Don't Wait: Prepare for Mental Health Triggers Beforehand
Last week brought me a lesson in the need to be prepared when mental health triggers come, as they inevitably do in our recovery. These triggers can be dangerous because they can instantly transport us to a place of emotional turmoil and intensify our symptoms. In order to manage our illness, we must be prepared at all times. We never know when we can be triggered and we need to take steps to ensure we and others around us are safe.
This past week, there was a national firestorm with the release of American POW Bowe Bergdahl from captivity in Afghanistan. I had not known the story prior to this, but when I heard the circumstances of his experience, I was triggered in a way that hasn’t happened in a long time.
Mental Illness Symptoms Trigger from News Coverage
You see, many details of Bergdahl’s capture were similar to an experience I had while serving in Iraq in the first Gulf War. He was on guard duty, as was I. He left his camp and wandered into the night. I did the same. He wandered in the desert until he was finally captured by enemy forces. I wandered in the desert night too, terrified I’d run into the enemy, or be lit up by friendly fire.
There are different accounts of why Bergdahl left the camp and there will be an investigation, as some members of his unit have accused him of desertion. I don’t know what happened, but I know what happened to me.
Lost and Wandering in the Desert Night
I simply got lost. The Iraqi desert is completely flat, so there are no fixed objects such as trees that a person can use to navigate. I was functioning as the Sergeant of the Guard, so it was my responsibility to ensure all the soldiers on guard duty were up and ready to go. For this reason, I was required to walk to each of their positions and make sure they had everything they needed to complete our mission.
While moving between guard points, I lost my bearing. The pitch black Iraqi desert made it impossible to find my way. As I walked, bombs were exploding in the night, filling me with dread that I might be blown to bits. But my biggest fear was running into the enemy. I had to find my way back to our position. So I walked and walked, not even having any idea what direction I was going.
It’d be safe to say I was nearly paralyzed with fear. The fear of dying a violent death was paramount, of course. But there were other fears, too. What if I get in trouble for “wandering” away? What will happen to my young family?
After hours of wandering, I could hear people talking. I froze in place. Had my worst nightmare come true? Had I run into an enemy guard post? Thankfully, I realized the voices were speaking English. They didn’t know I was there and I was petrified of saying anything that might cause them to react. The only thing I could think to say was, “Don’t shoot; I’m an American.”
My fellow American soldiers greeted me as I told them of my ordeal. They explained they were part of my parent unit, and they’d run communication wire to my camp. They showed me the wire going to my camp. “Follow it,” they said, and promised I would find the camp. I did as they said and indeed followed the wire straight into my unit’s position. I'd wandered alone in the desert for five hours.
Triggered and Disturbed by Symptoms of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
With the similarities of some of the details I was massively triggered, and the posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms were in full swing. I was having all the classic symptoms, flashbacks, intrusive memories and other symptoms of PTSD. I had to dig deep into my wellness toolbox, and with some support from my sons, I survived.
Don’t wait until you’ve been triggered and you’re feeling messed up. Plan today. Put together a wellness toolbox. Have it ready. Have some support lined up. Then when the storm comes, you'll have what you need to survive.
Ehrmantrout, M. (2014, June 11). Don't Wait: Prepare for Mental Health Triggers Beforehand, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, June 25 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/recoveringfrommentalillness/2014/06/dont-wait-prepare-for-mental-health-triggers-beforehand
Author: Mike Ehrmantrout
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