Why I Use Trigger Warnings

You’ll notice that in my last review, which you can read here, I made a point to lay out trigger warnings. In the short stories I used to post on this blog (but no longer do because they were for an adult audience, and I am a young adult/new adult writer), I also made sure to preface them with trigger warnings. Now I’m about to explain why.

For those who don’t know or haven’t been around this blog for awhile, I have Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I’ve been around the block with other mental health issues, too. Throughout the years, I’ve run up against generalized anxiety disorder, depression, self-harming behaviors, eating disorders, agoraphobia, touch aversion, and insomnia. These are the things that (in my mind), make my C-PTSD not “complex” as much as it is “complicated.”

For those who do know me, they’ll be the first to tell you I am also someone who does not like the way “trigger” is thrown around these days.

Trigger has a specific medical definition. A trigger is a stimulus such a smell, sound, or sight that triggers feelings of trauma. This is why it is most closely related (or used to be) to PTSD. A trigger is not something that makes you feel upset. A trigger is not something that makes you feel uncomfortable. A trigger is not something that makes you grimace and wish you hadn’t read/seen/heard/touched that thing. A trigger is not the predecessor to a mildly uncomfortable feeling.

A trigger is something to be avoided at all costs. A trigger causes anxiety, panic, flashback, nausea, fainting, vomiting, sweating, nightmares, shakes, and tremors. A trigger is, in short, the recipe for a very, very bad time.

A trigger is hearing a mother scream at her children, then having your mind go blank and your eyes glaze over before finding yourself, hours later, with your hands clasped over your ears rocking back and forth in the empty bathtub, all your clothes on, mumbling incoherent protests against a phantom from the past.

A trigger is a boy who looks like that boy brushing up against your arm on the bus, and your mind stealing you away to years before, when it wasn’t just a brush against your arm, and you weren’t on a bus, then only coming out of the fog of memory when a kindly black bus driver kneels in front of you and tells you as gently as her contralto can, that this is the last stop, and is there somewhere you’d like to go?

I rarely use the word trigger. Words have power and when I say the word “trigger” I want it to mean something.

Because it does.

It does not mean uncomfortable or upsetting. Literature is supposed to be uncomfortable and upsetting. It is supposed to make you feel. If literature makes you uncomfortable or upset, it is doing its job. There were a lot of things I listened to in Educated that made me uncomfortable and upset. There are a lot of things I read in books I will five star review in the future that made me uncomfortable and upset. None of them have been triggering to me.

But that last bit is the most important part of this whole thing: to me. I am thirty years old. I have been in and out of therapy seriously since I was nineteen. At this point, I know what most of my triggers are (although sometimes one will sneak up on me). I’ve been able to beat some of them back into the realm where they’re no longer triggers but are just experiences that make me uncomfortable. I’ve had that opportunity, to seek and destroy the things that make life hard to live.

Others haven’t. Not only because some may still be young (this is a blog that is supposed to be teen friendly, for goodness sake), but also because others might not have had the privilege I have had. I know what it’s like to choose between therapy and food. I’ve been there, in my younger days when mental health coverage was worse than it is now and I was poor. Food will win. Every time. I’m fortunate in that I don’t have to make that choice anymore. Others aren’t so privileged. And I recognize that. They haven’t had the time or the means to seek and destroy. Not yet. Maybe not ever.

So I write trigger warnings. Not to devalue the word, far from it. I write trigger warnings because I know how powerful words can be. And I would never, ever want to intentionally shove someone before an altar of their own demons and make them pay.

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As always, take care of yourselves.

❤ Aimee

Inspiration

Trigger/Content Warning: Discussion of physical and emotional violence against humans and animals in dreams, as well as discussion of rape in dreams.

Anyone who has written well, just about anything, will have heard this question before: Where do you get all your ideas from?

It’s one of the most basic writing questions of all time, and it remains so because it varies for every single person. Some people get their inspiration from life events, from people they know, from observing what happens in the world around them. Some people get their inspiration from their travels, from their neighbors, from the kids on their block. Some people get their inspiration from politics, from social situations they want to change, or history that fascinates them. Some people get their inspiration from other writers, from poets, from songwriters, from artists of all kinds.

I get my inspiration mainly from nightmares.

My very first memory is of a nightmare. I still remember it as viscerally and vividly now as I did when I was small. In it, I am young–maybe four. My hair is as white as the lace nightgown I wear and hangs just to my shoulders. My pink blanket trails behind me as I walk, barefooted, to the base of a mighty black volcano.

I want to shove my thumb in my mouth for comfort but even there, in my haunted sleep, I think of how my mother says big girls mustn’t suck their thumbs. So, because I’m a big girl (and have always been expected to be), I fold the satin edge of my blanket into a sharp point. Holding the fold together with my thumb and middle finger, I run my pointer finger over the once-soft, now-sharp satin again and again, allowing the pain to ground me.

For reasons only the nightmare knows, I start my ascent to the craggy, gurgling summit.

By the time I reach the top, the volcano is erupting, spewing red-hot lava in all directions. There’s no smoke, and it’s warm (not hot), probably because my young mind still doesn’t know anything about volcanoes other than what it’s seen in books or on TV, but I am afraid nonetheless.

Afraid and not alone. Because awaiting me at that summit is the character I fear most, a horror figure I still–at thirty years old–cannot stomach seeing: Chucky.

His hair is as red as the lava, his demented, painted on smile focused entirely on me. My heart hammers in my chest, but the sound of it is drowned out by the toy’s hysterical laughter.

He’s smaller than me, and he moves like a dead thing–stiff and disjointed. Yet, in this nightmare with its strange, uncontrollable dream logic, I don’t think to run, or fight, or even scream as his short, chubby arms reach for me.

Instead, I do what I’ve always done–what I’ll continue to do for decades more–I freeze.

He lifts me up and chucks me into the angry, open mouth of the volcano. As I fall, tumbling into blackness and certain death, my pink blanket floats down with me, followed by the sounds of Chucky’s maniacal cackle.

Never once do I utter a sound.

This is only the first of many. Over the next twenty-six years (from four to thirty), I will have dreams where I am the villain — bashing in the skulls of girls who tease me. I will have dreams where I am already a ghost, staring at my dead, white body hanging from a noose that hangs from a tree. I will have dreams where people I love are cut up and fed to me. I will have dreams where my dog is shot repeatedly at my feet. I will have dreams where random strangers have their limbs sawed off, and I stand there and watch as they are funneled down a bloody conveyor belt into a large vat. I will have dreams where I am being tortured and brutalized. I’ll have dreams about being raped, a lot.

They will all be different, but they will all be vivid and horrible and full of rage and fear and panic. I will wake from them screaming words like, “Get me down!” or “Don’t touch me!” Sometimes, the screaming will be completely incoherent. I will wake from them ripping my hair out of my head in chunks. I will wake from them with blood and flesh under my fingernails from where I’ve gouged my chest or face. I will wake from them sweating, or crying, or whimpering, or shaking, or some combination of all four. I will wake from them and run to the bathroom to wretch and vomit. Sometimes, I won’t wake from them at all, either because I’m too drugged from the latest cocktail the psychiatrist has cooked up for me, or because the emotion wasn’t quite intense enough to wake me, and there I’ll reside, trapped in the dream until dawn. It will go on and on and on until I wake up naturally, my teeth loose and my jaw aching from the constant gnashing and grinding.

Very few of these nightmares will give me anything except bile and panic and exhaustion. But some–some will give me inspiration. Some will provide me with a vivid picture, a snippet of something that could be. It might only be a character, some sparkle of good in these terrible dreamscapes, or it might be one scene that brought me joy in a night full of horror. But sometimes, an entire plot unveils itself.

And when I wake, I write.

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What about you? Where does your inspiration come from?

❤ Aimee