When You Don't Expect It

moving from the moments that pull you back

Trauma response is so unpredictable. You can identify triggers. You can circle dates on the calendar. You can tell your story, write your story, own your story. But sometimes there are moments that don’t fit into those triggers. And those are the hardest.

A couple of weeks ago, I was asked to give a tech talk about my journey into tech. It’s one that I’ve given a lot, but I had some new things to add to it. It never occurred to me that it might be difficult to get through. I didn’t need slides. I didn’t have to double check my understanding of a technical concept. I just needed to talk about how I got into tech, and it starts with my trauma. Because without that trauma, I never end up where I am today.

I never think about leaving my job. I don’t fall in love with coding. I don’t see the possibilities that come with code. I don’t learn the power of empathy, vulnerability, and the need for community.

I made an outline anyway, adjusted some lighting in my room. And then I started my talk.

So there I was with an outline, staring at a zoom screen of faces looking back at me, starting my talk, and I started crying. Like really crying. And I couldn’t stop. I’m telling this story, this history, and it’s not going at all like I expect. Not only am I totally thrown off by this response, I’m frustrated with myself because why now?! Why, after so many times telling this story am I suddenly crying in front of all of these people, crying in a talk that is being recorded and posted online? Why is my body and my mind betraying me again? Why can’t you pull yourself together?

And as all of this is running through my head, I’m pushing forward to tell my story and feeling like I don’t belong here. Like I’m some imposter who has no right to give anyone advice, because I’m stuck in that moment in this moment.

Those thoughts don’t end with the talk. They cycle. I just want to make sense of it. I want to know why, this time, I had this response. I want to know so I don’t do it again. So I don’t spend the next week trying to feel normal, to feel safe again.

It’s a lot easier to tell people to be kind to themselves and then don’t practice it myself. And it’s hard to explain to other people. It’s hard to tell them that something that happened to me four years ago was triggered for no understandable reason and it’s going to impact me in ways that I can’t predict or explain for some undetermined amount of time, because although I can sometimes predict triggers, I cannot predict how long I will be triggered.

And the best thing I can think to do is write about it. Because I can’t be the only one who feels this way, who goes through these experiences. I’m not the only one who is frustrated by the irrationality of the response. And that’s a starting point, at least. To find the shared experiences that allow us to grow closer, to deepen our vulnerability, to be a part of something that is more than our experience, to heal together.