After all the ups and downs yesterday, it was hard to sleep last night. I was exhausted, but also simultaneously super wound up. I tossed and turned all night.
I’ve been writing this month kind of inspired by contemplating death, and yesterday my autonomic nervous system (the thing that’s supposed to keep us alive) was working on overdrive.
As a chronically anxious person for as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated with nervous system response. Adrenaline has to get pumping so you can run (or fight), move fast without hesitation. I can’t tell you how many times my hyper vigilant system has been startled by silly things.
One time, when I was still teaching yoga at Phillips Exeter Academy, I was leading a class to the storage closet to get props for meditation. As I opened this door to this dark conference room and switched on the lights I turned to see the whole football team and coaching staff watching footage of the previous week’s game. They all turned to me and blankly stared, and I jumped and said, “Oh my God!” and started running down the hall.
I guess it was a combination of being surprised that I didn’t notice 30 people sitting in a room with a window on the door or my humiliation. The funny thing is that the all teenage girl class just took off behind me giggling too because their teenage girls who just saw football players. Then I heard one of them say while squealing, laughing, and running: “What are we doing?”
And all of a sudden my feet stopped (I think I had gotten about fifteen to twenty feet) and I blurted out, “Oh yeah, I’m the adult in the room.”
Which of course made a giggling group of teenagers laugh even more. One girl fell down laughing so hard, “You’re the adult in the room. OMG hahahaha”
I turned back around and walked toward to room with the storage closet. We still needed our damn props after all. One of the assistant coaches came out and said, “You guys can come in and get whatever you need.” He looked more concerned and perplexed at me than anything. He knows it doesn’t take much to give teenage girls the giggles.
“Oh yeah, sorry about that…I just was startled.”
It truly was one of those moments where I wanted to crawl out of my skin. By now I know that, when we get in fight or flight we go to default mode much of the time reverting back to well worn patterns probably put in place as a child. (Although now we know, those patterns can begin forming before we are even born.)
Also, when you are in fight or flight, the part of your brain that controls cognition, all those wonderful behavioral standards, manners, and other great ideas kind of goes offline. So, you just start fucking running until a few seconds later it can catch up and say, “Hey, I don’t think that was a life threatening situation and you’re being a dang weirdo.”
When I get nervous, anxious, or do horribly embarrassing things out of fear, I practice being a little bit more compassionate. (Calling myself a weirdo isn’t part of that, probably.) While it isn’t necessary to know the root cause or event of every fear or response, it can be helpful to reflect.
Sure, I would run from a dark room filled with men. Considering my history that makes sense. (Yeah, it probably is an embarrassing thing to do at work, but my body didn’t have time to consider whether this was a true threat. My body just responded.)
Yesterday’s emotional roller coaster had all three of the universal triggers of stress: lack of information, lack of control, and lack of certainty. Maybe the hardest thing about it is that there wasn’t a room of men to run from. Maybe on some level having a house gives me a sense of security, belonging, or status which are pretty important things to social animals like us. So, while getting a house isn’t like fighting a predator in the wild, it can feel that way.
The threat felt real even if it wasn’t true.
I need more sleep.
PS – Thank you all for the many well-wishes and Congrats on the house. I have the best email list ever! This is for you. *smooches*