Thursday, October 27, 2016

Triggers and safe places

From Julianna (originally posted to Facebook, reposted here with her permission):

Okay, so I've had something on my mind for awhile, and I need to say something about it.

I've seen a lot of people talking about trigger warnings and safe spaces lately. People seem to think of those things as contributing to a generation of young people who feel entitled and self-important. They are portrayed as enabling people to live in a bubble, away from anything they personally deem offensive or too controversial.

Most of you know my story. I was twelve when my little brother was diagnosed with brain cancer. For two years, I watched him suffer through debilitating headaches, sickness from the drugs, needles, hair loss, and other side-effects. During this time, I also had to adjust to a new role of responsibility in my family, so that my parents could focus on taking care of him as much as possible. When I was fourteen, I listened as my parents explained that my bother had less than a week left to live. That night, I sat beside him and heard him take his last breath.

It was about a year later that the anxiety started. Little things would make me feel sick to my stomach, and would keep me up at night. My first panic attack came after watching a movie in the theatre. The loss experienced by the lead character, and the grief they felt, reminded me of my own, and by the time my Dad picked me up from the theatre I was sobbing. It took me hours to finally calm down.

By the time I started Grade 10, I knew what things triggered the panic attacks. I could usually keep them under control. Most of my teachers knew my background, and were really good about making sure I knew what was coming up and letting me have the space I needed.

But not always. We watched a movie in English class. Within the first five minutes of the movie, there was a scene of two children, laying in coffins. The rest of the film dealt with death, and the idea of heaven and hell. I ended up in the bathroom, having a huge panic attack, bigger than any I had had before. 

Do you know what could have prevented a fifteen year old girl from having a panic attack in a high school bathroom? A trigger warning. Just a quick mention to me that the movie dealt with death and loss. I had myself in a place where I would have been able to mentally prepare myself.

I have since gone to a support group to help me learn how to deal with my greif in a healthy way. But I still deal with the anxiety and the panic attacks on a regular basis. My family does their best to give me trigger warnings when they can. Personally, I usually don't need to avoid the trigger, I just need to know it's coming and be prepared for it.

My story is mild. I know that there are others out there who have experienced even more traumatic events than I did, who react to their triggers much stronger and in ways that need more than a little group therapy to even begin to heal, who need to completely avoid their triggers. That's why they need a safe space. They need somewhere where they can feel comfortable, without having to be afraid of triggers. 

Because everyone deserves that, right? Everyone deserves a chance to live without fear.