Trigger Warning: Suicide, Sadness and Self-Responsibility
Last week I finally got around to watching A Star Is Born at the cinema. If you haven’t seen the movie yet and you don’t want to have the plot spoiled, you’d better stop reading right now.
My nutshell review: Gaga was excellent, Cooper was equally amazing. This incarnation of the story has so much angst and between the lines, the unsaid is sometimes more powerful than the spoken word. The cast carried it and cared for it beautifully.
Of course, by the end of the feature, most of the audience were in floods, and I was no different.
As I write this, it’s 20 years since I was interrupted from a fate very similar to Cooper’s troubled rockstar.
I wasn’t an alcoholic. I’d never popped anything harder or more exciting than paracetamol, but I was desperately depressed and I did want a way out.
Even now, I’m not sure I actually wanted to die. I wonder how many people who take their own lives actually want to cease living or, rather, desperately want to find a way out – an escape route – from whatever challenges or feelings are weighing heavily on them.
For me, at least, it wasn’t about wanting to go through the physical act of dying… it was about wanting to hit ‘pause’ on life, wanting to just make it all stop, and not being able to find an alternative route.
And that’s why I ended up there, that night so many years ago, sitting in my childhood bedroom, cradling one of my old karate belts and fully intending to go over the bannister.
I’ve told this story many times before. Those of you who’ve read my semi-autobiographical self-help book, Unleash Your Awesome, will know my escape plans were foiled by a series of phone calls and text messages.
A few years before, feeling in an equally dire place, I’d attempted ‘suicide by risk’ – taking as many chances as I could in the vain hope that I’d ‘accidentally’ die. I succeeded only in breaking my back.
It took a long time to come back from that place, and my rock bottom experiences are what drive me to help, motivate and inspire others today.
Sitting in that movie theatre, though, I was right back there for a moment.
I wasn’t the only one spotting the similarities. As soon as Bradley Cooper’s character fed the dog a steak, picked up that belt strap and walked out to the garage, my wife reached for my hand. She didn’t let go until the credits were rolling. And only then because we needed to let other people out of their seats.
I’ve never learned to play guitar. I can’t sing like that. I’ve never addressed an audience that big, been addicted to substances or been in rehab… but something about the energy, the innate sadness, of Cooper’s cowboy superstar really, really rang bells with me.
I guess you could say I was ‘triggered’… and that’s one of the subjects I want to talk about right now.
I might really divide my audience with this article – I might end up being branded cruel, callous, ignorant or unfeeling, but let me state for the record, none of that is true. Far from it.
The ‘nanny’ state of affairs we’re developing in some areas of our human existence really, really worries me.
Every now and then, I see someone online – usually on Facebook – crying out about triggers and how we need to be oh so careful with people. We mustn’t say anything that might upset people, rock the boat or take them to a ‘dark place’.
And that, folks, is where I believe we’re getting ourselves all screwed up and inside out.
Sure, some people are rebuilding and coming back to wholeness from a really vulnerable place, and yes, there are times in our lives where we’re just not ready to peer into the abyss, but we cannot live the rest of our lives in a bubble.
We shouldn’t *try* to live in a bubble and we shouldn’t try to put people into such a sterile environment either.
I fear that we’re sometimes breaking ourselves by refusing to look at that which upsets us, or rallying against those who speak their truth in a manner less gentle than we’d like.
It’s my belief that, rather than trying to prevent ‘triggers’, we should be working more towards healing ourselves so that we don’t feel ‘triggered’ in the first place – or, at least, so that we might recognise what’s happening and deal with our own reactions without falling over.
We need to stop pointing the finger at those people – and situations – we believe might ‘trigger’ individuals and, instead, help them to reach a place where they know and appreciate who they are and want to LIVE, so it’s not an issue.
Those final scenes in A Star Is Born ‘triggered’ me, but I was also able to recognise that it was just stirring up old memories and feelings and change things around pretty swiftly. More than anything, I felt the parallels and determined not to go back there.
I didn’t feel angry at the movie for ‘triggering’ me – I took full responsibility for my reactions and feelings. And that – for me – is what we should all be working towards.
I really worry that we’re becoming more polarised as a society. We’re certainly seeing that in politics – there’s far more space between the left and the right than there has been for many years – and I’m seeing a similar pattern with the way we respond to people who react differently to us.
I’m seeing angry finger pointing from a sometimes militant ‘left’ when it comes to safeguarding and looking out for people who might be easily tipped emotionally. People call ‘trigger’ far too easily and, for me, that serves only to drive people deeper into ‘victim’ mindsets and believe they’re less capable than they might be in different circumstances. Buck against this, talk about the power of responsibility, about choosing our responses, about nobody being able to ‘make’ us feel bad without our permission, and that same leftie crew starts shouting about ‘victim blaming’.
I’m seeing equally angry finger pointing from the righteous ‘right’, who take freedom of speech to a wholly new level and call ‘snowflake’ to anyone who challenges their bullish diatribe.
People, can we please find some middle ground?
Can we work out wherever the hell we left our common sense and compassion and pick them up again?
Can we all please take responsibility for our own feelings, recognise the difference between a reaction and a response and stop looking to blame?
Did that trigger you? Should I apologise? I think, instead, I might get a new range of T-shirts printed that just say ‘TRIGGER WARNING’ in big, pink letters.
Mental illness is real.
Depression is real.
Stress is real.
Suicide is real.
We DO need to make ourselves more aware.
We DO need to look our for one another.
But… if we keep trying to soften everything and wrap people in cotton wool, we’re creating a well-intentioned version of 1984!
We’re warned about the words we use: we mustn’t use the phrase ‘commit suicide’ any more, we’re not supposed to say ‘breakdown’ either. Those old, well-used phrases must be replaced with softer versions, to avoid blame or stigma, apparently.
We cannot protect people in this way effectively. Or, at least, that’s my opinion, as someone who fully intended to ‘commit suicide’ AND lived through a ‘breakdown’.
It’s my view that we need to keep things real. We need to stop finger pointing. We need to stop trying to dumb ourselves down and apply balm and bubble wrap.
More than anything, we need to quit being trapped between ‘cruel trigger mongers’ and ‘snowflake’ rhetoric.
We’re fooling ourselves. We’re creating more division.
And, all the time we’re widening that gap, we’re creating an even bigger gulf for those struggling with their mental well-being to fall into.
‘Triggers’ will always exist. They’re pertinent to the individual and it would be impossible to shield everyone feeling troubled from every potential trigger.
Maybe, just maybe, we need to take a wider look at things and, instead of looking to remove all those emotional tripwires that might send people reeling, we put more effort into speaking openly, honestly and compassionately, without diluting ourselves. Maybe, as a people, we need to pledge to help people spot those ‘triggers’ and work to overcome them, instead of trying to disguise them or pretend they don’t exist.
In order to do that, we just might need to take a few steps closer to the middle and accept that, actually, when it comes to wanting our people to thrive, we might all be on the same page.
Until next time,