We all have triggers. Something or someone that evokes a memory, feeling, thought, or response. I know I can feel the 180 my body does when the switch is flipped. I think naturally we try to avoid negative triggers. If I know something will make me sad, angry, or anxious, I’m going to avoid it. If I know something will make me feel joy, peace, or excitement, I’m going to seek it out. But what about the triggers that ignore what we can and cannot avoid? The ones that find us minding our own business and flip the switch without our permission.
Sometimes it is a smell, look, sound, word, or sentence. Sometimes it is the weather, a picture, movie, or song. The only way to find what caused my trigger is to follow the trail back to the moment. Often times, this looks like following a string of yarn that has wound its way through a maze. The pile of yarn in my hands grows and grows until I come to the exact point that it began to unravel.
I can remember specific triggers like they just happened. Exact moments in time that imprinted so deeply in my mind I can still see the colors and feel the texture of my surroundings.
I remember the exact moment my journey with depression was triggered. We had just moved. It was the fourth of July. I was laying in my sleeping bag in one room while my mom and brother lay in another. Silent tears streamed down my cheeks while I listened to the echoing booms of patriotic celebration and stared into the orange glow of the street light. I was forced to leave my best friend, childhood home, and give away my dog. Add a new school (make it middle school at that), noisy neighborhood, and the onset of puberty and, looking back, I was doomed. For some reason, I cannot remember anything that led up to that exact moment or what happened the next day, but I do remember that moment. I can still see the street light casting shadows over my purple sleeping bag and feel the unforgiving floor beneath me.
I’m minding my own business at a stop light, humming to the radio, and what drives by someone who looks remarkable like an ex. You know the kind. The one that makes you quadruple take. Who knows. It could have been him. Either way, cue a tidal wave of feelings and memories. I still physically ache at what that particular heart break felt like.
Fast forward to this morning. I’m doing pretty good. Day eleven. Round two interviews coming up. I am heading up north to the cottage today. Things are generally packed. I’m somewhat on time for departure. I’m enjoying the rhythm of the rain and the taste of my vanilla bean coffee when, like a smack across the face, there is the trigger. A word. A moment in time. The switch flips.
“Oh, hey depression. I was just, this isn’t what it looks like. I swear. It was just a little positivity. Hopefulness. That’s all. It’s harmless.”
I’ve practiced responding to my surprise triggers mainly because of what they trigger: long episodes of depression, anxiety, stress, and uncontrollable worry. So, while my cheek starts to turn red and sting from the slap I was just dealt, I look for the piece of yarn and try to follow it back to it’s unraveling.
It’s taken me years to get learn this. Up until now, my initial reaction was to turn inward, hide the wound, ignore it, push everyone away, and numb whatever it was that I was feeling. With a great deal of practice and discomfort, I’ve learned to wait, hold out my arms, and let the wound breathe for a minute. It has something to say. I don’t want to listen which is why I shut it down and cover it up. But when I allow the trigger to do what it is meant to do, reveal a banished pain, I have the opportunity to receive and deal with it. It freaking sucks but this is the only way to disarm it and take control of the switch again.
So, for all you who experience triggers, which I think is all of you, I encourage you to do the same. Don’t run in the opposite direction of where your trigger is guiding you. Walk into it and listen. Understand it’s unraveling and it will, somehow, put you back together again.
Today’s challenge: Road trip like a boss.