Archive for June 11th, 2009

One annoying part of having post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is dealing with unidentified triggers. An unidentified trigger is anything that causes you to feel triggered (panicky, lightheaded, anxious, or a number of other reactions), but you have no idea why you are reacting in the way that you do.

The best example I have heard was a woman who was triggered by being late. If she was even one minute late to an appointment, she experienced an extreme amount of anxiety and felt strong urges to harm herself. In therapy, she connected this trigger back to its source – She had been late to the dinner table on Christmas Eve as a child, so Santa brought her no presents that Christmas. So, her overreaction to being one minute late to an appointment in adulthood was really a trigger for the pain she felt as a child.

I experienced an unidentified trigger the other day. I was standing in the car line at my kid’s school collecting signatures for a petition to save the jobs of some of our teachers. (This is why my blog entries have been late all week – I did not have time to write ahead because I was too busy collecting 342 signatures for this cause.) One man was driving a large truck, and its motor had a very distinctive sound. It was very loud and sounded like it was “running slower” than you typically hear in a motor, if that makes sense. I started feeling lightheaded and panicky but pushed through it to get his signature.

I tried to figure out why that sound was so triggering to me, but I really do not know. I can recall being triggered by this sound once before in a movie. I cannot remember which movie it was, but the bad guy drove a truck that made this sound, and it wigged me out. I thought it had to do with the plot of the story at the time, but I really don’t think so now. My reaction is much too strong to be connected to some movie I saw over a decade ago that I cannot even name or remember the plot – only the fear of that truck.

Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), I will probably never recover every memory of every trauma that I suffered. At least I have now come to recognize when I have been triggered. I can piece together that somebody who drove a truck with that sound harmed me when I was a child. Rather than beat myself up for my reaction, I comforted myself through it. I am now a grown woman living in an adult body. Nobody is going to harm me again, not even a man in a truck like that.

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Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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