This PTSD Awareness Month, Stop Joking That You’re “Triggered”

It’s PTSD Awareness Month, which means it’s the perfect time for me to school some fools on a condition that, unfortunately, I have. You may have noticed a lot of people on the internet making jokes about being “triggered” over small annoyances or insignificant issues. What you may or may not realize it that this is a psychological term that describes a symptom of PTSD. 

I am losing respect for people left and right when they use this term sarcastically, so it’s time for me to stop staring at them blankly and start telling them the truth. When you say you’re “triggered” when you mean you’re offended, you sound ignorant at best, and at worst, you sound like a malicious asshat. 

What is PTSD? 

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that occurs after a traumatic event. PTSD is most commonly associated with war veterans and sexual assault survivors, but there are many different experiences that can prompt PTSD. Events such as natural disasters, car accidents, the unexpected death of a loved one, or even just hearing about a traumatic incident experienced by someone you care about can cause PTSD symptoms. 

Some common symptoms of PTSD include: 

  • Nightmares
  • Low mood
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Paranoia/distrust of others 
  • Social isolation
  • Irritability 
  • Severe anxiety 
  • Avoiding places, people, and events that remind you of the traumatic incident 
  • Flashbacks — feeling like you are experiencing the traumatic incident all over again
  • Hypervigilance — being easily startled, feeling “on edge” 
  • Dissociation — feeling separated from your body, unable to be present in your surroundings

Note that you can also have PTSD symptoms that cannot be attributed to one specific event. This is referred to as Complex PTSD (C-PTSD). People are diagnosed with C-PTSD when they are exposed to trauma repeatedly over the course of months or even years. 

Combat survivors, victims of abuse, people recovering from years of childhood neglect… yeah, these are great targets for your humor and disdain (insert sarcastic tone here).

What is a Trigger?

A trigger is a sight, sound, smell, or thought that is a reminder of trauma and prompts PTSD symptoms to present. Specific triggers vary from person to person. Some are predictable, the way the Kavanaugh hearings were so triggering for sexual assault survivors for obvious reasons. They can also be something entirely unexpected. 

For example, the night I was assaulted, I passed by a swim school sign on my way to my attacker’s apartment. For the first few months afterward, I avoided that intersection like the plague. If I did accidentally pass that sign, I would be instantly thrown back to that night. Two years and countless hours of treatment later, I am usually unaffected when I happen to pass by that sign. However, every once and a while when I am already feeling anxious, a trigger like that might put me over the edge. Such is the joy of living with this super hilarious mental illness (some more sarcasm for you).

What It Feels Like to Be Triggered

Being triggered is a physiological response. You don’t choose to be triggered. It’s not being deeply offended by some minor slight. It’s your body’s arousal system going into hyper drive. 

Let’s say you’re going about your day totally normally. You might be in the grocery store, or out with friends, or even just hanging out at home, when it hits you out of nowhere. You heard a song that was playing while you were being assaulted, or one of your friends comes up behind you and startles you, or there is a car accident on TV. 

The exact symptoms that show up might vary. Some might experience a flashback and they feel like they are taken back in time to the traumatic event. Others might be suddenly consumed with a desire to run, to hide, or even to die to get away from the feelings they are experiencing. Physical symptoms like racing heart, shallow breathing, and chest pain are also common. 

I personally find dissociation to be the worst. I feel completely removed from a situation even if I’m physically there. I can be surrounded by close friends and I can’t feel their love at all. I am completely alone. It’s the most frustrating and isolating feeling, like you’re sitting behind glass watching the world go by. 

Unfortunately, I am more likely to be triggered in big groups of people, so parties are hit or miss for me. I have to be in the right mental state or I will get the floating-above-my-head feeling and have to roll out early. This is further isolating and has prevented me from having deeper relationships with a lot of people I’d love to get to know more. Fortunately, my close friends are completely understanding when I need to bail on social gatherings. I just wish I didn’t have to miss out as much as I do. 

Why Do People Say They Are “Triggered” as a Joke?

The most gracious version of myself believes that people make this joke because they don’t know better. They probably heard their friends or someone on the internet say it, and figured it would be an amusing turn-of-phrase to pick up without really knowing the source of the term. 

Of course, there is also a political aspect to it. There are people who are under the impression that “triggered” is a term created by “social justice warriors” who “can’t take a joke.” These are the people who are under the impression that people who are “triggered” like playing the victim and are just searching for offense wherever they go. This is how they are able to dismiss people who experience oppression from sexism, racism, ableism, transphobia, and other insidious prejudices as “overreacting.” 

These are not the people I am trying to reach by writing this article. My assumption is that if you’ve made it this far, you’re either already on board or you are genuinely curious and open to change. To you I will say, you do not want to be associated with these people. You care about others. You don’t want to cause unnecessary harm. There are way more hilarious jokes to make. Find them and leave this one for the intentionally hateful. 

Why Do I Care?

You might still wonder why it even matters if people co-opt this term. I’m sure there are other people with PTSD who really DGAF if anyone says “triggered.” There are certainly other things that I find more important in the world of PTSD advocacy, like making sure that people have access to treatments that work for them. 

Most of the time, when I hear this term used as a joke, I can roll my eyes and move on with my day. But on some level, it always hurts me to hear someone be so casual and ignorant about something that has profoundly impacted my life, relationships, and wellbeing. Though I am not triggered nearly as frequently as I used to be (from every day when I was first diagnosed versus maybe once every few months now), I still have to build my daily life and future around the reality of this condition. When someone says they’re “triggered” over something absolutely idiotic, I just think to myself, “If you knew what it was really like, you wouldn’t find it funny at all.”

Beyond that, language matters. The words we hear subconsciously create beliefs about ourselves and the world around us. You don’t know who is listening and what type of shame they may feel when you use the word “triggered” in such a contemptuous way, shame that may prevent them from getting the help they need. 

The stigma of having a mental illness is heavy enough. There is no reason for you to contribute with a highly unoriginal and distinctly unfunny joke. If you do nothing else this June, resolve to leave the word “triggered” behind, except when you are helping someone with PTSD. Choose compassion over lazy humor, my friends. 


If you are interested in learning more about PTSD, or if you or someone you love is experiencing PTSD, here are some resources that may help. 

The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk

Trauma and Recovery by Judith Herman

National Alliance on Mental Illness Helpline: 1-800-950-NAMI (6264)

NAMI PTSD Help Guide

Mindfulness for Trauma Recovery

Portrait of a Depressed Woman

I wade through the topography of my depression, empty wrappers and clothes and dishes thrown about with little care. It feels almost too appropriate that this is the state of my bedroom because it is such a direct reflection of my mind. My room being in a state of complete disarray usually points to one thing: I’m depressed.

Depression seems to creep in at moments that feel unexpected at the time, but in hindsight, make total sense. After all, there was that two-week period where I was eating like crap, or when I got too drunk too often and threw my brain chemistry off, or when I skipped a few workouts. There is the threat of nuclear war and white supremacists marching in the streets and the ever-looming feeling of impending doom to consider. Plus, I am 27 and single and okay with it, but is it okay that I am okay with it? And am I really okay with it, or am I just telling myself that I am okay with it so I don’t have to deal with my true feelings? Time passes and life gets more complicated and sad as I get older, and I am only in my twenties; I have yet to experience so much heartbreak and loss and trauma. I only have so much time on this planet and will never be able to read all the books I want to read or hear all the music that I want to hear or go all the places I want to go or experience everything I want to experience. I have so many regrets that I just have to live with because time travel isn’t a thing yet (get on it, science). And I said this horribly awkward thing and I cannot stop obsessing about it. I am not perfect, and this is feeling more and more unforgivable as my desperation to hide all my faults heightens.

I can usually trace my depression back to one or more of these factors soon after my symptoms begin. After all, I have more than a decade of experience with depression; these themes have come up enough times by now that I can look back and reflect with more knowledge than ever before. As I grow older, my depression comes back again and again, and in a way, it feels like an old friend now. While it gets easier to determine the source and prevent major episodes, depression is inevitable sometimes, and these periods have never gotten easier to weather.

Often, it feels like I am battling my own mind. For a while, I’ll feel just fine. I will be happy with my life, making healthy choices, and feeling great. I might hear murmurs from my anxiety (another old friend who is in a codependent relationship with my depression), but when I’m doing well, I can shut anxious thoughts down pretty fast. The problem is that life is unpredictable. I have a degree of control over my symptoms; they tend to get worse if I am not taking good care of my physical health, for example. But other times, rejection or loss or fear come crashing into my life, and there is little I can do to stop depression from consuming me.

When I am depressed, it feels like a shameful secret I need to hide. It feels like no one will understand, even though 350 million people can relate, including several close friends. I get so scared that if I do reach out and open up, they will say the wrong thing or I will disappoint them. I feel so sensitive and fear disappointing people so much, I pretend that everything is fine. I spend more of my time inside my own brain, where the depression gets louder and more real. The horrible irony is that reaching out always helps; it makes the burden a little lighter because my friends and family actually want to share the load. The thoughts quiet because they are met with love, empathy, and validation. Suddenly, I can see how someone who loves me sees me, and I think, hey, maybe I am not so bad. But the depressed mind doesn’t want to get better so it shit-talks this option and fills the empty parts of me with shame to encourage my isolation.

I hate my depressed self. She’s bitter and boring. She is oversensitive and easily offended. She’s angry and irritable and has a short fuse. And she will not stop telling me to kill myself. Before I knew that I was experiencing it myself, I thought suicidal ideation looked like a scene from an angsty teen drama featuring a character who struggles with mental illness for one episode cutting themselves with a straight razor because their dad is an alcoholic and their boyfriend cheated on them. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized that just because my experience wasn’t like an episode of Degrassi, doesn’t mean it was normal or healthy.

In my experience, suicidal thoughts are more like my brain just decides to pipe up when I am trying to solve a problem with this helpful suggestion: why don’t you just kill yourself? OKAY THANKS, GREAT IDEA, BRAIN. NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT PLAN. It’s not often that these thoughts carry any real weight for me anymore because I have spent plenty of time thinking about how much I love my life and don’t want to die, but they get quite intrusive and annoying. Can’t you think of a better solution, brain? But no, my depressed self has very few ideas other than suicide and sleep. It feels like I have lived a thousand lives in one day, and I crawl into bed at 4:30 PM.

Right now, I’m the healthiest I have ever been in my life, but I live with a lifelong condition that means that sometimes, I am just not myself. I am learning how to care for this person who takes over my body occasionally. It’s attributed to several different people, but there is a quote that says, “People need love the most when they deserve it the least.” I may hate my depressed self, but I need to learn to love her. She is imperfect and irrational and mean, but she needs my love.

I climb through my room, stuffing the remnants of my dissipating depression into a trash bag. I do six loads of laundry, hanging my multitude of dresses in my closet with care. I make my bed, enjoying how neat it looks when I am not lying in its rumpled covers. I vacuum, wipe the dust away, and organize my shelves as the cat anxiously looks on. When I am done, I observe my accomplishment and deeply exhale. It looks and feels like control, and I can see the other side.

FYI About Posting Schedule

Hi all,

I figured it might be helpful to let you know my schedule for responding to your letters. I work a full-time job so my personal writing time is generally on Saturdays and Tuesdays. So if you write a letter to me during the week, look out for it one of those days! If your need for advice is time-sensitive, let me know in your letter and I will try my best to respond sooner. Alright, I am off to write!




Hi all! Welcome to Ask Ginzo, my advice blog! In this blog, I will take any questions you have for me, whether about your relationship, your career, your family life, or your propensity for hoarding miniature furniture, and do the best that I can to help you. I will also write posts with more general advice, like 5 Ways To Up Your Self-Care Game and 10 Inspirational Quotes to Read to Your Cat This Morning (only sort of joking about that one). I may dip into the valley of personal essay as well so I am not a totally anonymous blogbot to you, but my concern is more about you and your questions. If you would like to pick my brain, feel free to email me at, or check out my Contact page for a form that will allow you to contact me anonymously.

Okay, but why should I listen to you?

Fair question! I am letting you know upfront that I am not a mental health professional. I have an undergraduate degree in psychology with a concentration in counseling, but so does your cousin Tom, and he doesn’t know what he is talking about, right? While I am not a counselor, I have all the qualifications of a good friend. That’s why my blog is called Ask Ginzo – Ginzo is a nickname my best friend Deliah gave to me, and that is how I would like to give advice: as a friend. Whether we know each other or not, I am happy to listen to your problem non-judgmentally and give you the advice I would give someone I care about, like Deliah. If you have a serious problem that needs professional intervention, I highly suggest you see a counselor. Personally, I have had both good and bad therapists, and while I don’t recommend bad therapy, it still gave me perspective on my situation (like, “Oh God, I need a new therapist”). Regardless of whether or not you have a mental illness (like I do), a good therapist can empower you to make the changes you need in your life to find what you are looking for, whether that is recovery and healing or a more fulfilling life path. Again, I am not a therapist, good or bad, but you can consider me a friend. Write in and at minimum, I will lend you my empathetic ear, which is often all we really need.

Hmm, okay… how can I contact you again?

Glad you asked! Again, feel free to email me at, or use my Contact form if you prefer to be anonymous.