Understanding Josh 101: Trigger Warnings Are Bullshit

Posted: March 10, 2014 in Understanding Josh 101
Tags: , ,

I was originally going to write today’s blog on what complete and utter bullshit Daylight Savings Time is and that my loyal and beloved little Pug, Tesla, needs to cut the shit when it comes to the utterly obscene noises he makes while licking his one testicle as I’m trying to go to sleep at night. It was going to be a clever and witty start to everyones Monday, but instead I remembered a post I said I’d write for my fellow Tumblr HouseOfFantasists and now find myself compelled towards something heavier and more real.

Last night, I went to dinner with the Wife, the Muppet and the in-laws and some visits family from out of town.

I spent half the evening outside in the backyard.

I felt my hands starting to shake, the world was starting to spin and the old familiar sensation of having a raw, live, wire pressed the the base of my skull came back. Habit, training and experience kicked in and I recused myself from the table and stood on the hill in the backyard with my beer and just sighed.
Another god damn attack.

Friends and Readers: I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
I am a physical abuse survivor. A sexual abuse survivor. A psychological abuse survivor.

Now, before I got further, I’m not going to post a ‘Trigger Warning’. Trigger Warnings are fucking bullshit, and as someone with PTSD sometimes I just want to nut-punt anyone who posts ‘Trigger Warning’ on anything. You know who wants those warnings, the ones who claim to have PTSD. We all know at least one. The psychological hypochondriac, the Attention Seeker, the one whose ‘trauma’, when you actually dig in, consists of just arguing with a parent frequently. They demand that you never talk about a topic, freak out if you even mention something remotely related to it. I’ve dealt with many other people struggling with PTSD and I’ve yet to see a single one who will genuinely freak out at the mention of the word ‘rape’, ‘beating’, ‘abuse’, etc.
Why?
Because people with PTSD aren’t weak, and a word or a topic doesn’t set us off.
We are strong. We have to be.
Now, going into graphic or specific detail, whole different story in some cases. We aren’t stupid, and we know what triggers us and know when to bow out. All you do when you post TRIGGER WARNING: RAPE, ABUSE, PURPLE MONKEYS is give my a reason to bring my own internal defense grid online, put the shields to maximum and get ready to respond with a hair trigger, but all you did was mention a topic in passing…so now I’m all set internally for a borderline pornographic description of something…and you said the word…once…
TRIGGER WARNINGS MAKE THINGS WORSE FOR PEOPLE WITH PTSD. STOP IT.

Much more practical. That cracked out tiger can come out of nowhere.

Okay, now that’s out of my system.

For those reading this with PTSD, I’m not going to be graphic, but if your symptoms stem from physical and/or sexual abuse, this is your polite heads up. The the rest of you, deal with it. There’s a lesson here.

Yes, I struggle with PTSD. I have been struggling with it daily for over 14 years now. I don’t ‘have’ PTSD, I don’t ‘suffer from’ PTSD.
I struggle with it, because it isn’t a disease or a cancer, it’s who I am.
I struggle with it the way an Alcoholic struggles not to drink, or an Addict not to give in to the urge.
Only, my brain is addicted to memory. Shitty, painful, memory.

My first event happened when I was 16, in the middle of my Sophmore English class, not long after my adoptive mother died. Everyone had always known I was off, that was easy to see, and many suspected things had happened in my past that I didn’t want to talk about. No one really understood the full gravity of it, not even me, until my PTSD surfaced. In a single, 30 second event, my world crumbled as the repressed memories of over 8 years of physical, psychological and sexual abuse were set loose. I had my first Flashback, a full sensory complete recollection of only one incident of my abuse. It made me sick and I ran from the room before I got sick all over my desk. Thus began the struggle.

Now, not everyone who struggles with PTSD has the same symptoms or even the same experiences with the disorder.
To loosely quote my old therapist, “PTSD is probably the healthiest psychological disorder someone can have, because it’s your brain realizing ‘Oh crap, I can’t deal with this crazy shit I’m going through, so I’m going to stash it away until I can.'”
There’s some kind of sick, ironic comfort in that. PTSD is, essentially, your brains immune response to trauma to keep yourself from breaking in the situation.
It’s a circuit breaker that keeps your brain from overloading. The trauma happens, the breaker flips, and eventually it flips back all on its own once you’re able to process the trauma.
It’s actually kind of cool to think about, but someone with it will likely tell you otherwise.

Scumbag Brain: The Totem Spirit of PTSD.

The reality, once that breaker gets flipped back, is that you spend weeks or months or even years trying to work out the trauma that would’ve broken you at the time. That struggle causes all kinds of secondary and tertiary issues that can haunt you, effect your daily life and relationships and make functioning in society extremely difficult.
Below is a list of the symptoms I deal with every day. It’s by no means a complete catalog of what someone with PTSD will experience 100% of the time, because like any Disorder there is a broad range of symptoms that can be present or even develop later on.

1) Flashbacks
Imagine having a DVD player in your head. At some point, you see or hear or feel or smell something, and that thing pushes the play button. The DVD skips to a random chapter, and you have to watch the whole damn thing before you can go back to what you were doing. Sounds annoying, right? Now imagine if you could not only see and hear, but feel and smell and taste everything as well. That’s what a Flashback is like for me. A full sensory playback of an event. I don’t suddenly start freaking out. I don’t dive under a table. I don’t talk to people that aren’t there or think I’m somewhere else. When I have a flashback, people say it looks like I just suddenly sat down or leaned against a wall and fell asleep. It’s disorienting and upsetting, because what could be 20 seconds in the real world can feel like hours in my own head. During one of these events I also become hypersensitive to touch, and even the most gentle of reassuring hands is like a white hot brand on my skin. It’s also not always the same event I’m reliving. I have 8 years worth of crap in my head for it to randomly cycle through.

2) Hyper-Stimulation
Over stimulation is one thing, but there comes a point with me where noise and light and people become this all consuming tide that just crash over me and set off every internal alarm I have. A good example is last night. I was engaged, enjoying dinner and conversation with my family, but suddenly everyone talking at once. The echoes got louder, I couldn’t focus, I couldn’t hear anything but stray words. I felt my heart starting to pound. My hands started to shake. I knew it was pushing me over the edge, so I politely stood up and went to the other room where it was darker and the noise was slightly muffled to calm down, but things kept going and eventually I had to go outside and stay out there for a good 20 to 30 minutes while my wife had to explain why I suddenly disappeared.

3) Hyper-Emotion
When I get into an episode, I don’t just follow the socially accepted norm of the appropriate level of emotion for a situation. If I get angry or upset, I break into sobbing tears. If I’m feeling good, I’m irrationally manic and bouncy. I can also have sudden emotional surges, where if I get annoyed by something I get irrationally offended instantly. Because of this, and the Hyper-Stimulation, I’ve actually been confused for having Asperger Syndrome.

4) Self Defeatism / Deprecation
Even writing this now, I have to fight the urge not to delete this and just write about my dog licking his one ball.
“No one cares.”
“You’re going to fail.”
“You sound stupid, or crazy, or both.”
These are all the little voices that gnaw on my brain and hold me back, the ones that keep me from finishing projects and from keep me from commitments. Sometimes, all I can do is just hide in my ‘Chaos Corner’ and pretend to be busy, but the whole time I’m locked in a spin of tearing myself and all my work apart.

5) Panic Attacks
Oh, these are fun. Sudden change or crisis brings these on, although they can also just randomly show up and kick me in the head. Take everything above, drop it on me at once and double it. All of it. These are day wreckers for me, the thing that can just shut me down for the rest of a day being a quiet, shaken mess. A Panic Attack can result in me needing to take the one medication I still keep around, Klonopin, because it’s the only thing that can level me out at that point.

PTSD effects the daily life you lead, taxes and strains relationships and pushes you to want to just give in. But many people struggling with PTSD lead relatively normal lives, myself included. My wife is patient and understanding, my daughter knows when ‘Joshy needs space’. I wish it didn’t have to be like that, but without the wonderful support they’ve given me the past 3 years, I wouldn’t begin to guess where I’d be.
If you have a friend struggling with PTSD, or a family member, odds are you’re looking at the strongest person you know.
They might not realize it.
They might not know it.
But they should.

The lesson for today kids is this: Don’t insult me, or someone else struggling with PTSD, with a ‘Trigger Warning’ because it undermines all the work I’ve done to be where I am. That prima donna screaming that you need to put Trigger Warnings on things is full of it and assumes I’m weak enough where some black letters on a screen can bring me down. I struggle every day to move ahead, and sometimes I stumble, but even if I fall I make sure I fall forward.
For those of you who, for some reason, insist on posting that god awful act of self sabotage, here’s some advice from someone who has dealt with it for over a decade: YOU DON’T NEED IT. It’s a security blanket, a wall, a shell. It means nothing, and you will inevitably be triggered by something. PTSD means facing down your demons, and never ‘on your own terms’. Learn from your triggers. Adapt. Overcome. Evolve. Use the tears when you have a Flashback, use that pain in your chest from the panic attack. Each time, vow to yourself ‘Never Again’.
Seek counseling. See a trauma specialist. Get a real diagnosis and not just say, ‘Gee, that sounds like me. It must be me’ because it might not be. Go to group survivor meetings. Educate yourself on the Disorder. Be open. Tell your friends you have it. Have episodes and learn your bodies ‘tells’ so you can read them and know when to bail out. Write down your Triggers, see which actually set you off and which are just things that bug you. Never lash out, you will only regret it later. Write shitty poetry. Write good poetry. Sing. Paint. Sculpt. Do something, anything, productive to purge the pain. NEVER HARM OR BLAME YOURSELF.
Don’t try to change people or the world to stop it.

Change yourself.

Because, at the end of the day, you are stronger.

For those in the Los Angeles area, I strongly recommend Dr. Robert Scott. He was my trauma specialist and is an amazing doctor.

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Comments
  1. Isaak says:

    Serenfuckendipity that I stumbled on this post. It took me all of 7 minutes perusing so-called crisis/trauma discussion boards to conclude that either I am way more fucked up (and conversely, a lot better off) than I imagined, or these self-diagnosing, malingering, attention-whores were totally making shit up and adopting PTSD/C-PTSD because it sounds more butch than their current diagnoses of BPD (bitch or bat-shit, pick one). Even given the broadest definition of trauma, it’s not herpes– exposure doesn’t mean disease.

    Trigger warnings on anything non-visceral is nonsense– I don’t go apseshit or lose time reading or watching Fight Club.

    You’re right, it’s very telling how they fetishize their victimhood and demand pity because they can’t control their “dark thoughts”– whereas even a minimalist understated reveal about one’s bullshit feels like flapping one’s dick out in church on Easter.

    (PS: Get in touch, if you don’t mind)

  2. John says:

    Josh, I feel ya buddy. I am learning to deal with my own head without labeling everything and trying to fit every thought, feeling, action into a DSM-IV. I thought 21 months in a combat zone brought about PTSD, but when I was able to get honest, I was fucked up and tainting others for a decade already so the childhood abuse (sexual) was there staring me in the face…I’m convinced a lot of people who join the military already been through the shit…lastly, for me it seems the memories are much worse than the event/events, just as man can be more his own enemy than anyone else can be.

  3. Leanne Gray says:

    This. So much this. There’s really only one situation where I think a “trigger warning” is appropriate, and that’s when someone plans to present graphic images or video content as part of a presentation that I am in some way obligated to attend (so a mandatory class for work or school, for instance). So, as an example, my workplace had a sexual assault awareness briefing, where the presenter used a video dramatization of a woman experiencing flashbacks of her sexual assault. She did not advise as to content before starting the video, and I was technically not supposed to leave. So the combination of the content in addition to the mild feeling of being trapped caused me to have a flashback of my own, and I ended up having to walk out anyway in order to calm down.

    But the idea of trigger warnings just because someone uses the word “rape” or “abuse” or “violate” is condescending ridiculous nonsense. It also completely misunderstands what a trigger actually is, for people who have ptsd. Triggers can be *anything* – certain smells, songs, etc. There’s no way for someone other than the actual person who has the disorder to know what will set them off, so trying to warn people is worthless.

    I don’t even think warnings are needed for graphic content in general. It’s really only if that content is presented in a context where I can’t leave or turn it off that it becomes an issue.

  4. unclebeefee says:

    Josh,

    I have to say thank you for expressing this thought far more coherently than I ever could.

    I was diagnosed with PTSD after being the victim of an armed robbery that didn’t go according to the robber’s plan, ending with the robber being fatally shot by an armed citizen. I live with PTSD. I live with flashbacks, nightmares, insecurity, and fear, and I have thought since the first time I heard the phrase “trigger warning” that they are bullshit.

    The thing is, people with PTSD understand that encountering triggers is unavoidable because we realize that triggers are not words or content in movies, they are random things that oftentimes have no connection to the event that caused the trauma in the first place. I had a flashback and subsequent panic attack because I got cut off in traffic once. The fear that I was about to slam into the car in front of me and the anger that it was their fault set it off. Not because they have any contextual relation to the event, but because they made me feel a shred of the same kind of fear and anger that I felt that day of the robbery. If they were words, I would not be able to hear anyone say the words Kill, shoot, gun, robber, or anything related to the events of that day without freaking out. I would not be able to play video games, many of my favorites being combat-related, involving guns, killing, even robbing stores. For example, I play grand theft auto 5 all the time, and I have never once been triggered by that (or any other) game.

    Trigger warnings are for people who want attention or people who don’t want to have to face their demons, not people fighting post traumatic stress. Plain and simple.

  5. JW says:

    I never even heard of trigger warnings before September 2014, mostly because I never used Tumblr, but had an account. The first time people told me about triggers was when someone left an abusive flame on my fan fic, claiming that I triggered someone with a non-explicit implication of someone getting raped, the mother character blaming the child for getting raped, etc. I made sure it fit in the T rating, but these people just freaking made a song and dance about it and made me out to be Satan, hounding me on why I didn’t put a TW on it. I didn’t know how to answer, because I didn’t know what that was, and I was scared to ask about it. I tried sticking up for myself, but someone I admired wrote a ten paragraph post on how I don’t care about anyone but myself, that I don’t care about my fans or the people I hurt, that I HAVE to warn for triggers, that anything I say is nothing but excuses, how I’m victim blaming and making everything all about me (I was only trying to calm the situation. I have no idea how she interpreted it like that), and basically made up a bunch of lies about me.

    It not only ruined me, but brought out the worst in me. I had never been treated like this before, and nobody told me I had to use TWs. It was…horrible. I slapped them on my fic and fixed whatever problems they had with it, but they still keep going on about how offensive, ableist, and problematic my fan fic is (even though they never reached out to me nor did they even offer any suggestions on how I can fix it, because apparently according to them that makes me a bad writer). Even after I explained my intentions, they still acted as though I was some kind of bully deliberately hurting people when I wasn’t trying to!

    Now because of them, I’ve lost my enjoyment in writing. I had written about an on-screen suicide in my Pokemon fan fic and nobody I knew made a big deal about it. Not only that, something about the whole TW concept baffled me because I read many stories and saw many movies about abuse survivors and rape survivors reading books about similar circumstances and finding hope in them because they managed to find something they could relate to. Take Adeline Yen Mah for example. When she was a kid, she read A Little Princess as she herself was going through abuse at the hands of her family, and it taught her that no matter what, she could rise above the abuse and become her own person, no matter what her family believed about her.

    Thanks for giving me a clear picture of why I think TWs are pointless.

  6. Emily says:

    Thank you so much for this!

    I was diagnosed with PTSD when I was 13 so 22 years ago. My entire childhood was a nightmare but thankfully I don’t remember much of it just bits and pieces here and there and the memories come and go. Reading through some of my old medical records I was able to get from the foster care agency was upsetting but even that wasn’t triggering.

    You know what has triggered me? Laughing! Yep I was having a great time with a friend, we were laughing and in an instant I was overcome with a feeling, I went quiet, my body stiffened, she asked if I was ok and I told her I needed a few minutes to myself. I was down in the dumps for a few days and that was that. Other triggers have been smells, feelings, sounds but they are random and they are things I encounter every day so something I love and enjoy today could trigger me tomorrow but guess what? I can and do enjoy those things again! I laugh with that same friend every day and I do so without fear.

    I am so sick of this trigger warning bs!

    My childhood left me with no education and a disability, I sustained 3 traumatic brain injuries, ptsd and treatment resistant depression so in order to survive I do sex work, I was raped last week. I made the mistake of asking a question online in regards to what happened, I did not go into detail but even so the fact that I was raped “triggered” someone! Yep i’m struggling to cope and get through each day so I reach out looking for advice and some dumb twat uses my suffering to feed her desire for attention! It pissed me off and I can’t be bothered dealing with people like her so I deleted my post and my account.

    I cannot stand these “trigger” happy fools.

  7. lUnchrOOmjEsUs says:

    hi i yes when i read your article i personally thought that it was bullshit because i as a rape survivor get frequent panic attacks with any mention of rape. in high school i had to leave the room because i was violently vomiting i could not see straight and other things. adn to see you say that bullshit is worrying that people think that trigger warnings are like that i personally think trigger warnings help me function properly without loosing yesterdays food.

    • Josh says:

      IUnchrOOmjEsUs,
      While I am far to bemoan the struggles of a fellow sexual abuse survivor, I have to admit I’m more than a little disappointed. You are the first (no, seriously) in the history of this posting to have said that they NEED a trigger warning.
      Seriously, do you realize and acknowledge how strong you are? Do you realize that you’ve survived and prospered despite one of the worst traumas that the mind can endure? You are better, stronger and brighter than just a warning on a screen. You can persevere despite your trauma and grow to become so much more if you only give yourself the chance to excel and overcome.
      If you haven’t already sought out the aid of a PTSD specialist, I strongly and emphatically suggest that you do so. Once you do, and receive proper treatment and therapy for your trauma, I promise that you’ll look back on these days and ask yourself, ‘Why the hell did I think I needed that?’

      • TGBX says:

        Sorry, but I call bullshit on lUnchrOOmjEsUs. I don’t believe them. People who actually survive truly horrible situations are known to say things like “but I know someone has it worse than me”. The reality is the opposite of what this person is claiming. Survivors act the way you did, because you know that it’s just you. The tendency is to not burden others with it as a result. There’s no part of me that believes the post wasn’t some SJW posting a bullshit story as an “example” of what they think they’re protecting people from.

  8. Great read. I’m not stuck in the cycle of PTSD or anything, but I do have that sense of…. offness… that one gets when one spends too long in dangerous places.

  9. judeiscariot says:

    Spoiler warnings are bullshit.

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