I don’t like the verb "trigger."
Whenever I use it, I feel like a victim, and not a survivor. And I am a survivor. I had PTSD. Had. I don’t suffer from it anymore. Through the help of friends and my therapist, I worked through the trauma that caused it, and am now symptom free.
Whenever I hear the verb "trigger" applied to me or situations that aggravate my anxiety, I feel like people are taking away my agency as the main character in my life. As if I am not a person who Acts, but instead can only React. I don’t want that, because I don't think it's true.
With my Masters in Social Work, I am hard wired to help and provide comfort for people who are hurting, in pain, or in need. My favorite part of the day is when I walk our dog to the Community Center so people can pet her. Or when I talk to any of the homeless people in the neighborhood when I'm out and about. Making a stranger smile makes my day; I love making people happy. And it hurts me to hear about people in pain.
Which is why right now is so hard.
It’s not that I don’t care about politics. I do. But seeing the hate and mud-slinging surrounding the US Presidential candidates on both news outlets and social media aggravates me. I voted for who I voted for in the primary, and that’s all I can do. I can’t go to political rallies, or march in protests, or be in places with large crowds because of my severe mental illness. I know this, and I’m comfortable with that.
But to read what some of my long-time friends say on social media, I’m part of the problem with America, because I don’t act. I ignore all that talk, because anyone who says stuff like that is speaking from ignorance. They are forgetting about the chronically ill, the severely mentally ill, and the disabled who can’t leave their homes, or can't be in crowds. They're forgetting about anyone with transportation issues. And about the incarcerated and infirmed, who can’t leave their nursing homes or prison cells to stand up for what they believe in.
And this brings me to terrorism.
I grew up in London between 1991-1995, where bombs in Underground stations and other high-traffic areas were something we lived with every day. The Tube stopping between stations for “suspicious packages” (read: forgotten groceries) happened once or twice a week. Selfridges being closed due to a bomb threat on a run-of-the-mill Tuesday was normal.
We lived in a culture of fear. But I never saw a Londoner afraid, so I wasn’t either. It was a part of life: “Oh, Edgeware Road exploded, guess I’ll walk to Warwick Avenue.” "Harrod's is closed today, I'll come back tomorrow." And the Tube stations filled with litter because they took the rubbish bins away, so the trains tossed candy wrappers and discarded tickets all over the platform in cyclones of filth.
But now, 20 years removed from living with day-to-day terror, all I have are my New York Times alerts coming in. And they come in daily. Most recently - Pakistan, EgyptAir, Brussels, Turkey. And every time I see them, a pit opens up in my stomach where all my pain can go.
When I was visiting Tombstone with my father in November, terror struck Paris. I became overwhelmed, and had to sit in a dark room listening to Beethoven's 6th Symphony to reconnect with myself. Now the attacks only disarm me, halting me mid-step the middle of doing whatever I was doing. Because I know the only thing I can do is turn away, otherwise I’ll be rendered inert.
Because I am disabled human being, undone by the stress caused by caring.
I don't want sympathy or empathy for this. I don't want pity. I'm a survivor, not a broken thing. When I found out I couldn’t work anymore because it was my caring and my need to help people that was destroying me, it was Fate's cruelest trick: my heart was too big, and it was consuming the rest of me because my brain was too broken to control it.
As a survivor, I’m not triggered by terrorism. I’m not triggered by the hate I am seeing surface during this election. When I am exposed to these things, I simply modify my behavior, because that’s what survivors do. We adapt, we change, and we move on.
It’s not that we don’t care, it’s that we have to make it to tomorrow. And the next tomorrow, and the one after that. Because the only way people grow stronger and live to see the next mountain peak is to put one foot in front of the other, and ignore their fear of heights.