“Boy, that escalated quickly. I mean, that really got out of hand fast.” – Ron Burgundy, Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgundy
We’ve all been there; we’re sitting around with friends, shooting the breeze, debating over who would win in a fight, either Superman or Batman (hands down, Batman; his only weakness is being exposed to all those guano-related infections), and then out of the blue, a real argument breaks out, voice-raising leads to yelling, yelling leads to screaming, screaming leads to insulting, the Germans invade Poland, and -boom- a pleasant evening just became a real bad time for everyone involved.
Someone got triggered.
*insert typical condescending trigger meme here*
Please allow me to elaborate.
The following clip is an example of how people view escalation from someone getting triggered.*
*It also happens to be one of my favorite movies of all time, capiche? Fuggedaboutit!
*Goodfellas, directed by Martin Scorsese (1990)
Notice that horrible tension? That terrifying sense of dread that Tommy’s gonna jump at any second and stab Henry in the neck twenty times with a butter knife? Notice how Henry diffuses the situation by minimizing the event by joking?
It’s a movie. It does not work that way in real life.
Once again, it’s a great example of how people tend to view those with bipolar disorder quickly disengage from reality, swinging from one mood to another in quick succession, while those around them have no clue what just happened and what to do about it.
Let’s take a look at a more accurate depiction of the same situation:
*Silver Linings Playbook, directed by David O. Russell (2012)
Now THIS is a more accurate representation of a manic episode (the technical, medical term for a mood state characterized by elevated, expansive, or unusual irritability) triggered by an emotional stressor. This scene shows it all; the point of origin, the trigger that instigates the episode, the narrow-minded focus, the sudden escalation of emotions, the surge, the desperation; logic, reality, all sense of emotional maturity and thought, gone. Not only does it show the pain and suffering, the agony of confusion, it also shows how loved ones are adversely affected by something they cannot understand.
It’s absolutely heartbreaking; it takes an enormous emotional toll on everyone involved.
Here’s a metaphorical scenario, just to put things into perspective:
Imagine giving a child desperately craving love and attention a metaphorical loaded gun.*
*Please never give a child a loaded gun, for realsies; don’t try this at home, or better yet never, unless you’re at a firing range, and you’re a fairly sane, trained adult (a contradiction in terms) or some NRA nutjob. Muhrica!
Now imagine said child imagining he is suddenly surrounded by monsters who are out to kill him, and the world doesn’t care.
Fight or flight just blew the transmission….
And so he/she does the only thing he/she can do to feel safe; he/she starts firing off rounds a la John Wick.
Except instead of John Wick’s wicked finesse, focus, and expertise, you end up with Jamie Lee Curtis in True Lies trying to fire off an Uzi, but instead of killing bad guys, you metaphorically shoot into a crowd of innocents.
Innocents who were trying to help you snap out of it.
Innocents who either love you, or care enough to stand by your side in a moment of need out of compassion, kindness, or circumstance.
And so you’re blindly shooting, screaming, hoping that the monsters will go away, or, if they manage to catch you, they make your death swift and painless.
Sadly, those monsters aren’t real.
To this day, I still struggle on a daily basis with triggers, and how media and society in general joke about them. Sadly, it is a crucial part of our disease, a symptom that needs to be constantly checked up on. It is a difficult task to learn your triggers, but that is only the first step. I have learned to live with the symptoms, and I have found these few tips helpful in dealing with triggers when they are set off:
1) Try as hard as you can to identify the trigger – What caused it? Is it real? Is it a distortion of thought? If so, purge it with all of your might; breath, use mantras or positive repetition to remind yourself that it is not real.
2) Once the trigger is identified – Assertively diffuse the situation; if someone’s words were the trigger, be honest, never disrespectful. Be mindful that if a loved one is the source of the trigger, remind yourself that they do not mean you harm. Communicate your anxiety, let them know what you are feeling. Do not be afraid to confront, as long as it is done in a respectful manner. If that is not possible, and you feel an escalation incoming…..
3) Walk away – It is not a sign of weakness to walk away from a situation, especially if it means avoiding a confrontation that could become physically or emotionally violent. Do make sure, though, that when you walk away, be very specific as to WHY you are making the choice. NEVER leave ambiguously; ambiguity is the enemy of clarity, it will lead to further breakdown of communication, and it will end up in further confrontation.
The most important part is to always be mindful of your emotions and physical reactions; if you feel tension, if you feel your hands curling up into fists, your breathing becoming rapid, your heart feeling like it’s in a hyper DDR session, odds are you are triggered and going into full blown Chernobyl-mode.
*Actual image of my head once while playing Werewolf The Apocalypse and having an argument with the Storyteller.
Take it from me kids; sticks and stones may break bones, but metaphorical gun fire will leave you with a very empty, lonely life.