How my Triggers Slowly Unravel my Mind: a Metacognitive Case Study

Ok, so here’s how it happens:

The initial trigger is usually a miscommunication or something unexpected that makes me question a relationship.

Then I start over analyzing everything that has happened. I start building walls to “protect” myself.

These walls make me intensely fragile to any and all (even the tiniest of) triggers. And therefore the triggers start to pile up. And I start to get overwhelmed.

I start to question things that I’ve already figured out. I start to take everything personally. I make a career out of over analyzing every interaction to build evidence against myself. I obsessively try to read people’s minds and find all the places I’ve slipped up. I fall into all of the traps I’ve laid out for myself. I second guess all of the steps I’ve taken to guard myself against those traps. 

The next step is acting in ways I regret. I lash out at people when I’m really just projecting my own insecurities. I rehash every moment of my life where I’ve failed, or embarrassed myself. I make self destructive choices. I engage in self harm in several ways. 

These behaviors, and the realization that I’ve once again lost control, catalyze the synthesis of all my various anxieties into a viscous depression.

Lethargic, apathetic, exhausted. Depression will become my partner, my lover, my identity. I won’t be able to keep my eyes open for very long. I’ll need breaks from social interactions; leaving places early, going silent, wandering off to pet a dog midway through a conversation I lost track of minutes ago. Effort becomes physically taxing, sometimes even painful. Especially if I’ve successfully resisted the temptation to self harm, as the withdrawal gives me body aches. 

At which point it takes full time effort and some sincere grit to pull myself out of the hole I’ve dug. The difficult truth is: I do this to myself. This is my brain, and a combination of my genetics, and my trauma. This is me, reacting to triggers that are specific to my experience.

But here’s another truth I’ve learned:

Reacting to those triggers is not a measure of my “success” or “failure” as a good friend, a good partner, a good person.

I’m going to repeat that because I don’t entirely believe it yet.

Reacting to triggers is not a measure of success or failure.

Accepting that means accepting that I am responsible for my own mental health. That the reactions and feelings of others aren’t within my control, and often aren’t a reflection of how they feel about me.

How I’m working towards radical self-acceptance:

First and foremost, in order to accept these important truths about myself, and my mental health, and my strength, and my worth, I have to learn how to love myself. Without self love I’m never going to be able to accept anyone else’s love. Over the previous few months I’ve been slowly unearthing a fathoms deep sinkhole inside me I never knew existed. Each realization has triggered a grieving process that has not made coping with my social anxiety any easier. Each realization has simultaneously helped me recognize when my brain is lying to me because of my trauma. This is a good thing. This means every day I get better at recognizing when I’m projecting my own insecurities onto others. Which helps me catch myself like 80% of the time before I act on my anxious thoughts and become the burden I never want to be on all of my loved ones.

So I guess I need to give myself more credit. Yes, I am a fragile shell of my former self. And at the same time I’m practicing the skills I need to build the good kind of armor back around my soul. The thought patterns I need to trust my loved ones when they say they love me. To trust that their words and actions always come with the best intentions, and rarely reflect their feelings about me. 

I think my point, more than anything, is that gratitude is one of the most powerful tools I’ve found in this whole process. I didn’t realize that was the message of this post, until I arrived here myself. But, without the people in my life who are willing to hold me down regardless, I wouldn’t be alive right now. 

I’m not exaggerating for once. Suicide is always going to be present for me. A hard reality I’ve had to face is that I’ve traumatized my loved ones. I know that’s where their mind will go when I go off the rails like this. I can sense it in my partner as he starts to hover around me. He’ll become insistent on making plans for what I will do while he’s not home. I’ll get a few more random “I love you” texts than usual throughout the day. I’ll catch him staring at me, trying to hide the anxious look on his face. 

And regardless of my guilt, he stays. And so do so many others. Not all of them, but quite a few. That’s what I mean by gratitude. Regardless of my fragility, my neediness, my constant rollercoaster, I have people who stay. Who have stayed. And continue to stay. My inability to fully understand why is part of the problem to begin with, but it doesn’t mean I’m not completely, entirely, utterly grateful for those in my life who continue to carry my heavy-ass-self nevertheless.

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