Trigger Warning Revisited

I first wrote this post June 2014 and am sharing it again, for the theme is still timely.

Monday afternoon while shopping at Party City for some sugary treats for my son, in front of me in line stood a teenaged girl with wrists covered in fake blood depicting gory razor slash wounds. She told the older woman she was with, “I don’t see why the school says it’s offensive. It’s just makeup.” I was tempted to step in and educate this young woman, but I did not. Perhaps I should have. She was completely oblivious to the effect she might have on others, specifically on those who suffer or have suffered from suicidality and those who have loved and lost someone to suicide. Her special effects make-up I consider constitutionally protected speech. Unfortunately, she was completely unaware of the power of that speech.

Driving home from my writers’ group Tuesday night, after having drafted this post, I remembered how flippant and irreverent I was in high school. My friends and I anonymously published and distributed around our campus a treatise entitled, “A Beginner’s Guide to Suicide.” As I recall, our “underground” collection of stream-of-consciousness writing contained no instructions for how to kill oneself. The title just suited our non-conformist New Wave quasi-punk teen angst. We meant it sardonically. One of my friends got in trouble for the publication. He managed to protect those of us who had high collegiate aspirations. I, for one, hoped to go to an Ivy League school and could ill-afford disciplinary action. That same year I wrote an article in our school paper in which I imagined receiving a rejection letter from Harvard. In the short fictional article, I wrote that I reacted by hanging myself with an attached suicide note saying something to the effect that life was not worth living if I couldn’t attend Harvard. As fate would have it, I was rejected by every Ivy League school to which I applied. UCLA, in fact, informed me that I had to attend remedial summer school before my freshman year because my SATs totaled under 700. Apparently, the Educational Testing Service had screwed up and sent the wrong data to all the prestigious schools to which I applied. That freshman year at UCLA, I experienced deep and unbearable depression and suicidality. My satiric article was prescient, but I had been completely oblivious and insensitive to how deeply painful it was to be depressed and suicidal.

Although I would never take away the right to offensive, objectionable, or insensitive speech, I do believe that we should be aware of the effect we may have on others, or at least listen to the responses we provoke and show compassion. As a teenager, I, like the girl with the fake slashed wrists, was completely in the dark as to the objectionable or offensive nature of my speech, of my writing. As an adult, I failed to engage the young woman in a conversation about depression and suicide, and how her make-up might cause pain to those whose lives have been affected by depression and suicide. Instead, I rushed to finish my errands before picking up my son from school.

Many mental health bloggers offer trigger warnings before presenting disturbing material. I argued in an earlier post that I do not, nor would I do so, that my blog’s title says it all. But, I get it. I understand the consequences of my speech, and I understand the importance of showing and teaching compassion. On the one hand, we must speak the truth; on the other, we must show compassion.

44 thoughts on “Trigger Warning Revisited

  1. steven1111 July 4, 2014 / 11:25 am

    Thanks for posting this. I agree that too many people are fascinated with suicide and don’t really realize the triggers their behaviour has on those of us who have tried suicide or cut themselves, both of which I’ve done in my past. I’m still suicidal too often, even yesterday, so it’s a current concern for me. I’m grateful you wrote this and I hope there are some people who “get” your message and chill out a bit with their “free speech”. Unfortunately we often don’t learn these things until we’re faced with them ourselves. Then we really get them deeply. I speak from experience…
    Peace to you,


    • Kitt O'Malley July 4, 2014 / 2:04 pm

      Thank you, Steve. I held my tongue, which is actually uncharacteristic of me. It is important that people understand how their speech may psychologically harm someone. They still have the right to free speech, just as we have the right to inform and educate. I hope and pray that you receive the help that you need. I know from experience how painful it is to want to die.
      In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255
      National Suicide Prevention Lifeline


    • Kitt O'Malley June 6, 2014 / 8:49 pm

      Wow! That’s my second nomination of the day for that award. Thank you so much!


  2. jaklumen June 5, 2014 / 10:31 am

    Here by way of Lizzi (LRConsiderer) and her tweet.

    I have dealt with suicidal tendencies and cutting myself, as well as mental illness (which I’m managing rather well, all things considered). I’d rather laugh than cry, so I can yet see some humor in my struggles. I do agree, however, that many people misunderstand how free speech does not eliminate the consequences of expressing said speech. If I understand you right, you found this out the hard way. Kudos and blessings to you for sharing this.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kitt O'Malley June 5, 2014 / 10:45 am

      Thank you. Yes, humor can be healing, and appropriately distancing. Humor is a fabulous coping mechanism. It helps to take a step back from our symptoms and see them as irrational. Humor can be a form of cognitive restructuring, a way of rewriting our thoughts, and thereby rewiring our brains.


  3. lrconsiderer June 5, 2014 / 10:07 am

    Always, ALWAYS compassion. I love that you ended with that.


    • Kitt O'Malley June 5, 2014 / 10:11 am

      Indeed. Thank you for reading. I am so glad that Hastywords introduced me to you and your blog.


      • lrconsiderer June 5, 2014 / 10:51 am

        I’m glad right back that you came over and said hello. There’s a lot here that I nodded my head at, in my quick look around 🙂


  4. dyane June 4, 2014 / 9:24 pm

    I love connecting talented bloggers….it’s even better than Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food!


  5. RobH June 4, 2014 / 6:48 pm

    Love the post. Came over here from a post Dyane had mentioned you in. I’m new to the blogging world and had only really been thinking of the good I might can do by sharing my stories and my experiences. I hadn’t given any thought to the fact that something I write could be a trigger to someone. You just helped me mature as a blogger, and I thank you for that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kitt O'Malley June 4, 2014 / 7:40 pm

      Rob, thank you. Your blog title is enough of a heads up to readers. Since you are blogging about what is going on inside the bipolar mind, please do go ahead and share disturbing material. I’m looking forward to reading your latest post right now.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. dyane June 4, 2014 / 4:49 pm

    p.s. you’re an outstanding writer!


    • Kitt O'Malley June 4, 2014 / 6:11 pm

      Thank you, Dyane. You are truly a God-send. So supportive of so many women. Thank you!


      • dyane June 4, 2014 / 6:16 pm

        Don’t tell anyone…but you’re one of my favorites!


        • Kitt O'Malley June 4, 2014 / 7:35 pm

          I won’t tell anyone if you keep it a secret that you are one of my favorite bloggers. Definitely my favorite advocate for women with postpartum bipolar disorder.


  7. dyane June 4, 2014 / 4:49 pm

    First off, I would not have spoken to the girl with the bloody wrists either. For me, that’s way out of my comfort zone. It was very interesting to learn of your high school days with that treatise, and what happened when you applied to college. I am so sorry you suffered such pain. I hated them before, but now I officially hate the ETS for making such a ginormous screw-up with your test scores. They’ve made a ton of money off us poor teens for years, and they can’t even do their job correctly! Shame on them!

    What will stay with me from reading this post is the importance of compassion in writing. Sometimes I get so angry and freakish when I write that I forget who I’m writing for. It’s all me me me. The fact that you understand the consequences of your writing and that you want to be compassionate when you share it speaks volumes. Wasn’t Jesus known first and foremost for compassion? All other concerns can fall to the wayside.


  8. philsblog01 June 4, 2014 / 3:01 pm

    The other day, I read a poem by a young person about suicide. I must admit, I do not understand this fascination with suicide in the US, particularly among young people. It might have something to do with the media presentations, I don’t know. It is typical for adolescents to have thoughts along these lines from time to time, but it seems to me, suicide almost has a cult like status in the US. Which I cannot understand. Perhaps this issue should be addressed in Health classes in school, along with Nutrition, Physical Exercise, etc. That might help.


    • Kitt O'Malley June 4, 2014 / 3:58 pm

      Interesting. I haven’t studied cross-cultural differences. Daily physical education starts in middle school (6th grade or 7th grade). No doubt it should begin earlier. First lady Michelle Obama has led an effort to improve physical and nutritional awareness and education. Certainly everyone could use psycho-education.


      • philsblog01 June 5, 2014 / 3:44 am

        Yes I agree, physical and mental health should be part of education. And I think Michelle Obama is doing great, a lot of folks will thank her years from now if they follow her advice.


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