Being Triggered Isn’t Always a Bad Thing

Opportunities to regulate our nervous systems are gifts our bodies give us

Christina Tesoro, LMSW

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Photo by Liam Andrew on Unsplash

Lately stories have been doing strange things to me — things they haven’t done since I was a teenager. When I was growing up, stories were my primary mode of a escapist fantasy. I would read for hours on end, in the corner of a living room while my cousins rolled around screaming; quietly on the porch looking out at the pungent water of Sheepshead Bay where I spent summers as a kid. The act of reading — or writing fan fiction — was at once an act of dissociation (as all fantasies are; they bring us from our reality usually into a world where we feel we have a bit more agency) and embodiment, because, as a neurodivergent and highly empathic kid, I felt stories in my body.

Recently I’ve been experiencing this again, specifically with two works of fiction: Black Water Sister by Zen Cho, and Station Eleven, a new limited series on HBO Max, which is an adaptation of a novel by the same name by Emily St. John Mandel. I reread Station Eleven in 2020, while sheltering in-place in rural Pennsylvania with my boyfriend at the time; we moved in together despite having only known each other for five months, something I never would have done Before. Apocalyptic fiction for me at that time was comforting: I also re-read Octavia Butler’s Parables, and Steven King’s The Stand. In survival mode, I read them more as potential how-to guides. I made a go bag filled with canned food, tampons and pads; contact lenses and an extra pair of glasses. As a severely myopic person with a high prescription, apocalypse fiction makes me grapple with the idea of disability in a new, and frightening, way. Other items included: an eclectic and not incredibly useful first aid kit. Wads of cash. A knife that needed to be sharpened. Survival mode is one long triggering episode. It’s impossible to decipher what the edges and boundaries around a potential threat are. Going into year three of pandemic living, and I’m tentatively learning how to discern.

In Black Water Sister and Station Eleven there are scenes, passages, or lines of dialogue that make me think, yeah, that was what that was, in reference to experiences of trauma in my own life. The expressions on the faces of characters in Station Eleven as they watch the…

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Christina Tesoro, LMSW

Christina Tesoro is a New York City-based writer, sex educator, and therapist.