Month: February 2017

The Problem With Trigger Warnings – Thoughts From a Person With PTSD

The Problem With Trigger Warnings – Thoughts From a Person With PTSD

If you’ve spent an iota of time on the Internet, you’ve likely seen trigger warnings. Trigger warnings are, as far as I can tell, a social construct used primarily to advise you that something you are about to read, watch, or listen to, contains content that some may find offensive or “triggering”. You may also have seen people lambasted for their failure to use a trigger warning by someone who deemed it necessary. So, what is a trigger?

The first time I ever heard the term “trauma trigger” was during a counseling session when I was 7 years old and newly diagnosed with PTSD (for the uninitiated, that’s Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). I continued to see this term and grew to understand what it meant through the magnitude of reading on my condition I did while growing up. Until relatively recently I had never heard the term used in relation to anything other than PTSD. Simply speaking, a trigger is something that brings forth memories of a traumatic experience in someone with PTSD. This can be in the form of flashbacks, panic attacks, or other mental symptoms.

The difficulty with triggers is that they are often things that are difficult to pinpoint and impossible to avoid. They can be things that wouldn’t make sense to someone who doesn’t understand what it’s like to be genuinely psychologically triggered. I’m not talking about people who think that “triggered” is synonymous with “uncomfortable” or “offended”. I’m talking about the folks out there who have real mental health consequences to triggers.

My Own Triggers

I’m triggered by the obvious ones, like rape, pedophilia, domestic violence, etc. And then I’m triggered by the ones you wouldn’t expect, like the cologne that my dad used to wear or the smell of sawdust. I’m triggered by certain words, toys, and books. I’m triggered by moustaches. I’m triggered by old carpet. I’m triggered by guns. I’m triggered by high winds or heavy snowfall. I’m triggered by being a passenger in a car. These are just a few examples.

Now, I’m going to say something that seems to be contrary to popular opinion: I am responsible for my triggers. Me.

I don’t believe it’s the responsibility of writers, filmmakers, bloggers, or educators to tell me I might be triggered by something they create for consumption.

Crawling Out of the Darkness

Back when my PTSD was at its worst, I spent nearly 2 years without leaving my home. I had between 3 and 5 panic attacks per day, oftentimes more. I was triggered by everything. Like most people, my safe space was my home, and I was afraid to leave it. If I had continued on that path of avoiding every single trigger to my PTSD, I would still be locked away. Instead, I started to face my demons, and closely observe my reactions to them. I had to if I wanted to survive. What I learned was that by exposing myself to these triggers and learning to cope with them, I took the power away from them. I stopped letting them control me, and it saved my life.  

The problem with trigger warnings is that they make PTSD worse, not better. By avoiding everything that makes you feel uncomfortable, you can never overcome your affliction. You can never face your demons and you will never really get better. You’ll just get better at hiding.

I think most people who use trigger warnings are genuinely caring people who don’t want to hurt anybody. The main problem I have with trigger warnings, however, is that I don’t think they’re helpful. I think they’re a cute way of saying, “Look here. See? I care about your mental illness. I am enlightened. I’m talking about rape but warning you that I’m doing so.” It’s saying, “I’m putting you in a box and protecting you.” as if sheltering a life has ever been productive to growth or healing. I think building these larger safe spaces is counter-productive. You can’t learn to swim if you avoid the water.

So, how did I keep myself safe without trigger warnings? I took responsibility for myself. I didn’t expect my friends to tip-toe around me. If something was triggering me, I’d remove myself from the situation, or I’d sit with it until it went away. I spent time educating myself about my illness until my smarts outranked its strength. Most importantly, I dealt with my demons instead of letting them chase me.

Now

My triggers still affect me, but they don’t run my life or dictate what I can and cannot do. I’m not going to pretend it was easy to get to this point. Facing the things that trigger you and asking them questions rather than closing your eyes is so empowering and healing, but it’s also scary as hell. I learned more about myself doing this than anything else. What’s more is that I stopped letting my abuser and my trauma win. While I did do most of this without any professional assistance, there is a lot of help out there if you look.

If people want to use trigger warnings on their writings? By all means, be my guest. On their own, a trigger warning is little more than a disclaimer and not harmful by itself. It’s just information. The real problem arises with the talk of mandatory trigger warnings, or when people allow themselves to become upset at content creators who don’t use the warnings. It’s simply unreasonable to expect the world to contort and become your personal Safe Space. Living with that sort of mentality will only hurt your mental health in the end. A large number of triggers are unavoidable out in the real world anyway, no matter how many people vigilantly use trigger warnings. Sooner or later, a person needs to take responsibility for their own healing process rather than expecting everyone around them to act as an emotional airbag.

When Social Media Becomes Toxic

When Social Media Becomes Toxic

I’ve had a Facebook profile for 10 years now. That’s a decade, or almost a third of my lifetime on the largest social media platform. It acts as my lifeline to a pseudo-social life, a documenting of my time (I post incessantly.), and a memory jogger. I give a lot of time to Facebook, but I don’t get much in return as far as meaningful content or personal growth is concerned. It’s how I spend garbage time. It’s the modern equivalent of sitting in front of the television having my mind filled for me with discount whatever. I click “Like” to show someone I’ve acknowledged and validated them while never saying a word, or to gently end a string of conversation that I’m not sure how to continue.

I’ve taken “Facebook Vacations” before, where I vow to log out and stay out for a week at a time so that I can either focus more on something important to me, or focus less on things that keep me clicking refresh on autopilot with minimal reward.

Every time I’ve taken one of these Facebook vacations, I have this fantasy of deleting my Facebook altogether. Good morning Productive Me. Yet as much as I hate it sometimes, I have tricked myself into thinking I need it. Not in an oxygen kind of way, but in the way that I’ve relied on it for so long to keep contact with people that I’m afraid deleting it will effectively delete everyone I know from my life. Is that a little over-dramatic? Sure, but I’m still afraid. If you do something and there’s nobody around to click “like”, does it still matter?

I recently watched Black Mirror (a Netflix show you should absolutely watch) and it really got me thinking, like all good television shows should, about how I use social media. I already know that I spend too much precious time and give too much priority to Facebook, or to YouTube, or to Instagram or Reddit. The amount of time I’ve spent just in the last month sending stupid Snapchats to my friends could have been better utilized to finish editing my novel. I have over 2,000 images in my Instagram account. I know I need to learn how to turn off this hyper-social-consumption part of me on a regular basis.

I’m a human with a lot of aspirations. I thrive most when I’m learning and expanding my mind, opening up little doors to different parts of my self. I think that’s why I’ve grown to love Medium so much. In the short time I’ve been on the site I’ve read life changing articles that have challenged how I think. I can’t say the same thing for an endless Facebook Newsfeed filled with dank memes, as entertaining as some of them might be.

I’m sure most people don’t have these problems. Most people probably have an iota of self control that keeps them productive, but I feel like I lose myself a little bit every time I waste an hour here or there on things that do nothing to challenge me. I’ve got an amazingly addictive personality, which equates to entire days flushed down the proverbial “social” toilet with nary a thought. I will procrastinate entire weeks away watching makeup review videos. The worst part is that I know that when I take that same energy and put it toward something goal-oriented, there’s nothing in the world that can stop me.

I would never say that social media is inherently bad. Like most things, the magical world of moderation gives it a prescribed value. To a growing chunk of the world, if you don’t exist on social media, you don’t exist at all. It’s not going anywhere and will only get stronger so I will only alienate myself in exile from it.

Rather than take a Facebook vacation this time around, I am issuing myself and anybody else who wants to participate a permanent challenge: to limit yourself to a combined total of 1 hour of social media per day. For myself this will be Facebook, YouTube, and Reddit as that is where I spend the most unproductive time. In its place I’ll spend more time reading and writing, two things that are more in line with the person I know I am.

My Journey Into Fountain Pens, Why I Use Them, and Why You Should Too

My Journey Into Fountain Pens, Why I Use Them, and Why You Should Too

When I was 15, my mother bought me a calligraphy pen set for Christmas. It came with the fountain pen, several different nibs, and ink cartridges in black, blue, and red. I followed the instructions to put the ink cartridge in and get it working. We lived below the poverty line so it was by no means a fancy or high quality pen, but at the time I didn’t really understand fountain pens so didn’t think it would make a difference. It was just a pen, right? When the pen didn’t work well, when it scratched through my paper and handled terribly, when it bled through anything I tried to write on, I let the stains of that ink colour my opinion on fountain pens from that point forward.

Fast forward a decade and I start experimenting with my penmanship. In the back of my mind, fountain pens were still “old, outdated pens that suck”, but I wanted to try something new for writing with. To be honest, I was tired of junky plastic disposable pens that gave me hand cramps when I used them. As much as I love writing, I wanted to make the experience a more enjoyable one for myself. I was pushing my son in a stroller around my local Chapters store one day when I found an old fashioned quill dip pen, packed beautifully in a box with a little bottle of black ink.  I bought it, some nice paper, and set for home to try it out.

I liked it! The methodical dipping of the pen and writing was quite meditative. I enjoyed the inconsistency of line–thinner here, thicker there. It felt simple. I wanted to write by the light of an oil lantern. The one thing missing was the convenience of portability. I couldn’t very well pull out my pen and a bottle of ink to sign something at the bank without holding everyone up.

Throughout my online searching I kept on finding myself surrounded by fountain pens. I resisted them for a while, but eventually caved and bought a Lamy Safari, a sort of mid-range fountain pen highly recommended for beginners. I paid about $50 CAD for it, which is a lot for a pen when you compare it to the disposables out there, but I’ll get to the savings later.

My pen came with a couple of blue cartridges, and something called a converter. Converters are cool, because with them you can use ANY fountain pen bottled ink in your pen. Anything. You would not believe the variety of inks available to you until you look. I was overwhelmed and mesmerized by choices, and quickly ordered a few samples. There’s waterproof ink, quick drying ink, archival ink, and in any colour you can imagine. Some inks have shimmer, some are fluorescent, some even look different colours depending on how the light hits it.

I quickly fell head over heels for my new pen. It was clipped indefinitely to the front of my shirt at work (many a pen thief around here) and in my purse any other time. It soon became the only pen I used. I started poring over the selection at The Goulet Pen Co. (I can’t recommend them enough. They’re great people and have a fantastic selection.) and ordering various inks to try. 

I wanted something with a wider nib, so bought a Lamy Vista, which is like the Safari only with a clear plastic body so you can see the ink inside. This became and continues to be my everyday pen, my favorite, my writing companion. It’s filled many journals.

When hanging around in fountain pen communities, it doesn’t take long to become enamored with the pens available. You soon find your Holy Grail pen, which you lust after. That pen for me was the Sailor Imperial Black. It was gorgeous in photos. Matte black body, titanium ion darkened metal details, and a 24k gold nib, also darkened to a gorgeous black finish. This is the kind of pen you use to sign your child’s birth certificate, or your marriage certificate. It made my little goth heart happy, and it also came at a hefty cost, but I’ll tell you more about that journey when I write up my review on the pen in the coming weeks.

I’ve been using fountain pens solidly for 3 years now and I can confidently say I’ll never go back. There have been days where I forget my pen at home when I go to work, and using the regular ballpoint disposables practically ruins my day. There is a certain pleasure in writing with a smooth-flowing pen that you’ve grown to know quite well. You take it apart to clean it, you refill it with new and exciting inks, you carry it with you everywhere and you notice your penmanship improve greatly.

Now let’s talk about paper. When you start using one of these pens, you will learn that certain types of paper doesn’t play well with fountain pens. The ink might bleed through, or it might feather really badly. This honestly depends a lot on the ink you are using as well. There are inks that write well on cheaper paper, and honestly it’s not a huge deal if you write on standard paper with a fountain pen. For the best experience, there are types of paper that are quite cheap that work extremely well with fountain pens. I really like Apica notebooks. They’re cheap and great with any kind of ink I’ve tried.

Considering a fountain pen? Here’s the good and the bad:

Pros:

  • You will never have to buy another pen again.
  • You refill the same pen infinite times, so you don’t need to throw it away.
  • With less waste, it’s a better choice for the environment.
  • Ink flows smoothly and effortlessly.
  • No hand cramps, even when writing for a long time because you don’t need to use much pressure to write.
  • Thousands of choices for ink so you can find one that is perfect for you.
  • Fountain pens range from very cheap (<$10) to very expensive (>$1,000) so there is an option for any budget.
  • Huge online community on Reddit for when you have questions or are looking for recommendations.
  • It’s a lot more personal. It’s not just A pen, it’s YOUR pen.

Cons:

  • Losing an expensive pen sucks.
  • Cleaning your pen can be somewhat messy (but some of us like that).
  • If someone borrows (read: steals) your pen to jot something down quickly, they can ruin it by using too much pressure if they aren’t used to fountain pens.
  • Not all paper is fountain pen friendly.

I was wrong about fountain pens in the beginning. I thought they were scratchy, bleedy, inky messes that you’d spend more time fighting with than writing with. Now that I’ve been using them for a few years I can’t say enough good things about them. They’re the perfect tool for any writer who enjoys penmanship, any business person who does a lot of writing in a day, or anybody who simply enjoys pens. 

 

Words Will Save Her – A Brief History of My Writing

Words Will Save Her – A Brief History of My Writing

CHILDHOOD

I started writing poetry when I was 9 years old. Nobody ever told me to do it, I simply felt compelled to create a tangible representation of what went on in my young head. As a kid suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), I had a lot of emotions flowing through me: anger and fear being major players. I spent a lot of time alone, and I spent a lot of time writing. I filled notebook after coil-bound notebook with these little poems that just sort of poured out of me. I kept them all hidden away in a drawer.

As I got older, my body changed and puberty began. My confusion and developing feelings towards boys were spelled out in my poem books and journals. When I finally got my own room in our unfinished basement when I was 12, a new hiding spot was found for my growing collection of notebooks up on top of some metal vents near the ceiling.

HIGH SCHOOL

A few years later, high school began and my increased level of emotional intensity was matched by an increase in both the frequency and severity of content in my poems. I branched out into writing stories at this time as well. I was an angry girl who acted out, had a problem with authority, and spent every moment possible working on artistic endeavors or spending time with some of the first friends I ever had who I felt understood me. It was in high school where I developed a taste for controversy, which was reflected in my assignments for a creative writing class which were never marked because they were “too disturbing” for the teacher to stomach. I was proud of this fact. Hell, I still am. Isn’t the purpose of writing to make someone feel something?

When my mother bought a family computer when I was 15, it wasn’t long before I became quite quick at typing and moved my previously handwritten hobby into a digital one. I’d type out poetry and short stories into Notepad files and save them to floppy disks rather than continuing with my spiral-bound notebooks, which by that time seemed slow and clumsy in comparison. Thematically, my work remained dark and focused on love, death, and depression.

 

EARLY ADULTHOOD

My writing stopped rather abruptly when I was in my early twenties. I was working full time with people I loved. I was in a long-term relationship. I had friends I loved spending time with. I didn’t have time for those silly writing projects anymore. After 6 months or so without writing much of anything, my chronic depression had spiraled down to a point where I could barely get out of bed most days. At the time, with all the good going on in my life this didn’t make sense to me. My self-harming had gotten quite bad again and suicide was never far from my mind. Nearing complete hopelessness, I went to see my doctor who prescribed an antidepressant for my depression, anxiety and OCD symptoms, as well as a twice-a-week appointment with a psychologist.

I saw the psychologist at the scheduled times for about 4 months. Things had gotten bad between my boyfriend at the time and myself because he wasn’t able to give me the space I needed to heal and so we broke up. A year later I still hadn’t written anything. The meds I was on had taken away the bad feelings, but they’d also taken away any good feelings. I was essentially an emotional zombie, losing my ability to create anything with colour or with words. I made the conscious decision to go off my meds and start creating again as a way to handle my mental health issues and fulfill my desire to create.

I started writing again. I started drawing and painting again. It took a year to safely wean myself off the medication I’d been on, and it was difficult. When I look back now, I realize that I was trying to use medication to accomplish what I’d normally been able to accomplish using my creative outlets. I’ve always been more fulfilled when I’m creating, and when I stop for too long, my head tends to get out of control.

 

NOW

I’ve noticed, more recently than ever before, just how necessary it is for me to write. I’ve always thought of myself as a visual artist. I never really claimed the title “writer” in the same way until this last year. The things is, I’ve always been happiest when I’m actively writing. In the last month or so, since I’ve resumed blogging regularly, I’ve found myself reaching a state of inner calm. I’m forced to remember why I stopped writing in the first place, and once again it was because life got busy with work and motherhood and trying to be a responsible adult. I stopped giving writing any priority in my daily life.

Without writing, I become this sort of wound up ball of string. Every day that goes by without writing becomes another length wrapped tightly around my middle until the very center of who I am becomes so compressed that I lose myself. Every time I sit down at my computer and start typing away into the night, I unravel a little bit. This built up emotional fog I have to such excess gets released in little spurts and I start to see more clearly.

I write to figure things out. I don’t usually know how a blog post will begin or end until I’m in the desperate throes of its creation. It starts with a single inspired thought and as I type out word after word, sentence after sentence, it evolves. I whisper to myself each line and furiously type it out until it feels somehow complete. Many posts get published on the blog, and many don’t. When it really comes down to it, I write for me. Sometimes I get messages or emails or comments from people who say that a post of mine helped them, and that is a really great feeling.

When I deny the writer in me, it’s a poison in my life. The built up emotion or ideas end up coming out negatively if I don’t give them their own space. This is something I’ve learned and re-learned the hard way a number of times. I need to write. Writing is the one thing that’s always been able to save me.

 

Regina 1995

Regina 1995

 

We’re the kids from broken homes.

Hide and seek in the park.

Freckles and dirty faces.

A flashlight in the dark

 

Super Metroid and Battletoads.

Clever gopher traps.

When time was the street lights.

Weather was raindrops in our hands.

 

The sun gave birth to water guns.

Neon feet slapping pavement.

Before love could hurt anyone.

I gave you my heart and you saved it.

 

Whispered secrets and muddy jeans.

We hid behind bookshelves.

Searching for ghosts in our basements.

Searching for ourselves.