Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Recognizing and respecting triggers is key for mental health

I am spending time contemplating triggers in my home office.
    I almost despise it, but I realize I have to respect the word “trigger” when it comes to mental health.
    In mental health terms, a trigger can refer to anything that produces a memory of a past trauma you once went through. That memory forces you into a defensive style of self-protection and results in some type of reaction.
    A trigger can be anything from a word, an action, a smell, a place or even the face of a person who looked like someone that did something bad to you.
    Since November of 2012, I have known I have had issues dealing with anxiety. The issues rose due to a mental health issue I discovered in my workplace at the time, which was the Medicine Hat News. That resulted in a whole host of spinoff problems.
    There is still a stigma around mental health issues, and they are unfortunately still treated as the elephant in the room in too many circles. I try to make it a tradition every Bell Let’s Talk day to write about my experiences on the mental health front in the hopes it will help others.
    Now having lived about two-and-a-half years in Saskatoon, I still find it a battle to deal with triggers. Besides the difficulties I faced in the last three years I lived in the Medicine Hat, I believe there were battles that occurred actually for the last five years I lived in the Hat that sometimes affect me now. A trigger will put me in back into one of those battle or trauma moments, and I didn’t even realize it was a problem.
    I still can’t believe how quickly my emotions will switch, when I am triggered. I also hate how I react to others around me, when I am triggered.
    One spot I really have to be mindful of triggers is when I am watching the six o’clock news with my mom. When I am alone and the news is on, I watch it passively and my mind is shut off.
    My mom has a tendency to react at times to every story with a freaked out emotion. My mind ends up jumping back into a staff slashed newsroom during my final two years in the Hat. It seemed like a major story there broke every second week, and everybody was in a panic.
    There was a constant anxiety about getting all the information you needed to finish a story before a deadline. Reporters often got at each other, and depending on the story, some would freak out emotionally.
    When my mom reacts to the news on television, I jump up and freak out trying to explain how things likely played out like they did in the story. I constantly have to try and catch myself from going off and try to kindly let my mom know I want to passively watch the newscast.
Working a Tigers scrum in 2014.
    After my shifts as a sports reporter in the Hat, I actually didn’t watch any media type programs when I got home at around 11:30 p.m. To get calmed down, I usually passively watched Robot Chicken or Sex and the City reruns, which were on nightly at that time. Those program choices were so off the wall for me it allowed my mind to escape from everything.
    Triggers also show up in another way. When I have two or three projects on the go at one time that I am trying to get done on a deadline, my mind gets locked in a set plan of how I have to go about completing everything. I try to lock everything else out.
    Sometimes if someone approaches me with a request, I lash out because it is interfering with what I am doing. It would flash me back to the newsroom in Medicine Hat, where it seemed at times you were in a constant battle to stay on track and get places in a timely fashion in the sports department. You were ruled by the clock, and you freaked when you could feel time was slipping away or wasn’t being used constructively.
    One of the worst recent triggers for me came when a woman I would go long stretches without seeing in the local sports scene here in Saskatoon shut me down on all lines of communication in order to cut down on distractions. That triggered a traumatic memory from my time in Medicine Hat.
    In a situation that was 65 per cent similar, I got jumped in a night club by a boyfriend of a woman I knew that was involved in the local sports scene, who I only saw once every six months. The boyfriend was also involved in the local sports scene. They were having relationship problems, and unknown to me, I became part of the problem somewhere just for talking to her at some point in time.
    I didn’t see of the bad stuff coming due to lack of interaction with the two.
    When I lived in the Hat, I also had a high profile due to the fact I covered WHL’s Tigers for the daily paper. The incident occurred in December of 2009, so my life at the time was really upbeat. I learned that having a high profile when your life is going good can provide the combination to make you a target for someone who was having a rough spot in their life.
    Security took care of things fast, and I came away with just a couple of bruises. I went on social media when I when home that night and realize the woman I was jumped over shut me down on all lines of communication. We had never been romantically involved.
    A new boundary was also set up where we could never talk again for the rest of our lives. We still haven’t talked to this day.
    When I got shut down by the woman that was involved in sports in Saskatoon, I did have a panic attack, where I went home and shut down for the night. I thought what happened in the Hat was going to repeat itself despite the fact I have never had troubles with her sports involved boyfriend. Looking back, I shut down over nothing.
    Actually, if I feel I am getting cornered in a night club, my defence mechanisms will go off. I will move to areas where I am close to bartenders or security members I know, and I will constantly keep my head on a swivel and the “Spider Sense” up. That also comes from the night out difficulty I had in the Hat.
    With triggers, half the battle is recognizing the fact you have been triggered. Once you recognize you have been triggered, you have to work to catch yourself and take an emotional step back. From there, you try to get as many facts about what you are dealing with as possible to make a decision to move forward.
    Actually on the plus side, I get triggered a lot less than I did, when I first moved to Saskatoon. When I first came to the Bridge City, it seemed everything kind of freaked me back to my difficult times in the Hat.
    As for the present, my biggest trigger battle might be convincing my mom to maybe watch something different instead of the news when we eat together during the dinner hour. I guess I should find out if Sex and the City is on somewhere in the multichannel universe.

Back in the Express with K of C Games

Astrid Nyame, left, and Jared Olson have some fun at the fieldhouse.
    I was back in the Saskatoon Express this week with an article that leads up to the annual K of C Games.
    The piece features recent University of Saskatchewan Huskies track and field grad Jared Olson and current Huskies track standout Astrid Nyame, who is in her final season of eligibility. 
    Both talk about their experiences with annual K of C Games, which have been held for 52 straight years.
    There are also catch up tidbits with both athletes. The story can be found right here.

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to My Bell Let’s Talk post from last year called “Feeling connected calms the mental health seas” can be found right here. A piece called “My Mental Health Story” can be found here. Another post I like that I wrote in February of 2015 about my mental health journey call “Huskies hockey was good for me” can be found here. The photo from the Medicine Hat Tigers media scrum in 2014 is courtesy of Dave Dawson