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My Two Cents on Triggers

Updated: Jul 10, 2022

Hello there lovely readers! It's Sunday again and that means another post from yours truly. This week I'm giving my two cents on triggers.

First off, I feel the need to preface this post by saying, I have had a full-on week, so if it gets depressing, I'm so sorry, but I'll do my best to reign it in.

So, what do I mean by ‘triggers.’ Of course as a human, when we talk about triggers, we mean those topics that give you unexplained, unavoidable anxiety. It could be the mere mention of a certain topic, or it could be the anxiety you feel when something similar happens in your life. Google defines triggers as “distress (someone), typically as a result of arousing feelings or memories associated with a particular traumatic experience…” it's usually “...something read, seen, or heard…”

The best way I can give an example is to tell you the reason I decided to do this post today of all days. I'm going to give one more warning, this is likely to get dark, so hold onto your butts. Also, *trigger warning* for heart issues and death of a loved one.

Ok… So… When I was nineteen my dad died from a sudden heart attack. I'm not sure I'll ever forget the frantic phone call my mom made telling me my dad asked her to call 911 and he had been taken to the hospital by ambulance. She said I should get there right away because ‘it was really bad.’ At the time, my parents and I were in a fight and I had just spoken to my dad for the first time in a couple months the night before. So, that coupled with the fact that he never went to the doctor–let alone would have initiated a 911 call had it not been serious–had me rushing to the hospital in a blind panic certain he was going to die. Unfortunately, I wasn't wrong. My dad died on his way to the hospital on Nov 9, 2002 and the night before was the last time I ever spoke to him.

Fast forward to Monday night this past week. Like most women, I of course, married a version of my dad. One of the worst traits my husband has that my dad also did, is the inability to do what is best for himself. Like most strong, alpha males, he spends his time looking out for those around him and worrying about me and my kids but is constantly saying ‘he’s fine,’ even when you know he isn't. Over the preceding several weeks, I asked him a hundred times if he was ok, and as always, he answered with ‘I'm fine.’ He has a whole host of medical issues that tend to show up when you're in your late-thirties to mid-forties, so I won't go into specifics, but if you're middle aged, I'm sure you can guess. Anyway, one of the things he suffers from is high blood pressure and he usually takes medication, but he had been out of it a while and hadn't ‘found time’ to make it into the doctor to get a refill. (insert wifey eye roll here)

That's why when he texted me after work on Monday with this: “I might just slide over to the hospital. I am not feeling well. My chest is tight and I feel short of breath” (yes that is a direct quote) my immediate reaction was to pick up the phone and call him. I think it went something like “what the F*ck… You're just going to casually text me you're having chest pains?!?” to which he responded “I didn't say chest pains, I said tightness…” (insert even bigger wifey eye roll here, because—same thing…right?)

Anyway, that conversation was followed up a little later by a series of texts where he promised he was fine and I threatened him not to die or I'd kill him. I was obviously upset, but he was being his usual comical self and told me I didn't need to come. Since I had three kids to deal with I didn't. I took his word for it and I thought it would be fine which is why a couple hours later when I got a text saying they'd had to shock his heart I was flabbergasted. I won't go through all the details, but will say, there's nothing scarier than getting a text from your husband's phone and when you call back having an emergency room doctor answer it.

After quickly figuring out arrangements for my kids, I rushed to the hospital in a panic and I would be lying if I said every emotion I felt when I was nineteen doing the same thing for my dad didn't rush back in as if it was yesterday.

That's a trigger.

Did I know that reading the words “chest pains” (or if we quibble “chest tightness”) would make me feel this way? No, I didn't. I probably couldn't have. Would it have made a difference if those words weren't associated with the love of my life? Probably… but how could I know? The point is, the words were triggering and the series of events that followed probably didn't help, but suffice it to say, I wasn’t prepared, and because this was real life (and not a story), I probably never could have been properly prepared.

So what's the point of all this on my writer's blog you ask? The point is, when you get involved in debates on “trigger warnings-do we really need them?” I hope you remember this story. In my opinion, when you have even the slightest doubt, you should always err on the side of yes-absolutely!

If you—as a writer, author – hell human being—can lessen someone's distress, why wouldn't you? I understand people’s hesitation that they may lose sales, but in the scheme of things is selling a book to someone that may be re-traumatized by it really worth the $5 in royalties you make? (I know that number is probably way too high, but hey… We can dream right?)

My point is, words hold a lot of power. I tend to not be overly emotional and very few things actually ‘trigger’ me in the sense I think they trigger other people. I don’t usually cry, in fact on my drive this week to the hospital, very few—if any—actual tears were shed. Does that mean I was any less triggered? No, it just means I’ve been through a lot and my life and the way I handle emotions is usually not seen externally.

Your words as a writer/author have the ability to affect your readers positively or negatively. Use your platform to find your readers. If your trigger warnings scare people off, they probably weren’t your reader anyway, so that’s probably positive, for both of you. Would you rather them read it, get traumatized and tell everyone how horrible it is? Or would you rather them not read it and when asked say ‘well I heard good things but the triggers seemed like too much for me…’ The second one, likely won’t scare other people off. It might even gain you a few people who appreciate that you were thoughtful enough to include trigger warnings.

So that’s it folks, that’s all I have for today, trigger warnings are debated, but in my opinion they absolutely shouldn’t be. Just use them. Use them often, and be a kind human who doesn’t traumatize anyone intentionally.

By the way, for those of you who are maybe wondering… my husband is fine. A week in the hospital and a scary surgery later, but he’s home now and on the mend.

Thanks for reading and Have a great week folks!

—Rose Rayne Rivers


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