Anyone who suffers from anxiety, depression, PTSD or other mental illnesses that can be “triggered” knows that there is one thing about triggers that few people understand: it is almost impossible to predict what will trigger you.

We can have some ideas such as graphic imagery pertaining to trauma (hence “trigger warnings”) or certain seasons of the year (see: SAD) but sometimes, something can seem to come out of nowhere and derail months of hard efforts in survival.

The more people that come to recognize this basic truth, the better off all of us will be in dealing with the resulting cascade of symptoms that come from complications with a mental illness. I say this because I was recently triggered by something that I had never imagined I would be triggered by: a mouse.

October is a normal time of year for mice to enter homes in search of warmth and a morsel of food but I still imagined my fortress impenetrable. Probably because last October I was living in an 8th floor apartment and the risk of them was greatly lessened by that fact. So imagine my surprise when I went to the bathroom at 2 o’clock in the morning one night last week and saw one scuttle out of the corner behind the garbage can. It happened so fast that I could barely process it until my brain started screaming one word over and over again: MOUSE.

And pretty soon my mouth was screaming it too and I was beating my husband awake screaming about the vile creature that had dared enter our home. This is all very funny now, but at the time, it triggered a total emotional breakdown during which, I sat on my bed staring at the door to our bedroom, waiting for the satanic rodents to pass by…sobbing…uncontrollably. For hours.

I couldn’t sleep that night or the next and eventually had to go to my mother’s house. By this time, I was totally worn out from exhaustion and worry that regular signs of PTSD started to show in a very pronounced way. I became irritable, snapping at anyone and everyone. I stopped doing anything productive. I wondered if my life would ever be normal again. I wondered if I would have to throw it all away. I stared at nothing without relaxing. Tense and nearly catatonic.

My husband and my mother kept trying to explain to me that it was just a mouse, that it can’t hurt me, that (yes) it would be caught soon, and (no) it wouldn’t come back forever and ever and (no) there aren’t thousands of them waiting to swarm me.

I slowly came to realize that because I was no longer in control of my home environment – the one space I had finally made my own and made sacred – I was also no longer in control of my emotions and mental state. I couldn’t even will myself to relax if I tried. Which I didn’t, because: anxiety.

And this was after months and months of success. Of taking care of myself in ways that I consider self-care. Of dealing with my emotions calmly and dealing with outbursts via appropriate communication channels, or even just apologizing. I became worried that I was back at square one again, like I had just gotten sick and would have to take the long road to recovery once more.

But now the mouse is gone (like actually gone) and I feel a bit better. I can still feel the physical residue of my emotional breakdown in my fatigue and swollen lymphnodes (being stressed to the max kills your immune system), but that will subside and I can come back to myself again.

My point here isn’t to talk about a mouse in my house which I have now expunged forever (hopefully). It is to point out that when you have a mental illness like PTSD, the smallest, most unexpected things can set you off. One minute you are a productive businesswoman, grad student, activist and mother, and the next moment you’re asking your husband if he can stand outside the open washroom door while you pee with your feet up on the toilet seat. While sobbing.

The important thing to realize if you are the loved one of someone who can be unpredictably triggered is that you have to get better at recognizing a trigger for what it is so you can start being supportive immediately.

Signs of being triggered:

  • The person tells you they are having a panic attack or having feelings of terror that are disproportionate to their circumstances
  • The person is overwhelmed with worry and consumed with fear
  • The person states that they feel like they are “going crazy”
  • They can’t sleep
  • They report any of the following signs:
    • Cold or sweaty hands or feet
    • Shortness of breath
    • Heart palpitations
    • Not being able to be still or calm
    • Nausea
    • Dizziness
    • Muscle tension
    • Numbness
    • And others

The only thing worse than an anxiety attack is trying to explain it to someone who doesn’t understand that it is happening or, worse, doesn’t believe you. My family figured that out pretty fast and as a result, this mouse-y incident is something I can now laugh at.

Wishing the same for you,

Nakita


nakitaNakita Valerio is an academic, activist and writer in the community. She is currently pursuing graduate studies in History and Islamic-Jewish Studies at the University of Alberta.  Nakita was named one of the Alberta Council for Global Cooperation’s Top 30 under 30 for 2015, and is the recipient of the 2016 Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, as well as the Walter H. Johns Graduate Studies Fellowship. She has also been honoured with the State of Kuwait, the Queen Elizabeth II and the Frank W Peers Awards for Graduate Studies in 2015. She has been recognized by Rotary International with an Award for Excellence in Service to Humanity and has been named one of Edmonton’s “Difference Makers” for 2015 by the Edmonton Journal. Nakita is the co-founder of Bassma Primary School in El Attaouia, Morocco and the Vice President of External Affairs with the Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council.

Someone fell off the metro platform as the train was pulling away. Or they were pushed. Or they jumped. My eyes are untrustworthy and deceive me but my ears can still hear the scream as they went down. My heart can still feel the residue of disbelief I felt when I saw a figure tumbling.

I turned to the woman next to me and said, “Someone just got hit by the train.” She nodded her head slowly. Her face did not change. “I think I saw that,” she replied, and just went on staring into the distance. She was wearing a burgundy wool toque and a shirt that carried an ironic message that I can no longer recall. Torn jeans and converse sneakers. A necklace with an arrow pendant. She carried a pillow with a worn out cover on it – the kind your grandmother pulls out of her linen closet when you come for a mid-twenties sleepover and it conjures up the nostalgic vignettes of your childhood. Memories passed through my head like strangers as I glanced at it and the hand-woven blanket folded beneath it — the souvenir everyone picks up on the resort beach in Mexico and uses as a picnic spread on summer days in Hawrelak Park.

She was quieter than I expected as I stood up, craning my neck to see what was going on and if I could do anything. Memory is a funny thing and begins to be shaped into the form of narrative within seconds of a record being made. Or maybe simultaneous to it. Scribes in our mind take in the necessary details, filtering them based on past preferences and priorities, and filtering everything else out. I can see the pout of this woman’s lip but do not know what the person who fell (or was pushed, or jumped) was wearing.

There is a blur of fabric burned into my mind and the scream I can still hear. And then the people on the platform above them as the train pulled away: they are on their phones, walking back and forth but no one is looking down yet. Did someone fall? Is someone calling the emergency number? Did I imagine it after all? Are they all talking on their phones, oblivious to what happened?

A man in a lime green shirt and shorts is pacing a bit and his head keeps looking southward down the tracks into the distance. A woman in a long skirt and black tank top is looking north and ahead. An unnerving silence comes from the platform. More people arrive, awaiting the new train that will pull into the station

Concrete barriers stand between the train platform and the street I am on. Somewhere between those barriers and the platform is a body that should not be there. Soft flesh and warm blood sit upon cold steel. Are they alive? Why is no one on the platform saying anything? Why is no one looking at the tracks?

A woman runs from the end of the platform, her plastic sandals slapping the surface. I feel confirmed in what I saw for a moment because there is an urgency in her strides, but she turns to the door where the stairs lead to a pedway without glancing at the tracks.

Who is there on the tracks? The word suicide jars into my head and I dismiss it, swiping it away in anger. Its appearance is enough to bring up the feelings of anguish and agony that I know only suicidal people have felt. If it is suicide, their turmoil is quiet now as this person rests on the tracks. Are they facing up or down? Are they alive, watching the clouds pass in the longest moments of their life?

The next train is about to pull in but stops far before the station. An officer of the peace jumps off and pounds down the platform to a spot just beyond where I had seen them fall. My heart flickers because someone had to have called him. The man in the green shorts is pacing now and more people are arriving on the platform. Sirens blare in the distance confirming my untrustworthy eyes. There is no longer a question when the woman in the tank-top peers over the edge of the track and her hand flies up to her mouth as she backs away. I can see the person on the tracks in her reaction. I can see their twisted and broken body. I think of their mother who knows that body inside and out, who carried it and coddled it, who nurtured them. The word suicide flashes in my head. I know not all mothers have been good to their children. A knot in my stomach makes me want to go to the track and hold the person’s hand in case they are alive, and alone with the clouds and the sounds of people pacing just above them.

My eyes saw a lot of fabric when they fell down. The word Muslim pushes out the word suicide in my mind. “This is why I always stand back from the platform,” I think. “They were pushed,” I think. My eyes scan for someone suspicious running away, but no one is running. No one is even pacing anymore. Everyone is trying not to look at the tracks and now dozens of people are on the platform, their hands flying to their mouths like a wave as they step back from the edge and what they have seen.

Maybe they just fell down. Maybe it was an accident.

Everything is too quiet over there and my mind turns to thoughts of my best friend and how I am unsettled by how she treats the suicide of her father. It is a matter of fact. It is his “cause of death.” And that is the way it should be treated – something which people die by. But as someone who has been on the other end of the gun too many times, you imagine it would be more than silence and a twisted body on the tracks. That what we always imagined freedom to be could look like more than simply death.

Emergency vehicles arrive on the scene and workers rush to set out orange pylons as a buffer of space between them and oncoming traffic. People and their cars continue to flow northward. Life immediately carries on, passing the person on the other side of the barriers, quiet now on the tracks.

If it is suicide, people who think about it do not realize how many others will come to their rescue. Within moments. Mere minutes after the scream (which I can still hear) and the tumble, there are dozens of emergency workers on the scene. Ambulances and fire trucks arrive. Uniformed people rush to cut the metal of the fence (or the tracks?) and the screech of a saw slices the thick air. These workers were just minutes away. Would they come if you told them you were thinking to jump? If you told them the dark thoughts you carry with you? If you told them you sit on the bench so you don’t think about jumping, or you stand back from the edge so someone won’t push you and take away the power of jumping from you? Or do they only arrive when you have already thrown your body down into the quiet space between the barriers and the platform where soft flesh does not normally go? When does an emergency become an emergency?

Maybe they just fell down. Maybe it was an accident.

A stretcher is loaded with something. It looks like a pile of warm microfleece blankets, impossible to contain a person. The stretcher is loaded on the ambulance. Hope flashes around my heart as the ambulance lights twirl. Its siren starts up as the door is slammed and the driver turns the wheel to carry the body from the tracks to the hospital. As they are pulling away, cars going north move off to the side. Someone is blaring hip hop music that can be heard above the sirens. They just arrived. They do not know that a body was on the tracks where no soft flesh should ever be. They do not turn down their music. My bus arrives and I remember my body, moving it into the space of the bus, sitting it down to be carried away to home where my family is waiting for me.

Later that evening, I am in the home of my colleague, surrounded by his family and friends. I sit with older women from the Pakistani community and listen to their stories, smiling with them, feeling welcomed by them. One woman, the mother of a young man I knew in secondary school, is veiled in a beautiful red floral scarf and noor shines from her face. She is smiling as she tells us a story about her grandchildren forming an assembly line to help her pick sour cherries from the tree in their backyard in order to make chutney. Since the cherries attract wasps, they have to be careful while pulling the fruit down by the handful but the harvest is worth the risk because the sourness from the cherries beats the tamarind sauce of the previous year. Webs of lineage forged by love are woven in her words, prerequisites for such a story to have happened. The world floods through those words, carrying family and histories in them – each word saturated with a sense of colour and richness even she might not recognize, though she speaks them.

Liberation is not found in what can only be simple death. It is found in the undulations between joy and heartache of each moment we embody and how richly we are able to live in the spaces between. I listen to her story and think of the person on the tracks, not knowing their fate, quiet since the flooding stopped, and the scribes of memory are silent.


This article was written by Nakita Valerio, owner and editor in chief of The Drawing Board. Nakita  is an academic, activist and writer in the community. She is currently pursuing graduate studies in History and Islamic-Jewish Studies at the University of Alberta.  Nakita was named one of the Alberta Council for Global Cooperation’s Top 30 under 30 for 2015, and is the recipient of the 2016 Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, as well as the Walter H. Johns Graduate Studies Fellowship. She has also been honoured with the State of Kuwait, the Queen Elizabeth II and the Frank W Peers Awards for Graduate Studies in 2015. She has been recognized by Rotary International with an Award for Excellence in Service to Humanity and has been named one of Edmonton’s “Difference Makers” for 2015 by the Edmonton Journal. Nakita is also the co-founder of Bassma Primary School in El Attaouia, Morocco.


While there is not yet any evidence that this incident was a suicide, if you are suffering with suicidal ideation or are contemplating suicide, please call 911 for emergency medical assistance in your area. For more information on mental health services in Edmonton, Alberta: click here. For everywhere else, please contact your local health service provider.

Recently there have been a string of terrorist attacks across the globe in places like Lebanon, Istanbul, Dhaka, Baghdad and Saudi Arabia. The latter country saw three attacks in one day at the end of the holiest month in the Islamic calendar (Ramadan), the most recent of which was a suicide bombing right outside the Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) mosque in Medinah. While many have used the occasion to point out how un-Islamic ISIS must be for such an attack, the reality is that Muslims already knew this long ago. And it’s not only ISIS which has it out for us. Only the day before, a bunch of Islamophobic incidences and violence acts against Muslims occurred in the USA and Canada, and the combination has left Muslims around the globe reeling.

As a Muslim, each successive attack has left me at a greater loss for words and full of a deeper, more infinite sorrow. Elsewhere, I have written:

This Ramadan, my heart bled for Orlando, Lebanon and Istanbul. It continued bleeding for Dhaka. And now for Baghdad.

All along, there has been a constant consciousness of the chaos and destruction in Syria and Iraq, in Yemen, in Palestine. Of injustice and violence in Burma, China and many other places around the Muslim world.

Hate crimes against Muslims in the West are on the rise.

The prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, said that there will come a time when holding onto the religion of Islam will be like holding a hot coal.

I cannot say if that time is now but I will remain holding it, my hands burning, heart bleeding until there is nothing left of me.

They are killing us. What more can we do? There must be more we can do.

This was before the attack in Medina happened. When the news broke, I could barely process it. I still fail to. One scholar has simply stated, “There are no red lines anymore.” Although the loss of life in all cases has been deeply troubling and tragic (particularly in Iraq where it has been so massive and where the international community has utterly failed), there is something I haven’t been able to properly put my finger on about a group attacking the mosque of our beloved Prophet Muhammad. It feels much more personal than ever before.

Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that victims elsewhere are not necessarily Muslim or that they could be from minority Christian or Jewish groups, just as perpetrators may identify with any and all of us too. We have been the oppressors too, after all. Rigid labels are rarely (if ever) productive or illuminating, however, at this particularly point in history, it is hard not to notice that far-right militant, hate-fuelled Buddhists, white supremacists, atheists, secularists, Christians and Jews all share a common scapegoat in us. I have a hard time identifying myself with an “us” and them with a “them”. I’m uncomfortable with how these attacks have made my own categories more rigid.

Where other attacks might be analyzed as arising from political or social issues that only tangentially refer to religion or use religion conveniently, an attack on one of the most sacred places in Islam truly feels to me like an attack on every single believing Muslim. What was deeply wrong and evil before has reached a level that defies description for those of us that subscribe to a Muslim identity.

And it doesn’t matter where this is all coming from. As I said, similar attacks are happening from many sides via all kinds of perpetrators in numerous areas of the world. As a junior historian, I am deeply uncomfortable with comparing these incidences but I simultaneously cannot look away from them. That our Deen contains prophecies that echo our current moment makes it all the more unnerving.

How can Muslims today feel calm? How can they feel safe?

There are many suggestions from more learned scholars of our Deen for how to do this, so I won’t go into those here, but instead I would like to talk about the other side of things: what others can do to make Muslims feel safe.

When I saw the news that a Muslim man was shot and stabbed on his way to the Houston mosque for sunrise prayers, I immediately thought of a distant acquaintance of mine who also lived there. I thought to send him a message to see if he was alright and warn him to “be careful.” It turns out that it was that very friend who had fallen victim.

It is difficult to describe the sickened feeling that enters your stomach when you realize that someone you know was shot as a possible hate crime. Though police now say it was an attempted robbery, that sickened feeling lingers all the same, rearing its ugly head every time a hijabi appears on the news for being spit on or being called a sand n****r on the train, every time someone spins gravel at you while you cross the street, every time someone tells you how uncomfortable you make them (or just mutters it under their breath).

In the current divided political climate, how helpful is it to tell our friends to “be careful”?
After reflecting, I have to say, not very.

In fact, it might be counterproductive to what they need. Instead of telling them to “be careful” (thereby putting the onus on them to remain safe), you can simply make them feel safe as a non-Muslim ally by checking in with them, letting them know that you love them, and even though you can’t necessarily imagine it, you have an idea of how hard it must be right now and how down-trodden they might be feeling about international events.

An archaeologist friend of mine fills this role flawlessly. Every single time there is a terrorist attack and the news breaks, there is a message from her in my inbox within seconds. Sometimes she expresses dismay without even needing to contextualize it (“I can’t believe it.”) Sometimes it’s just the name of a place. Other times she simply asks if I am alright.

There is always a discussion and space held for me to just feel what I need to feel. After Orlando, when it felt inappropriate for Muslims to express how unsafe they were feeling from the Islamophobic backlash, she listened while I worked through my anger and frustrations with the self-declared daesh shooter, my own community (and its relationship to the LGBTQ community) and the rest of the world. She listened while I went on a hellfire-laden rant (even without her necessarily believing in hellfire) about the Baghdad and Medina perpetrators, praying for God’s curse on their heads.

I don’t know what these exchanges mean.

I just know that if there is a her and there is a me, and both of us can reject hatred and embrace love, and both of us can deeply mourn the loss of life, sobbing at our desks at work or over the dishes in the sink, then there is something comforting in that. Something comforting in the fact that in a world that has gone mad, there are still people who reject madness and who will openly stand with you while they do it.

I am told this is the majority of people and, to keep going emotionally some days, I have to believe that. But I definitely wonder.