Essay, Writing

Triggers Are Distinct From Offense

I purposefully don’t use the word “triggered” in reference to what pisses me off, online or anywhere else. I don’t use it, because I’m not triggered by those things. I’m offended and appalled by a shit-ton of things that y’all post or say; I’m often irritated by things that you post or, and once in a while, I’m actually angered by it. All of that is just part of engaging in community of people who don’t share my views. Those things offend me, but they are not “triggers.”

I’m very lucky, in that I don’t often get triggered. As in, I really am almost never triggered. Years pass, between instances in which I am triggered. So much so that I often think, “Well, maybe I don’t have PTSD after all.” But my triggers are very, very specific. They just don’t confront me very often.

And then, one day, I just want to go home, and I’m in Philly, and it’s snowing, and my train is delayed. Not a big deal, right? I’ve talked to the train window people. They say I have to wait and see. After the storm passes on, normal schedules will resume. That shouldn’t be a problem.

How can they be so calm? I can’t breathe. I can’t stand, so I walk briskly away from their windows and I squat down in the next room. I couldn’t speak, while they were talking, because I was on the verge of tears, and now I’m crying, and I can’t stop, and I don’t know why. It’s just a stupid snowstorm, and I almost never cry. I fucking hate crying. I’m squatting in the middle of a big room, in a big train station in Philadelphia, where everyone can see me. I just presented at a conference, and I’m supposed to be a fucking professional, and I know that if anyone from the conference sees me, it will be extraordinarily humiliating. But I can’t stop crying, and I don’t know how to hide here. If I did, I don’t think that I could manage it anyway. I kneel down, in the middle of this tiled, train station room. I can’t see through my tears. I should care about these things. I know that I should, but I can’t. I can’t stop shaking, and I can’t stop crying, and I can’t stop hugging myself, and I can’t care about anything except the terror of this snowstorm that is holding up my train. How is it that I am the only one who sees that this situation will destroy everything, everything, in the world – in my world? I turn to the side, in the middle of this enormous room, kneeling and curling into myself. I’m in a ball now, in the fetal position, in the middle of this train station, crying uncontrollably.

People walk around me. If anybody notices, they don’t say anything. For once, I’m so glad that people are self-absorbed assholes. I can’t explain this thing that’s happening, and I don’t want to try. I don’t want anyone to ask me what’s wrong, or if they can help me. They can’t help me. I look like a dyke, or maybe a working-class, anti-establishment young man, depending on your perspective, and I have a lot of tattoos. Nobody stops, or asks. They focus carefully on where they’re going.

I do know why I’m here though. I know exactly why I believe that this snowstorm, holding up this train, will cause my world to end. But I also know that it won’t, end the world. That just because it did once before, doesn’t mean it will again. I know this. I know that I’m lost in the past now, and that I should be in the present, but the two are overlapping in me now, and I can’t make it stop. So why can’t I stop this? Why can’t I stand up? Why can’t I stop crying? I know this isn’t then, the past. I know that this is now. What if someone from the conference sees me?

It ends, when it’s ready, as abruptly as it began. I’m me again, shaken, confused, and scared, just waiting for a train that will take hours to show up. You can’t see it on me, this thing that just happened. That’s my superpower, you know, impermeability. I wasn’t that pathetic kid, curled up in the middle of the station, sobbing.

I know you’re looking at me. I look like something between a scrub and a thug, to you. You can’t see the past me, immobilized by the memory of when the snow engulfed us, and she was dying, and we couldn’t leave. You can’t see the months during which I cared for her, how I found myself in her, and lost it again. I very much want to mark myself with it, but I don’t know how. When the person who loves you, and for whom you’re responsible, dies in your care, what is the appropriate mark? When the snow isolates you, to watch someone whom you love, more than anyone, die, what is the appropriate mark? When you’re left to comfort all of the persons to whom you’re invisible – how do you mark that?

I’m lucky in that I’m not triggered by things that happen online, or by things that douche-nozzles say. Many people are triggered by those things, for good reason. Different traumas create different issues.

Some of you think that ‘trigger’ means ‘offended’ or ‘irritated.’ It doesn’t. You can offend me all day long. Hell, half of you do. I’ve told many of you to fuck off, and when I do so, I’m not curled up in the fetal position, sobbing, in a public place. I’m doing the SJW dance of joy.

There’s not a damn thing that any online bigot can say, that will trigger me, although they may appall me. Nor am I actually impermeable, although I’ve spent a lifetime learning how to look it. By looking, you’ll think that I’m tough, badass, and definitely not a person with PTSD, a person who might be triggered. But you can’t see that I’m very much afraid of the next time that my travel is interrupted by a snowstorm – that is, the next time that for me, the world ends. I’m afraid because I know that I’m likely to curl up, crying, on the floor, regardless of the consequences. That’s a trigger.

Get it right.

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