Our words matter. They have power. They can harm or they can heal. They can show ignorance or understanding. We should be mindful of them, doing our best not to use them carelessly.
A current saying I’ve been hearing is, “Why are you so triggered?” In this context, (per Urban Dictionary) people used triggered to mean “Getting filled with hate after seeing, hearing or experiencing something you can't stand.” On occasion you’ll also hear people say “Gosh, I’m so OCD” when in reality, they just mean they like things to be organized in a particular manner. Then there are times people say, “If ----- ever happened to me, I’d kill myself.”
What’s the problem with these sayings? Aren’t they simply dramatic ways of expressing certain feelings? The problem with these sayings is that all of them make light of mental illness. Suicidal thoughts are not something that should be thrown around like jokes. Suicide is a devastating outcome from someone who feels like all their options in life are gone. OCD isn’t a cute quirk where you like your closet organized by color. It’s a potentially debilitating disorder in which a person has obsessive thoughts and compulsions to do things that feel out of their control. It can manifest as checking that the door has been locked 12 times each night or washing your hands until they bleed.
Let’s not forget the casual tossing about of the phrase, “triggered”. Triggered doesn’t mean ticked off or annoyed. Being triggered means something activated your Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and/or anxiety. Being triggered can manifest in a number of ways, including explosive anger, but the root of it is the trauma, the anxiety, the overwhelming fear.
For me this comes out in a number of ways. I struggle every year around certain dates every year. I’ll be irritable and short with my family, sometimes exploding in anger after something relatively minor. The reason for this is, it’s not about the actual moment I’m in. It’s about the trauma I’m carrying—which is so heavy in those moments, I have no emotional reserve left. There are dates on the calendar that one would anticipate being hard—death anniversaries, my late husband’s birthday, the wedding anniversary I shared with him… But the fact of the matter is, "good" dates can be difficult, too. My older daughter’s birthday is one that I have trouble with, because she and I were with Chris at her birth and on her first birthday. His absence is palpable on our little girl’s birthday, even now, at the age of seven.
Then there’s the onslaught of things in the environment, the television, social media, and conversations that give me painful flashbacks. Car wrecks in real life are the worst, but photos/footage in the media are nearly as bad. Flashing red and blue lights are horrible, too. Those things remind me of the night Chris died… passing the wreckage on the way to the hospital. Then there are images in movies or even on Facebook showing resuscitations, some of them bloody. My mind’s eye conjures the picture of my dead husband on that ER bed, covered in medical equipment that failed to save his life. I was at church a few months after my husband’s death and the pastor was speaking on marriage. As he mentioned wedding rings and the symbolism of such a token, the walls began to close in on me. I had been transported back to the night he died, when I washed his blood from his wedding band in the ER sink. I rushed out of the sanctuary sobbing.
Triggered refers to things out of my control. It refers to flashbacks, a racing heart, shaking, rapid breathing, nausea, crying, feeling motionless, or feeling as if I must stay in motion. It’s my body going in to fight or flight mode without reason, without a clear and present threat to me. It’s having an adrenaline rush that lasts for hours, that you don’t know how to come down from.
Mental health matters. For me, for you, for everyone. In a perfect world, we would all be able to be emotionally whole. That’s not a reality, though. Really bad, really traumatic stuff happens. Seeing as this is far from a perfect world, we should strive to use our words wisely so they do not harm individuals who are already in pain.