Thursday, May 2, 2013

Chaos To Calm: An Adventure Tale (or: There And Back Again). Plus: New Blog Features!

Hi there!

Moving is coming along nicely, but we have a lot to do between now and next Thursday, when the actual movers come. The Big Day.

So I'm not going to be able to write the second half of last week's post on Saturday. I'll get right back to it once we're in the new place.

Instead, I'll leave you with a couple of new features-- one of which might be of particular interest to my returning readers-- and a short medium-sized update about something Dr. Oz told me the other day that was a huge relief to hear.

First: I've added a quick-jump link to the very first post of this blog in the upper left corner of the home page, so you can find the beginning of the story without having to wade through the archive lists.

Second: I've added a Follow By Email button in the right sidebar so you can be notified whenever I post! Just enter your email address and hit "send." Your information will not be used for anything other than updates for this blog. Promise.

I was telling Dr. Oz about The Fog the other day, and how disorienting and frustrating it is to have things completely disappear from my memory as if they never existed, especially when I need to focus on details as I've had to do during this house-buying process.

"It doesn't make any sense," I said. "I was a professional person. I managed a team of people and a huge roster of students and a great deal of detailed information. I have the ability to do this. So it's scary to see this happening to me now. I feel like I'm going crazy, or like there's something wrong with my brain that won't allow me to retain information anymore."

"This is a trauma response," said the wise Dr. Oz. "You're being triggered by the major, life-changing things that are happening right now, and your body is doing what it has trained itself to do when it's triggered: it's going into fight-or-flight mode.

When that happens, the blood leaves the brain and goes to the extremities to facilitate movement, so you can run if you need to. Your thinking brain shuts down and stops processing  information that isn't essential to survival, so that you can focus your energy and attention on eluding the threat.

So you're not remembering these things because your brain is not recording them. It is an actual, physiological, neurological change that happens when your primitive brain is triggered."


Well. Holy shit.

That makes perfect sense. I've talked about this before: one of the signs that you've experienced a Capital-T Trauma is that everything happened in slow motion. This is because your brain has shifted from general-processing mode to hyper-vigilant, scan-for-threat-and-safety mode. You are no longer tracking time the way you normally do; your brain is completely focused on biological survival and is seeking only what is essential for escape.

In my case, years and years on, the kinds of threats I experience are not life-and-death, but they do upset my carefully-maintained equilibrium and my primitive brain reacts the same way. It finds a way for me to escape the scene. It isn't a physical escape, but it's an escape all the same: back into the world of disengagement.

Calm, smooth, regulated peace. My body wants that feeling a lot more than it wants stress. So when those stressful moments occur, when I need to keep track of a million things and make phone calls and wire money and pack up a household around two pre-schoolers and step into a new identity as a home-owner and all that it entails, my brain responds to the upset apple cart by shutting down its recording feature and pulling me out of the chaos and into the calm.

It's not entirely unpleasant, if I'm being honest. Being able to compartmentalize as thoroughly as I can is quite an asset during escrow. Smooth sailing! No worries here!

But it's not the same as living, not really. Stress is good, sometimes. Big, positive changes are meant to shake things up, and that can be exciting and motivating and fun.

I'm still straddling that line between my typical reactions and the reactions I'd like, at least theoretically, to have. Meaning that I'm still having the same reactions, but since I'm aware of them and aware of the alternative, I have a bit more influence on my lizard brain and can keep things from going too far. 

I'm staying as engaged as I can, and it's keeping me more in the game than I used to be. I'm not on the field yet. Or on the bench. Or even in the bleachers, some of the time. But I am in the stadium now. Every time I learn something new to help me mitigate the instinctive responses of my lizard brain, I take another step closer to the action.

(I was going to belabor the sports metaphor a bit longer and talk about someday getting a turn at the plate, but I think I'll spare you that. I've done quite enough for one paragraph.) 

The point is, it was a relief to hear that The Fog is a real, physiological response, because that means I can learn to prevent it. 

And also that I'm not losing my mind. So. Yay me.

And now I'm off to look at more paint chips, the mental cataloging of which apparently serves no threat to my lizard brain, because I could tell you a few things about how Pebble Gray, Aged Teak, Sweet Mandarin, and Pot of Cream in various finishes are going to look in my house, with nary a wisp of fog in sight.

1 comment:

  1. First off, I'm so psyched that it's now possible to get email updates when you post. Woohoo!

    Secondly, I'm fascinated to learn that when you go into flight-or-flight mode, your thinking brain shuts down. To the point where it can stop recording memories. Although not memories about paint chips, because even the lizard brain bows down before the might of Sweet Mandarin.

    As I get older, I tend to forget new traumas more quickly. I know I once got beat up on the subway, but I don't remember it. Thanks, lizard brain.