No One's Job to Warn You
Last week at work, I was reading a book that I knew had to do with mental health because one of the characters was in a psychiatric hospital. I have no problem reading about mental health. But there was one scene that contained a description of a suicide followed by a graphic description of self-harm with some terrifyingly realistic thoughts.
I felt lightheaded, shaky, and sick. I hadn't known that scene was coming and the vividness of it triggered a physical response in me based on my past experiences. I wished I'd known it was coming.
I'm grateful the author included that part in as much detail as they did. Most books involving mental health skirt around the details to avoid "triggering" readers. But I like to think that if something is hard to talk about (or read), then it needs to be talked about. So thank you to that author for putting that scene in there exactly as you did. Thank you for talking about the hard things.
But it did get me thinking about trigger warnings.
I've used one trigger warning on my entire site. I've published 57 posts. They all discuss mental health. A lot of them mention depression, self-harm, suicide, and describe specific thought patterns. A lot of them could reasonably have trigger warnings. But there's only one.
It's only there because I was getting more specific than usual and linked to a short story that was significantly more graphic than usual.
Since a large part of the audience reading this blog is currently struggling with their mental health, I wanted them to be sure they were in a place they could read it, both physically and mentally. I know all too well that reading something descriptive when you're already deep down that dark path, and it's late at night and you're all alone can get you thinking. And thinking can lead you to acting.
But usually, I don't use them.
I'm going to say something not all of you are going to like. Just because it doesn't say "trigger warning" doesn't mean you haven't been warned. The name of my blog is a trigger warning. I don't need to write it on every post for you to know there might be triggering content. You should know that by the name and description of the blog.
Here's something else not all of you will like. It is no one's job to warn you. No one has an obligation to use trigger warnings. It is your job as the person who has the triggers to use your judgement.
It is your job to avoid your triggers and your job to figure out how to handle encountering them. I know the response is not voluntary. I really do. I didn't choose to be lightheaded when I read that book. But I have learned how to handle that quickly so I don't lose it and the rest of my day isn't impacted by it.
I used to know someone who was triggered by people touching the back of her neck or shoulders. It was associated with a traumatic memory. But short of telling people not to touch her there, she didn't do anything about that trigger. She told me she shouldn't have to, because people should understand.
Which is a very entitled and self-centered attitude. People should understand and respect things like that. But if you have a trigger, you need to do something about it. You need to have a plan on what you do when you encounter it so you don't fall apart.
Here's my fastest tip: get away. Go to the bathroom. Very few people will stop you. When you're there. take some deep breaths. Remind yourself you're okay. Have a "go-to" thought like a best friend or pet and focus on that. Have someone you can call if that helps you. Repeat a certain phrase if that helps you. Figure out what works for you and do that.
But you need to have something. Because it is no one's job but yours to watch for your triggers. Even if you tell people they exist and they respect that, there will be times you can't avoid them, and it's no one's job but yours to figure out how to handle that.
By not having a strategy, you are allowing your triggers to control you. You are willingly giving your freedom and peace of mind to an object, scent, word, or topic. You can't avoid it forever. I'm sorry, but you can't.
It's no one's job to warn you.