Triggers, shame, and the importance of self-care...
As many of you are aware, yesterday was Bell’s "Let's Talk" day. On the one hand, I love that Bell is recognizing a need to raise awareness surrounding mental illness and is using their ginormous platform as a way to do so. On the other hand, I wish mental illness was something people plastered all over their social media regularly, instead of only on the days when everyone is sharing it. I guess it's the human in us that makes us more comfortable to share on the days that everyone is sharing, instead of the days that we may be the "only" one. Maybe that is precisely why there is a stigma in the first place because we are afraid to share as we are worried we will be the "only" one.
I think it's safe to say that so many people have a mental illness whether it be clinical depression, anxiety, situational depression, bipolar disorder, post pardum depression, etc. etc. etc. There are so many types of mental illness, and I would bet everyone has experienced at least one form at some point in their lives or at least knows someone who has.
I have experienced trauma and mental illness, and I am not ashamed.
Almost three years ago I experienced the worst day of my life when I suffered the loss of my thirty-year-old fiance. This experience threw me into a mental state that I would be battling for years to come. My situational depression turned into anxiety, and my anxiety turned into daily rituals of self-care to prevent myself from completely losing my mind. I was lucky and had a phenomenal therapist and tribe that I was able to connect with and who have all helped me recognize not only the importance of self-care but also the importance of not feeling shame on the days I was a hot mess.
I have gone through a long journey of recovery, and it seems that just when I think I am doing well, I am triggered by something that to some would be utterly ridiculous, but for me leads me into a downward spiral of disaster.
One thing I have learned is that recognizing certain triggers as what they are can be crucial for recovery. Some of the triggers relating to my loss that I have been able to recognize include the following:
1. Snow - I used to love snow. There was nothing I loved more than a winter day with fresh sparkling snow on the ground. Especially in the mountains. The smells, the crisp air, and the beauty of those magnificent mountains was enough to take me out of any slump and was my go-to "self-care" option for many years.
However, when I lost the love of my life as a result of an avalanche, I had to revisit my love for snow. How could I love something so much when it was the exact thing that killed my fiance? How do you ever get over that? How do you ever forgive?
I recognized snow as one of my triggers very early on and have since found love for it again, but it took a lot of self-awareness, self-care, and forgiveness before I was able to look at it with any ounce of joy or beauty. Do I look at it the same as I once did? Not even close but I can look at it now in a way that is not debilitating and although to some this seems like a simple task, to me; it took a lot of work.
2. Stuff - another trigger of mine includes "stuff." When I say stuff, I mean material things. Random items in my home, car, parents house, other people's houses, etc. etc. Stuff that holds no meaning. This type of stuff is one of my triggers, and I didn't realize it until the first move Scott, and I experienced together. Going through our stuff and not having it organized and having so many things that we just didn't care about made me anxious beyond belief and I didn't realize it until I was talking about it with our therapist and out of nowhere broke into tears. She looked at me and said, "that's a trigger relating to your trauma." I had no idea packing, and unpacking boxes and boxes of "stuff" belonging to my dead fiance could have such a lasting impact, but it created an awareness of the amount of meaningless "stuff" that people, including myself, can accumulate and it made me want to purge almost every single day.
Do I care if people own stuff or have a lot of it? Not even a little bit, but for some reason, the idea of having a house full of "stuff" that means nothing to us and the possibility of someday having to pack and unpack it alone is one of my triggers.
3. Being happy - yes, I said it. Being happy is one of my triggers. This one has honestly been the hardest one to navigate because when you have suffered trauma in the midst of your happiest times, it leads to future self-sabotage that you wouldn't believe.
Just before Nick died, we were on top of the world. We were so incredibly happy. Our life was finally being lived on purpose. We had wedding plans, honeymoon plans, education plans, financial plans, baby plans, career plans, and everything was going in the direction that parallelled who we were as people individually and together.
Everything was so ideal, and we were so content.
Just when I thought it couldn't get any better, I was hit with a bomb that erupted my entire life. At the time I thought I was so far from recoverable that I may as well just kill myself and yes that thought was at the forefront of my thought process multiple, multiple times before I was able to see the light again.
Just when I thought I couldn't be happier, I lost everything. So now, when I am in the most intense states of happiness I become anxious, I obsess over worst case scenarios, and I sometimes self sabotage those very moments of pure bliss.
Luckily I have recognized this as one of my triggers and have found ways to work through that anxiety in ways that don't involve alcohol and overeating. It took me a while to get to the point, but I made it and can say I have been quite good at navigating those times, but sometimes, just sometimes, I too have moments of weakness where my emotions get the best of me.
Some of my triggers I have recognized and others I have not. Sometimes I can see my triggers coming from a mile away, and sometimes they hit me like a tsunami, and I am overwhelmed with anxiety, panic, and incredibly unhealthy thought patterns that sometimes lead me to say things or act in ways that are entirely out of character.
One thing I have learned is that if we don't make self-care a priority and a daily appointment our emotions are bound to get the best of us from time to time. Even when you practice self-care regularly, it can happen where you feel like you just can't take it, but if self-care is a priority in your life, the chances of this happening are a lot less likely.
Things that may affect your ability to self regulate your emotions may include lack of sleep, lack of nutrition; lack of vitamin d, lack of time to relax, even just for a moment, lack of support, and lack of time to just "be."
Our lives can become so busy, and I have experienced all of the above tenfold over the last few months since becoming a new Mom. Even I have placed self-care on the back burner as we naturally think we must do that to be the best Mom we can be.
However, I experienced yet another trigger recently and reacted in a way that was entirely out of character. I realized my lack of self-care and lack of self "check-ins" resulted in me responding to a trigger in a way that I can't even justify. I knew this particular trigger was one I had experienced for a long time, but my lack of self-care recently resulted in me not seeing it coming before hitting me full force.
For me, this was my kick in the ass to sit down, take a breath, and re-assess what I needed to make sure that my self-care was a priority.
I am not ashamed, and this does not change who I am. I am not bad. I am not a failure, and I am not weak. I am a human, with experiences both good and bad, and sometimes I respond in ways that are out of character. As a result of my constant learning in the area of trauma, grief, and self-awareness I can understand this, and I want everyone reading this to try to understand this as well and please remember to be gentle on yourself.
Sometimes it takes the simplest things to make your day less chaotic and more satisfying. Things, like making your bed, putting real clothes on, and brushing your teeth before mid-afternoon, can make the world of difference but if even those simple tasks seem daunting; please seek help.
If you are in a state of exhaustion, and you feel like you have no control over your emotions and or responses to triggers; I encourage you to sit down, take a breath, and re-assess what it is YOU need.
If you feel like you are unable to do this on your own, I strongly encourage you to seek help from either a close friend or family member you trust or a professional who you can connect with.
YOU are not alone, and there is no shame in needing help.
I would be in a very different place without my family, my tribe, and some remarkable professionals.
Even those who appear to have it all together and spend 95% of there life doing well have days when everything flips upside down, and they have a nervous breakdown. It's those breakdowns that are the catalyst to self-awareness and growth.
Never be ashamed to have a bad day, or a bad week, or a bad year or two but please please please don't get stuck there. Seek help and when you begin your journey to recovery, remember this;
it's still okay not to be okay sometimes, and NO ONE needs to walk that journey alone.