I feel ambivalent about using the term “triggered” regarding my mental health. It comes from the language around Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and refers to being tripped into a flashback, intrusive thoughts or feelings of distress by some external cause. Some people sneer at the proliferation of trigger warnings, but knowing that a book, film or even a tweet contains content relating to trauma-inducing events might spare someone a real ordeal. I don’t want to diminish the experience of people with a PTSD diagnosis by co-opting their language. So I am hesitant.
Equally I don’t want to dilute the definition of trauma. Yet the fact remains: I have been traumatised by my own bipolar. Just as some people experience acute or prolonged physical pain as traumatic, the emotional pain I have been through is something I can never forget, never let go of, never “get over”. Sometimes I think I can – and then…
Then I hear something, or see something and I am triggered.
Yesterday evening I watched The Bridge with Tom. We’re big fans of Scandi drama and we’ve watched every previous season of the show, so I was looking forward to it. Only when I heard the theme music (Hollow Talk, by Choir of Young Believers) suddenly I was not in the living room. It came out of nowhere, but all at once I was in my old living room, when Tom and I still in our London flat, and I wanted to die. I was in a place of extreme pain, a place from which I was trying to escape, just for an hour, by watching a TV show. I knew that before the show started I had been in the kitchen, doubled over the counter, then curled up on the floor, trying to deal with the howling maw of psychological pain in my heart. I knew that I craved the relief of sleep, but that at the same time I would dread bedtime once the programme had finished. I felt it all as if the intervening 18 months had never happened. The feelings were the same. It was real.
Perhaps it is impossible to live through the level of pain I experienced and not be forever changed. I have spoken to other people who similarly feel traumatised by mental health crises they have lived through, who believe that their episodes generated genuine trauma. But how do you deal with trauma not caused by the actions of others, not the result of an aeroplane crash, not the aftermath of a conflict zone, just one part of your brain at war with another? Who can you blame?
The feelings were too much for me. I had pushed those experiences to the back of my mind but now I know I won’t, can’t live through that again. I went to bed vowing that I would never allow myself to experience that level of pain in the future. And the only way I could see of preventing that was to take my own life; quit while I was ahead, before things deteriorated.
I am aware that this is all in the context of some recent mood instability. When my Community Psychiatric Nurse came to visit a few days ago, she was concerned because I’d been a bit hypomanic. When she left she reminded me of how to get help out of hours, should I go into crisis. I told her some weeks ago that if I thought I was getting ill, that would be a risky time for me, because I would not be able to bear going through yet another loop, yet I felt disconnected from those words this week because I was a little high. And now my thoughts feel unconnected to either pole of mood. It simply feels like a question of simple, clear-headed logic.
Today I feel a little better, but not much. That taste of the horror that was my previous life remains in my mouth. I feel on the cusp of serious planning, of doing something irrevocable which could well result in much more intervention by services, maybe hospital. On paper, I have everything to live for. But that’s the point, that’s what I can’t bear to lose. If I’m going to lose it, I’d rather do it on my own terms.