Reader triggers; what they really are.

I actually hate the word triggered now. It’s been made into a joke, but it’s not really a very funny one, if you know what it means through experience.

A mental trigger is a sensory experience that begins a fight or flight reaction in the body after a person has experienced physical or mental trauma. It’s the same reaction in a date rape victim or a combat vet. Basically, it is a reminder that sends a person back into the event, making them respond however they respond to a threat or fear.

PTSD has a cure, I truly believe this, but it’s a long, hard road back for anyone who experiences it.

Authors talk about trigger warnings a lot. It’s a concern. The majority of authors are very sensitive creatures, and you’ll find a great deal of worry on the part of writers about whether their stories trigger pain in a reader.  The discussion of this on forums and Facebook pages is legion, but it all comes down ultimately to the reader. graphics-946270_1280.jpg

As both avid reader/fangirl and author, I have a balanced perspective here. I’m for the trigger warnings, of course, as information. There have been times when I wasn’t ready to read something. It’s not the author’s fault. They shouldn’t feel they have to change how or what they write for little old me.  I still love that author to bits, but I’m just not there.

The trouble authors face is there are obvious triggers like rape scenes or explosions that they can anticipate, and then there’s the personal stuff. The stuff that only the reader with PTSD knows; like the scent of lemon because your attacker used hand sanitizer or sex scenes that involve holding someone down in a completely normal and consensual way.These things can’t be anticipated by anyone but  the reader.

So, as a fangirl, I have to take on a lot of the responsibility for picking a book, and sometimes, no matter how bad I wanted to read that book, it will have to wait. I will have to put it down til I’m stronger, ready. It’s happened to me this week.

The book was fine. There was nothing there that was wrong or bad. I just wasn’t personally ready to have that sensory, imaginary experience at this time. Today.

I’ve blogged about the use of books as exposition to help PTSD before, and it’s been a real help to me. By exposing myself to things in a controlled setting and only in my mind, I actually had a real breakthrough that stopped a majority of my panic attacks. I might add that the author herself was involved in the decision making process about reading the book, and that’s an unusual amount of trigger warning. I knew what to expect from the source.

This week, there was no way for the author to anticipate something that would trigger my response, and, of course, that’s not her job. It’s my job to know my own limits. So, I put the book down last night, and I’ll come back to it later, knowing just what it’s going to do and prepared to fight my own way through the terrible memory it will drag to the surface because that’s what you do, if you want that normalcy back of being able to pick up a book you will love and read it without fear.  That day will come.

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