Trigger warnings

We started to watch Game of Thrones. There was an impending feeling of doom and violence. Within the first ten minutes something awful happened, or was about to happen, I don’t remember. It was gruesome. We turned it off.

We started to watch Daredevil. Immediately a young boy was lying injured in the street from a car wreck. Dave said “but it’s okay, he ends up the hero.” I demanded that we turn it off. The anxiety produced by feeling like something bad was gonna happen to someone’s kid was more than I could deal with. Plus he does end up blind, and even though he turns into a super hero my guess is it was a painful process. Ouch.

As soon as the main guy on Sons of Anarchy had a child, I knew some impending horrible associated with the child would happen. Off.

I liked Breaking Bad until the episode with the 5 year old son of the meth addicts living in squalor and watching shitty TV alone on the couch. Nope. I don’t care how good it is, Breaking Bad is dead to me.

It’s anxiety. All these shows thrive on the anxiety they produce in the viewer. Meanwhile I’m watching tv for a good story, to relax, maybe have a laugh mixed in with the deep powerful moments that reveal excruciating insight about the gritty reality of the human condition.

I don’t like anxiety. It fills my chest so I can’t breathe. It shows me my own vivid reality, in the language of fear and what-if scenarios that send me crawling under the bed. I don’t want my tv entertainment to bring with it that which I beat away from my heart with all the “it’s okay, you’re okay’s” I can muster. I end up with M.A.S.H. reruns, vigilantly looking out for the one where the Korean woman suffocates her baby so he won’t cry and reveal the hiding place of her and about a dozen of her fellow S. Koreans and Hawkeye can’t hardly take it and neither can I and I never want to watch that episode ever again.

TV should come with a trigger warning: may make you tremble with anxiety.

Before before motherhood, I felt like I could face the harsh realities of the world. I thought hey, this is life, life sucks, whatever. And I thought of that clip from Annie Hall when Alvie’s mom takes him to that psychiatrist because he stopped doing his homework on account of the universe expanding, and the psychiatrist says “the universe won’t be expanding for millions of years yet Alvie, so we’ve just got to try and enjoy ourselves while we can,” and then has a big patronizing laugh and a puff of his cigar. I though of Neil Cassidy from the What Happened to Kerouac? documentary when he and Ginsberg are at the City Lights Bookstore and he says “the problem is no one knows who’s running the country and Cassidy says “well, enjoy it,” and Ginsberg laughs this conspiratorial little giggle and you know that for sure they will enjoy it, and all of us out here in television land should enjoy it too.

But now every horror repeats in my mind, it’s effect on every mother’s child blistering my consciousness. I witness the atrocities of Boko Haram from afar, I force myself to listen to news reports as though my awareness will do those children any good. I hear about an attack that was perpetrated on primarily women and their children. Come on world, I think, why are you doing this? Why is this happening? Why are police officers killing children worldwide? Why are they doing it in America? Can we just leave the children alone? They are not bad, even a child who does bad things is not a bad child. I want to scream out my window and at every officer I pass “please respect the beautiful strong hearts of our children!”

NPR should come with a trigger warning: may cause feelings of complete helplessness.

The man on the subway is fat. His hair is a like a nest of spiders, masses of spindly little legs bristling. Grease prints cover the lenses of his glasses. And he smells terrible. He wears some kind of tarp to cover his bigness, and he sings “please help, won’t anybody please help,” in a rich, full voice while he shakes his paper cup. Homeless people send my thoughts in maddening directions and all I can feel is pain for this man. Someone should have told me, before I got on the train, to close up my heart so I wouldn’t be broken by this sad fat man.

I hear a voice, another one, talking louder than the average speaking voice, talking up over the silence of the subway car. We all keep to ourselves during our commute. We pretend the subway is private space. And it is, kind of, except for the homeless. The homeless take advantage of our complacency, of our post work exhaustion. Our hearts are in a weakened state, and we can’t shut out our fellow human beings begging for help. Well I can’t. But the woman next to me goes on reading her poems-about-art book as though neither the sad fat man nor the asking-for-money-for-food-to-feed-his-daughter-and-his-dog man had ever walked down the aisle toward us, at full voice, at all.

The subway should come with a trigger warning: may make you wish you could solve every person’s problem.

My husband coughs in the night and I’m reminded how his mother died only a few years older than he is now and I wonder if the same illness is already working through his body.

Sleeping should come with a trigger warning: may cause sleeplessness.

Since I can’t sleep I open facebook to see cute pictures of people’s cute cats, but instead there is a litany of wrongs that need to be righted. Apparently I’m doing something wrong because “we need to do better” pops at the top of every post. I’d like to do more, I’d like to do everything, help everyone. But if I can’t get this lump of anxious helpless insomnia off my chest I won’t be able to do anything.

Social media should come with a trigger warning: may cause you to scream into the darkness about how big the world is and how little you are comparatively.

These triggers make me wish for Proust’s madeleine, tasty and sweet and memory drenched. Like air conditioning coming from an open shop door on a summer day.

And here’s the harmonica playing amputee again hobbling down the platform.

But of course none of this is anyone’s fault, dear reader. My mental state is not your responsibility. Nor is it tv’s, or the MTA’s, or sleep, or social media. We are each our own responsibility, and if we give that over to everyone else, we leave ourselves naked in the hands of unfeeling masses who are, rightfully, worried about themselves and not us. It’s up to me to face reality, not anyone else to shield me from it.

2015-06-09 20.10.48
Kraft Mac n’ Cheese still wins.

4 thoughts on “Trigger warnings

  1. Very well said.

    Here ‘All these shows thrive on the anxiety they produce in the viewer’ I could not agree more with you!!

    From having Anxiety I totally can relate to you!

    Thank you.


  2. Hawkeye can’t stand it so much he in admitted to a psychiatric hospital. It’s the series finale, and longer than 1/2 hour, so you are probably safe when watching reruns.

    If you can stand the heartbreak of knowing Phil Hartman dies, try News Radio and laugh.

    And yes. The world really hurts. Which is why I am hiding from it on my sofa right now.

    1. That’s such a great place to hide from it! I’m hiding from it in my office where no one is talking to me bc everyone’s content to lock in on their own things and leave the rest of us alone.

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