Trigger Warnings. (An open letter to Neil Gaiman.)

Dear Neil Gaiman.

I adore you. I adore your work. I adore your approach to life, to marriage, and to parenthood. I think you’re brilliant.

But I don’t think you understand how triggers work.

I have read my way through your long introduction to your short story collection “Trigger Warning”. I have followed your musings on why books shouldn’t be safe places. On how they should be unsafe. How they should make you uncomfortable, confront you with new truths and expand your horizon.

And I’ve come to think that we misunderstand each other. Because I agree with you about new truths and new horizons. The safety that I want and the safe place you mean are not the same.

So let me tell you how this looks like from my perspective, what actually happens when I get triggered. (I tell you this on my personal blog where you won’t read it – in the same kind of one-sided conversation that you chose when you made this the introduction of your book where I couldn’t answer – the irony is not lost on me.)

When I get triggered, I disappear.

It’s simple as that, though there is a medical term for it. It’s called dissociation and it means that I am gone. That my mind leaves my body because it has encountered trauma that it cannot deal with and feels the only way to get through it is to not exist.

That sounds trippy and new-agey to you, maybe, the mind leaving the body. But let me assure you, it feels like none of those things.

It feels like nothing for a while, like blankness, like white noise. And then when the body sucks the mind back in, it feels like pain. Like death that is following you around for hours, sometimes days, making you sick and nauseous, not allowing you food or the comfort of sleep, before finally all your higher brain functions are back online and you’ve un-entangled yourself from the past.

Being triggered does not expand my horizon. It does not teach me anything new. All it does is suck me into an old abyss that I’m familiar with but can’t stop from falling into.

So let me try to explain it to you this way, using your metaphor of the horizon and mine of the abyss:

If I was wandering in the wild, on a mountain plateau, in search of new places and expanded horizons and you knew there was a cliff ahead, invisible from my path, but sheer and steep and sure to break my bones if I fall down its side – would you begrudge me the warning sign at the roadside telling me to proceed with caution? To slow down my pace and steer my steps carefully so that I can get close but don’t accidentally tumble? So that I can experience the new without hurting myself?

A trigger warning is no different than that. It’s not a restriction. It doesn’t say “entry forbidden”. It says “proceed with caution when exploring these paths so that you don’t tumble into the abyss”.

With all my love,
Mashiara Dream.


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