Written and submitted by Firestorm.
I’m writing this right now, in a hotel room, in KL, on my phone. The date is 03/11/2018. Time? A little after 8pm. I’ll redraft this in a week, and then get this published I hope, before the end of November 2018. I’m going to talk about triggers and dealing with triggers for those suffering from a Mental Health Issue (MHI).
When you love someone, who suffers from any form of MHI one thing you learn very quickly is that there are triggers, that can set them off.
Literally. It means that a gesture, a phrase, even a word can be enough to trigger some kind of reaction. I’ve previously talked about meltdown management. Basically, this means what to do when the shit has hit the fan. In this article, I’m talking about how to be supportive in PREVENTING meltdowns from happening when its someone you know and love.
This is perhaps the hardest part of loving and living with someone who has any kind of MHI. They do things, driven by their condition, that they sometimes just cannot control. It might seem small, pointless and meaningless to you. It might seem like you just got your ass verbally beating for no damn reason.
The best advice I can give you is to do your best to look at the situation – WHATEVER it is – from their point of view.
I don’t care if you have known them for a decade or dating them for six years, or married for 25 years. Could be your best friend, a family member, sibling, or parent. The simple fact is that you DO NOT have a 100% understanding of how their brain works. There is a chance that even they do not understand how their own brain works.
Whatever the cause of their MHI, you have to be incredibly sensitive to those triggers, be it a phrase, a behavior, an action. You cannot tell them they are overreacting. Little things are going to suddenly become a big deal and then set them off. You cannot tell them to calm down. There will always be moments that make them uneasy and on edge for no reason you can understand. You cannot tell them its no big deal.
What are these potential triggers? I cannot answer the question for you, because everyone’s trigger is specific to whatever trauma they have survived.
I can give the truth as it stands: one of my European university friends came out to Malaysia to visit, check out the Anime, Cosplay and Game scene and celebrate my birthday. My friend is a combat veteran.
We were at a Halloween cosplay event in Kuala Lumpur when somebody started popping balloons. BALLOONS. Acting on pure reflex and terror, they executed a full combat dive and roll in to cover – the nearest pillar – and I saw their righthand scrambling to draw a nonexistent sidearm from a nonexistent thigh drop holster.
Sheer luck for them, I was there. I knew the signs. The near immediate meltdown when the adrenalin passed. I saw those eyes widen with terror, I felt those shoulders shake as I pulled them in to a hug. I felt those hands tremble. I don’t know what nightmare they relived in that 30 second period. Suffice to say: the festivities were over.
I had to escort them back to my place and I made a call, and I had a trained therapist on stand by for immediate intervention if necessary. Fortunately, that military training kicked in – sort off. They were coherent enough to recognize WHAT was going on. And they had the medications on hand. Right now, they’re sleeping off a Xanax and two other medications I can’t pronounce.
I’m still typing this on my phone, but the bottom line is that the tiniest things, can cause memories of whatever trauma, horror and nightmare to rise and take control. For them, it’s the sound of popping balloons. For another, it is the sight of blood. For a third, its SPECIFICALLY Gucci Rush Perfume. That perfume specifically. Sadly, the trigger can be anything that we find mundane.
Believe me when I say that you do not have all the answers. The people you love and care about are all unique individuals. Your partner with anxiety is NOT your brother with anxiety. Your boyfriend suffering auditory hallucinations is not your bestie with the same condition.
You cannot read minds. You cannot perfectly predict their reactions to every comment, every event, every noise. You cannot predict that the same methods of soothing them in the aftermath will work the same way every time. Most painfully of all, you cannot predict how they will react when you accidentally cause them harm even if you had no idea you were doing it. You cannot predict the reaction to your apology.
NEVER make them feel stupid or silly. Validate their feelings. They have to know its ok to tell you the truth, no matter how stupid in might seem to do. The moment they wall themselves off, and start feeling the need to hide the truth from you, the will pretend that they are fine around you. That’s a red flag. You’ve lost their trust, they lie to you and pretend everything is ok, so they don’t feel like a freak, outcast, reject or whatever.
Learn the triggers, and do not do it again. Whatever it is. It’s a learning process and will forever be a work in progress. What is a trigger today, might not be in a week, or a month or in a few years. You don’t tease them, belittle them, make them feel stupid, make them feel silly. You do not hurt them as a joke, or out of spite. You treat them right. You treat them the way you want to be treated. You treat them the way they have always treated you.
For me, right now, that means for any parties I plan, where my friend is invited: No. Fucking. Balloons.
Thinking of writing in? Give it a go: firstname.lastname@example.org
In the meantime, check out other posts by Firestorm:
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