Taking positive action when TV and films become emotional triggers

A new movie portraying health challenges becomes too real

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by Brandi Lewis |

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Last week, I sat on my couch, curled up with a blanket, and turned on the movie “Sitting in Bars With Cake.” I watched the trailer before hitting “play,” understanding that an important piece of the story involved a young woman who received a life-altering medical diagnosis.

To be gracious, I’ll say that I watched the first 15 minutes before abruptly yelling, “Nope. I can’t watch it.” Then I turned it off.

I sat there thinking about the triggers I experience when a show like that incorporates a life-altering diagnosis into its plotline. On one hand, I’m grateful that the big screen depicts a little of my life’s story. (At a young age, I was diagnosed with paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria, or PNH, and aplastic anemia.) On the other hand, these types of movies prompt heavy emotions in me.

The triggers I feel are within my body. It’s as if everything I felt when I was diagnosed is new; the confusion, anger, fear, and heartbreak come rushing back. I’ll anxiously sit through the movie for another minute, and then another, until it becomes too much to bear.

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I love myself even though PNH works against me

My Sister’s Keeper” is another movie I’ve never been able to finish. It depicts a young girl who’s diagnosed with a medical condition and a sister who saves her life. Again, I feel like my own life with PNH is being shown on the screen. I was raised with two sisters, and when I was battling a health disorder, my siblings were affected as well.

I vividly remember parts of this movie that portray the sister’s perspective on her sibling’s hospitalizations and treatment. As I think back on my life, I realize that I was so focused on my own health and emotions that I never had the capacity to worry about how my sisters felt. Stories like these need to be told to show the real-life struggles that families face during health crises.

I’ve learned to deal with these types of triggers in different ways.

I talk about my triggers with a close friend or family member

After I’ve calmed my mind and body, I talk about my triggers with someone close to me. I always feel better when I can speak openly about these things. Having the confidence to acknowledge that I’m struggling with a trigger, or have just faced one, is important. A trustworthy support person can make me feel at ease.

I talk through the triggers with my therapist

Therapy is a great outlet for me when I’m having trouble. My therapist will help me talk through my emotions, work through the triggers, and answer the question “Why am I triggered?” I trust a therapist who understands my background and can give me advice from a logical and unbiased perspective.

It’s not always easy for me to open up to a therapist, but the more I talk to them, the more comfortable I become with sharing how I feel. Then we can get to work on helping me improve as a person.

I turn off the TV, then return to a show that calms me

In the heat of having negative feelings, I’ll turn off the TV, shed a few tears, and allow myself to feel the emotions instead of burying them. After a few minutes, I’ll console myself by watching a show that makes me laugh or otherwise feel positive emotions: happiness, joy, or excitement.

What I’ve learned is that even though I’m 15 years into my fight, I still battle my disorder in different ways. The fight will never be over, but I’ll always find ways to cope with and heal from my diagnosis. That’s perseverance!

Note: PNH News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of PNH News or its parent company, Bionews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria.