Most everyone who suffers from PTSD has heard of the term "triggers." A trigger is that thing that happens either inside of you (internal) or outside of you (external) that sets you and your PTSD off. Here are some of the things I've learned about my triggers that help me deal with my PTSD. Please remember, I am not a mental health expert. I share only my experience in dealing with my PTSD.
Number One - What Actually Are My Triggers?
What causes my angst, anxiety, build-up, stress, panic attacks, worry, sleeplessness, fear, flashbacks, trauma, distress, physical pain, and well . . . ? If you suffer from PTSD, you understand. So, actually, what are my triggers, and what causes them, and how do they start, and when do they adversely affect me? I've clearly identified most my triggers, but that doesn't help me enough.
Number Two - What Actually are the Sources of My Triggers?
It's one thing to simply say, "Oops, that was one of my triggers" after the fact, but quite another necessity to understand my triggers. For me, I pay close attention to my episodes looking way back into the source of the triggering of my PTSD. Simply identifying a trigger, for me, doesn't help enough. I need to start to see my trigger long before the trigger triggers my PTSD. Let me give one example.
For me sudden noises, to name one, are a problem. We don't quite understand why certain kinds of noise are such a problem for me. But, I've identified some. Having witnessed so much violence in South Africa during my many years there, the shutting of the drawers and cabinets in the office next to me made me jump every time. I kindly asked my office assistance and facilities manager to help with my problem, and they removed most of the doors from the cabinets. This helped a lot.
There are times I say to Kathy, "Please, no more noise right now." We have learned that's not me being controlling or inconsiderate, but rather understanding that certain types of noises for whatever reason puts me close to my trigger point. Together we manage my PTSD.
Number Three - Triggers, My Families, & Friends?
I've only started blogging about my PTSD recently. Always been afraid what some might think about me if they knew about my/our struggles with this. But, in my short blogging career, spouses of PTSD suffers contact me sharing some constants. The common thread about triggers is, "My spouse either does not talk with me about his/her triggers or I am not exactly sure 'what sets him/her' off."
For me, I think it very important that my wife, Kathy, and I work together on this PTSD thing. She is on the journey with me! Together we need to understand this thing, manage this thing, and make sure our lives are rich, meaningful, and rewarding, in spite of this thing or perhaps because of this thing!
At work, my closest associates know about my struggle. There are times I say, "I am a bit on edge today, please help me with this if you can." I also have a couple of close friends to share my struggle with, and my counselor Tom has helped a lot!
Number Four - Avoid Triggers Sources if I Can
I find it best to avoid my triggers if I can. But, that is not always possible. A confrontational loud accusative person jumping in my face, another one of my triggers, is a real problem for me at times. And, I can tell you as a pastor there are always these types of people ready to launch into me at any give time without warning or rationale. If there is even an inkling of such a meeting coming, I avoid it by cold shouldering, not being present, ignoring, or just giving a short answer and walking away. Yes, a few of those personalities have left the church because, "my pastor wouldn't listen to me" but the truth of the matter is at this point and time in my life, this type of confrontation is something I am unable to deal with in a healthy manner. It totally destroys me inside.
So, while avoiding outside sources of triggering is impossible, I do try to manage my environment as best I can.
Number Five - See My Triggers Positively
As one of my goals is to avoid an intense acute PTSD episode, I choose to look at my triggers as a positive rather than a negative. I want to get to know my triggers, and know them well. Actually, my triggers are perhaps my friends. Sort of like my early warning system. If I pay attention to them, they will alert me early that trouble is coming. By avoiding this trouble, I can be closer to my wife, closer to my sons, closer to their spouses, closer to my grandchildren, and closer to my friends.
Here's the thought I leave for we who suffer from PTSD. Can perhaps our triggers be more of a helping device than a hurting device? Can our triggers help us see into the source of our PTSD? Or, at the very least help us manage our PTSD? And, could our triggers point us in a new direction? A better direction? Can life be richer not in spite of PTSD, but because of my PTSD?
Just My Thoughts
Don spent twenty-two years with his wife, Kathy, serving orphan children and HIV-AIDS families in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa. Towards the last few years in South Africa, close friends and family noticed he was struggling with something. No one was quite sure. So, with a return to the United States Don thought a change was all he needed.