Trigger warning: blood. Trigger warning: dubious consent. Trigger warning this and that. We have been seeing these around a lot lately; and though the people at whom these warnings are targeted are very, very thankful for their appearance, many neurotypical/healthy individuals have no idea what a trigger actually is.
Put simply, a trigger is something that sets off a reaction to former trauma. For example, a rape victim could be sent back in time and made to relive the experience of being violated by viewing a clip online of someone being pressed against a wall. A soldier who was shot in combat could experience flashbacks after seeing American Sniper. A simplistic explanation is that triggers cause people to sort of fall back, regress, in a way.
What do triggers have to do with anorexia? Well, not many people realize but anorexia nervosa is a traumatic experience. Not just mentally but physically, we injure ourselves, we suffer daily – and when you’re on the way to recovery, you want to stay away from triggers that might make you want to cut down on that brownie or refuse a second helping of dinner.
Triggers vary. Some girls I’ve spoken to claim to get triggered by their parents making them eat, or by seeing a snack that they associate with weight gain in the past. For example, if you got your freshman fifteen eating nothing but Nutella and Oreos, you might experience an intense desire to go throw up after seeing a jar of Nutella in the supermarket. A little extreme and somewhat rare, but it happens.
I have been avoiding triggers quite easily, because I honestly don’t think I have that many. But one particular instance that has been persisting throughout the past months has caught my attention and I would like to share it with you guys.
So there’s this man who goes to my gym. He’s maybe in his mid-20’s (I’m awful at aging people), and he is a workout-holic. Like, obsessive. What makes him so special is the fact that he spends about three hours every day on the treadmill or stair-master, at top speed. Another thing that makes him distinctive is the fact that I can smell him a mile away. The dude has sweat pouring down every inch of his skin, his T-shirt is soaked, but he pushes on. But the most eye-catching thing about him is the fact that his arms are half the size of mine. And so is the rest of him.
The guy is an obsessive workout junky with skinny everything who doesn’t stop even when he’s clearly had enough and the rest of the gym hates him for the stench.
Now, why would that be triggering? I have told all of my friends about this guy. I keep talking about him all the time. I emphasize his skinniness, his obsessiveness, the very freakishness of his nature. I have resorted to insulting him without knowing him. Because he makes me uncomfortable. The kind of uncomfortable that makes you want to run away. The uncomfortable that chases you down a darkened alleyway.
He makes me think of myself back in the day. He makes me think of anorexia as a concept, a paradigm. I look at him and I see myself. He doesn’t make me want to stop eating, no; but he makes me want to think about it more than I would like to. Every time I see his reflection in the glass wall of the gym, I think: he needs help.
Slowly, I’ve begun to skirt around him. Glance down at my iPad, hold my breath when I walk by. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
Triggers take on a variety of forms. Mine is this guy. It’s mild.
All of them are taxing.
Bottom line: if someone tells you something is triggering, don’t you dare brush it off.