I haven’t been giving this blog as much attention as it deserves lately. This is because some time ago my depression was triggered full force, and it’s taken me a while to get it under control again.
While trying to get my depression under control again I’ve discussed it, and the trigger that caused it to flare up, with various people. Most of them have been understanding, some haven’t understood but have been sympathetic, others… well… I’ve been called outright “pathetic” for “getting so upset over something like that”.
So I’ve decided that today I will cover the topic of triggers and causes. Or, specifically, triggers and why they’re not causes.
See… Personally I suffer from endogenous depression. It’s caused by an imbalance of chemicals in the brain. I know there are other types of depression that have other causes, and I don’t claim to be an expert on those, ‘cos as far as I’ve seen there are a huge range of causes, and that’s only when you look at depression, never mind bi-polar, anxiety, and heaven knows how many other conditions there are out there. But the point is that regardless of what causes the underlying condition it’s the triggers that people see.
What’s a trigger?
Again, I’m no expert on this, so I’m only speaking from personal experience.
I tend to think of triggers as “the straw that broke the camels back”. They’re specific events or situations that for some reason, rational or not, cause an emotional reaction in me. Ordinarily this reaction would be fairly small and easily dealt with, but in some situations this reaction resonates with all the emotions and pent up feelings that have been building inside from my depression and before I know it the whole lot comes spilling out. For me this is a disaster. My world is falling apart, my walls are tumbling down, and with all this emotion spilling out and all these tears flowing what’s the point in taking the sensible steps to keep my depression managed? It’s not going to stop me crying. It’s not going to stop me hurting.
This, in turn, means that I drop the habits that I’ve built up to keep myself sane. And once I’ve recovered from this flow of emotions it’s hard to get back into those habits again. This means that not only is the response to the situation far more extreme than is waranted (because it’s not *just* the situation I’m responding to) but also that it takes far, far longer to recover than most people would consider normal. This is because, like the response isn’t just a response, the recovery isn’t just a recovery. I recover to normal in about the normal time… but to me normal is depressed. When I’m recovered to normal I am no longer suffering from those crazy emotions. I’ve got them back where they belong, either sorted completely or back under control again. I’m no longer suffering from suicidal ideation, or from self-harming tendencies, or from twitching fits so severe that I can’t sleep at night. I’m still not “well” though. To get back to that stage requires working my way back up to all the good habits and coping techniques and positive thinking that I’d acquired before the trigger, and that fell apart along with my defenses in one big flood of depression. That’s hard. That takes time.
So lets go back to the people who called me pathetic for reacting so extrememly to something so small…
Are they jerks?
Are they thoughtless?
Do they just not care about what other people go through?
These people honestly have no way of knowing what I’m reacting to. All they see… All they can see… is that something has happened and that I have reacted. And a reasonable guess will tell them that I am reacting to the thing that happened. It’s the way the world works in most cases, so there’s no real reason for them to assume otherwise. It’s just not the way the world works in all cases.
So what can you do, now that you know this?
Sadly, not much.
If you’re dealing with someone who’s having a reaction like the one I’ve just described then there’s nothing much you can actually do. Sorry. Suggestions that I’ve made before for dealing with depressed or anxious people will hold true now, but knowing that it was a trigger not a cause will only really help you insofar as you can now know that your friend isn’t just being a drama queen.
One place it is useful to spot the difference between a trigger and a cause, however, is when the trigger is you or something you did. Then it’s important to remember that no, you haven’t caused your friend all this heartache. It was all there already, you just did something that caused something that reminded them of something that let it all out. If they insist that it wasn’t your fault then it probably wasn’t. Believe them!
If it’s you in the situation then all you can do is be aware that what triggered your reaction isn’t necessarily what’s causing it. Dealing with the trigger isn’t enough. I’ve found this can leave me in an even worse state as I think “but that’s okay now! Why am I still so low?” Instead try to figure out why you’re feeling the way you are and what your feelings are actually caused by, as this has a far better chance of actually helping. If you can’t figure that out (and let’s face it, if we actually knew what was wrong with us we’d be alot better off than we are now!) then just focus on your coping techniques and on getting yourself back afloat. And if you find yourself believing that you’re wrong to be upset over something so irrelevant then remind yourself that it’s a trigger, not a cause.
The brain of a person suffering from depression can be a horrible thing. Don’t get caught by its lies. Don’t believe it when it says you’re defective and overwrought and reacting unreasonably. Remind yourself that you do have reasons. Remind yourself that you are coping with a lot. Remind yourself that you’ve done so well so far, so hold on a little longer. This too will pass.