Any of you reading this possessing a basic grasp of the English language understand the meaning of the word “trigger.” Like the mechanism with the same name on a gun, when you a hit a trigger with someone you will cause a reaction in them. It may be major or it may be minor, it may make sense and it may not, you may bear the full force of it, or you may never even be the wiser.
Of course, unlike a gun, a human being has endless triggers instead of one, they never need to be reloaded, and they come without any kind of a safety.
When discussing an issue as complex as this one, I find that for me it’s generally best to be very direct and logical, to start with things that are basic and usual and make sense and build from there, until you hit subtle, individual, confusing, leave-all-thoughts-of-rationalizing-or-explaining territory.
(But I will confess to all of you that I’m struggling to find words and hitting some writer’s block, because I want this to be something everyone reading it can relate to, at least until a certain point. I’m trying very hard to strike the right balance between the universal and the personal – wish me luck!)
Let’s begin by leaving all thoughts and associations about “clinically significant” mental health issues aside. I know that’s much more easily said than done, especially in this context and forum, but I’ll try if you will! 😉
We all have triggers and reactions that are basic and part of our make up genetically and which don’t really need much context, because they’re the kind that are hard-wired biologically in us since before birth. As we grow, individual experiences shape the way they present themselves, but even if you might not react identically to someone else when exposed to the same stimuli, you can easily relate to and understand their unique response.
Some examples: When people are under a tremendous amount of stress, any little thing, the straw in their life, can cause their emotions to blow. They may shout or cry or break things or react in myriad ways, because their mind is telling them that they just need a release. It’s healthy – to a point.
Someone is put in a life threatening situation, and that triggers a fight-or-flight response. One partner chooses to leave a relationship, and the other feels shock and heartbreak and despair.
Now we’ll throw a mental health diagnosis into the mix. With bipolar disorder, a trigger can be the same kind of thing discussed above, but it also carries a different sort of meaning. Not establishing regular sleep schedules can make you manic. Not taking your medications, or lack of a support system in place can cause you to spiral into depression. And so many things that happen in life to everyone, that have the potential to be triggers become hair-triggers. You don’t need a big stressor, just a small one to send you reeling. And it’s a longer, more arduous process to make your way back to stability than it is when you don’t carry a diagnosis.
But it isn’t such a different life than the “average” person leads. Mental health can be made analogous to any type of physical ailment. If you have a bad back, you have to be careful not to strain it. If you have asthma, you have to take medication and be sure that you always have a rescue inhaler on you. If you have heart disease, you have to make changes to your lifestyle – your diet, your exercise regimen – and frequently take medication to help control it.
It may seem like a gross oversimplification, but every person on this earth has triggers of one kind or another that are unique to them. They may be emotional, psychological, physical, or any blend of the three. Triggers are a challenge with mental health issues, but so they are with all lives. They don’t set us apart and make us different, we just need to be a bit more knowledgeable about our personal hot spots, and make sure to seek for help the minute one is hit.
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