Saturday, April 19, 2014

Tripping over a Trigger

Joe and I had gone out for lunch with friends and, on the way home, decided that we'd stop at Shoppers Drug Mart to pick up a couple things we needed. As it was Good Friday, we were surprised to see them open and even more surprised to see that the store was doing a very brisk business.

As we roamed around the store getting the few things we needed, we both reminisced about when we first moved to Toronto and, even on a typical Sunday, everything was locked up tight. When we finally had all that we needed, we got into the line up. It was a fairly substantial one but neither of us was in a rush so we chatted quietly and waited our turn.

When we got up to pay, we put our things down on the counter and the woman working there quickly and efficiently began to ring them up. I decided I wanted to pick a few scratch and win tickets from those displayed on the counter. The woman, who was really charming, pulled them out and I was in the middle of picking five tickets when it happened.

A voice came from the line up behind us.

"Hurry it up will you!!"


"Come on, come on, don't take all day about it!"

I grabbed the tickets and grabbed my wallet in preparation to pay. I had begun to sweat. My heart was going in my chest, anger and fear and outrage, stole my words. I've had this happen before, It's gone very wrong before. I just wanted to get my stuff and get out of there. I had shrunk down so that I was experiencing this completely alone and completely in my head. I looked up to the cashier and saw that she was laughing. WHAT??? Why would she laugh about this? I'd thought she was charming. Now she's laughing at me too? I feel sick to my stomach. I don't even want the stuff anymore, I just want out.

I turn to look at Joe, HE is laughing too. If anyone understands these situations, Joe does. And he's laughing. He had been beside me, he had taken a step back and was looking back in the line up. Now he's TALKING to someone. I move my chair slightly, it's a fellow who lives in our apartment building. I don't know him at all but I do know that Joe knows him. Joe, who works from home, has come to know almost everyone in the building.

Joe looks at me, sees my face, twigs to what's happening in me. He says, "He always give me a hard time."

Oh. My. God. He wasn't even talking to me. He was talking with Joe, that's the way they are with each other. They joke around.

I just thought it was me.

Not because, it's always about me, but because it usually is.

I'm used to being seen as in the way, as not having a right to the space or the pace that I take. I am used to being the subject of rushed mutters from people living artificially busy lives. I am used to being the road block, the cause of the detour and I know that taking a step around me is seen as a long and unnecessary journey.

But it was just a joke.

A joke.

On the way home, Joe notices that I've gone quiet. I tell him, "I didn't know it was a joke. I thought I was getting yelled at again."

Now it doesn't matter that it was a joke.

All the same reactions happened, all the same emotions sprung forward, all the insecurities that came with my disabilities, and others from before, came out in force. They were triggered by a joke, made to someone other than me.

We came home and I spent sometime just quietly, and slowly, telling myself, that this time, it was only a joke.

But that fact, that simple truth, in all honesty, didn't really help.


Belly (Liz McLennan) said...

Dave. you always write so well about, well, everything but this? This tore at my heart in ways that other pieces have not. Your sad shimmers, your panic pulses. I'm so sorry. :(

Anonymous said...

PTSD can be triggered by almost any sharp noise.

You have earned your more minor version, because it so often IS about you.

Just because something isn't MEANT to hurt doesn't mean it won't. Which is why we have the aphorism about what the road to hell is paved with.

I'm sorry you were triggered, and that it kind of ruined your pleasure in your shopping trip, but I understand. I have an overreaction to certain types of mild corrections that I have yet to overcome. It is very raw just beneath the surface veneer.


Louna said...

This is how insidious all the things done to you are. Each of them are a small thing, but they add up, and in the end the even hurt just because something reminds you of it. Maybe we should remember these consequences when we feel like treating someone badly. It makes me sad to hear this innocent joke ruined your shopping trip.

Penelope said...

I have so much sympathy for you. I have a mild PTSD related to seeing doctors and am a sexual assault survivor. While I am rarely triggered on the sexual assault side of things these days (I got pretty prompt therapy for it), the doctor side of things is still on-going. The most common triggers for it are pretty much impossible for me to avoid.

If you haven't already, you might want to consider seeing a therapist/counselor to see if you can come up with some coping mechanisms that reduce the negative response to the triggers. Working with my therapist is probably the only thing that keeps me from breaking down when the doctor-related PTSD is triggered. Unfortunately, as you know, this particular trigger is one you'll come across again and you won't necessarily know the motivation (there may have even been other times already when you thought it was directed at you and it was a joke about & to someone else, just without the obvious laughter).

Kristine said...

This is such a perfect illustration of "intent vs impact." The world will be a better place when we learn to care more about how others were impacted by our words and actions, and less how we intended for them to be impacted.

I'm not assigning any blame to the person making a joke with Joe, of course. I'm blaming the many others who didn't understand or care about the impact of their cruelty. Further, I think this story is for anyone who's ever rolled their eyes at somebody else for being "too sensitive." We don't have the right to judge how another person's experience should or shouldn't impact them; all we can do is seek to understand.

Anonymous said...

Only a joke doesn't help: Your hindbrain knows threat, not jokes. I think it interprets that sort of 'caming' as minimising, and kicks against the minimising.

I think "It's o.k. to be upset, Joe's with me"-type talk can help. Whatever you'd to to reassure someone else. The sum of non-joking bullying is real, even if this time it did happen to be a joke.

I'm not good at remembering to reassure my real feelings. Making them unreal never works, though.

Jeannette said...

Ah, blessings to you, Dave. Maybe this could be the first step towards unlearning the trigger, at least a little bit.

B. said...

What Belly/Liz said - I felt your pain also. I've lived with my disability for over 50 years and use humour (as I've said before in comments). It's just part of me now. I guess some/a lot of that grew from countering hurt and anger. I hope the support from all the commenters lifts your spirits.