pop quizOn this blog, I have always tried to be pretty transparent about the fact that I have a psychiatric diagnosis as well as my physical one. And in the same way that my cerebral palsy affects me in a million little ways every day, my psychiatric diagnosis affects me more than my physical one ever will.

Why is that?

I don’t know if I can explain it completely in a way that it will be understood, but there are only certain ways my physical disability affects my life, whereas my psychiatric diagnosis can affect almost everything I do. In particular ways, it affects every interaction that I have and most of the thoughts in my head. My psych diagnosis is hard to get away from. But there are plenty of times I can easily forget that I use a wheelchair as a way to get from point A to point B. Using the skills and strategies that I have learned in order to manage my symptoms is something I work at diligently.

One of the ways my psych diagnosis manifests itself in my life is that I have many triggers. That is, a sound or a smell or the way somebody says something can instantly pull me back into a bad memory with such intensity that it is like I am experiencing that situation for the first time. Even if it is completely unintentional, a trigger can mess with both my body and my mind, and depending on the situation, it can continue in ways that make it feel endless. Nothing like that is ever fun to experience, so I try my best to let the people close to me know what my primary triggers are and what they can do to be supportive as they come up in my life. And I know that is necessary, in much the same way that people around me most need to know the best way to help me in and out of a car.

The thing is, I’ve never liked the word. To me, “trigger” is always going to be the thing you pull to shoot a gun. The negative connotation has never set well in my head. It may seem like a small thing, but when I talk to people about what my “triggers” are, it automatically feels to me like something other people should be scared of. My reality is that does not have to be the case As long as my triggers are managed correctly, they don’t have to be a big deal.  Since there is such a stigma around mental illness in society as it is, the word just feels to me like one more thing that adds to the misconceptions.

This morning I went to see a new counselor and after a while, the conversation got around to the word “trigger.” I have never thought to tell anyone why it leaves a bad taste in my mouth; I don’t think about the reasons often. I only use it routinely because it is the word for the concept that most people know.

This new counselor said that she had just recently decided to stop using the word “trigger” for some of the same reasons that I don’t happen to like it. When I asked her what she used instead, she gave me several examples. She talked about people experiencing “reminders” or something “sparking” a memory deep inside that needs to be explored.

Then she got to my favorite answer. She told me that she had gotten into the habit of calling triggers “pop quizzes.” She explained that  “a pop quiz is usually unexpected, and it is a check in to see what a student knows. So, if you don’t respond well to a pop quiz, you know that you might have some work to do and digging a little deeper might be necessary.”

What a concept. I love it.

I have pretty much come to terms with the fact that my life is never going to be a fairytale. I won’t ever simply wave a magic wand that evaporates all my problems into a fine mist that feels good on my face as it rains down on me (although that would be nice to try for a week or so, but after that, it would probably get a bit stale.)

I’m always going to need caregivers. I will probably never be able to drive. And there will always be many situations that I have to manage in order to make my life work. I am okay with all of that.

I’m going to continue to make sure I do whatever I need to do to make myself as strong as I can emotionally.

Whenever the next “pop quiz” comes, I want to make sure I am as prepared as I can be.