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Emotional Triggers with IBD

What are triggers? In layman's terms, a "trigger" is something that causes a negative emotional and/or physical response. Triggers almost always come from someplace. even if you aren't sure what is causing it. It just may not be obvious to you but somewhere deep in your psyche, there IS a reason your body is responding a certain way.

How do triggers relate to those of us who suffer from Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis? As I stated in this article here, I fully believe that many people who suffer from a severe form of inflammatory bowel disease, or any chronic illness, also have some type of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Given we are all individual and have had unique journeys related to our disease, our triggers aren't always the same. While some may overlap, a lot has to do with the chemical makeup of our brains, along with other neurological stimulants that impact our minds and bodies.

Trauma after surgery

I was always a huge fan of the television show Grey's Anatomy and also loved Private Practice. Both of these shows take place in a hospital setting but the drama is what always grabbed me. I vividly remember after my 12th open surgery, I was discharged in time to watch the show at home. My surgeon also loved it :) I was all settled on the couch and once I started seeing an operating table, I started freaking out. I never acted like that before. I was with my parents and just closed my eyes, put my hands over my ears and screamed, "turn it off, turn it off!" My dad was fidgeting with the remote and I remember grabbing it from him and pushing any button to at least change the channel.

I couldn't believe the reaction I had to something I even talked about with my surgeon while in the hospital. It was one of my favorite shows.

While this example is a little more understandable, there are others that aren't as obvious like my inability to watch anything that I think something awful and unpredictable may happen. The example that comes to mind is the old show, Desperate Housewives. For those who are familiar, when Mike was shot and killed with only four episodes left in the entire season, I was done with the show. **This character was shot and killed just as he was getting his life together and starting a new one with his wife and baby. He passed (in the show) taking a bullet for his wife.

Even though these were obviously fictional characters, I no longer watched that show ever again. I still don't know how the series ended!

Triggered by loud noises

Anyway, aside from certain things on television I also have a major issue with noise. Specifically, things that occur randomly like the doorbell ringing. When I order food to be delivered and the doorbell rings, I am startled beyond belief. It makes no sense given the fact that someone is at my doorstep isn't an unexpected event-- I called them!

Last month, my dad dropped some hard candy in front of me by accident and I jumped back into the other room. I haven't been able to keep the sound on my phone for YEARS. I tried putting it on vibrate but that still was startling to me. It was still triggering some anxiety in me and would force my heart to race even though there wasn't anything serious going on.

I actually got a smartwatch so I wouldn't have to even worry about keeping the sound on my phone and missing phone calls and messages. Now, my watch vibrates a tiny bit on my wrist which allows me to check it quickly and see if I need to grab my phone. Since getting the watch, I have been a lot more responsive to phone calls (it was truly a miracle if I ever picked up before) and the same with text messages. I try not to overload myself and often turn the notifications off but regardless, it has made the phone situation a lot easier for me.

Technology advances and hopes for the future

This also gave me an enormous amount of hope in that technology is changing and I have some control over the things my body and brain are exposed to. For example, I'm hoping technology will advance enough so nurses don't have to walk into a hospital room to take vitals. This impacts sleep and a persons ability to let go in an already difficult setting. I also am hopeful that if the IV needs to be tended to, something alerts the nurse's station as opposed to randomly beeping like crazy which can startle a patient.

Taste and smells as triggers

Some more common triggering things, in my opinion, include being unable to drink yellow Gatorade, clear-colored soda or clear liquids because they remind me of test prep or the hospital in general. Certain smells that bring me back to the hospital are also very difficult for me to handle. Not to be TMI but there is even a specific scent that comes out of my ostomy when I am in the hospital that occurs occasionally after leaving there or being discharged from the emergency room. I can't control that and have no idea what it really is. It is just something I notice that brings me back to a place I don't want to be.

As I began thinking more, I realize that my triggers actually do make sense. My issues with noise stem from the unpredictable IV beeping that occurs with every hospitalization. The unpredictable nature that has it difficult for me to not only watch certain things but let my guard down, comes from living with such an unpredictable illness.

Triggers happen for a reason

I want anyone reading this who may be able to relate to know you are not alone if you have certain triggers that are hard for you or others to understand. They come from a very real place and should not be ignored. Whether you feel it is best to talk it out with a mental health professional, a close family member or friend, or handle it on your own is completely up to you. You have every right to take care of yourself in whatever way is comfortable for YOU. Never let anyone make you feel badly about it or tell you otherwise.

Do you have issues with triggers? What are some of yours? Do you understand where they come from? Have you gotten professional help? How have you personally handled the emotional angst and physical problems that can go alongside being triggered by a lot of things? Let's talk about this! It is all part of living with a chronic illness like Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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