One in Five: Trigger warnings, no laughing matter

Therapy, STU’s System Training for Emotional Predictability and Problem Solving program and support from loved ones helped Michala Keeler fight what she called overwhelming mood swings. (Graphic by Alex Dascalu/AQ)

Kyra Wilson is a fourth-year St. Thomas University student honouring in psychology and majoring in Great Books. She enjoys reading, gardening, hanging out with kids and playing the Sims. 

My mental illnesses feel like there’s a computer in my mind that keeps flashing error messages whenever I try to do something.   

I was first diagnosed in 2018 with three mental illnesses and was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder later that year. After five hospital visits, three new medications and intensive therapy programs, I came out of it with four diagnoses I’m still combating.  

Borderline personality disorder is like an emotional third-degree burn, depression is like a weight holding me down and generalized anxiety disorder is as if a conspiracy theorist has taken over my brain.   

The only one I have yet to find a way to describe is post-traumatic stress disorder.  

When I see images of the “crazy” individual in a straightjacket or other stigmatized images of people suffering from mental illness, it makes me feel like there’s a constant threat of being sent to a cliché mental illness facility. 

When I get triggered and spiral, I tend to upset the people around me. Sometimes it involves repeating words. Sometimes I forget that I’m a person. Sometimes I just sit there and cry. As I got used to the diagnosis, I figured out what set me off — depictions of abuse, stigmatized images of mental illness and mentions of assault are things I know trigger me.

Generally, being triggered and trigger warnings have been made into a joke. Even on campus it’s common to hear someone make a “triggered” joke. I, along with many others, don’t find those jokes funny. It’s embarrassing for me to say the word triggered, I feel like I’m making my illness into a joke.  

When I get triggered, I’m catapulted back in time and made to relive the events I already survived. I feel the sensations as if I’m there, I hear the sounds as if I’m there and my body shuts down, thinking I’m reliving a traumatic incident.  

I was repeatedly placed in psychologically damaging situations that varied from abuse to bullying.  These traumatic experiences made my mind and body feel like an elastic band. The first time I was placed in a traumatic situation, the elastic band pulled and released, snapping back slightly stretched but generally fine.

But the more it was pulled and the further it was stretched, the more damage occurred until the band snapped. Once broken, I could tie it together to make it work, but it was fragile. Due to repeated exposure to traumatic incidences my resiliency is thin, so something simple (like mentioning an abusive situation in casual conversation) can sometimes cause my band to snap and I have to set to work re-tying it. Every time I get flashbacks my elastic band breaks again.

Due to multiple triggering situations my elastic band is more knots than band.

It takes five minutes to give a trigger warning and it saves me from a couple of hours of hell. 

One in five is a bi-weekly column focused on students experiences with mental illness. If you would like to contribute, please send an email to