What is it About Triggers?

By Emma Pearson

July 16, 2024

24 July 2018

I know that none of us ever, for one single micro-moment forgets that our one, our ones, our person, our people are gone… We – I – remember all the time.  I know all the time.  Even as I am always shocked.

Put that parallel universe to one side for a moment…

What is it that is so startling, shocking, unsettling, disturbing, shaking about triggers?

A couple of days ago I logged into the medical website to see some test results for me from the other day. Before I could even log in with my account details, the site, in its wisdom, “steered” me to Mike’s account… where I saw listed the PDFs for tens of blood tests he’d had during his short illness.  Pages and pages of incomprehensible – to me – data, biologicaltechnicalmedicalbloodylanguage that meant nothing, other than that things were bad since, over time, so few of Mike’s numbers were in the “normal range”.

A(nother) punch in the gut in a(nother) (ab)normal day.  The punches that fling shrapnel at my efforts for a(n) (ab)normal day.

Later that same day and in advance of our holiday, I started to clear up my phone which is full to the gills of too much stuff… What to carefully transfer to Dropbox? What to delete? I scrolled down to the oldest photos. Two and a half years ago – November, December 2015.  Edward, my brother, at the hospice. Ed lying in bed or sitting in the armchair with his beautiful daughters draped over him. Ed fooling around with one of the carers.  Ed dead.  Stopping me in my swiping tracks, turning sad smiles to sobs.  Then… continuing on…Mike healthy and happy on walks together during winter 2016. March 2016, Mike snowboarding and skiing with the kids on our last ski holiday – barely two years ago… Mike and I away for a dirty weekend sans enfants for his birthday in July 2016.  Our last dirty weekend.  August 2016, Mike climbing the Inaccessible Pinnacle on the Isle of Skye just weeks before his diagnosis with pancreatic cancer.  I put down the phone face down without deleting a thing.  Heart hardened in protection.  It’s easier to cry for Ed than for Mike.

I sometimes feel I just won’t stop, and heck, “I have stuff to do!!”

I know Mike is dead. I know Ed is dead. How could I ever forget?  I know it all the time.  Every millisecond.  I know when I sleep, when I dream that they are dead.  I know when I wake up that they are dead.  I know when I have my shower-makemycoffee-getdressed-walkthedog-workwithclients-dotheshopping-whatever I do I know.

So why does seeing a photo floor me, kick me in the belly, nail me to the ground? Why does it make me shut down my heart just so that I can “go about the tasks of the day”?

What is it about triggers? I seriously don’t get how they do their devilish work.

Or… are they a gift? A reminder to feel – to be with what’s so impossibly hard; not just to function, not just to cope?

I sought the wisdom of my Tribe of After.  Here are some of the comments that made most sense to me:

“I think we live in a dissociated reality. We “know” (they’re dead) every single moment.  And at the same time, we somehow manage to live, instead of going crazy and yelling about how absurd and unacceptable it all is.  I do not know how we do this. I think triggers are those moments when the principle of reality prevails: we no longer have our protective “screen”.  We become fully aware, and it is terrible”.

We are ‘equilibristi’ (tightrope walkers) without a net”.

“I FEAR these triggers. Every day, I feel like I am stepping into landmines – as I open text messages, open e-mail, play a voicemail message, or go out into the world – what will blow up next? … Triggers are as deep as the love that causes them to burn with the flame and heat that few can feel”.

“Maybe it’s because we think we’re doing better than we actually are, that we’ve pretended so well to others that we’ve fooled ourselves as well”.

 “I am conscious that my own trigger sources have multiplied in this age of smart phones and social media – and they have also added to my circles of support”. 

“The triggers I feel are my mind’s way of dosing out grief in smaller portions, continuing the process of living with the loss”.

I cannot live with the full force of Grief 24/7.  I think I would burn up like a shooting star. It’s too hard.  Too painful.  So I slot back, best as I can, into what most people call “real life”; a semi-automatic pilot state of being, doing what needs to be done, remembering to get fed and watered and aired on a regular basis.

But the real truth, the full dark reality, the undeniable and painful fact that Mike is not there, will not be there – ever – soon re-emerges to prevail, ripping into any semblance that I might be “coping”.

And of course, I am “coping”.  All the Grieflings I know are “coping”.  In our wholly whole and holey ways.  Triggered myriad times a day, a week, a month.  This is some of what living with lost love is.

It bloody hurts.

About Emma Pearson

1 thought on “What is it About Triggers?

  1. I love your way of writing. It makes me feel less alone. Mourning is sneaky, it affects you when you least expect it. Sometimes I think we are not “built” to deal with this. And instead we are here to deal minute by minute, day by day, months, years. If I try to think about the future, I seem to plunge into a bottomless precipice. It’s been two years and almost seven months and I’m still stunned, I do not think it can ever be “normal” the lack. I feel like a spinning top that runs eternally on itself and does not go anywhere. Thank you for finding Megan and the tribe and Emma.

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