these pictures and videos online come with trigger warnings 100% of the time. Social media is like life in that sense. You’re not always going to get a heads up for what’s to come. In knowing that, what we can do is practice self-awareness. We do ourselves a favor when we allow ourselves to be aware of and honest about our triggers so that we can take care of ourselves in the moments when we experience them. I wish life came with trigger warnings but it does not. Please, keep that in mind if ever you find yourself being asked to practice a little more compassion for those of us who get triggered. Better yet, we should all practice a little more compassion for each other whether we experience triggers or not. That’s really what we need. That’s peace.

1. Song lyric, Start From Scratch, The Game¹

2. Song lyric, Ten Nine Fourteen, Bryson Tiller²

3. Bible verse (Matthew 22:14), King James Version³

4. Bible verse (1 Corinthians 1:27-29), King James Version⁴

5. The translation of the term “Ubuntu”, coined in South Africa⁵