Trigger warning: Suicide
I have PTSD.
It’s been almost a year since my mom and I had to cut down my stepfather’s body after he committed suicide and it still gets me every day.
It’s not as bad as it used to be. I was afraid of the dark for months afterwards and the colour red reminded me of that night because he was wearing a red hoodie when we found him.
But I still have triggers.
The biggest one? Seeing or hearing anything alluding to suicide and particularly hanging.
I tried to watch a movie recently. One of those bad horror movies where everyone’s make up is perfect and the girl always runs up the stairs instead of out the damn house.
It’s my favourite kind because I get to laugh at the bad plot lines and shout “don’t go in there, you idiot!” at the screen. But that was ruined for me when, in the first 10 minutes of the movie, one of the characters was shown flinging herself off the balcony inside her house, hanging from the fairy lights that she had on her wall.
I felt nothing for about 10 seconds. I didn’t breathe. I didn’t move. And then I switched off the movie and took a sharp breath, while still not feeling quite able to breathe. My heart began to race and the hairs on my arms and the back of my neck stood up. I felt like my eyes were about to pop out of my head and as if there was a giant belt wrapped around my torso being pulled tighter and tighter the more I tried to breathe.
And then the flashbacks started.
I remembered what that night was like. I remembered seeing him hanging there. The chair kicked over to one side. His lifeless body held up by just the rope. And then I saw the scene from the movie flash past me constantly. I can still see it now when I close my eyes. I began to see bits of the nightmares I had the night he died and for months to come.
I was having a panic attack.
I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t think. My body and my brain were not my own. They became the enemy. I was being attacked and I couldn’t get out of the line of fire. It was scary. Almost as scary as having to deal with it firsthand that night.
And it’s the reason trigger warnings are necessary.
I’ve heard so many people say that at the rate we’re going we’ll soon be needing trigger warnings for trigger warnings, but I now know this is a real issue. If that film had a trigger warning or there was some sort of system where you could check trigger warnings for certain movies (there are a few Tumblrs that do it, but surely we can do more than this?), then I wouldn’t have had that awful experience.
And I can’t even imagine what rape survivors go through. Having their bodies violated in such an awful way, having to deal with the aftermath, having PTSD, and then not even being able to watch a TV show without having a panic attack or a complete break down because no one warned them that there will be a scene where their favourite character is raped and beaten?
Or soldiers who went to war and saw their friends murdered by the enemy, or saw someone dying at their own hands, or were gravely injured themselves and now cannot watch anything that might even mention the words ‘gun’ or ‘bomb’.
What about someone who was abused as a child, or witnessed one of their parents being attacked by the other?
And if you haven’t had a traumatic incident in your life that you cannot watch portrayed on the silver screen, then you certainly know someone who does. According to Health24, an estimated 8% of men and 20% of women will develop PTSD in their lifetime. So why is the need for trigger warnings not being taken seriously? Is it because no one understands them?
Trigger warnings are meant to enable more sensitive viewers to choose whether or not to expose themselves to content that could potentially result in them having an abnormal physical or psychological response. These responses can vary greatly in their severity, and are different for everyone. My panic attack lasted close to 3 hours. I didn’t sleep well that night as my nightmares came back and my body was out of sync. It’s been 4 days and I still feel out of sorts, but I can function.
I have friends, however, who are out of it for anything from two days to two weeks and not only have different triggers, but completely different reactions to them too. Because no one can control how those triggers will affect them. No one can decide how mentally or emotionally unstable they will become because no one chooses to be unable to speak for 3 days straight. Or be unable to cook for themselves, or even eat. No one chooses to be so depressed that even taking a shower seems impossible, or risking their job because they can’t face going into work and pretending to be okay.
But this isn’t communicated to people who don’t have triggers. Or this group of people who associate the word “trigger” with “an upsetting thing”. Yes, there are people who just don’t want to read about rape or murder because they believe ignorance is bliss; and not because of a traumatic event in their lives, but why should this mean that trigger warnings aren’t a real thing for them? Or that they shouldn’t be included for people who have severe reactions to them?
Trigger warnings are important. They help shield those who need protection from the horrors that are only too real for them and are haunted by traumatic memories, while also making things a bit easier for those who chose not to see these things simply because they know that they’re not able to cope with them.