Proceed at Your Own Risk

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I was born into Generation X. Actually, there was recently a change in terminology for those, like me, born in 1976, but I don’t remember what that new term is, and I didn’t put any effort into finding it. Given how I was raised, there are times that my mindset tends to be closer to that of my Baby Boomer parents, and that may color how I look at the topic of this post, which is not about the various names for population demographics but actually trigger warnings. Trigger Warnings: those magical words that conjure up older people screaming about Millenials—who most people think range in age from newborn to whatever age the perceived offended person is—and how coddled and fragile they are. (Insert rolled eyes here.)

While I don’t agree that Millenials are what is wrong with the world today, I also don’t agree with trigger warnings when it comes to writing. “Why?” you may ask. Well, there are many reasons, and they are all wholly mine. That’s right, they’re my reasons, and you may or may not agree with them. And guess what? That’s okay. (And before I go further, let me say, I have my own mental health issues that I have to deal with. The most recent ones stem from working as a child abuse investigator.)

Publishers tend to stick to one specific genre, and if they want to publish other genres, they form imprints to focus on that. A Murder of Storytellers publishes horror and dark fiction. There are some light-hearted pieces thrown in here and there, but for the most part, you can expect murder/death/kill along with terror, blood, and horrific things that go bump in your brain. Basic internet research for any publisher or imprint will give you an idea of the types of works they publish. You owe it to yourself and to your mental health to do that research.

No one is responsible for my mental health but me. If I read—or watch, or hear—something that upsets me, it’s my responsibility to get away from it. The most recent example of this was an episode of Black Mirror. Now, I love this series. It’s sometimes way out there in terms of believability or concept. (That first episode of season one, am I right?!) However, I love the dark techno-dystopia feel of most of the episodes. The one that triggered me, though, was a little girl who wasn’t allowed to see anything upsetting or traumatizing, so she began self-harming. Well, as I mentioned above, as a child abuse investigator, I’ve seen more than my fair share of children harmed. When it was suddenly placed in front of me again, I started hyperventilating, becoming anxious, and could not turn it off fast enough. It took a while to recover, but I did.

I could have become upset that I wasn’t warned about what was going to happen, but I didn’t. It actually helped me look deeper into how the episode affected me. I already knew that I was experiencing secondary trauma related to my (thankfully) former profession, but this gave me further insight and helped me realize that I might also have PTSD because of it. The most important thing, though, is that it showed me that I had to step up and seek help for that. It’s my responsibility to take care of me. Others can help me with that process—for example, I can ask people not to recommend books that deal with children being abused—but it’s not on them to protect me. It’s on me to seek treatment and healing for myself.

If you have made it this far with me—even if you’re screaming at your monitor that I’m an idiot—I want to say one last thing. Only you know how deep and broad your trauma is. You may already be seeking treatment for it, and if you are, I’m proud of you. It’s not easy to do. I know from experience. Just remember that you are the most important person in your life, and it is up to you to protect and nurture yourself. No one else can do it as well as you can. So, do the research. Look into what you want to read before you read it.

Also, remember that the age of publishing we find ourselves in today, it is easier than ever to reach out to authors and engage them about their work. Authors love to talk about what they’ve written, and I think you’ll find most of them will be more than willing to give you brief details about a piece so that you can make an informed decision about whether it will be safe for you to read.

 Shannon Iwanski - Editor

Shannon Iwanski - Editor

Shannon Iwanski is the former president of the Tulsa-based writing group Nevermore Edits, a member of Oklahoma Writers' Federation, Inc., and Editor-in-Chief of Inkubus Publishing, LLC. To learn more about him and his plans to turn the world into a dystopian society, check out shannoniwanski.com.