Mental Health · Writing

On Triggers

I have a number of triggers – that is to say, things that make me uncomfortable, or trigger unpleasant memories for me. The only one that I will actively go out of my way to avoid is Moonlight Sonata. When I was 17, I played it at my Grandfather’s memorial. I was trembling through the whole thing, and I very nearly didn’t make it through to the end. I definitely didn’t make it through the whole thing without crying. I learned the song specifically for his memorial, and I haven’t played it since. I haven’t even listened to it.

A discussion began a while back of whether books should come with trigger warnings, just like a lot of blog posts and articles do nowadays, and I must say that although I understand the reasoning behind it, I feel that since there’s so much information available online about everything, trigger warnings are a little over the top, at the very least for books. One of the books on my 10 Titles list was about rape, and I didn’t realize it until I was part way through. I’m not sure I would’ve read it at work if I’d known what it was about, but I’m glad I did. If I’d cared enough to google it, I would’ve, but I didn’t, and the book ended up helping me deal with my sexual assault in a really positive way.

Having trigger warnings on books takes away the suspense, and it’s a slippery slope from there to people picking and choosing what books to read or not based on their own views of the world. If we avoid something that makes us uncomfortable, how do we grow to accept it? If a person is horribly racist, they’re not going to want to read a book like “To Kill a Mockingbird” because it’ll challenge their belief system.

I find a whole lot of the fun of reading is the journey, and if I know what I’m supposed to take out of it, it takes something away from the experience. Plus, where does it end? Every person has different triggers, large or small, and we interpret content differently, too. Would a book denote “mentions Moonlight Sonata” just in case I picked it up? No? But aren’t my triggers important, too? What about 50SoG? Would it be required to list rape and domestic abuse as triggers? Because it bloody well should, and we all know that it wouldn’t.

The world doesn’t revolve around any single one of us, though at some point we all wish it did. We have to live in the world together, and we’re all different. We’re all snowflakes. Trying to protect ourselves from ideas and topics that worry us is futile. The triggers may be on the page, but ultimately they’re in our heads, each and every one of us. If we can’t deal with them, then we should try to work on them. If that’s impossible, then it’s our responsibility to ask others for advice before doing something. I hate spiders, for example, so when I’m watching a film with spiders, I ask others to tell me when they’re gone from the screen. I don’t insist the film warns me, or a book tells me, “describes spiders”.

I understand that for some, triggers are a huge deal. Mine once caused me to have severe panic attacks. But do you know what helped me get over those panic attacks? Exposure. Time heals all things unless you spend your time obsessing about the thing that hurt you.

We shouldn’t expect the world to be as user-friendly as our smartphones.

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