Author: Melinda Goedeke
Unfortunately, like many, I have experienced trauma in my life. So much so that I often see life as just a series of traumatic events. Some wounds are bored so deeply that they are firmly lodged within my soul. Those are my private battle wounds that I unwillingly and even unknowingly keep alive because of the triggers pointed directly in my line of sight. And only mine.
Triggers alone are enough to set the brain into an emotional and visceral spiral to hell. I am lucky enough to notice my potential triggers before they get me; regrettably, however, I don’t always detect them in time as they are sublime, hidden, unexpected and sneaky. They are everywhere and of varying strength; some are like a nerf gun’s bullets mostly harmless but totally annoying. Some are landmines – out of the blue, creating pain and distress that is indescribable and often even re-traumatizing. People without mental illness or those who have not experienced severe trauma, may not understand the power of the trigger. They may even ask questions such as, “What happened?” “Why the sudden mood change?” Sometimes, the answer is simply, “I don’t know.” But often the answer can’t be uttered because I am gone – deep within the darkness; my brain hijacked by the trigger.
Though learning to manage my own triggers has been tough, it was and is nothing compared to trying to help someone else manage theirs; someone whose life matters more than my own – my daughter’s. In 2017, my brilliant daughter Laura died by suicide at the age of 24 after fervently attempting to survive while both dancing and hiding directly in the eye of her own bipolar tornado. She was a fighter, a mental health advocate. Those not as close to her, only saw her free spirited person dancing as if the world couldn’t catch her. Those of us close to her, like me, saw more – the demons, the struggle, the pain beneath the frenzy of movement. Together we battled, but the triggers just kept coming, stealing her rational thought and her emotional regulation. With that theft, the end of her life was inevitable; she ran out of dance moves and hiding places.
Although I knew and even understood some of Laura’s triggers, I understood them from my own mental health perspective, and I agonized over them as a mom trying to keep her path free of pain even though I didn’t really know what path she was on. I did not have the tools to take away her struggles, her inability to see herself as I did – a one of a kind dynamo whom you felt lucky to call your friend or even acquaintance. We walked through life in parallel, side by side, but not as one. Her triggers were not mine, but she was mine, my child. Her smile, her happiness, her dreams were directly linked to mine. I fixated on doing all I could to keep her away from landmines and spiraling into the darkness. Though it has been almost 6 years since Laura’s death, her pain resides in my soul, creating new triggers that show up even in moments of celebration.
How does a mother watch out for her own triggers, while also watching for her daughter’s? How do we help each other? Not just mother and child, but all of us? I don’t have the answers, but I do have some places to start.
● Understand that the word trigger isn’t a buzz word; it is a fast pass to a personal hell.
● Don’t ask, “What happened?” No one wants to spiral into darkness, and if he/she knew what happened, it maybe would have been preventable. Instead ask, “How can I help?” Or, just offer a hug.
● What you see is not who I necessarily am. I am privately and frequently triggered by all my senses. Don’t try to navigate my mental health by what you think you see or by how you navigate your world. Triggers are powerful, unexpected and very real, catching individuals off guard. With a smidgen of understanding and kindness, we can perhaps play a role in minimizing damage.
Triggers are powerful, unexpected and very real, catching their victims off guard often creating turmoil and terror. With a smidgen of understanding and kindness, we can perhaps play a role in minimizing the damages.
– Dialectal Behavior Therapy may provide assistance in dealing with emotional distress. Learn more here.