Over the years, I have referred a lot to my dysfunctional childhood, but by simply calling it “dysfunctional” I’ve been downplaying it. Most people’s childhood can be described – in some way or another – as “dysfunctional”. Mine was spent in a perpetual state of fight or flight: worrying about when the next bad-thing would happen. Subsequently I grew up to be very hot headed and outspoken; getting into pointless fights and falling out with people was an every week occurrence.
Was the partying element of my youth (a so-called addictive personality), actually an acute yearning for true and deep connection? Looking back, I think it was. No wonder this was so tricky in my teens and early 20’s: when I was making shitty life decisions and poor friend choices. Essentially, still living in fight or flight mode. Finally (thankfully!) at forty I’m at peace with myself. Genuinely able to look at my past as lessons learnt – one of those annoying people who has absolutely NO REGRETS. It’s been a long old road, though, so I thought it might be useful to write this piece in case it helps with something you’ve got going on.
What is the flight or fight response?
This in-depth article explains the long version. In short, fight or flight is the way our body intuitively informs us of threats. After a series of messages are sent to various parts of the brain, hormones are released and we react accordingly. Once stress is experienced, the emotional processing part of the brain (the amygdala) sends a distress signal to the area of the brain which communicates to the central nervous system (the hypothalamus). Adrenaline will be pumped into the body, setting off a chain reaction of behaviours. Including: the heart beating faster; senses becoming sharper; lungs opening up to allow more oxygen to be breathed. Nutrients are released into the bloodstream, providing extra energy. All this could feasibly happen before we’ve even opened our eyes and seen the threat.
Unless we are in grave danger and have to literally run for our lives, most of our stress now comes from environmental factors. For adults, this often occurs in the workplace, and can be very valid. What concerns me is when I see people creating their own stress out of nowhere. Is the state of the traffic or a minor inconvenience really worth putting your body through the experience I’ve just described above?
Falling off the cliff
When you have lived with chronic stress, the way I have, getting out of fight or flight can be ridiculously tough. We have to work much harder to remain level and not fall off the cliff edge. Things that come naturally to most simply don’t for people like us. Memories have to be made-peace-with and put into neat little boxes. We must learn to navigate our thoughts and redirect our energy elsewhere. If our natural instincts tell us to fight, when there is no real threat, we have to learnt to remain still. Tongues need to be bitten and the words our mouths desperately want to say stay in our heads.
This process can be thoroughly exhausting, but there is great power in not reacting to absolutely everything. In not allowing minor inconveniences get to us, or having to comment on everyone else’s opinion (no matter how wrong we might think they are). Our views and beliefs are just that – ours – and everyone else has their own. Rarely will they be persuaded from them or, sadly, even be willing to engage in a two way debate.
It has taken me many years to get to this point. Where I’m mostly capable of being in the same room as someone I deeply oppose, but don’t allow their opinions to get the better of me. I always say mostly in situations like this, because I am a work in progress, as we all are. I’m getting much better at letting thoughts come and go. My default reaction to unpleasantness is no longer anger or resentment. I hardly go into fight or flight mode these day, unless I’m being vigorously shaken out of a deep sleep.
Why you haven’t seen much of me on social media lately
As I mentioned recently, I’ve taken a massive step back from social media this summer. I’ve posted a few bits on Instagram, but decided to deactivate my personal Facebook account for a while. I don’t know how long it’s going to last, but I do know that it feels good to be completely off it.
Facebook adds nothing to my world, yet ten minutes on the platform can leave me feeling wretched and it’s just not worthy of my stress. If something I’m doing on a daily basis leaves me drained, then it’s time for a break. A bit like my reasons behind ditching the booze.
Letting the need for catharsis pass
Two years ago, I would share all-the-ups and all-the-downs (this blog is nothing if not an authentic account of my life). However, I can see now that my desire for catharsis back then would override so many other factors. I look back on the rawer pieces I’ve written with a big old mixed bag of emotions. I’ve always thought of this space as therapy with the added benefit of helping others feel less alone. For a long time it provided me with a creative outlet – something for me amid the chaos of the parenting trenches. The community was very tight knit and supportive. But, like everything in life, the blogging landscape has evolved. It’s a different place now, and although I won’t be pressing the delete button, I don’t feel the way I used to anymore.
Perhaps it’s because my children have all grown to loathe me being on my phone? I’ve got to admit, I’m starting to think it’s hypocritical of me to limit their screen time to two hours a day, yet not abide by the same rules myself. Just like those pesky thoughts that get inside our minds, and set off the downward spiral, I’m learning to let the urge to instantly share pass. Be that on the blog, social media, on text or calls. While there can be temporary relief in offloading and venting, it can become destructive. It can prevent us from concentrating on the issues staring us in the face. And sometimes, it can keep us locked in flight or flight. Reliving the not-so-great bits prolongs the negativity, which can’t be good for anyone.
Again, this is a work in progress, but wholeheartedly the best thing for my little family right now. It’s been powerful showing the children my declining weekly screen time reports on my phone. They’re impressed with my efforts and can see that I’m trying to shed the habits they find so annoying. I’d also like to hope that I’m setting them a good example about responsible phone use for when they get one. With the new academic year upon us, my head needs to be in the right place.
Ploughing my limited resources elsewhere
Truth be told though, I am exhausted at the moment. Perhaps now that the kids are in a better place, and some nights I don’t even get woken up (unheard of for the last decade!) my body is saying: it’s time to take care of YOU. So I’ve been having lots of time off for good behaviour, and using my time as effectively as I can. This month, I’ve had no less than five child free catch-ups with great friends; Maddy and I are trying to find a home for our autism picture book; and I’ve had some brilliant feedback from agents for the novel, providing a new lease of life editing wise. All these things have boosted my wellbeing – I couldn’t have squeezed in hours of social media use into this month if I tried.
Coming out of fight or
Here are some amazing podcasts I’ve listened to recently, which you might also enjoy: