Autism: Triggers

27 Feb

It was a Saturday afternoon, and we were sitting in the waiting room – my son and I. His small kitten meowing loudly in the crate on his lap. The appointment had been set. It was just a routine post adoption check up, coming just days after we brought Nicholas home. The day was snowy, the roads scary; so different from that hot summer day eight months ago (has it been eight months already?)

We sat in the waiting room at the vets office, and it was not lost on me that my son and I (by no preconceived decision) were sitting in the exact places that we had been on that day – and I looked to the floor where my dog had sat struggling on that day; that horrible day when I brought him in to save him, and went home in tears without him.

I looked at the floor half expecting to see him there still… and I did as my memory placed him back there. I did, but I couldn’t go back and save him. It wouldn’t have done any good – they couldn’t save him then. I looked at the floor, and expected to see the fluid from his lungs spreading out in a pool on the floor. It was an emergency – didn’t they see it? Why did they make us wait?

Trying to bring myself back to the present, I turned to my son’s kitten and spoke to his cries. “It is okay Nicholas.” It is okay. But it wasn’t. My heart was breaking sitting there, and I wondered if that place would ever bring hope for me again. I cried for my boy that I miss so much, despite the beautiful girls who have come to fill the gaping hole that he left behind. “I didn’t mean to leave you here, Gryffindor. I didn’t want to leave you.”


I held it together until I got home, and then I fell apart. It took days to get over it… not really over, but to block it out again so it didn’t hurt so much. I used to be good at blocking things out – as a child – I had to be. The skill was dulled along the way, yet no less needed today. In order to live, I must be able to block these things out, but the triggers come. The triggers will come.

There was another winter day. I was working. The highways were closed in both directions due to accidents. Many people were trapped in town as they were attempting to drive through. The motel was filling up quickly. The entire town was filling up quickly, for there was nowhere else to go. I was alone at the front desk, with a lineup of people asking for rooms. Online bookings were closed, and I was given orders not to take phone reservations – there wasn’t time. First come, first served, and they had to be at our door.

I answered the phone only to tell people we had few rooms left – they had to show up. One phone call, a woman – “we’ll be there in five minutes.” Five minutes. Okay, I have a couple of rooms, and there was a moment of quiet. Five minutes. I can do that. “Good, I’ll have the social worker call to book it,” she said. “No! I am not able to take online bookings.” No time. I have my orders. I can’t do it. Dishonest.

Another call. “Are you going to leave these people out on the street just because of our little mistake?” Not mistake. I was clear. Manipulation. Lots of people being turned away tonight. Hate! I hate social workers. Hate them. So manipulative. Triggers. My father was manipulative, too. Really manipulative. As a result, all manipulation triggers me – even my own – and social workers, I have found, are the worst.

Tears, all night. Anger. Trauma. Two separate incidents (my childhood, and the loss of my children) that I still fight PTSD because of – and manipulation triggers them both.

Phone calls. Certain smells (like the smell of cigarettes on the clothes of smokers). Places. Moments when I feel overwhelmed (that happens a LOT!) Feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, powerlessness (like seeing videos of factory farming and animal cruelty.) Stories of evil. People dismissing my activities as not having value because I don’t get paid for them – judgment, criticism. People dismissing my struggles as unreasonable. Places that remind me of pain. All triggers.

And as I experience life, the triggers grow. I am less able to deal with life now at 40 than I was at 15, though I was being abused then – and my husband, though he does not understand, and though he dismisses my pain as unreasonable, is not a cruel man.

The triggers come, and I am overwhelmed with pain, and sorrow, and fear. It takes me days to block it, and I am only successful when no other triggers come. Just trying to hold on. Hoping I can hold on. Fearing I won’t survive it this time. Just trying to hold on.


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