Understanding Trauma Triggers

I feel so powerless right now.

“To admit uncertainty is to admit to weakness, to powerlessness, and to believe in yourself despite both. It is a frailty, but in this frailty there is a strength: the conviction to live in your own mind, and not in someone else’s.” –Tara Westover

It all started when I flew out of bed at 5am in a rage, unable to control my tears because of that damn kitten! …

Rewind to Yesterday

This is Pluto. 10.5 weeks old.

It’s been awhile in the planning. My husband and I have been wanting a third animal for a bit now, searching online for just the right pet.

We have always been a three animal home – two cats, one dog. However, in 2015-2016 we lost two of our animals within a year of each other. In October of that year we adopted a second cat and it has just been the two for the last 3.5 years.

When my sister ended up with a liter of Tabby/Maine Coon mixes, I couldn’t help myself. As much as we had been considering another dog, we have accepted that we are a cat house. We picked him up yesterday (while practicing social distancing). I mean seriously, look at that face!

The Simultaneous Ticking Time Bomb

At the same time we were making arrangements to get in the car and pick up our new kitten, I heard from my place of work. I have been on layoff status since mid March due to the pandemic.

At the beginning of May, my company made the decision to reopen my store. As the store manager, of course I was called first. I live in a state that was just starting to see the results of exponential growth at that time, with a legislature that is eager to reopen at the expense of a few “essential workers”. What a patronizing term that has become.

I didn’t sign up to be part of the control group testing out herd immunity, so when my store reopened in May with only three people called back, three employees other than me returned to the store.

I was made aware yesterday that I am expected to return to work by Monday or resign.

PTSD and childhood traumas that I am in the process of healing make this a very precarious and triggering situation for me.


I love my job and I am good at it. I also feel a sick obligation to go back to work making other people rich. But going back so soon during this time of unprecedented health crisis scares me. I work in optics, which means I work with faces. It is not possible for me to keep proper distance and provide the necessary level of care and service.

My company has provided almost all of the PPE a worker could ask for. I get to enforce occupancy limits. The space will be controlled far better than some places I am sure. It doesn’t make me feel any better, or any safer. Not right now, with so many unknowns.

So quit, right? I have a choice. Shut up and quit or shut up and go back. I wish it were that easy. I am the proverbial “bread winner” in my household. The insurance coverage, the salary – those are things not easily replaced.

I feel trapped, without choice. Powerless in a situation created by a society that is so conditioned to be workers that we can’t accept a few months of solitude at home to protect our communities. I have to choose between the health safety or financial security of my family because the American Elite hate inconvenience and people want their hair cuts, discount glasses, and to belly up at the bar.

I have to give my answer today.

A Welcome Distraction

When we got home with our newest family member, he became a welcome distraction for the rest of the evening. We spent the rest of the night watching him explore, helping him integrate with our other two cats, and watching my 5-year old play gleefully with her new best friend. It’s been awhile since we have all laughed like we did – stress definitely takes its toll – it was nice.

The 5am Wake-up Call

We don’t let our animals sleep with us. We never have, so we had no intentions of changing that with this guy. Periodically throughout the night he would come to our door and meow a few times and then disappear. Always just enough to wake us but never long enough we felt bad and got up.

Until this morning around 5am. That’s when we made the (incorrect) decision to let him in to snuggle since we were waking up anyway. He came in and didn’t disappoint, he was adorable as he nuzzled us and snuggled. He checked out the room, his sleeping playmate, and then seemed to settle for a short time.

Seemed is the key word.

The little stinker peed on my bed!

Let the frenzy of laundry, cleaning, rage, and tears begin.

(in hindsight, my other cat was probably a jerk and “guarded” the liter boxes all night which we are fixing today)

On the Precipice

I was enraged. My mattress was ruined, I was certain. I was done with the kitten. My anger was tangible, my tears free falling. My husband wanted to hug me but knew to keep his distance.

I could feel everything bubbling, I could feel the loss of control as it slipped. My mind felt frantic and the only thing I kept repeating was, “I can’t even”. I wanted to argue, I wanted to yell, and I couldn’t stop crying.

All the while this tiny little fur baby is following me around squeaking at me to stop and love him.

As I sat on the couch, curled at tightly into myself as I could I began searching inside myself for a way to stop this horrible nose dive of a morning. Thank goodness for therapy – I relied on those skills today.

Why was I so irrationally angry at this kitten?

And then it all clicked, and I felt the true emotions begin to flow and the irrational rage and confusion calm.

The Things I can Control

As soon as I realized what was happening, the first thing I did was say it all out loud to my husband. Something that is new for me. Even years into my healing, I have censored myself at home due to just how heavy some of my stuff is.

Then I just cried for a minute. I felt it all, acknowledged it all without judgement.

Once I realized where my feelings were truly coming from, and how they connected to past traumas I found myself more in control of the trigger. I understood better where my feelings of powerlessness, fear, and emotional overwhelm were coming from. I understood why it was triggering irrational rage. I realized that the little kitten was not the cause, he was the spark that set my already tumultuous emotions ablaze.

With this awareness, it took me less than an hour to regain myself. Celebrating that is empowering. I am healing, in real time.

I am still anxious about the call with my boss today, I know what my answer is so we will see how it plays out. This morning I spent time thinking of things I can do today with intention to help me through this. One being to write out this piece for clarity. I am heading in the right direction.

I know what I want, and I am leaning how to love myself when I struggle.

One step at a time.

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6 thoughts on “Understanding Trauma Triggers

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  1. Wow. After reading this powerful post, my head is swirling with so many emotions that I can’t even formulate a coherent reply.

    My son also works in an optical department, dreading when he is called back to work. I used to have a Maine Coon cat. A new pet, disoriented and probably traumatized by being taken away from it’s mom and siblings and home, peeing on the bed in the middle of the night — had that happen, too, only that was a small dog.

    See what I mean, I can’t even formulate a coherent reply! I’m looking forward to reading about what happens next. But yaaaaay, kudos on your healing!!!!!

  2. Hugs. Kudos on your healing and wowwww, your employer sucks. I’m so sorry. 🙁 I’ve friends who are opticians too and they get so worried because like you said, up in people’s faces all day.

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