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If 2020 Triggered You at Every Turn, You Are Not Alone

Danielle Dahl, Lead Contributor

Do you feel triggered by everything that has gone on during this year?

There is no shortage of funny memes about 2020. You might have seen the one about the “season finale of 2020;” that one made me giggle.

Then there was the one with a clip from the movie Halloween: Jamie Lee Curtis has this terrified look on her face, and the caption reads, “Me, barely getting through the 1st half of 2020.” Next to her is Michael Myers creeping in the doorway, and the words read, “The second half of 2020.”

I laughed at that one too, but then I realized that these memes are relatable because most of us feel triggered by everything that has gone on during this year.

What exactly does the term triggered mean?

A trigger is anything that reminds you of previous trauma. If you have PTSD, you know that it can be a sight, a smell, or even a similar feeling that induces a physical or emotional response.

The traumatic things that have happened this year have been difficult for many trauma survivors, including me. While the Coronavirus pandemic, being furloughed, and the crazy political mess are all new to me, the feeling of having zero control is not.

That feeling of not knowing what will come next, despite arranging and living my life in a way that I almost always knew what was coming next, is a big problem.

Now, I’m 37 and have learned to be much better about what I can and can not control, but this year has tested me in a way like none other. If it has done the same to you, please know you are not alone. 

Let’s revisit the first half of the year

We started off the year with devastating fires in Australia. The widespread damage had any person who is reasonably concerned about climate change feeling triggered.

We remembered every dig people threw at Greta Thunberg while we watched Koala Bears die. We started asking our friends when people would begin to understand and listen to science.

When scientists tell you the planet is dying, why don’t people listen? I didn’t know at the time that I should have had a T-shirt made that said, “Science is real.” 

The US launched an attack on Iran that killed Qasem Soleimani, which raised US-Iranian tensions. China began battling a virus while the Australian fire tragedy wound down, unbeknownst to all of us. Then Europe had an outbreak on February 23, followed by Iran reporting 95 cases and 11 deaths on February 25.

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Then, the US began hearing rumblings about Coronavirus and COVID-19. I did my preliminary research and learned that coronavirus is a virus similar to the common cold, there were many strains out there, and this was a novel one. Ok, that didn’t seem so bad, but then the WHO declared it a global pandemic. 

Suddenly, people were dying all over Europe in droves. The virus hit Italy so hard that they were piling bodies in the streets and rationing care. Our guidelines from the CDC changed as doctors and scientists learned more about what was happening. The news began to get much darker, and it became clear we were not dealing with the cold or the flu.

Then my child got sick while at a state basketball tournament in March. She is a dancer, and her team was there to perform during halftime shows. Practically the entire state of Montana was crammed into a stadium.

Fear triggered all the mommy emotions, and I couldn’t do anything because I was hours away. Her coach brought her to urgent care after I called there asking what I should do.

They told me they couldn’t test her for coronavirus until they had tested her for everything else. Those tests came back negative. They also told me to have the coach call the clinic when they were outside because they wouldn’t be allowed inside until they were masked up. It was surreal.

The next day, as cases rose all over the country, our governor canceled the tournaments, and my daughter and her team returned home. Days later, I got the call that my daughter had an older coronavirus strain and didn’t need a coveted COVID-19 test. I was relieved, but she was still so sick. 

Shortly after this incident, governors started closing states and businesses, and our governor followed suit. I remember being in absolute shock that places like Disney had shuttered their doors. They are never closed.

Walmart reduced its hours drastically. I worked at a bridal retail store at the time, and we closed to the public but were offering curbside pick up. Weddings began getting canceled or rescheduled, and brides were freaking out.

This went on for a few weeks, and then layoffs and furloughs started happening across every industry as more places closed or reduced their hours. Suddenly, we were being triggered by worries about our financial lives and how we would stay afloat… and not get COVID.

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Right around the time I got furloughed, I received a $500 bill from the urgent care for all the tests they had run on my child to prove she had something other than COVID.

The economy was crashing, people were dying, and it didn’t seem like we had a plan in place. We had a religious leader claiming he could blow away the virus and a President who asserted that “One day — it’s like a miracle — it will disappear.”

All of this was happening while bodies were being stored in freezer trucks in NY because the morgue had no more room.  These traumatic events triggered everything from anxiety to depression and fear.

There was much fear of the unknown, distrust of politicians, politicians questing trust in the news reporting, and ultimately trying to discredit scientists who have spent their lives studying viruses. How I wished I had my ‘Science is real’ shirt.

It didn’t end here, though! In May, a plague of a different kind struck India. Locusts, which have been affecting crops across the region, decimated crops. Then came the ‘Murder Hornets.’ If I  hadn’t been triggered before, then a plague of biblical proportions and murderous hornets, which had me terrified, did the trick!

Then came the second half of 2020

The contentious campaign and onslaught of political ads spewing hatred ramped up right around the second half of the year. This election cycle poured gasoline on our already inflamed emotions.

We lost friends on social media, were bickering with or blocking family members, and worried about war. I have never seen anything like it in my life, and triggered doesn’t seem like a strong enough word for how I felt.

My husband became irrationally angry about the political mail and the ads on TV. I really thought he was going to stop collecting the mail or turn the TV on at all. 

I started thinking about worst-case scenarios a lot instead of my usual “how could this be worse” mentality. My inner alarmist was not so silent. I needed to work hard at a defense mechanism that had always come easily to me: focus on how this could be worse and be thankful it isn’t that bad. Only, good God, the bad just kept coming, and the “how could this be worse” was a lot…worse. 

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So what do we do now with our bundles of charged emotions?

The first thing that you can do is accept yourself where you are right now. I also had weight loss surgery in September, even though I am terrified of needles and sharp objects.

I also have never been under anesthesia, so the process caused me a great deal of stress. Add to that not using food to cope with stress, and it was too much. I started smoking again after having quit years ago.

I was upset and annoyed with myself, as were my children. My teenager, ever the rational being that she is, said, “You had this weight loss surgery for your health, and now you are going to start using the cancer stick? That doesn’t make any sense, Mom.”

I told her that I understood that it made no sense, but I was struggling with a lot of things. I talked with my therapist and told her that I would quit again, but today was not that day. I gave myself until after the election was over and haven’t had a cigarette in nearly a week.

According to Banyan Treatment Center, “Millennials are leading the way in drinking with 25% saying they are drinking more.” Now, I am in no way advocating that we use destructive addictions to make it through, but if you are facing something similar, please don’t judge yourself too harshly!

Also, do not be afraid to reach out to a mental health professional because times are tough! Be compassionate enough with yourself to understand your struggles, and reach out to those who can help.

Instead of turning to drugs and alcohol, try practicing some grounding techniques. What do you see? What do you hear? Talk yourself through what is real and happening right now, not what your anxiety is trying to convince you will happen. Meditation is a helpful tool, as well.

Whether it’s yoga or turning off the news for a day, make sure you do something to guard your mental sanity. It’s only November, and we still have a month and a half left of this year. Something tells me we are going to need every shred of sanity we can cling to.

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