It caught my eye out the front window—an ambulance pulling in to the driveway across the street. My brain said trigger warning, but if you’re anything like me and possess an incessant curiosity, trigger warnings only work to peak your interest. So even though my reactions to ambulances haven’t been great—the worst being a full-blown panic attack after seeing one race down the road with its lights flashing and sirens blaring—I couldn’t look away. I thought let’s see what happens this time.
I watched it anxiously but also with a sense of familiarity—this has happened here before. Once again, an ambulance was on my street. It was right across from my house. It drove down the same road and parked only feet away from where it had when it came for me. I let myself go back and re-live the moments of my accident but, this time, as an outsider. As someone just watching it unfold from behind a window—in the safety of their home—with a sense of curiosity and concern but a knowledge that it didn’t really have anything to do with me.
My anxiety subsided and I kept staring at the ambulance in order to associate these calm feelings with the sight of it. It was an attempt to work through another trigger and give it less power over me. I watched it until it backed out and disappeared down the road. Thankfully, as it turned out, the man living in the suite across the road is a paramedic and forgot his lunch. Had it been something more serious, had they pulled out a stretcher, I’m not sure I would have had such a positive result.
After my little stalking incident, I started to think a lot about triggers. We all have them and they aren’t always a bad thing. They are the sights, sounds, smells, destinations, photos, buildings—anything you can imagine—that remind us of moments in our lives. Sometimes those moments are amazing and sometimes they are heartbreaking. But I got caught up on the infamous trigger warning that is so often written before an article or post, telling us to proceed with caution because this could bring up uncomfortable and unwanted feelings. I understand its purpose—I do—but we have to stop expecting other people to tiptoe around realities because we can’t handle our own triggers. And, at least for me, the real triggers are the most unexpected things that nobody would ever consider warning me about.
Like what you ask? Like key lime greek yogurt. Like Crocs (yes, the footwear). Like houses in the framing stages, ambulances and watching any movie where anybody falls backwards off of anything—sometimes all it takes is hearing the word fall. They don’t always result in massive panic attacks (sometiemes they do) but they often result in reflection, questions or tears. I have also put in a lot of work to be able to handle my triggers. But there have never been people in front of me at the grocery story telling me to look away because the key lime yogurt is fully stocked. And nobody yelled trigger warning before I stumbled upon a pair of floral Crocs while shopping with my daughter.
We all have triggers that nobody would even think of. And the only person responsible for knowing them, working through them and learning how to manage them, is the person who experiences them. Imagine loving someone who had a heart attack in a Starbucks—that shit is everywhere. If you are triggered by Starbucks, your anxiety will spike 5 times just on your way to work. And nobody is going to trigger warning an article about the newest frappuccino flavour.
I get the intention behind the trigger warning, and I’m not saying they need to disappear. What does need to disappear is the anger I see on forums when someone doesn’t add a warning and receives backlash because of it. If something upsets you, turn your energy inward. Dissect it. Challenge it. Overcome it. Use your anger and the passion it evokes to work on yourself.
I’m certain there will always be things that make me think of my accident—things that may trigger big responses. Just as there are things that remind me of my miscarriage. Just as there are good things that make me think of my wedding, my children or my own childhood. You will never escape your triggers—the good ones you would never want to—but you can learn to live with them. You can learn to overcome them. I’m not saying I’m going to go buy myself a case of key lime yogurt to enjoy, but I can survive just fine seeing it on the grocery store shelf.