flight or flight. it’s something i’ve been aware of conceptually for quite some time now. but recently i watched a documentary on stress and how the fight or flight response is only part of what is called the general adaptation syndrome, which exists in 3 stages. the alarm reaction stage where your fight or flight response is triggered. the resistance stage. and the exhaustion stage.
the first stage is pretty straightforward. it is one’s response to stress that triggers a series of physiological events. increased heart rate, release of cortisol and adrenaline etc. the second stage is what got me. after the initial shock of an event, the body begins to repair itself by entering a recovery phase. but some stressful situations continue for extended periods of time. if you don’t resolve the stress and your body remains on high alert, it eventually adapts and learns how to live with a higher stress level. in this stage, the body goes through changes that you’re unaware of in an attempt to cope with stress.
your body continues to secrete the stress hormone and your blood pressure remains elevated. you may think you’re managing stress well, but your body’s physical response tells a different story. if the resistance stage continues for too long of a period without pauses to offset the effects of stress, this can lead to the exhaustion stage (we’re all familiar with exhaustion)
it got me because what if i have spent more time in the resistance stage than i care to imagine. because taking a moment to allow it all to sink in, it is clear as day that the fight or flight mode has been activated for the majority of my life. amplified intensely by the departure of my mother and loss of home at 17.
it’s pretty easy to work out how my mum leaving and losing my safe space sent me spiraling into the abyss. the past 13 years are sufficiently fresh in the memory of my obsessive mind for me to analyse where being in a constant state of threat and exhaustion from stress would have caused me to behave in erratic, extreme and irrational ways (labelled as crazy by the outside world). i now know that i was trying to replace the safety i felt with my mum by searching for a relationship (not good), a person who would love me and accept me and give me a home. desperation, which caused a whole series of unintelligent decisions that have caused some serious ptsd.
going further back, i know my schooling years were filled with constant trauma, fear and triggers. i was always smart enough, but as i could never quite figure out how to get my homework done or be interested in the things that did not interest me, showing up for school day in and day out was my personal hell. knowing that at some point (or multiple points) throughout the day, i’d be asked to hand in my book. something i could not do, because of obvious reasons stated above. i believe i spent a few years in a state of constant fear and fatigue until i could no longer take it and decided to protect myself by attempting to not care (which was then labelled as rebellion and misbehavior).
but setting that aside, my struggle existed beyond homework and studying. i struggled socially as well. every morning/afternoon before school was filled with anxiety. as was every recess. not knowing if the few people i felt were my friends would be around for me to sit with. or if they were going to be there by themselves rather than in a group i did not feel a part of. having to sit alone. not that spending time with myself was ever a problem. i love my alone time. but sitting alone when i was surrounded by peers, the feeling of rejection or not being fun or cool or anything of value for anyone to want to come sit with me. the bell ringing was something i looked forward to, signaling an end to all the uncertainty of what i was supposed to do and knowing i could count on the consistency and comfort of having a fixed place in class…….but of course that was only temporary because of the homework issue above.
mhmm. just a roundabout of torture.
i believe being mixed race at a time where there were about 3 of us in total, meant that i never felt like i fit in anywhere. not with the chinese. not with the indians. and being mixed in a way where my mum was not really chinese and my dad was certainly not indian meant that for the most part, i had no identity. because i truly did not identify with anything. i do know that being mixed race is a very real struggle for most mixed people and we deal with identity issues throughout our lives. but that alone is not it. because i saw my mixed race peers thrive. as being mixed was not something that was looked down on. in fact, it was always a rather cool thing. and in all honesty, i don’t think i was ever invisible. i think i could have been just a regular accepted kid if i didn’t keep getting the better of myself. if my anxiety and fears and discomfort didn’t keep getting in the way, causing me to act in all kinds of stupid ways, which only made things worse.
so then, i have to go back even further. which is where i struggle to know what i’m piecing together. because i don’t remember much prior to being 10. memories exist in small clips. there are happy ones, but there are also equally traumatic ones. relating to school and piano. i suppose that’s all normal. except that i was not a normal child. i highly excelled in the departments that i did (music, piano, certain subjects) and was top of the class and performed musical recitals. but i also spent half a year in primary 1 standing by the side of the door crying, refusing to enter. i was terrified. i remember on multiple occasions begging my mum to let me not go to school.
……was it the immense pressure to be great and knowing i could not that stressed me out? i don’t have recollection of my parents pushing me, but the feeling of needing to be special is embedded within me. as is the feeling of needing to be liked. it makes sense as far as thinking of my dad goes. because even though my memories are mostly of my mum, my dad is such a strong personality with VERY strong opinions and i feel as though the pressure to be special and liked came from him.
sometimes my mind is unable to shut off. because i believe the fight or flight has been triggered. even when i don’t want it to be. like, in the middle of the night. awake, unable to sleep despite trying to breathe it out. it happens less and less (partially thanks to the physical exhaustion of parenthood) but it happens nonetheless. the reason for trying to work all these things out is that i’d really like to know what is triggering this response. because i feel it trickle into my daily life. and i don’t know if the things i try to “fix” are a necessary job that needs to get done or an unnecessary obsession of looking for what’s broken that doesn’t need to be. where is the line?
i feel sufficiently happy with life, as in i have a home. i have a home that i love. my life has a direction and purpose. i am financially stable enough, more than i could have possibly imagined (considering i’m as good at work as i was with homework). i can pursue just about any creative outlet i seek. i am a mum. i love being a mum. i adore my daughter and can’t wait for the baby that’s on the way. i love being married and having stability in my relationship. i know all these things, and i do not pick them apart.
it is the finer details that gets to me. i believe i am still affected by the desire to be accepted and liked. something that is still touch and go because people’s emotions fluctuate. in some relationships i feel secure. in others i am uncertain. and in a few (the ones that remain present because i do not feel i have a say in), i do not. in my marriage, i feel uncertain. because while i know my husband loves me and is dedicated to our marriage 100%, he has his own struggles that make it a struggle for me to feel his love or presence fairly often. i believe this triggers my fight or flight.
and in those occasions, where perhaps i need to calm myself down to recover, i don’t feel i have set myself up well enough to do that. crafting is my go-to space. i have gotten good at breathing frustration away so i no longer escalate into a space of insanity. i could do with some yoga, which i struggle with in terms of discipline. but i feel as though a big one is the lack of social support of having friends and family to count on or go to. which refers to an absence of my mum, whom i still feel safest with. and an absence of friends (partially due to being in an faraway place, partially due to my inability to connect, partially due to not being like minded). emotional support that indirectly helps to sustain at times of chronic stress and crisis. like parenting. or having relationship struggles.
where/whom do i turn to? can i reduce the fight or flight being triggered? how do i get over this feeling of not having the connection i need? do i continue to seek it from a partner? in which case my husband does not fill that part of my cup. if i accept that my relationship is fine for what it is, where do i fill that part of my cup? should the changes be made internally or externally? removal or filling? a bit of both? i AM doing both. why does it keep going back to that space of alertness, trying to figure out what’s wrong. why does it wake me from my sleep and not let me go back? i feel as though i AM putting in the work to work through it instead of just numb it with distractions (although that does happen). should i just let it be? stop thinking? will that change the feelings? will it ever go away? or am i already built this way for good. that i have to keep facing the triggers. that all i can do is go through this loop again, until i have let all my thoughts run free, so i can be free. if even for just a moment.