“I’m triggered”

By Violet Wallerstein

At least once a day I hear someone, sometimes a friend, use the phrase “I’m triggered” in reference to something funny/annoying/upsetting that just happened. Sometimes they go further and claim “that brings back my PTSD” or “I have PTSD about that.” While these jokes normalize symptoms of PTSD, it is in a mocking way that is harmful to people living with PTSD.

I personally do have PTSD and have had it since I was 13. I, and other people living with PTSD, are actually triggered by things. Making fun of this “triggering” makes it seem like people with PTSD are often upset by arbitrary things in their daily life and minimizes the real impact of mental illness in our lives. Being triggered can constitute a panic attack with all the real fun symptoms that follow, such as hyperventilation, the inability to breathe, intense fear, crying, seeing/hearing things or not being able to move.

This phrase is so widely used that I don’t think anyone really connects it to the actual symptoms that accompany PTSD and the horrifying events that cause the disease. PTSD is not a joke; it is onset only by the worst events experienced by someone and can have an impact on the quality of a person’s life. While it is true that everyone gets triggered by different things, and triggering itself can differ from person to person, it is an overall scary and awful experience.

The reason I set out to write this article is because, as you do when living with mental illness, I have learned to ignore these jokes. It only came to upset me when my friends, who are aware I suffer from various mental illnesses, began to use this joke more frequently and took it to the level of “it brings back my PTSD.” It has permeated the culture so thoroughly that it has become disconnected with its meaning and people, who I am aware are thoughtful human beings, forget the negative impact that hearing this “joke” can have on people such as myself.

I am not calling for everyone to stop saying “I’m triggered” because I know how unlikely one article in the school newspaper is to make that happen. I just ask that people understand the meaning behind the phrase, take time to consider who is nearby when telling such “jokes” and perhaps use the expression less frequently.
Violet is a freshman Biology major.

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