Fight, Flight, or Fright

Jasper is skipping his senior skip day today. Senior skip is an all day event, at an undisclosed location, a school sanctioned event that brings the senior class together for one final hurrah before graduation. Jasper, who is going to miss graduation to staff a leadership conference in southern ID, was really looking forward to it. His extended learning internship presentation is tomorrow. He doesn’t feel prepared, and knows it would take yet another all-nighter after a day of fun. This morning as I sat on the side of his bed, he stated. “Mom, I am just out of adrenaline.” Interesting, as I have been thinking about stress and our responses to it over the last few weeks.

We are mammals. When faced with stress, we dump adrenaline, which is a life saving response. We either face our predator and fight, or turn tail and run like hell. This is beneficial when the threat is real. When Jim and I were attacked in Paraguay, he turned and faced our assailants (after throwing me 10 feet back up the road.) I ran and yelled for help. He emerged from the event with a broken face. It took me 10 years of rural living to be able to walk after dark….and I still am very aware of anyone walking behind me on a sidewalk. Adrenaline is a life saving hormone when the threat is real.

Jim was a bit of an adrenaline junky. It was measured, he knew he had a wife and kids counting on him staying alive, but he was always pushing the envelope a bit. The weekend  that the tumor finally grew enough to make him feel sick, he had planned on boating the North Fork of the Payette. Class V water. Crazy in my book, a craving in his. Jim was a fighter…in his athletic activities, in his work procrastination, and in disagreements. It took a certain level of stress to get him there, but then he was fast and furious.

My typical response is to run. I still run home if I am out late downtown, and choose to come home alone before my friends leave. I get the adrenaline dump when I scout a rapid….and usually can’t take pictures of my kids coming through…because I just can’t watch. I over prepare for work presentations and social events, because I know I have the endurance for the long haul. In a disagreement, I run away, either physically or emotionally. I don’t like the feeling of an adrenaline dump, and I avoid it whenever I can.

When Jim was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, it was stressful. The stress was real. I couldn’t run from it. I couldn’t avoid it. I had to face it and fight. It was also an endurance contest. 14 months is a long time to fight. The nutrition counselor involved in Jim’s care prescribed an adrenal support supplement for him, recognizing that a cancer diagnosis and the chemo involved is stressful on a body. When Jim’s tumor grew and he opted for no more chemo, he stopped taking the supplements. All of his responses were muted, by the tumor location itself, and by the increasing numbers of sedatives he was on to combat the seizures. I started taking the adrenal support. Watching someone die is stressful. I needed all the help I could get.

After Jim died, I recognized a third response to adrenaline. Fright. Fright, as in almost catatonic, I can’t think or move, kind of fright. Fright is staring at death, knowing it is coming, and almost wishing it would just happen quickly. I did not really want to die, so I was very careful about not exposing myself purposefully to adrenaline inducing events. My adrenals were shot. I went back country skiing, but I stayed on the lower slopes. I did easy rivers last summer, and let my kids or friends row the hard stuff. I took rides from friends after a night on the town, and I stuck to running rather than mountain biking on the trails on Moscow Mountain. I began to accept that I might never get to row class IV rapids again, and that staying completely in my comfort zone was just part and parcel of aging…and aging as a widow.

This spring, something odd started to happen. I said yes to a back country ski trip in unknown terrain, and had a blast.  I have a work presentation next Monday, that I initiated. I am prepared, but not overly so, and I am really looking forward to it. I’m mountain biking again, and pushing it a bit. I’ve fallen a few times, which reminds me to focus. I’m not buckling in disagreements, and am able to state clearly what I feel and need. A friend invited Jasper and I on a Middle Fork trip in early July, and I said yes. In searching myself for a response…I realized that I wasn’t frozen, I was excited. My adrenals are back, and I know how to use them.

When I got home from work yesterday, Jasper was laying in the fresh-cut grass. He wasn’t sleeping, he wasn’t taking pictures of spiders, he was just laying there. Frozen. Fright. Depleted adrenals. He is home today recharging his adrenals. I will fuel them with letting him sleep until 10:00, and then breakfast of bacon and eggs. He will finish his preparation in the daylight.  I need his adrenals to recharge. I may still scout a rapid on the Middle Fork, and want him to row. I’ll take pictures.


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One Response to Fight, Flight, or Fright

  1. Lisa O says:

    I really like this post Kathy and can identify. Am thankful for your journey. Have a great summer!

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