A journal of healing

Stretched to the last inch

rubber-band-01Tonight I thought I would write about what it feels like when I have a trigger. And also explain a bit about how stress grows and a reaction builds very easily. Most of the time, I do not know when a trigger happens. It sneaks up. Not tonight. Tonight, it was a pie in the face trigger. Let me explain. There has been a lot going on with me, so I am already in a heightened state, even higher than “normal” for me.
Because I have been in a heightened state for so very long, at least 58 years, it does not dissipate like someone who has not been exposed to trauma. Think of a rubber band that gets stretched. Over time, it loses its elasticity. It becomes frail and can snap when one more pull on it occurs. If you look at a rubber band like that, you will see it actually is decomposing. The rubber crumbles and pits. This is very much like what it feels like when you come down off a freeze or even more so a flight or fight. You are spent. And the human body will crumble and decompose faster with constant stretching or stress.
If the rubber band is given time to relax and not get stretched again, it will go back to its original condition…. to some degree. This is what a normal reaction would be like. People who have a normal nervous system would maybe fly off the handle for a bit and then calm down and be alright in short order. They return to homeostasis, or all systems are even and functioning at a normal rate.
For someone who has had developmental trauma or PTSD, homeostasis does not happen quickly or easily and in some cases not at all. The system is always a bit heightened. So let’s say for this writing, you start off at you are at 0 in a scale of 0-10 in the “homeostasis” rating scale. This 0 represents a calm even demeanor. Something sets you off and you rise to a 7, and with a bit of time, you go back down. But you now go back to a 1. This becomes your new normal. Something sets you off, and you go to an 8, and then back down only to 2. You experience a lot of negative stimulation, (think stress and trauma) and because it is coming at you fast and constantly, you never have enough time to release and go back down. Like the rubber band, you may snap or become stretched out.
But many people who have this experience define their new normal and “stuff it”. They have no clue that their level is not normal and that they do not experience homeostasis. For them, they are always a bit heightened. And so when you run around at a five all, and I mean ALL the time, it takes nothing to get to 10. A simple trigger such as someone saying the wrong thing can put you into orbit. It may not have anything to do with the actual event.
Have you ever seen a garbage can with the spring lid and you leave it open for a long time, they get out of shape and won’t close tight. Using that analogy: you are going along; the garbage can lid on the amygdala is slightly open, oozing a bit of coding that is telling your glands to secrete a bit of hormones into your body. So now you are simmering with cortisol and a bit of high blood pressure. Your digestive track may be revving slightly or in my case, slowing down, you are breathing a little shallow and your heart is slightly elevated say at 90 bps. No biggie if this has become your normal for a while. You actually get used to it. And if for any reason the lid closes completely, you actually may feel tired, sluggish or “off”.
So my lid is always open. Then something happened to me tonight that set me off. I flew off the handle at a ridiculous thing. It was not ridiculous to me at the time. It was horrible. I have been simmering a bit higher than normal all week anyways. We have a situation in the family which could impact the dynamics of my household completely and will be very stressful. My husband’s ex-wife and the mother of his only daughter is dying. We found out tonight they had to intubate her. She is in ICU with no kidney or liver function. Not good. She is only 52. It is a long story, but his daughter has been living with her for the last 9 years. She is 25. So there is a lot going on with that. Then, he and I are looking into our retirement possibilities. Tonight after we had called her, I went to check out my teaching pension and it is so confusing it was starting to set me off. Then I read something and I lost it. I flew off the handle in a reaction that was totally unrealistic to the situation. It scared the crap out of me that I might not have a pension at all.
My body slammed full of toxins, the cortisol and epinephrine hormones flooded me. I became red, hot and my hands tingled. My skin was electric. I tried to talk (actually yell) and made absolutely no sense. This happens a lot to me and I get very frustrated. It too is a chemical reaction to stress which shuts down the language center. When I get frustrated, it adds fuel to the fire. I felt trapped like someone was holding me and I want to run away and I cannot. (This is also my common reaction and it manifests in chronic pain in my legs. This is another blog post.) My practice is to burst into tears in frustration and anger and that usually stops the building of the hot mess I am becoming. Then as I s l o w l y come back, I do not come back all the way. I always have a headache AND as an extra bonus, there is usually guilt and remorse for being such a jack ass and flying off the handle.
I disassociate from myself during the drama. I actually watch myself as I react which is very weird but part of the techniques I have learned to use to deal. It helps to bring me back faster. After an event, I think about how similar my behavior is to the behavior my father demonstrated, only he added physical violence to his rage.
The thinking part of my brain that would normally have thought out that “I need to investigate this” which was not accessible at all to me at the moment of the trigger. And because my husband was there and he reacted to my reaction, it added to the circus of the event. Even the little dogs know to get out of the way and hide. That really makes me feel bad. As I got older, I had these “events’ more often. It was really a horrible way to be. I was easily provoked. I am a little better at not getting provoked so easily. I actually have walked out on situations where people have started to push buttons, which is really great. It stops the person in their tracks when you walk away or out of a room when someone is yelling at you. I remove myself as the target and it makes me proud that I stood up for myself. Win-win.
I will say this as I like to always end on a positive note. Like I said, I have found some techniques to help me be calmer more often and more reliably. I will share more of them later. But in the heat of a really strong stimulus, I am still pretty weak. Nothing like thinking you have no money to retire on to tweak you especially when your family is being rearranged again. I have learned to “see” myself in the event and since I do not like that person, I burst into tears and release the anger. Unfortunately, I still need to work on the guilt, but I am better.
The long and short of it, at least I am still here in this world having my temper tantrums. I am not lying in ICU with a machine keeping me alive. Life is precious, every moment. I am very grateful for all of my experiences. Even those days when I feel like a spent rubber band.

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Comments on: "Stretched to the last inch" (1)

  1. risinghawk said:

    I wrote a piece on my old Web Site Called “Pop,” (I still have a copy of it in my office. I kept copies of all of the essays I wrote), and it used similar analogies – though in that one I was speaking more of how suicides might happen unexpectedly. Great piece of writing! Peace . . .

    Like

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