Trigger

Do You Realize What You Say?

This is going to be a serious blog. Again. Before delving into this idea I want to offer an opportunity to have a chuckle. Check out this Wanda Sykes video. It’s kind of relevant to what this piece is going to be about- Do you realize what you say?

When I was a kid, calling someone “retarded” was a pretty big insult. I remember when my mom sat me down and explained to me why that wasn’t acceptable. I remember doing the same thing with my nephews as they were growing up- giving them guidance in what was and was not acceptable to say to someone. And I remember when my oldest nephew corrected one of his friends from saying “gay.” I guess some people are taught this, others learn by experience. Learn by being in a category and feeling what it’s like to experience the word as it bounces off all the hurt inside.

Where am I going with this you ask? Well a few months ago I listened to a very engaging podcast on The Lesbian Talk Show called “Warning! We Are Talking About Trigger Warnings” (check it out here). It was an interesting idea and I actually didn’t know that authors were putting warnings on their stories. I mean it makes sense- movies do it, TV shows do it, music albums do it, why not stories? But what to identify as a trigger?  According to dictionary.com a trigger is: “anything, as an act or event, that serves as a stimulus and initiates or precipitates a reaction or series of reactions.” Some of the suggested trigger warnings in this podcast included violence, which for me makes sense. I’m sure it could make sense to a lot of people. It’s a broad topic though.

How does that relate to how this blog started? Well, for one thing, that whole childhood chant of “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me!” is a load of doo-doo! Words are incredibly powerful! As we all know from reading. I think that is why most of us delve into books and sink into escapism. Words can give us characters to love and hate, places to image, ideas to consider. And it is in these words where triggers may exist without even thinking about it.

One such trigger is suicide. How many times have you complained about a task to the point of saying something along the lines of, “it was so horrible I wanted to slit my wrists.” or “I was ready to throw myself out a window.” or “I wanted to blow my head off.” Here is my public service announcement. STOP SAYING THESE THINGS AND STOP WRITING THEM! It hurts. It hurts those you don’t even know you are hurting. Most people who have survived suicide (which means they know someone who has completed suicide) do not walk around telling people such a story. Because it hurts! This is not a joke and yet in our society it seems to be. It is casually thrown around in conversations on movie screens, TV screens and pages in books as a joke. It is not a joke. It is painful and does not inspire the least bit of humor. Or it shouldn’t. The same way it would be unacceptable and completely inappropriate to say such things as, “Just rape me.” or even closer to the current state of our country, “just come into the school and shoot us all dead.” You have no idea if someone has suffered such abuse in the past and to make such a casual reference to it is inconsiderate, painful, and definitely a trigger.

So the same way my mom had to tell me not to use the word “retarded” and my nephew had to help educate one of his friends about using the word “gay” please take this as a kind moment to adjust your thought process and not phrase the idea of suicide into your casual conversations as a joke or emphasis for something being bad. I don’t know why or how suicide ended up being such a casual reference in our society but it does not belong. It does not belong in conversations live or fictional. You may not be a survivor of suicide but that does not mean you won’t be because suicide is not only prevalent in the LGBTQ community it is on the rise in our older generation. Check out this link to see thoughts and statistics (here) about suicide in older adults. It is scary to think that those numbers might be your mom. Maybe that will help you to accept, suicide is not a casual conversational joke about a bad day. It is real and it affects every generation. So please, please stop using it. It is so much more than a tough day, a difficult client, or a boring meeting.

I realize that this blog did not discuss any LesFic stories, I’m sorry about that. There are  a few I’ve read that have used survivor of suicide as a pivotal piece of a character’s history well. If you would like to discuss some of those I would be more than happy to relay some in the comments, I just did not feel it was appropriate to mention them at this time.

If you are a survivor of suicide, there are some wonderful resources out there. Here is a starting point in finding ways to heal.

If you are someone who is suffering and contemplating suicide please, please ask for help. Call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. There is also an online chat here.

I am a survivor of suicide and this means a lot to me. Thank you for understanding.

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23 thoughts on “Trigger

  1. Many thanks for your insightful words, Erin. Survivors don’t always disclose their status to their friends, acquaintances, work-mates, and neighbors. We need to be mindful of the pain they may experience when they hear the expressions you’ve cited in your blog.

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  2. Thank you, Erin. This is a very good post, and I intend to share it.

    Being a survivor myself, I had worked to correct this issue in my former place of employment. After my sister took her life, I noticed how often people “joked” about suicide. It hurt. So, as gently as possible, I tried to explain how hurtful their words were. With many people it helped, it made them think a little before they spoke.

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    1. Thanks for reading Teresa. I’ve been trying to do the same thing among my work colleagues, especially since so many of them are gay and no the power of words when used so inappropriately.

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  3. Thank you for this. Depression runs in my family. My mother once told me she had considered suicide. By the time I was 10, I had a plan for suicide as well. Words are just as powerful and hurtful as actions.

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  4. Thank you for addressing the topic. I’ve been there, like Karen–I had a plan, but I had friends who were so supportive. Words are so powerful–they can convey love or pain. I admire that your mother instilled how powerful they are to you, when you were a child, and that you passed it along. Just think of the generations of people who will benefit from her wisdom and compassion. May we all take her words, and yours, to heart. I know that when I read things that push triggers for me, my heart rate rises, I begin to sweat, and my breathing increases. That I know how to calm my anxiety is a tribute to my Mom. #WordsMatter

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  5. I am a suicide survivor, and the suicide in question pretty much ripped up and destroyed my 10yo world. It’s not like I feel that I’m over it, but I do not equate someone, in the course of talking about her lousy day, saying something like, “And I was like, ooh, what do I have to do to get your attention, shoot myself in the head?” with what I went through. If someone repeatedly made such remarks, I’d be concerned about that person’s situation vis-à-vis depression and/or suicidal ideation, and that’s exactly why I would _not_ want to make it verboten to make a reference to suicide in everyday conversation. Silence does not protect us. We need to talk _more_ about what we are feeling, what we are going through, what we need. If we create a society in which references to suicide are off-limits, we will make it _harder_ for those of us who need help to get it. I agree that calling someone “gay” or a “retard” is hurtful, hateful language, but suicide is something very different. It’s a topic that needs more discussion, not less.

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    1. Thanks for sharing CandaceSoVan. I agree that suicide should be a topic of conversation and I hope that with conversation the stigma that surrounds it will diminish and more people will understand and not judge. In the mean time I still believe very strongly that suicide should NOT be part of a joke or a means of expressing a complaint and that was my goal in sharing. It is wonderful that you are no longer affected by the language but for many it is the casual references that do hurt as they are reminders of the tragedy that touched their lives. If you are using the casual reference as a means to intervene and assist another human being find help that is truly wonderful. I do appreciate you reading the blog and sharing your thoughts as well as offering your ways to touch other beings suffering.

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  6. Thank you for your thoughts. Depression runs in my family and I have been treated for this malady all my life. Meds and therapy are getting better all time and, while not a 100%, are light years from where they started in my youth. I was lucky enough to be well educated from the get go and have always understood depressions root in brain chemistry. Watch what goes in the brain (like what I read) and be careful what comes out. As an added precaution my wife insists on keeping all guns locked in a safe that she alone knows the combination to. We live in the country so a gun seems a necessity. You could argue that point for a lifetime.

    Keep up the good work, be reading you soon.
    Lisa R Smith (hector)

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    1. Thanks dgm1952. I am hoping that it will help others to understand. As I put in a comment earlier, I was oblivious to how painful the reference was until I became a survivor of suicide. I hope that starting a conversation like this can help others to make corrections. It may be a slow process but hopefully a positive one.

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