When people hear the word “triggered”, they instantly have the image of a gun in their minds. When someone who struggles with mental illness hears the word “triggered”, it takes on a completely different meaning, and it does not involve firearms.
The word triggered is an adjective that is defined as (of a response) caused by particular action, process, or situation.
An individual who walks into a grocery store may be triggered into a panic attack due to the number of people in the store. An individual who witnesses an auto accident may be triggered by PTSD due to their own past experience. There are so many situations that occur in daily life that normal people take for granted that can trigger others in an instant due to past experiences or just the illness itself.
Agoraphobia is a common factor in the lives of those with mental illness, especially those of us with both bipolar disorder and general anxiety disorder. Agoraphobia is defined as extreme or irrational fear of crowded spaces or enclosed public places. Someone who struggles with these anxieties would be immediately triggered with just the thought of having to run the simple errand of going to the grocery store to pick up a gallon of milk and a loaf of bread. What seems simple becomes insurmountable.
I recently took on a job as a personal shopper. All I have to do is do a person’s grocery shopping and deliver it to them. Sounds simple, right? But when you take into account that I am bipolar and struggle with general anxiety disorder, things become a little more complicated. You see, I struggle greatly with crowds. I have a hard time concentrating on what I’m doing when I go in for things for myself, let alone when I’m doing it for others. The end result is that I am not at my best. I’m slow due to the extra effort it takes for me to concentrate on what I need to do. I’m on edge due to the heightened anxiety, making me more tense and easily angered. In other words, I’m not at my best, and I’m not myself.
Is there anything that can be done? A lot of lay people ask why don’t we just pop a Xanax and be done with it. Well, that isn’t always the answer, especially with so many of those in that class of drugs (benzodiazepines or benzos) are highly addictive and lose their potency after a period of time, causing the user to take a higher dose more frequently. I know, I have overdosed on them due to that scenario.
Sure, we can use DBT and CBT skills to help calm ourselves, but there are so many times where it is just like having someone holding our head underwater. You just can’t start breathing underwater in that scenario, so why should you expect us to suddenly start feeling comfortable in one of our trigger scenarios? It isn’t always going to happen. And we need to teach people, including ourselves, that this is just a hard truth reality.
But we need to understand that it isn’t the end of the world. There are coping mechanisms. Lately I’ve been incorporating gentle yoga into my daily routine. Mostly for my spine health, but it has helped tremendously with my mental health, as well. What I’ve learned from it is that when I’ve started to have a panic attack, my mind is now telling me to focus on my breathing. Most of the time, it works. It didn’t work over the weekend, but it does most of the time.
What helped me get through the weekend was knowing that I would be able to walk out of the grocery store alive. I had to keep telling myself that. And that I had to promise not to trip anyone on my way out (I’m kidding on that one). But the key is that I had to set small goals for myself. The only problems I wound up having were that the trips took twice as long than they should have, my feet were extremely sore, and I was drenched in sweat from my anxiety attacks. But I survived.
I guess my end thought is that we need to teach the world at large that we, the mentally ill, have triggers that they, the healthy, do not understand, and probably will never understand. I’ve seen way too many people give excuses for things they don’t understand, but I sit back here at my laptop and shake my head and think “I do understand, because I am just like them.”