Sometimes we’re walking along, enjoying the sunlight and trees and grass. Everything’s coming up bunnies and daisies. Life is good.
Then we step on the dreaded TRIGGER. An emotional landmine planted into the day we were just enjoying. A day we’re enjoying no more.
That happened to me shortly before my carpal tunnel surgery. The nurse had told me I might not get to have the surgery because of my blood sugar. I have type 2 diabetes and I’m not that great about keeping my sugar where it should be. Hence my upcoming appointment with an endocrinologist.
That evening, I went with my parents, my brother and sister-in-law and their three kids to a nice dinner in a restaurant at a new mall. It was fun and delicious and great to spend time with time with Bill and his family—they live in Kentucky and were in Florida for a visit.
After dinner we decided to walk around the mall and I headed for the Papyrus paper store. The conversation with the nurse and prospect of not having the surgery that would enable me to collage and write again never left my mind during the meal or the walk around the beautiful mall. As I made my way to the store, a chant started in my head. “I hate myself. I hate myself. I hate myself.” The people around me started looking like cardboard cut-outs, like the kind they make of Elvis and other celebrities. These cardboard mall-goers were walking and talking, as if they were animated–not real people. Soon after that, it looked like I had a ten-foot thick wall of glass between everyone else and me. I was imprisoned in glass with only the loud chant in my head for company. I wanted to hurt myself. Burn myself.
I walked to the store in this confused state of mind and bought several things. I even had a conversation with the cashier. Somehow, as one part of me chants in my head and causes me to disassociate, I still function like none of that is happening when I have to interact with another human being. Someone whom I don’t want to know about the drama going on inside me.
I walked back to the indoor playground where we were all meeting up and told my mom what was going on with me. I felt so glad she was sitting alone at that moment so I could talk to her. She tried to help me and we agreed I would call my therapist when we got back to their house.
I called Judy, my therapist, and she helped me a lot. We talked about if I needed to be in a hospital or not. I’ve been in short term psych hospitals five times in my life, starting in my mid-forties. She told me to squeeze an ice cube instead of burning myself, which I did after I got home. It hurt!! It was a great substitute for burning myself and I recommend it to anyone who wants to self-mutilate. Judy talked to me about hating myself. This self-loathing is triggered so easily. I feel sad that so many things, big and small, can catapult me to that place. Often it’s something that makes me feel like I’m not good enough. Even that my blood sugar isn’t good enough. I didn’t end up going to the hospital and I was able to sleep that night. I felt better in the morning. Sometimes it lasts longer, is more severe, and I do end up in the hospital. I hope that doesn’t happen again.
I did get to have the surgery and it went well, so all that turmoil was more wasted emotional energy. I’ve wasted so much of it worrying about things that never happen. I want to stop, but I’m still struggling with the whole thing.
Most people with mental illness, or maybe all, have triggers. Once I saw a bumper sticker that triggered me. Triggers are different than causes. Triggers take us back to the causes, back to the events, back to the dark places in our own minds. They reactivate something that already exists inside us. Triggers are hard and they do remind me of emotional land mines planted in our own personal landscapes. We don’t get any warning. They just go off in our faces and we have to deal with it.
Get help when a trigger explodes your world! Tell someone you trust! Tell your mom, your therapist, your friend. Tell someone. Don’t try to go through this alone. I ended up in the back of a police car for the first time in my life the last time I tried to handle it alone. He was driving me to a local psych hospital for a 72 hour involuntary hold, called a Baker Act in Florida.
I don’t want that to happen again. And I don’t want it to happen to you.