An’ Harm Ye None- Trigger Warnings and Wicca

Now, this is a very complicated piece for me to write. I wrote an unpublished piece on this before, filled with expletives and personal examples and a healthy dose of rage. I’m trying to write something calmer now, and we shall see how that goes.

Trigger warnings have been the subject of much debate, and they’ve even been banned by some universities. Similarly, some medical professionals say that trigger warnings are detrimental to the health of those with PTSD.

Well, I disagree. Why? (How dare I, a crazy person, disagree with a doctor?)

Well, simply put, because I feel otherwise. As someone with a mental illness, I am used to having to argue with doctors. They’ve been wrong about me, about others, and sometimes they need to listen to us to know what we need. You see, mental illness is this funny thing where they can’t just scan/look at you and they know what is wrong. They have to ask you how you feel. And that is all they know. So they have to ask us what we need, what makes us more confident and feel better, and that is valuable information for them. In the case of psychiatric wards, a great deal of changes has been brought to them due to patient feedback. I think trigger warnings is similar.

So alright, I disagree with the doctors. But the teachers are against it, and teachers know how to teach, don’t they? To that I say: teachers are used to dealing with highly functional people who are mentally able to attend their classes with ease. The mentally ill arrive in straggles, glimpses, and hiccups. We slither in and sit unnoticed and virtually hide the entire time we are there. Let me put it this way: the mentally ill are probably a minority in classrooms (at least university ones, where the trigger warning discussion is taking place) and when they are there, they probably interact very little with the teachers.

So no, I don’t think the teachers know how to teach people with mental illness. I think it should be a skill taught to them, with guidelines on how to integrate those with mental illness and severe disabilities into the classroom. I think trigger warnings ought to be one of these and I think that teachers who turn down basic and generic trigger warnings are being discriminatory.

Let me give you another example. I knew someone who had neurological damage and therefore couldn’t watch films. It made them dizzy and nauseous. However, they wanted to take this one class by a teacher who used extensive amount of film clips in class. They went and spoke with the teacher, and the teacher was glad to warn them a few seconds before a film was to be played.

Now, this teacher was one who railed against trigger warnings. He was mentally ill himself, but not of a condition that has triggers (so yes, points of view will certainly differ on this within the community). Yet he was willing to do basic trigger warnings for a physical condition.

Let me give you another example from another teacher, who was a lovely person who loved doing charity work and was a firm believer in peaceful protesting and was generally sensitive to the needs of students. With no warning one day she put on a documentary of the life of Gandhi, and so the students were forced to watch a re-enactment of a mass shooting. After the class, knowing that the teacher was a sensitive person and that I was not the only one severely distressed by the film and the non-warning, I approached her and tried to gently rebuke her. I tried to tell her that such material ought to have a trigger warning. She said nothing. I tried to explain further, saying that women I knew who came from shelters could pick up on the slightest cue of violence. Even something that seems subtle to one that hasn’t gone through domestic violence, such as the manner one strikes a paper of moves an object, is glaringly loud to a victim of violence. So please, I told her, use warnings. She said nothing.

A few years later, I saw her mocking my description on Facebook and using it as a sign of how ludicrous trigger warnings were.

Well. Let’s take some deep breaths. Needless to say, this made me furious. The person whose example I’d given her was a very close relative of mine. I myself had been at a women’s shelter as a young adult. I’d seen how in there, cupboards were closed so softly out of habit, for fear of triggering rage from their abuser. I saw how just they way they all put their cups down silently. These women who invisibly navigate society were experts on the slightest cue of violence. None of them would have thought striking a paper in a violent manner to be funny. It would have set the whole household in tears because their survival had depended on reading this language of violence that is invisible to the rest of the world.

And since the ‘rest of the world’ (read: largely male and privileged females) doesn’t see this language, they think the idea that it might exist is silly.

Well, I’ve got some very strong words to say on this. WE EXIST. We, those who you laugh at, we exist. We, those who cry in class because of violent material, we exist. And WE, WE DESERVE to have our needs met. We have the same fucking rights as the rest of the privileged and safe world and WE DESERVE to attend classes with our dignity intact.

These teachers, who blatantly disregard the sensitivity of battered women (that was the case of the woman being laughed at by my teacher) are exerting their privilege to create an invisible barrier. They are saying ‘normal people only’ and ‘functional/neuro-normative people only’.

Yet they have no problem labeling in large ‘Warning: Contains Violent material’ when discussing public tragedies such as the holocaust. An event that, for many in the class, they didn’t live through. An event that they do not suffer PTSD from. They make trigger warnings for what affects ‘normal’ people, yet refuse to do so for victims of violence.

And then they laugh at the victims of violence.

Where is this discrimination coming from?

In my case, I think it has to do with misogyny. Because, let’s face it, if a veteran had walked in an said they wanted to be warned beforehand of any material/discussion that had to do with war, I highly doubt the teacher would be making fun of them on Facebook.

Fun fact, domestic abuse is considered a form of torture. Yet there is no honor or bravery attributed to these women who took blows for their children. There are no bumper stickers supporting women’s shelters.

It’s not surprising then, to me, that trigger warnings are laughed at. That the subtle signs that these women see are seen as ‘too much’. Notice the dialogue surrounding trigger warnings. It’s very much what misogynistic people (men and women) say about women.

Women are ‘hysterical’. ‘Too sensitive’. Etc, etc.

And yet… institutions and teachers say they want to integrate the mentally ill. They want to help them. Yet… they turn down our largest demand and say that it is impossible. Trigger warnings, are ‘too much’.

And yes, I suppose for those who are used to not having to watch every single sound, smell, and cue for a trigger in hopes of functioning, having to look out for them seems radical. For those who can happily scroll through the news without feeling affected, it seems like a tiring weight to carry. For those who are unused to the burden of mental illness, to carry this small part seems overwhelming.

Pardon me while I maniacally laugh. Welcome to my world, muahahahahaaa!

But I digress. What does any of this have to do with Wicca? Well, an harm ye none. Now, even if you disagree with me on all of the above, know this. For someone with PTSD to desensitize to triggers and eventually ‘overcome’ them in order to achieve the socially touted state of ‘normal’, the triggers need to be measured out in small, gradual doses. But how can this be done if the person doesn’t know when the triggers are coming? The answer is that we can’t, and that an overdose of triggers can be damaging and, in my experience, cause even more complications/ worsen the condition.

Therefore, I firmly believe that in order to “harm none” and better yet, promote healing and integration, we need to use basic and generic trigger warnings. Socially, we already do use some. Content that is violent and difficult to cope with for the general public is marked as such. Now we just need to apply these warnings to generic triggers for mental illness, especially PTSD.

I understand that some may disagree on me with this. Please, comment away! I’d love to hear some discussion regarding this, respectfully, of course.

Cold Weather, Wicca, and Triggers

Colder weather has long been a favourite temperature of mine. It brings meditative calm, peace of mind, and the stilling sound of snow falling has a precious quality to it. Ice, to me, makes sense as an element on the pentacle, for ice has so many qualities to it that none other has. To me, ice represents the cold very well. But what does cold do? It turns visible that which is unseen. Breath becomes mist. Water, which slips so easily through our grasp and ever moves on in evaporation or descent into the earth, is suddenly turned still and hard. I could go on and on about all the beautiful things that cold represents to me, but suffice to say that I am slightly infatuated with it.

And yet, cold is a massive C-PTSD trigger for me. Due to my past, a lovely taste of cold weather can suddenly turn into sharp mood swings, dissociation, and a vast amount of other complications. Usualy I can balance this. I’ve been forced to learn the strict amount of times I can spend immersed in this element, the very little amount of cold I can actually stand, and have to bundle up to the point that I almost do not feel that sharp bite upon my skin.

Unfortunately, curveballs happen in life and recently the heating broke in my apartment. Ah, global warming. If this wasn’t unusally cold weather locally for the time of year, it would have been no problem. We hardly would have noticed. Yet, there is still several feet of snow here, and I was forced once more to acknowledge my weakness to cold. How tiring a constant trigger can be. How exhausting it is to fight not just the draining sap of cold, but psychologically to battle against constant reminders of the past. To distance myself again and again from what feels like overlapping realities.

So what does this have to with spirituality? Balance, I would say.

For those of us suffering from triggers, we would love to live our life in a total absence of any reminders of our past. Of ‘those’ or ‘that’ event. But unfortunately, this blissful erasure is not always possible. So we live in a balance. We want to experience life in all its fullest, yet not be inundated by our past rising up from behind like an engulfing monster. And this is not a still thing. It reminds me of the pentacle, ever circling and rolling and flowing in the cycles of nature. Some days we fail, and the destructive forces of nature feel incarnate in us. Other days, we may feel successful, proud, and striving forward with the strength of fire. Yet other days we merely exist or cope, like a chunk of ice that neither melts or condenses. Life, we, are a cycle. Destructive and creative forces are a part of nature, and triggers, repercussions of destruction, are just as much a part of this cycle as anything else.