So Long, Smooth Sailing

In my last few posts I mentioned how great my mental health was because I was so busy that I simply didn’t have the time to even think about the past. Well… that’s gone now. I’m back at school full time and thought I again wouldn’t have the time to think about the past. But I guess my mind will make time when stuff comes up.

So here’s what ended my good streak: I’m going into the dental field and we practice on each other a lot. My main trigger is getting touched on the side of the ribs and also anywhere by my chest. That’s something that happens surprisingly often during training because of the bibs. In the past I’d usually get triggered at least once during my dental visits, so I’ve come to expect it. The triggers are so small that they really didn’t affect me much.

But now we’re working on each other twice a week as opposed to my biannual checkups. I’ve only once outright told a partner of mine about my triggers. Otherwise they might come across it in my medical history. We’re four weeks into the program and I’ve gotten triggered a few times a week. They’re so small that no one even seems to notice, which suits me. It was fine at first, but it quickly started wearing me down. I noticed myself getting anxious this week, worrying about what would happen if my reaction to a trigger is more obvious. What if I’m unable to explain myself because I’m not mentally present? What if I’m scared out of my mind and they freak out because they have no idea what’s going on? What if I forget my coping mechanisms and I’m lying there for a few minutes stuck in the past?

Well, today I got to find out. My partner was working on me while the instructor helped him and a grad student observed. The instructor reached over to adjust my partner’s arm and her arm rested on my chest as she did this. I immediately tensed up and lifted her arm off my chest. I knew my reaction was obvious, so I told them that I just got triggered and that I’ll be okay. I stared at the ceiling (anywhere but their faces) as my mind was flooded with fear. I couldn’t remember what to do. My prof (bless her heart) told me to take a deep breath. That’s what works best for me when I get triggered, so thank goodness she knew.

So I pulled myself back into the present relatively soon after that, but I was still anxious as heck. I just stared at the ceiling for a while and did my breathing exercises… which only helped a little bit.

With my permission, they continued working. I was hoping I could distract myself by focusing on their conversation, but I was still too anxious for that. I don’t remember how anyone else reacted. They were quiet and I didn’t dare look at them.

I guess the whole situation wasn’t nearly as scary as I expected. My prof was fairly helpful and calm. No one freaked out or treated it like a big deal. Shoot, my partner and the grad student never even said anything about it in front of me. But it was still uncomfortable being that vulnerable.

From now on, it looks like I’ll have to tell my partner right away to not ever touch my upper torso. All those small triggers added up very quickly. Usually having my upper chest touched doesn’t trigger me much. I think all the smaller ones in the last few weeks made me more susceptible. I hate the idea of having to disclose this all the time, but I suppose it’s easier than dealing with a trigger.

Thanks for reading this post. You can find my backstory here.

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