Tag Archives: PTSD

Revenge of the Emotions!

It seems that sometimes when I am in a very stressful or emotionally overwhelming situation my mind likes to go on vacation. It totally checks out, teleporting from my skull-cavity to somewhere a few feet above my body where it takes a nap, or dances, or sometimes swims with dolphins. The resulting husk (me) can no longer effectively communicate, but I also can no longer feel the distressing emotions that situation x-y-z would normally bring on.

I’m pretty sure the clinical term for moments like this is “disassociation”. I leave the situation, my consciousness goes away to avoid undue stress or traumatic factors. What is left behind can be on autopilot and at other times a still, blank meat puppet.

When this happened last weekend, I [operating as a detached husk] found the result almost a little funny. Things I would generally consider horrible were no longer an issue. While friends and family members were writhing in agony, my mind was dancing the cha-cha. Frankly, I was a bit glad because I knew going into the specific situation that it would be difficult… and having checked my senses of despair or concern at the door felt, well, nice.

I realize how that might sound, but imagine you’ve found a jack in the box and you know without a doubt that causing that clown to come out of the box will be disturbing, yet you feel compelled (and even obligated) to do it. You wind the little lever, hear the delicate chimes playing “pop goes the weasel”, but nothing pops out.

No clown, no demon, no carnage.

My life is full of these boxes that I am constantly opening, constantly being wrecked by outrageous emotional turmoil over a simple plastic clown, or a ceramic chipped demon. I admit, when nothing emerged (or maybe it did and I couldn’t see it) I felt a profound, perhaps even spiritual sense of relief.

That relief began to grow into feelings of hope that I might have somehow stumbled onto the secret management technique for mood swings and reactivity that would inevitably save me. Hope that maybe I have finally become desensitized enough to some of these clowns and demons to live comfortably with the acceptance of their existence but without judgement or the need for them to change. I pat myself on the back, good job, I thought. Maybe I am evolving.

My brain came home slowly. It might have come through the door into my void skull on Monday but by Tuesday it still hadn’t settled in. It was still unpacking the damp bathing suits and stolen hotel mini shampoo from the vacation, and by Wednesday with the suitcase put away and the laundry done it sat down in it’s chair and went to work plugging in all of the electrodes back into itself to reconnect to the husk.

Sure enough, as my brain reconnected every moment of the few days prior began to replay in my mind but the unconcerned and relatively emotionally blank tracks fixed to the images began to change. Every humorous moment became a punch to the gut. Every jack-in-the-box that hadn’t opened now erupted with laughing clowns, doubled over and demons waggling their fingers, satisfied that my sense of relief and self-satisfaction were a sham.

As I saw the true nature of things and the way these emotionally binding moments have been for many years sprung at me all at once, I felt ashamed for thinking I had somehow skated past them. For thinking I had evolved. For thinking I had won.

When the emotional flood hit me, it took my breath away. The best I could do was to sit and wait and cry until it was over, and even then -even today my guts and ego and emotions feel bruised.

Exploring Mindfulness; Anxiety and Bipolar Rage

I have a new therapist. So far I haven’t decided if I like her because we are total opposites in terms of our beliefs and methods. While this has been pretty helpful in terms of learning new things (like mindfulness techniques), it can also be entirely exasperating when it comes to explaining my point of view.

The first day we spoke she seemed confident that the practice of “mindfulness” would help solve a lot of my problems.

For those of you who haven’t come across this technique, mindfulness comes from a Buddhist practice involving keeping your focus on the present, including “regarding your emotions in a non-judgmental way” (that is a direct quote, I can’t say I totally understand).

The mindfulness meditation I took on takes about five minutes and involves taking deep breaths, focusing on relaxing my body, looking at my surroundings and finding 3 things that are pleasing to me (colors, textures, etc.) and then formulating an appropriate emotional response.

What I found was that after a week of using this technique (several times a day, sometimes 10 to 15 to 50 times as needed) my anxiety was somewhat responsive. I say somewhat because I often found a bit of relief after the exercise, but it wasn’t uncommon for the relief to last about five minutes and then I needed to do the exercise again. I could see how it would be easier to continue doing the exercise for someone who is seated much of the day, however when walking down the street or overwhelmed at the supermarket I was having a really hard time dropping everything to breathe and relax.

At the same time, I also was curious about using this technique to combat bipolar mood swing reactivity, but the results I experienced were somewhat catastrophic.

If you’ve ever seen the episode of Seinfeld (yes, I know, a common theme lately in this blog) George’s father begins using the mantra, “serenity now!” to help combat his rage. What we find out at the end of the episode however is that this practice was only bottling his rage up to a critical breaking point.

However comical, this is actually fairly similar to what happened to me when I was trying to use the mindfulness meditation to address (primarily) bipolar reactive rage. At first it seemed like it was working great and I felt quite pleased (less like breaking things or shouting or hurting myself), but within a span of four or five days the rage suddenly exploded out of me, and I leapt off the couch, threw the remote control in one direction and my glasses in the other and made a mad dash for the hallway where I very seriously expected to throttle whoever was on the other side of my door.

It wasn’t as if this was a situation that had gone on all day and I had been “stewing”, I felt perfectly fine one moment and then within two or three seconds (literally) I was ready to break someone over my knee like a piece of kindling. All I can say is thank goodness for my boyfriend, because if he hadn’t been home to divert me… well I am still shuddering at the notion of what might have happened. Instead I just stood in the bathtub and screamed and cried for a solid half hour.

I have a couple theories about why this happened.

The first involves George’s father from Seinfeld screaming “serenity now!” The thing about rage that I find makes it so difficult to deal with is the energy that comes with the feelings. For me, it has never felt like the emotion builds up if I don’t express my anger, frustrations, and rage, it is the energy. Since childhood my methods of expressing rage have all been physical because they allow me to address and release the energy that is overwhelming me. Unfortunately, they also have all been more or less unhealthy.

With this mindfulness technique I used, I was addressing the emotion I was experiencing, but not the energy that came with it. Once it built up it only took the tiniest moment to trigger it and… kaboom.

My second theory involves PTSD as I have encountered several situations where very minor things have seemingly flipped an invisible switch in me. Frankly I find this to be less likely in this situation because it did not involve any of my typical triggers (being in close proximity of a stranger, the bus, etc) but I can’t discount this as a possibility.

Finally, one could suppose the incident and meditation were not related. Frankly, I can’t say with absolute certainty that they are, but I am nervous to try again given how close I came to, well, certain incarceration.

At any rate, being able to try new “treatment options” that don’t involve pumping my body full of chemicals has definitely been a welcome change. And as frustrating as my new therapist can be, I think a little change can do me good.

At this point we are brainstorming ways to potentially address that rage-energy in conjunction with mindfulness meditations so stay tuned, I am sure there will be more to come on that topic!

Good Boundaries Make Good Neighbors

If there is one thing I could say is my least favorite thing about living in the city (and that is putting it mildly) it would be living in an apartment building.

To say that sharing walls with other people is enough of an inconvenience for me that it blows past trying to avoid stepping on used needles, people entering and exiting the bus without any concept of keeping other people from being on time, and parades for “most annoying city thing” might be something of an indication that my real problem is this; the people thing.

No, people on the streets in Seattle aren’t nice. They call it the “Seattle freeze,” people here will honestly just pretend you don’t exist when it is convenient for them to do so. Even worse is that these folks, when snuggled into their apartments at the end of the day, seem to also believe that whatever happens in the walls of their little unit has no effect on anyone else -and why should it? This is my home.

This is not something I can pass off like a torch and say, “ah, well, this weird and overwhelming rude-neighbor-noise-problem has nothing to do with me!” I know very well that it does.

You see, most of the time I have a very hard time asserting myself. I realize that might sound odd to anyone who knows me because I tend to have a bit of a controlling reputation, but it is true. I really struggle in situations where I feel like my boundaries are being violated and I need to stand up for myself.

Part of the problem is that I don’t really know how to assert the boundary in the first place, especially with a neighbor. So when my neighbor spends two or three weeks encouraging their children to scream as loud as they can over and over again and I do nothing (“just ignore it,” right?) a precedent has been established; screaming all day and all night is ok.

At my last apartment, that was my method… and not because I have a great time ignoring horrible sounds, oh no. In fact, I am pretty sure I don’t have access to that part of my brain, or it broke, or never quite grew in. This is especially true with repetitive noises, nothing will make me psychotic faster than a repetitive sound that I cannot avoid.

At the same time, I was terrified of what might happen if I did say something. If I waited to reach out to my neighbor when I was already agitated from the noise, wasn’t there a risk I might have a panic attack at their door or, even worse, snap at them? What if the psychosis brought on a moment where I couldn’t control myself? What if I acted like such an asshole it made things worse? What if they called the police on me for not making sense and seeming threatening?

Ultimately, no matter where I tried to go with this, the final result seemed thus; no matter what I do, pissing off my neighbor could be the biggest mistake I could make. An angry neighbor can make your life hell. 

The truly funny part was that right before I moved some gentleman went to some of my neighbors and asked them about me. I figured that since I hadn’t ever approached any of them, their responses would probably be neutral.

Nope.

The responses they got were overwhelmingly negative. I was a hermit. I was cold. I was rude. I was constantly on autopilot.

And while these things are probably true (because I was always pissed off at those people for making stupid amounts of noise) it became clear that avoiding confrontation was not making people like me. In fact, they probably liked me about as little as I expected they would if I had said something to them about the noise!

One of the things I really took away for my hospitalization a couple weeks ago is that I need to work harder at being assertive and setting up boundaries with people. Again, this is something that is pretty easy to put on the list, but following through with it can seem like a daunting task.

My first day back from the hospital I approached neighbor-with-screaming-kids (I call him the butcher since it constantly sounds like he is murdering children two doors away -I dare say I would be more nervous if the kids didn’t seem to keep multiplying or answering the door grinning) when I couldn’t rest because (you guessed it) his kids were screaming.

Though he seemed somewhat incredulous that seven blood curdling screams happening simultaneously could be heard in my apartment (really?) he kept the kids quiet for a good 12 hours before the screaming started up again.

Last night I had a panic attack while trying to eat dinner because I could hear an adult over there encouraging the kids to scream louder. This unit is not next door to me, it is on the other side of the building! So, for a second time I approached my neighbor, this time with the blank pallor and the uncontrollable twitching that accompanies a panic attack. After he smiled and laughed a little a six inch Bugs Bunny sporting a pink beret, a shaggy pink sweater, and a green pencil skirt appeared on my shoulder,

“And of course you know this means war!”

Maybe my neighbor doesn’t like me, but chances are he probably wouldn’t have liked me anyway.

I’ve made the first step in establishing a boundary. Screaming at that level = inappropriate. Having established this idea with my neighbor, I feel much more relaxed about calling my building manager or the police if (or when) the screaming starts up again.

There are often times in my experience with bipolar disorder where it feels like I’ve suddenly woken up. They don’t last long anymore, but when it happens I look around me and see how much of my life has been reduced to nothing… then I spend the better part of the next few days trying to set something up again. Just enough that the ball will keep rolling without me pushing it every few feet. Practicing being assertive and setting boundaries (um, no, pizza with no sauce is not pizza!) while I briefly have the frame of mind to do so will hopefully help it stick when I don’t.

Support Needed for Mental Illness in the Workplace

Happy Monday! Today I want to share a recent article from USA Today that seems to address some issues I’ve been seeing (and living, let’s face it) about a lack of support around people with mental illness in the workplace.

I’ve been hitting a lot of big roadblocks when it comes to applying for SSDI, and I’ve honestly had some big questions about how our disability system works (or doesn’t work) here in the US. I’ve come across countless people who are against the whole idea of SSDI because it doesn’t support people who are disabled and want to work part time, and the current system seems to only support an “all” or “nothing” style of support. There have been so many situations I’ve found myself in where I know I could mentally benefit from working a few hours a week (giving my life a better sense of structure and a bigger sense of accomplishment and purpose) but the way the system is set up, trying to help myself this way is extremely frowned upon.

The article I’m sharing today addresses the idea of a “supported employment program” that potentially allows employers to do a better job of bridging the gap between the needs of their companies and realistic employment abilities of those with mental illness (which, let’s be honest, can widely vary for any given person over time). Personally, I consider this to be a stellar idea… I am just not sure how well this could realistically be executed. If companies aren’t currently willing to make the necessary accommodations for exceptionally well qualified applicants with mental illness as it is (something I have experienced several times), what would encourage them to use a program like this one?

At any rate, you can check out the article here. Give it a read and let me know what you think!

The Heart of July 4th

Propaganda of the American Colonies

Propaganda of the American Colonies

I would never refer to myself as an ardent patriot, but I do (on occasion) have the opportunity to spend time researching history and then living in a manner that our forefathers (and mothers) were accustomed to. The time of the American Revolutionary War is one that is of particular interest to me.

What is it about the period leading up to the war and the transition into a unified country I find so fascinating? Well, while others are roasting their hot dogs today and lighting off fireworks, I’m thinking about why July 4th is a holiday in the first place.

It is a story of a group of people being taken advantage of; an example of a true tale of the underdogs fighting for the rights they believe they deserve until they have achieved them.

This is an important story, and though it is one that comes up again and again in US history focusing on many different groups of people, this is a story that is still in its early stages when it comes to our story.

The American Revolution itself faced difficulty in reaching unity within the colonies. It provided a period of thought and contemplation about what basic rights should be afforded to all people, and (what people usually remember) also included a brutal struggle through the physical act of fighting.

You might be surprised to hear it, but I see a lot of similarities between the fight for American independence and the fight for fair, competent mental health services in our country and the need to bring people together on this issue. I don’t expect our journey to involve a navy or muskets, but I’m sure that is for the better!

The snake, for example, in the propaganda banner above is broken down into pieces representing each of the colonies that needed to come together to create a unified force. I think we face similar issues when attempting to unify people behind the cause of mental health because many of us have different viewpoints, different backgrounds, different disorders, different symptoms! Still, if we can find a way to work together we will find we are a force to be reckoned with; a snake you’d better not step on again!

Guerilla Warfare

Guerilla Warfare

During the American Revolution the British soldiers greatly outnumbered the colonist militia, so the militia changed the rules of war; hiding in wooded areas in an attempt to shield themselves while making an attack.

Most of us with mental illness have felt like we have needed to hide in order to keep ourselves safe, and being smart about when we share our experiences or staying calm and choosing our battles is a strategy that has already began to show some improvement in our nation’s social dialogue.

I know that while I feel comfortable coming forward and being open with everyone in my life about my experiences, I understand there are others in situations (like in a questionable workplace, family, or school environment) who have to be very careful about the battles they choose to fight and when they can fight them. I know these situations can be distressing, but I don’t consider this to be a drawback because when a hidden warrior chooses to finally make themselves seen there is a big impact.

Community

Community

One of the things I’ve found is that the act of hiding makes discovering a sense of community ten times more rewarding. This is part of what makes us strong; we truly appreciate much of what each other has to offer. Though I know there is still a little work that needs to go into unification for our cause, our community is constantly growing.

I expect that this 4th that there will be picnics and a sense of community and giddy children lighting off fireworks in the streets, but I hope that today you will also think about the reason behind it all.

No, it isn’t our right to bear arms, nor our hatred of paying taxes. It isn’t about guys in powdered wigs or military prowess. July 4th is about being someone who has struggled, someone who has been walked on, and demanding a better life.

If nothing else, that thought inspires me because I see myself in itIf that is what it truly means to be an American, maybe I’ve been a patriot all along?

Grass

Language and Mental Illness; A Different Point of View

I’ve been reading a lot of pleas and rants about how important it is for people to conform to one standard of language when it comes to discussing mental illness… this is not one of them.

Personally, I believe expecting everyone to adhere to strict conformity when it comes to discussing mental health is a step in the wrong direction, and while that is a notion that may boggle some minds, I’m hoping to make a clear case today for my (potentially less-popular) point of view. I am not here to call anyone out, just to express my concern and why I feel that way.

I’d like to start by stating the obvious:

People have different beliefs.

In fact, they’re allowed to. That is a big part of the idea that America was founded on, and globally it is even more apparent that our cultures and environments have produced many different ways of looking at the world. These many viewpoints include those that effect how people look at mental health.

If you haven’t already, you may want to take a second to check out The Icarus Project. This is a national community of people (largely artists) who don’t believe in taking traditional psychiatric medications (for the  most part) and instead try to embrace themselves in their current state, largely funneling their emotions into art.

Do you agree with this? Maybe not, but whether you or I agree with their beliefs doesn’t change their right to believe them.

A big part of our ability to live our lives comes from tolerance and the ability to get along with people with different viewpoints. It seems like such a large part when it comes to “battling stigma” has become pushing others to believe the things (and act the way) we want them to instead of focusing on being open and being treated with respect.

Language is Imperfect. 

I have gotten a lot of flack from my therapists for jumping back and forth between psychiatric verbiage when describing my mental state and regular descriptive language. What they don’t seem to understand is that most words don’t seem to describe what I’m aiming to describe very well at all, and I wind up with the oddest mish-mash (I’m sure you’ve read some here if you’re familiar at all with my blog) of language.

Language is imperfect, not all of the words we might want or need have been invented yet. Describing something that isn’t tangible (like something in our minds) can often be frustrating enough, and on top of that different groups of people have different feelings associated with different words. One word in English very rarely means one thing straight across the board (I guess maybe “buttress” is an exclusion?), and a word spoken in the city might have an entirely different connotation in the country (let alone from region to region).

Language is not something we can expect to lasso and subdue until it is uniform. Unfortunately, that isn’t the way language has ever worked (from the time it was invented) so it seems ludicrous to me to expect that it will now.

Language is a form of self-expression.

If we consider other forms of self-expression (music, painting, etc.) it seems ridiculous to walk up to someone painting and tell them they can’t use the color blue. Or they can’t use the “c” note. Or they can use the “c” note but only when followed with an “e flat”.

A lot of the things I’ve seen lately about mental health verbiage has sounded like that sort of bizarre notion me. While I understand that people feel concerned about how others are expressing themselves (something I will get into momentarily), the act of telling someone what they can and can’t say or write quickly falls into the realm of censorship. While I understand that is not anyone’s intention, that doesn’t change the fact that that’s where this attitude is heading.

In addition, self expression is as individual as… well… the individual! There is no such thing as a “right way” or a “wrong way” to express oneself. Surely, there are ways that may be more pleasing to the senses (which, again varies widely from person to person), or ways that our society deems more acceptable than others (also varies depending on many factors like age, location, race), but that normally doesn’t bar forms of self-expression that falls outside of these categories.

Do the actions or words of one person discredit the rest of the group?

This is the big question that I think has been fueling so many of these negative comments and posts. Certainly when one blogger appears sloppy or ignorant about mental health, we all suffer, right?

I read an article once about how a large group of lesbians (around the time the gay rights movement was really heating up) were shunning any woman who had identified herself as a lesbian but had slept with a man because they believed it made them all look bad. Instead of helping their own cause, it created tension and animosity among a group that should have been fighting along side one another for the same rights.

I feel like this is a very similar situation, and people who should be scooped up and cared for to bolster a strong mental health community are instead being ostracized and attacked (for often doing little more than using a word incorrectly).

This particular idea is one that has been weighing heavily on my heart for quite some time, not because of the language situation (that is really a secondary symptom for this issue) but because of how quick much of the mental health community is to jump on board with ostracizing or shunning anyone who has a mental illness and also committed an act of violence.

Does a seemingly “poorly written” blog post make us all look bad? (Really?)

To take it one step further I have to ask; does an act of violence from one person with mental illness make us all look bad?

If it does, it is not for the reasons you are probably thinking of. From my perspective it all comes down to the reaction of the mental health community, and whether our reaction is one of solidarity:

“This is an example of a very extreme instance of mental illness and is an important indicator about the help that is sill needed in the mental health community.”

or, more often, one of dismissal:

“People with mental illness are almost never violent. I am never violent, this has nothing to do with me.”

The issue of including (or being supportive) of someone in the mental health community who might need extra help is an issue ten times larger to me than being nit-picky about the language in a blog or on twitter. How can we expect people to be supportive and accepting of us when we can’t support or accept the people within our own mental health communities? Can we take a look at the bigger picture please?

This conversation has only just begun.

The conversation about mental health has only just began to heat up. I believe whole heartedly that putting our focus on the statements that don’t match up with our own beliefs and attacking them is incredibly foolish. At this point, I think it is less important what is being said as the fact that people are saying it.

Think about it, more people than ever before are beginning to talk about mental health, and that is truly remarkable! No matter what people are bringing to the table in this conversation, it is important to remember that people have different beliefs and the way we learn and understand is to have a conversation with many different points of view. We can’t expect people who are just starting to explore this topic to have the vocabulary or understanding that someone who has lived with these issues for many years to have, and attacking anyone for being ignorant or for having a different perspective will likely create an enemy instead of a friend.

Understanding wont happen overnight, and we can’t force people into seeing from our point of view. All we can do is share what we have, and be patient and tolerant with everyone else.

What can we do to help?

1. Express yourself! Express yourself with words, photography, paint, clothing, music, whatever it is that you do best. Use the language that suits you best to tell your story, the story of how you (an individual) live your life!

2. Practice patience. I know this can be a tough one (especially with a mood disorder), but if you see a comment or post that upsets/frustrates you, skip it. If you want to respond, maybe wait until the emotional reaction has gone and see how you feel then.

3. Practice positivity. The internet is one place in particular that I try to practice the phrase, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Try pledging yourself to leaving positive comments only and skipping writing negative ones. You’ll be amazed at how much this can help your own mood and feelings of positivity while blogging.

4. Focus on you. Try focusing on your own self expression and making it the best it can be instead of focusing on the perceived faults of others. When in conversation (online or in real life) and you feel you need to respond to a point of view you don’t agree with, start the dialogue by focusing on yourself. “I find this particular use of words offensive because ____. ” or “disagree because ____.” This leads to a more open conversation that feels more honest and less accusational.

5. Be open. In the mental health community, a lot of importance is placed on the portion of being open that involves sharing our stories, but it is equally as important to be open to what others have to say or questions they might have. Remember, this is a time for mental health conversation, and conversations are a two way street. It can be amazing how being open to a new idea or point of view can lead us to profound places; all it takes is a willingness to listen!

Anyone with works of self-expression coming from a mental health perspective who might be interested in seeing one pop up on this blog, shoot me an email at host@thebipolarcuriousblog.com

Trigger Warnings – What’s the Point?

It seems that the topic of trigger warnings has recently exploded through the internet and beyond, and I have to say I have been somewhat concerned about a lot of the things I’ve been reading. It seems like there are some big discrepancies about what people think the point of a trigger warning is, so I’m hoping I can shed a little light here.

First, what is a “trigger warning”?

A “trigger warning” is when someone makes a conscientious effort to label content as something that could potentially trigger episodes associated with mental illness and PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). As far as content on the internet is concerned, this tag is usually provided by the creator of the writing or video associated with it.

Are “trigger warnings” considered censorship?

No. Censorship is the suppression of words, images, or ideas that are “offensive”. In the situations where a “trigger warning” tag is being used, none of the content is being withheld or removed. In fact, the point that none of this content is withheld is part of the reason the “trigger warning” exists. If the content in question was eliminated, there would be no need for a warning. Likewise, this warning does not bar people from reaching, viewing, or sharing the content, therefore nothing is suppressed.

Why would someone use a “trigger warning” tag?

The biggest misconception I’ve been seeing among the current dialogue around “trigger warning” tags is that they are used to help people avoid content which may be “offensive”.

This is not the case. I say that because “trigger warning” tags are not called “offense warnings”. They are called trigger warnings. Here’s the difference:

In a situation where I become offended, I might feel flushed. I might feel disgusted, or annoyed, or angry. I might leave angry comments or write angry emails. I might feel sad, or defensive, or any number of things that any human being might consider a typical reaction to something someone doesn’t agree with on a base level.

Now (and here I am going to employ the *trigger warning – sexual assault* tag simply out of curtosey) I want to give you a brief look at what living with PTSD is like, and what I experience when triggered by something.

In 2007 I was sexually assaulted. I don’t have a very clear memory of what happened, but I do have pretty vivid memories of the days that came after. The injuries I sustained. The hysteria, and screaming at people who came near me on the street. The seemingly constant panic attacks.

Seven years later I have worked hard with several therapists to lessen my PTSD symptoms. Things have gotten quite a bit better, I finally am able to have a sex life again. I can ride on the bus without having a panic attack when people bump into me, but after all that there are still boundaries I have to draw in my daily life. I can’t watch tv or movies with rape scenes (which is getting harder and harder lately as this seems to be becoming more and more common). I generally don’t allow myself to read about rape, frankly just that one little word (especially coming upon it in an unexpected place) is enough to send me spiraling back seven years.

Being triggered (having my PTSD symptoms switched “on”) by images or words associated with sexual assault is far beyond the notion of being “offended”. I find myself being sent back immediately where I mentally re-live the horror of what happened to me over, and over, and over again. It replays in my mind on repeat, but it doesn’t simply replay. It is more like re-living it. 

My throat closes up and I can’t breathe, and I start crying uncontrollably. I freeze, and nobody (not my boyfriend, or friends, or therapist) can say anything to me to bring me out of it. My whole body starts to shake violently in fear and sometimes I faint. My stomach becomes a giant knot and even after the flashbacks subside leaving me shaky and weak, the sense of repulsion is so great I can hardly eat without vomiting.

*end trigger warning* 

This kind of episode is enough to ruin an entire day for me. Having bipolar disorder on top of that means when my PTSD symptoms are triggered, it also often triggers intense depression or mixed episodes, which can leave me suicidal or homicidal and incapacitated for days, weeks, months…

I have to be extremely careful how I spend my time, the people I talk to, the media I can watch, and the things I read. A large part of my life is about avoiding the things that trigger me, and though I am getting closer every day to being able to do all the things I used to do, this is a serious condition that I work with my therapist on constantly to slowly desensitize myself. Can you see how that might be a pitfall? How easy it can be, especially with train-of-thought blogs, to stumble into something I couldn’t see coming? I was surprised to find myself triggered just the other day when watching Downtown Abbey Season 4 and I spent months waiting for that at the library (and that is a show that airs on PBS!). All I’m saying is that a little warning would have been nice!

Realistically, do topics like suicide or self-harm or abuse or sexual assault offend me? Not at all. In fact, I think they are important topics that need to be talked about. However, there are people that might come to harm by reading about these topics, particularly ones in the mental health community who are unstable, trying to take care of themselves, but are attempting to reach out to other bloggers.

I don’t care about the content of tv shows or movies or blogs, and I don’t think anyone who supports the idea of “trigger warnings” wants to stifle the stories or ideas people have. I know there are a lot of people who enjoy or consider particularly triggering content to be educational, so we need to keep writing about the difficult situations in our lives. That is not the issue here.

The mental health blogging community faces different challenges than those of, say, food bloggers, or fitness bloggers, or travel bloggers. Our content can be sensitive, but our readers are often also sensitive… not because they are easily offended, but because they are people living with symptoms of mental illness they often have little or no control over. How long do you think these people will keep reading if they’re being triggered by content presented to them?

While each person out there has the choice of whether or not to read something, they need to be able to make a choice that is right for them. That’s the end game when it comes to mental health, right? Doing what is best for each of us individually? I simply believe making that choice becomes much easier (and safer) when there is some kind of indication that the content might not be suitable for everyone.

Maybe that doesn’t mean using the words “trigger warning”. Maybe that means being conscientious about the title of our blogs reflecting the content, or suggesting the content is sensitive, or any number of things. I’m not here to suggest we all adhere to one set of rules, but does it seem that far fetched to respect our readers and want to help them enjoy the work we’ve enjoyed creating?

Again, I’m not here to stifle the the notion of creativity of free speech, just to show a little respect and care for my readers who, like me, may have lived through something traumatic. I consider “trigger warning” tags to be a common curtosey, a way to let my more sensitive viewers avoid debilitating episodes that have an extremely negative impact on their lives. If a choice I make can help others make good choices for themselves, it feels like a no-brainer to me.