What “Trigger” Means

Sometimes online I see people seriously misusing the word “trigger” in a mental health sense. This has been said before, and better, by others, but I need to chime in.

If something annoys or upsets you, it isn’t a trigger. It’s something that annoys or upsets you.

If it makes you angry, it isn’t a trigger. It’s something that makes you angry.

If you don’t like it, or you find it disgusting or disturbing, or you strongly disagree with it, it still isn’t a trigger.

Something is a trigger, in a mental health sense, when it causes severe mental and emotional distress arising from past trauma, including flashbacks of the traumatic event (or one of them). Triggering, in this sense, is a reaction tied to PTSD. An incident, or word, or whatever, reminds you so strongly of the trauma you experienced that it’s as if you’re experiencing it all over again.

If you haven’t experienced that degree of trauma, I’m glad for you. But many others have. If you did, but you’ve worked hard to overcome it and you can confront things that used to trigger you, I admire you. I’ve been able to do that myself with a few of my more minor triggers, but there are some things that will probably always trigger me. (Don’t ever tell me to take a bath to relax myself…)

Using “trigger” in a minimized way, for example, “I can’t stand that color shirt, it’s really triggering me” or “He told me I was wrong about Supernatural, and that triggered me” is completely insensitive and offensive, and it causes a lot of harm to those who are legitimately triggered by reminders of traumas.

The more the word is tossed around, the less impact it has, and the more likely it is that if someone said, “I read a sexual assault scene in this book, and I ended up in the emergency room because it triggered me,” other people are going to just brush it off or accuse the person of seeking attention. Think about what you’re saying and why. And think about the effect your words have on others.

Teaser Thursday- Midnight Chat

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I made it through the rest of Friday. At work, Talia and I were friendly when we had to talk to each other. When we first got there, she asked me again why Rob and I hadn’t been in class, and I told her all I knew was that Rob had gone home. She let the subject drop. She probably didn’t even care what happened to Rob. She just wanted to make sure I didn’t blame her for anything else. For the rest of my shift, I avoided her as much as I could.

After work, I watched TV with Dad and Olin, but I gave up after a while because my brain wouldn’t shut up long enough for me to pay attention to the shows. I was stuck again on the news about the kid in Wyoming. I hadn’t heard any more about him, so I still didn’t know why he’d done it, assuming anyone had managed to find out.

Maybe he’d been like Rob right up until he picked up the gun. Maybe people had told him to toughen up or had said he didn’t need help. His friends and family might not have noticed anything was wrong, or they might have wanted to believe they were imagining it. Just like I wanted to believe Rob was okay.

If Olin hadn’t been around, I would have talked to Dad about my concerns. Then again, he might have called Rob’s parents, which wouldn’t have done Rob any favors. Even though he knew how Rob’s father and Lee-Anne were, he probably still believed they would help Rob if they found out other people were worried.

I knew better. I didn’t want to think about what Rob was dealing with at home tonight. His dad was probably going off on him again, ranting and not giving Rob a chance to defend himself. And of course Lee-Anne would be backing up everything Rob’s father said.

I finally went to bed around eleven, but I couldn’t sleep. For over an hour, I lay with my eyes closed, trying and failing to shut off my thoughts.

My phone buzzed, and I immediately grabbed it. It couldn’t have been anyone other than Rob, even though I didn’t understand why his parents had given him back his phone so soon.

Hi, Mira.

Hi. Are you okay?

His answer took a couple of minutes to show up.

Define okay. I’m home. Father and his wife doing usual. Blaming me. I whine. I’m weak. Same old. Can’t leave my room but still want to see you tomorrow. They gave back my phone at least.

Good. I wanted him to come over too, but I didn’t see how if he wasn’t allowed to leave his room. Then again, since his parents had changed their minds about his phone, maybe they would change their minds about this too.

You want to see me, right?

Yeah. Of course.

Just checking.

He shouldn’t have needed to check. He knew I was his friend. Nothing would change that.

Are you still there?

Yeah. Sorry. Thinking. I hadn’t even taken a minute to reply. He was twitchier than usual. I couldn’t blame him, but if he wasn’t going to give me time to type my answers, it would get annoying.

I’m thinking too. Need to find a way so stuff like this stops happening.

My chest tightened. I sat up and tried to breathe more easily. He hadn’t said anything threatening. Only his usual thing about wanting to stop the bullying. But all I could think was that the kid in Wyoming might have said the same kind of thing.

The news story had gotten to me. That was all. I had to let go of it.

Release Week- Midnight Chat

My newest novel, Midnight Chat, releases tomorrow from Harmony Ink Press!

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The story was inspired by a song…my own song, “Midnight Chat.” (Available on Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, and Spotify… links at the end of the post.) I wrote the song nearly two years ago now, after a too-long drive through rush-hour traffic to the home of a then-friend who was working with me on some music things. During that drive, I was listening to my Spotify playlist, and one of the songs, “I Don’t Like Mondays,” caught my attention.

I started musing about the subject of that song, someone who committed a school shooting apparently out of sheer boredom. And then thought about an incident about a year and a half earlier in which a girl turned a friend of hers in to police after he threatened to destroy a school from which he’d been expelled.

The words started rolling around in my brain, and by the time I reached my friend’s house, I had composed nearly the entire song. And not long after, I had the seeds of the novel firmly in my brain, with Mira MacDonald practically shouting at me to tell her story. So I did.

Recognizing when a friend of yours needs more help than you can give is difficult for anyone. When the friend takes a course that could lead to tragedy, it’s even more difficult. Mira faces some tough decisions in trying to help her best friend Rob cope with bullies, neglectful parents, and an undiagnosed mental illness, and the ultimate choice she has to make is something no one should have to decide. But she makes it nonetheless.

I hope you’ll check out the book, the trailer (which will be up later this week, and includes the song), and the single, on Amazon.com, iTunes, Google Play, and Spotify.

2016 in Brief Review

2016 has come to an end, so it’s time for a look back.

There isn’t really a lot to look back at. It was a rough year for a lot of people, including me. But I did have some good things happen.

Ball Caps and Khakis, the final book of the Deep Secrets and Hope series, was released in February.

Where No One Knows was re-released in June. That month also marked my younger offspring’s high school graduation.

In September, both of my offspring moved out, the younger one to college and the older one to start a life on their own.

I wrote a book over the summer, and rewrote it over the past several weeks.

I made new friends. I lost a few friends. I attended Rites of Spring, an annual Pagan festival in western Massachusetts. I learned a lot of things, and forgot a lot more; I have a brain like a steel sieve.

2016 was a stressful year for me in many ways, but in other ways it was a year of accomplishments and celebrations. And now I’m looking forward to seeing what 2017 has in store.

Holiday Stress

Sometimes holiday gatherings aren’t the fun, happy times we wish they could be. For a lot of people, the stress of the holidays leads to conflict during get-togethers, even if the rest of the year everyone gets along fine. On the other hand, sometimes the holidays force us to see family members we prefer to avoid because the relationship is strained to say the least.

For some people, seeing family during the holidays is dangerous, and yet they are given no choice about spending a day among people who hate them for being who they are. Or, instead, they might be banned from seeing relatives with whom they wish they could have contact.

No matter how close a family is, minor conflicts are common, and during the holidays those things might become magnified by stress, fatigue, and other factors. Things that generally have little or no effect on us become the spark that ignites an argument. Feelings might be hurt. Things might be said that can’t be taken back.

The holidays are meant to be a time of happiness and joy, and in many ways they are for many of us. But no matter what our circumstances are, there are bound to be difficulties during the holiday season.

After the season comes to an end and we no longer have to face these gatherings, it’s time to take care of ourselves. Process how the season went. Spend time with people you care about who help you feel happy and calm. Spend time alone, resting and doing things that relax you.

If those aren’t enough, consider speaking with a professional or calling a hotline. Reaching out for help is always okay if you need it.

And remind yourself that the holidays are over, and better days are coming.

Teaser Thursday- Midnight Chat (again)

It’s only been two weeks since I posted an excerpt from this novel, which will release on February 7, 2017. I’m sharing again because now I have cover art. And also because Midnight Chat is now available for pre-order from Harmony Ink Press!

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All day Sunday, my phone stayed silent other than a text from Talia to remind me I’d taken her Sunday afternoon shift. I’d completely forgotten she had some family reunion thing. Working wasn’t my ideal thing to do, but maybe it would take my mind off Rob.

Keeping my mind on the job turned out to be harder than I’d expected. Rob had never gone this long without talking to or texting me. Not in the whole time I’d known him. I checked my phone every chance I got to see whether Rob had answered my texts, and each time I didn’t see a reply from him, I got more worried. But I got through the five hours of work and then went home and failed to finish my homework.

Even though I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep, I went to bed early. Lying down staring at my ceiling was better than pretending to Dad and Olin that I wasn’t worried about anything.

I shouldn’t have promised Rob I wouldn’t talk to Dad. I needed help figuring out what to do about the messages Rob had gotten and how to find out whether he was okay. If he’d hurt himself, his parents might not let me know. They would probably blame me.

Just before midnight, my phone buzzed. I yanked it out from under my pillow so fast I almost dropped it and had to fumble to see the message.

It was Rob, but he didn’t use his usual greeting. Stay home tomorrow.

What? Why? He had no reason to tell me to skip school. No one had threatened me. Rob was the one they’d sent the messages to, and I refused to abandon him. He would need backup, especially on the way to school in the morning, and I would be there.

I don’t want you to see.

I blinked at the text. It didn’t make any sense. What didn’t he want me to see? Maybe he was afraid someone would seriously hurt him and was trying to protect me from seeing it, but if anyone attacked him, surely he would rather have a witness. See what?

A few minutes passed. I kept staring at the phone. With each second, my heart beat faster, and I caught myself holding my breath a couple of times.

Finally Rob replied. I’m going to take them all out. They’ll never hurt me again. You’re my only friend, so you get to live.

The words took a few seconds to register—take them all out.

I got to live.

He was going to kill someone. Maybe more than one person.

I had to be reading it wrong. Rob would never hurt anyone. He was scared and angry, and plenty of people had hurt him, but he couldn’t actually want to kill people.

He was venting. Spouting off the way he always did. He just meant he wished he could stop the bullying, not that he would actually do anything.

But if he was only venting, he wouldn’t have told me to stay home from school.

Whatever he was planning, I had to talk him out of it. I was the only one who could. He knew I cared about him. If I tried to stop him from ruining his life and other people’s, he would listen. He always listened to me.

The kid in Wyoming hadn’t listened to anyone, though. If someone had tried to stop him, they’d failed. Now he was a murderer, and people probably thought he wasn’t worth caring about.

I didn’t want anyone to think that about Rob. I had to convince him to calm down. What are you doing? They aren’t worth destroying your life.

I won’t have a life to destroy. We’re all going to die. That’s why I don’t want you there.

A chill ran through me, and for a second I forgot how to breathe. Die. People were going to die. Including Rob. If he was just blowing off steam, he needed to shut up. He was scaring the hell out of me.

He couldn’t mean it. He’d gotten freaked out by the messages online the day before, and now he was talking about wanting to make them stop. He wouldn’t actually do anything.

Even though I didn’t know how to handle this, I couldn’t tell anyone else. Dad would only call Rob’s parents or the police. They would think he meant it and would go through with locking him up. Maybe in a hospital, but they might put him in jail instead. Threatening to kill people was against the law.

I refused to let it happen. Every time Rob had been upset about bullying or his parents before, I’d been able to settle him down. I could this time, too.

Holiday Self-Care

The holidays are a stressful time for a lot of people. Sometimes, it’s just stressful going into a crowded store to find just the right gift. Other times, holidays bring back unpleasant or even traumatic memories of holidays past, and it’s more than someone can cope with.

Some of us feel like, in preparation for the holidays, we have to do it all. Shop. Cook. Bake. Send out cards and presents. Talk to people we haven’t seen or heard from since last year.

Light of Christmas in one shop

But none of those things is as important as taking care of yourself. If you’re feeling overwhelmed about your shopping list, choose only a few things at a time that you’re going to buy, and only think about those things when you’re at the store. Or don’t even go to the store; shop online. You might find unique gifts that way that you wouldn’t find in a store. If you can, ask someone else to do some of the shopping for you.

If you have too many people to contact and visit, take time to think about who you’d most like to talk to or see. You might worry that if you skip Aunt Sally’s Christmas Eve songfest to visit your high school friend who just moved back to the area, Aunt Sally will be hurt and angry. And she might be. But would she be less hurt if you showed up and were bored or antsy because you’d rather be with your friend? Base your decisions on what *you* want and what you feel is right for you, rather than one what others might think.

Most importantly, if the holidays are a traumatic time for you, please reach out for help. Whether to a professional or a friend you can trust to talk to. Otherwise the stress and memories might build into more than you can handle.

In our society, we’re often taught that the holidays are the time when we do everything everyone else wants us to do, and we have to do it better than they would. But that isn’t the case. Sometimes, stepping back and just relaxing and attending to our own wants and needs is not only okay, it’s vital.

Invisible Illness

I know a number of people who suffer from what are sometimes called “invisible illnesses.” I’m one of those people.

I have fibromyalgia. It’s a chronic pain condition, and when it’s at its worst I describe it as “being wrapped in a blanket of pain.” On those 1-10 pain scales hospitals use, my baseline is other people’s 2. There is never a time some part of my body doesn’t hurt.

In addition to the pain, fibro gives me “brain fog.” Sometimes I can’t remember things, even, at times, how to do something I do on a regular basis. Which is pretty dang scary, let me tell you. And it and the migraines I also experience affect my balance and depth perception to the point that sometimes I can’t make it down a flight of stairs without help. (Going upstairs is easier; going downstairs, I might miss the step. And I can’t even attempt down escalators, because between the movement and the wonky depth perception, I can’t guess where to put my feet.)

I’m not saying any of this to get pity or sympathy. I’m saying it because I look like a perfectly healthy human being. On my low-pain days, I can move around and walk easily, other than those pesky stairs. The only time anyone other than my loved ones notice that I’m in pain is if I’m at the higher end of the scale—except if I’m at a 7 or higher, I usually don’t leave the house.

I have a handicapped parking tag for my car, one of the type you hang from the rearview mirror. I also have a cane, which I try really hard not to use, but sometimes I haven’t much choice. If it’s a reasonable day, I park in a regular parking space and go without the cane, but if I’m in pain or my balance is off, I use my tag and take a handicapped spot. And I get out with my cane…but sometimes I still get glared at, because I don’t look like I need the spot or the cane.

The point I’m trying to make is, don’t assume someone’s healthy just by how they look. Mental illnesses don’t show on the surface. Neither do physical conditions like fibromyalgia, migraines, immune deficiencies, and a number of other things. Instead of assuming someone’s lying or faking it because they don’t look like your definition of sick, assume they’re being honest. Remember that you can’t tell what’s going on in someone else’s mind or body.

It’s a cliché, but don’t judge a book by its cover. Please.

Hate Doesn’t Solve Problems

A lot of people in the United States are scared right now. Actually, from what I’m seeing on Facebook, I think a lot of people in the world are scared.

I’m not a very political person, so I’m not going to go into the whole issue of our newly-elected President. What I am going to get into, though, is looking out for one another.

Even before the election, people supporting the President-Elect were ranting against those who didn’t support him. People were committing acts some would consider hate crimes, and in some cases law enforcement investigated those acts as such. Now that the election is over, those things are happening even more, and the hatred runs on both sides of the situation.

Maya Angelou once said, “Hate, it has caused a lot of problems in the world, but has not solved one yet.” Hate is certainly causing a lot of problems now, everywhere from businesses to city streets to schools. Even in kindergartens.

You don’t have to like everyone. You don’t have to agree with everyone. But we live in a world where different races, ethnicities, religions, sexual orientations, gender identities… Okay, the list of ways in which we are different is so long I know I’m going to forget things. But the point is, our world is not a place where everyone is the same. It isn’t a place where everyone *thinks* the same. And that’s part of what makes it a wonderful world to be in.

So please, practice acceptance. Tolerance. At the very least, practice neutrality. If you can, help and support those who are targeted because of a way in which they’re “different.” The safety pin, that small object that sometimes holds clothes together and can usually never be found when you need one, has become a symbol for those who stand with people who are being targeted.

This blog is a safe place. My Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr…all safe spaces. Heck, if you see me on the street and need someone to have your back, just say so. (Even though I probably won’t be actually wearing a safety pin, because I honestly can’t find one of the blasted things anywhere in my apartment…)

If you can, be someone safe for others. If you’re in a category that’s a target, I hope you stay safe. And if you can’t be safe, if you can’t stand with your fellow humans, at least please don’t add to the hate. Try to solve the problem rather than causing it.

Teaser Thursday- Blue Jeans and Sweatshirts

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“Drink some juice,” Dad said, pointing at the glass of orange juice beside my seat.

“Um….” I looked at him.

He looked worried. Not angry or anything. Just worried.

I took a tiny sip of juice to make him happy. “What’s going on?”

“We’ll talk when your mother sits down.”

“Breakfast is almost ready,” Mom said in the fake cheerful voice she used when she was so frustrated she wanted to throw something.

That wasn’t much of a surprise. She didn’t enjoy cooking, and when she did it, she often messed things up. Judging from how much trouble she was having with the pancake, I guessed she hadn’t had a whole lot of luck with breakfast in general.

Which gave me even more of a reason to wonder why she was cooking, especially on a weekday when she and Dad would have to leave soon to catch the train into the city for work.

She finally finished attempting to cook and set a plate of pancakes and one of bacon in the center of the table. “Dig in. We don’t have much time. Holly, your dad and I wanted to talk to you, and we thought it would be better to take care of it right away rather than wait until the weekend.”

“Oh.” That sounded even more ominous. My heart sped up a little, and my stomach started rolling again. “What are we taking care of?”

“You’ve lost quite a bit of weight lately.” Dad took a couple of pancakes and dumped syrup on them. “Losing weight isn’t a bad thing, but it’s happened very fast.”

“And you don’t eat,” Mom said. “You argue with me when I make supper, and I come home and there’s the same amount of food in the cupboards and fridge as when I left, which makes me think you aren’t eating during the day.”

“What do you do, take inventory?” I rolled my eyes, trying to act like I had no clue what their problem was.

But my chest was tight, and I couldn’t look at either of them. They’d figured out what was going on. I couldn’t let them know they were right, or they would force me to eat or something. Maybe they would actually start taking inventory.

They would make me stop losing weight, and I couldn’t let that happen. When I’d tried on my clothes the other day, some of the things Chastaine had given me that were too tight at first had fit a lot better, and some of the things I’d wanted to hold onto had been way too big. I liked that. It was proof that even if I only saw a fat girl in the mirror, I was actually making progress.