Hello, I’m back again! It hasn’t been so long this time, yay me! Huzzah for some productivity!
I’ve had a lot of bad experiences in my life, most of them painful and terrifying. They’re dramatic. Which, unfortunately, means they get used as plot devices in a lot of content. From a creative writing standpoint, I usually find it lazy when writers choose to reach for brash and extreme plot or story rather than truly crafting tension in basic activities. But people love sensationalism. They love trauma. They find beauty in our destruction, like a firework bursting across the sky, all oohs and ahhs.
Prior to all of this, it’s important to understand what triggers you. I’ve had years and years of therapy, counseling and psychiatric practitioners help me with this, and it’s important to have the right kind of knowledgeable support. Is it auditory? Certain words or phrases? Images? Smells? When you have a better understanding of what to look out for, you’re able to prepare and react to those situations when they arise.
There are two scenarios with triggers: one where we know they are going to happen, and the other where we don’t.
When we know
For me, and please take this as my personal opinion and not objective fact, I would always prefer to know the sensitive content is coming before starting the episode rather than be surprised while watching. If I know before, I can plan and prepare myself physically and mentally. I can turn the lights on, so to speak. I can reach for Link and pet him. I can grab a tea and drink it slowly. I can practice all of my grounding techniques so I can stay in the room when it happens.
How to find out
Content Warnings in the Episode
When we’re really lucky, someone (producers, studio, publisher, streaming service, etc.) will spell it out for us right on the video, like Crunchyroll did here with Onyx Equinox:
Unfortunately, this is pretty rare in my experience. Again, content makers prefer the shock-factor, and often fear setting a content warning will be “spoiling” what’s to come, or will take the edge off of their oh-so-honed knife.
I’m not sure when I started reading comments before watching episodes. Most of the time I’ve done it without really thinking about doing it. Again, this might be somewhat spoiler-y depending on your view on things. Most of the stuff doesn’t have warnings, but some do, like this one on an episode of Is It Wrong to Pick up Girls in the Dungeon?:
How to prepare
Skip the episode
If it’s a single episode and not a multiple-episode arc, you can usually get away with skipping the episode entirely. There’s no shame in this. Sometimes, there are things that no matter what the situation, no matter how much we ground and prepare ourselves, we can’t sit in the space with a subject. And guess what? That’s 100% okay. It’s okay if you can’t watch it. That doesn’t make you any less of a fan; it doesn’t make you a bad person; it’s not an insult to the creators. You’re taking care of your brain, your health, and that should always be at the forefront of your priorities.
Turn the lights on
The point of turning on the lights is to do everything we can to ground ourselves and nullify the immersion. Another aspect would be not to use noise-cancelling headphones. If possible, use your computer / speakers and put the volume down lower.
Watch with someone
In person you can hold their hand.
Don’t have the luxury? Sync-up together and video chat while it’s happening. Is the person not interested in watching the show? Video call anyway. Even if you’re doing separate things, you’re still together. No camera? No problem. The whole point of this is to have someone to support you, and to spend some time together. Is it embarrassing? Sometimes. But that’s why you choose someone you trust, someone who knows you need them for a moment, and is okay with that because you matter. You’re not alone.
One of my personal go-tos is to eat dinner while I watch a difficult part of a series. The act serves as gustatory grounding, or grounding involving taste. This is one of the most potent senses for me, and really helps me stay in the room. Another is practice a hobby. I tend to knit or do some planning in my bullet journal, because it has an instant gratification of accomplishing something.
Mute the moment and play some music
This one also probably sounds rude, but it’s helped me a lot. I’m an auditory person, so sounds can really trigger me. Gunshots. Sirens. Metal-on-Metal. Screams. When you combine all that with other parts of the soundtrack and the images, it can get to be overwhelming. Excruciating. It’s okay to mute the show, or certain moments of the show. If you watch with subs, you can still understand what’s going on through dialogue and imagery. We’ve just removed one sense, one level of immersion.
Intersperse / cleanse with a light, silly show
After watching a triggering scene or episode, give yourself a treat as a reward. This could be watching a slice of life series that you’ve seen 10 times, but still makes you laugh. Laughter is a pretty big element, here. Don’t underestimate how it can recharge your brain, and bring you to a better place and out of the darkness.
When we don’t
More often than not, we don’t see these things coming. We don’t have the time to prepare, and they shock us right to the core, slapping us across the face, and bringing with it the red-hot panic of remembering.
It’s okay. It’s okay.
It will be okay.
Practice the Pause
This can be literal or metaphorical, really. Let’s start with the literal: stop the show, get up, stretch. Do some jumping jacks. Get a glass of water and drink it. Meditate. Do something (healthy coping mechanism, preferably) to interrupt the trigger.
Breathe out as slow as you can. Slower. Deeper. Then breathe in for a count of four.
1, 2, 3, 4.
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.
Out for a count of eight.
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8.
Repeat, as many times as necessary, until you start feeling some relief. And then some more, until you’re back to normal.
There are infinite types of grounding techniques. Find some that work for you and write them down. Keep that list at hand whenever things get too much and practice them. Chances are if you’re reading this article (and are still reading til this point), you have some go-to exercises in your self-care safety pack. Using them doesn’t make you a failure. It makes you so much stronger for fighting the feelings instead of letting them take control. And that, my friend, is pretty damn badass.
Phew. That’s it for this post. I might do a part 2 at some point if I find the time and have the energy. Thanks for reading this long. Always remember that you’re not weak for having triggers, and most importantly, you aren’t your trauma. You aren’t a culmination of things that have happened to you and things you’ve done. You’re you. And you’re healing. Be good to yourself, you’re trying the best you can, and that will always, always be enough.
Take care and watch on, Annieme-niacs,