Seventeen, last half of 11th grade. Dead Poets Society playing during English. I am newly medicated against anxiety and a very deep depression. (Yes, I am also seeing a therapist.) Nobody tells me that the film culminates in the suicide of a prominent character, one with which I identify, being the unabashed odd girl out. Watching him kill himself twists something inside me and I’m crying for both of us, so hard I run from the room.
It would have been nice to know about that suicide.
But I also didn’t tell my teacher what I was going through. But I didn’t know it would be relevant. But. But. There are all kinds of buts. So my teacher finds out in a way that, in hindsight, is more embarrassing than oh-my-god awful. After all, the meds are working. (As long as I don’t have any more major stressors to contend with… like unexpected family deaths. August will suck so hard, past-self.)
Only once more do I have a small problem, and I do mean small: I appreciate that Alien is a significant science fiction film, but my stomach is turning too much to get through it, so I take the fail for that unit.
I am never again too traumatized to cope with my workload. I throw a spoiled child tantrum at the thought of group work without anyone I know; that doesn’t count. With everything that hurts, I learn more about myself. Whatever else I face, I become equipped to face from a distance. I dive deeper into the things that should horrify me. I trigger myself when it’s safe, and by the time I have to really deal with one of the big nasties again, I can do that. I can even get some healing from it.
Maybe my present self is fussed about trigger warnings because I didn’t get them and I learned how not to need them.
I think that’s what it boils down to.
I’m not resentful so much as arrogant. I did it. What’s wrong with people nowadays? One of my most valuable life lessons was “Own your shit”. Another one was “Leave the room quietly if leave you must” (variant: “Put down the book and back away”). So I do those things. I do them very well. Because I can do them, I have this weird expectation that other people can do them, too. I am convinced that what I do requires such a low bar to be set that pretty much anyone can do it. I definitely don’t believe in making trigger warnings into a basic human right, which is kind of the impression I get from a lot of sources. There are battles to fight well before we get to the point of demanding that we be sheltered from… come to think of it, those very battles and how they’re fought. And who fought them, and why.
That said, I am not without empathy. I did it the hard way. It was rough. If it’s for the sake of something as inconsequential as a day or two of class, I’m not going to put someone through hell.
If I were teaching, and I had a student who was going to be triggered by a topic, the best thing I could advise at the beginning of a semester would be to come talk to me when that’s a problem. A trigger is not a reason to exclude a topic from a curriculum, but a student could be accommodated because mental health disabilities are still disabilities. Send that person to do some independent work on the subject, for instance. Set a slightly different assignment. Don’t make a giant deal out of it for two reasons:
1. If the person is indeed attention-seeking, the last thing you want is to feed the behavior, and
2. If the person is just THAT uncomfortable and needs an out, you can do that in a quiet way while leaving it to the person to decide how s/he handles that need.
I can’t say I’m happy, looking back, that I ever needed to leave a room. I would rather have made arrangements in advance. You think it’s fun being the girl who bursts into tears at inopportune moments? You think panic attacks are a walk in the park? Please. Come experience my neurochemistry for a few days. Spoiler alert: it whomps.
Oh, and that’s one more thing I do now. I spoil myself shamelessly if I think I’m going to need to prepare for a plot twist. Knowing is at least half the battle for me — so I make it my business to know.