Trigger me this Facebook

16 Nov
A LIFE magazine still for Hans Richter's film Dreams That Money Can Buy (1946)

A LIFE magazine still for Hans Richter’s film Dreams That Money Can Buy (1946)

Trauma and depression are difficult enough to live with, the scars left by episodes remain raw no matter how long the healing has been. The tiniest scratch and the wound starts weeping. Before you know it, you’ve been transported back to another place and another episode is in full flow. At least that’s my experience.

You will no doubt be familiar with the idea that certain smells in particular can transport you back into your memory banks – that waft of perfume as you walk along the street, an odour in a restaurant – but it isn’t unique to scent. Images and sounds can do the same thing. I’ve written before about the importance of memory and images, and there are songs that take me back to very specific moments in my youth and revitalise long-forgotten feelings. While this can be a therapeutic and pleasant experience for those of us who have lived with abuse, or suffered mental breakdowns, memory is a tricky terrain to negotiate.

Social media is rich with trigger potential. Many of us share the sort of insights into our private lives that a decade ago would have been deemed inappropriate. We detail our travels, our partners, our dinners, our very bowel movements. Go far enough back into our public profiles and we’ll find traces of a life we’ve moved on from – our younger selves, warts and all.

Facebook in particular provides a daily digest of memories without any sort of filtration system at all. Their ‘On This Day‘ brings up posts you made or were tagged in on/around today’s date in years gone past. Among the cute pictures of animals and family and work outings are things I don’t wish to recall, let alone reshare with those around me. This time of year it turns out is packed full of them, and those Facebook memories are at least partly responsible for triggering my last break down.

I like to recall nice memories, but I’ve been on social media long enough now that there are also memories of previous partners and my lives with them, which played out at least partly in a public/semi-public sphere. Friends/spectators will recall at least some of the drama, but generally have the good decency not to bring it up when we meet. Unlike Facebook, which deems it appropriate to regale me with anecdotes from not only the partners I remain fond of, but also those I am not.

Today’s memories include jaunts to London (no change there then), moving house, publicity on the magazine I edited that I later learned was being published by two con-artists, photos of my abusive partner and examples of comments that might have come across to some as wit, but which read now like mild examples of the abusive treatment I lived with for too long.

I cannot completely avoid this. I’ve untagged myself from various things, made other images and posts private. But I also have issues with denying the past ever happened. Much of it is a matter of public record anyway, so editing seems somehow disrespectful and false. And unhelpful to my healing. Being reminded of the shit that was foisted upon me simply serves to strengthen my resolve, but there is a cost. Some of the memories trigger further memories and its frightening. I don’t want to delete my profile and start again because within the memories of abuse there are also stories of friendships past, loved ones lost and much positivity – how to balance that? A friend of mine with very similar experiences simply deleted their profile completely – too overwhelming was the triggers from the past, the negative memories. For me doing that would remove what little good I had from my own period of abuse and would run counter to my policy of being open as a coping mechanism.

If I’m completely frank, I fucking hate this. I never know which memories are going to be revived on which days. I don’t know which will trigger a period of negative association. Sometimes I can see a photo from then and its fine. Other days, I’ve encountered other triggers and the cumulative effect becomes too much to handle. My abuser has always denied any form of abuse took place (a common practice with abusers it seems). But images provoke strong memories from me. And sometimes the words, photos, video, audio files support my memory of events which causes even more triggers.

Immediately before I had my most recent breakdown I had been going through old files. A bunch of Facebook memories had started the process, then I came across a set of old photographs – images in that tricky area of not being enough to set off a trigger by themselves, but in association with other data they do. And then there were the recordings – listening to my own voice filled with terror and anxiety, voice mails left by my abuser – I daren’t even contemplate it deeply because of how they set me off last time. That narrative I have repeatedly been told (by my abuser) that suggests I am a fabricator of facts, quickly vanishes and accompanied by solid proof I recall exactly how things were. How alone and fragile and scared I was. How vulnerable it has made me today.

Our social media accounts are usually rife with false positivity. We cultivate an online image that presents ourself in our best light. We admit to our successes and over-egg minor achievements and ignore our failings, our stresses, our depressions. Consequently when the shit hits the fan, those around us sit bewildered by the sudden change. The late Doctor Who producer John Nathan-Turner used to remind audiences that ‘the memory cheats’, and the same can be true of Facebook memories. The false positivity can ignore much of the problems, and the casual observer might be lulled back into a false sense of nostalgia and lost hope. In an instance of an abusive partner they might forget the problems with drink or drugs, they might overlook the coercive controlling behaviour, and almost certainly will never find a trace of the physical abuses suffered. We forget the warning signs and we end up repeating our mistakes, and push away those who offer an alternative. Certainly I’m scared of those in whom I recognise myself – but they’re the only people who really get it, because they’ve lived it and neither they nor I wish to suffer like that again. Others can be sympathetic, but they lack the true empathy needed to keep us strong.

My own social media history fluctuates between the brave face of positivity – and I can usually tell when I’ve been coerced into posting something vaguely positive – and out and out cries for help. I’ve seen them come up in my feed before – moments where I’ve been threatened, where I’m struggling to make sense of a relationship spiraling downwards. Times where I’ve outed myself before some dark aspect of myself is utilised as a weapon against me. It still happens. I’m free of my abuser, but not their impact on my life. So afraid have I been that I’ve been overprotective of myself, family and potential partners. Just when I think I’m okay again, Facebook reminds me of what I went through at their hands and why I remain on my guard.

For someone who has made his professional life based around the past and nostalgia I am at a loss for how to proceed with my own past – particularly one which social media has decreed I must recall when I really don’t want to. Deletion is denial. It absolves those who persecute our thoughts. Admission provokes anxiety, tension and further depression.

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