Fight, Flight or Freeze?

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The world isn’t really built around the introverts.

We are quiet; we are shy. We think deeply but our thoughts rarely make their way unscathed, to our mouths. By the time it is our turn to speak, we have broken out into a cold sweat and everything we intended to say has come stuttering and stumbling from a tongue that has suddenly grown two sizes and is impossible not to trip over.

They don’t call it ‘tongue-tied’ for nothing.

I remember my early years, working in the field of adult education with a group of wonderful people who had decades more experience than I did. We came from all over the province and we didn’t see one another often. When we did meet, there was always a great deal to discuss and to decide. One of their favourite ways to end a two-day brainstorming session was to do a final round-table where everyone was invited to wrap up their thoughts about the meeting before we all went back to our own towns and cities.

I used to dread those round tables with every single fibre of my being.

For the life of me, I couldn’t understand why everyone else seemed to enjoy it so much. As they got started (and I always seemed to be the one who ended up going last), I would go very still and my heart would start pounding so hard I was convinced everyone in the room could hear it. After I had attended a few of those meetings, I learned to prepare a bit: jotting down little bits of what I hoped were intelligent sound bites throughout the two-day meeting in preparation for ‘my turn to speak’. But sometimes, the chairperson would surprise us with a round-table question that seemed to have nothing to do with the topic we had been discussing.

They don’t call it ‘fight, flight or freeze’ for nothing, either.

In my early twenties, I devised a strategy: I had learned to swim late (in my teens) and despite all odds, I became pretty good at it. I decided to visualise every challenge I would come up against as a dive into the deep end of the pool. In all the pools I ever dove into, never; not once, did I drown. And I told myself, no matter how anxious I was going to feel, the outcome had to be better than anything I was imagining.

The trick, I determined, was to visualise every experience that caused me anxiety with the same positive outcome: no matter how awful it felt, I was not going to die. For many years thereafter, before being called upon to speak publicly, I would feel the heavy knot of fear in my chest; I would start to sweat; I would feel my tongue start to knot up.

And then I would close my eyes and just…dive.

I don’t recall when I stopped needing to do that. I have no idea when my heart stopped pounding; when the words I needed were just…there. At some point, with no real fanfare, it must have just happened. When I look back over the last decades, there are so many things I have been able to do; so many things my twenty-year-old self could not have dreamed of doing. Because every time you close your eyes and dive into the deep end, it really does get a little bit easier the next time.

To those of you just learning to dive, please know this: I see you. I remember that feeling. I know how hard it is. Don’t give up. And please be good to yourself: you should be awfully proud of how far you have come. You are going to be just fine.

And one day, perhaps you’ll be giving someone else the same message I have just given to you… xoxo

Thanks so much to Don’t mind me, I’m justanervousgirl/ Too Much at Once? for the inspiration…

Patti Moore Wilson/© wednesdayschildca.wordpress.com

Author: Patti Moore Wilson, wednesdayschild2

I write what I feel. And I rarely know exactly what I feel until I write. I have lived long enough to have known many joys and many sorrows. I have made many mistakes; I have forgiven myself for a few… I have learned that there are lessons in every step of this journey, if we only take the time to pay attention… I hope you will feel free to pick and choose the stories that resonate for you…

37 thoughts on “Fight, Flight or Freeze?”

      1. Thank you Charlie… so darned much…🙏💕💕💕 And Ana, just because you cannot stand the suspense… I think Potatoes and the Promise of More Potatoes was one of the very first (if not the first???) blog I followed. Charlie is funny and irreverent; has the quickest humour of anyone I know and uses that humour to hide the fact that he is a deep well in disguise. He has gently corrected a spelling mistake or two along the way and oh, I do trust his judgment. I’m not sure I would have continued to write without his encouragement (and oh, ‘encouragement’ is not a good enough word) 🙏🙏🙏💕

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Hi Patti. Two things. In school I developed a stutter of sorts, I could not speak any word that started with the letter “l”, as in “letter!” I was somehow able to do a work-around, avoiding using l-words, until my family moved to St. Boniface, where we had French classes every day. The French language is littered with l’s. And every student in class was made to stand up and read aloud at least one paragraph in French every class. Sweat would pour down my forehead as my turn to read aloud approached. To use the term “tongue-tied” does not come close to describing how I felt. Invariably the first word in any French sentence is “le, la, or les” and I stood there red-faced because no sound would come out of my mouth. I finally learned to cope by making a silent-as-possible gutteral sound which I could follow with an “l” sound, as in uh-le, or agh-la, which made my fellow students laugh and my teacher furious. By Grade 12 I conquered the stutter somehow, but I wanted to die every day until I did.
    As for the phrase “fight, flight, or freeze” I was in my 40s the first time my body froze on me. I worked in a somewhat dangerous field where people could explode in violence at any given second. I coped somehow for many years, but one day when a client exploded my body froze. Totally. I was unable to respond as my job required. A co-worker who found me standing there like a statue described me as having “the face of a dead person,” there was no blood in it. The second time it happened I got fired because someone got hurt whom I should have protected. That jarred my being. For the longest time I lived in fear of freezing again. Finally in my mid-50s I went back and got my university degree in Social Work (I had dropped out because of illness many years earlier!) and thus started a new career in addictions counselling, but I was never the same again. Even seeing the words “fight, flight, or freeze” puts me on edge reading your post.
    I know I am safe, but I cannot stop the visceral reaction of my body.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you SO much for such a raw and honest response. I am really sorry for the visceral response my post invoked in you. And I am sorrier still for the experiences you have lived through. I know I must sound so inadequate, but I think some things are just too deep for words. From the bottom of my heart, Namaste…🙏🙏🙏

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      1. Not to worry, Patti. What I am giving you are the memories. Even the visceral response is to the memory of old events. Your words are innocent.
        I can talk about these things, and others, now, because the events are in the past. I have always been a strong person, my sperm donor did me that one favour, albeit inadvertently. By trying to kill my spirit he taught me how to strengthen myself. It is a process that I continue even now in my so-called golden years. As close as I came, I never gave up, and never will. So thank you for giving me the opportunity to tell others about my experiences. Life is about sharing. I now know how to share.

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  2. Patti you amaze me how easily words flow from within you. Every day you can write something so profound. I wish I could do that because I think I have a lot inside my head too. But alas we all have individual gifts.. yours is to write and mine is to read

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    1. Awww… you always know just what to say, my friend… And you forget: I have heard you speak! You DO know how to share what is in your head; you are one of the most motivating people I know. I am so grateful for your support and your encouragement. I hope you know how much…xoxo 💕💕💕

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  3. “The world isn’t really built around the introverts.” It should be! Ugh, I can relate to your challenges. For you, it was diving. For me, I’ve survived the extroverted world by taking it one step at a time and remembering that we all have our own talents/skills/strengths. Thanks for sharing!

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      1. I own and have read Susan Cain’s book QUIET which, if it could be summed up in one sentence, that sentence would be “The world really isn’t built around the introverts”….and more’s the pity, because power is usually sought and gained by extroverts who, by their very nature, are neither introspective nor self-questioners. No wonder that most politicians and shallow thinkerss are extroverts!

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  4. Goodness, your fear response towards being called on at the round table is exactly how I feel in school and at work when I’m called on. I especially hate the “let’s go around and introduce ourselves” bit that always seems to happen everywhere for me. One class I am taking in-person now has a segment where we are divided into groups and have to generate ideas on a specific topic that was discussed in the lecture portion of the class. I loathe being the one to speak up for my group. I haven’t done it yet but I except I may just volunteer to do it at some point because the bottled up terror of fearing it and avoiding it is actually worse than doing it. Of course, in either situation I feel like I am going to die from anxiety. I keep expecting negative reactions from my peers due to how visceral my fear of humiliation is. There’s the acronym FEAR which stands for False Evidence Appearing Real. I have to remind myself of this the next time I am in fight/flight/freeze mode. It’s so hard to force myself to think rationally when the anxiety hits.

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    1. Bless you, how I remember that feeling 💕💕💕 My best advice: carry a little note book at all times and when you know you will have to speak (or just fear you might be called upon) jot down short one-or-two word notes about the things you intend to say (not unlike how many of us prepare to write). They will keep you on track – and actually listening to the conversation – and remind you what you wanted to say (and what you are able to say so eloquently, when you write 💕). I believe in positive energy and I believe it can be shared. If you give me your permission I would be honoured to keep your name on my little ‘sending positive, loving energy’ (a bit like Reiki) list. I have a few folks I do that for, every day… We are never completely alone, Nat. Just let me know if that would be okay…xoxo 💕

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      1. Oh gosh, I will really have to make a habit of jotting down notes like that, lol. I just hate so much during the class when groups have to share what their group discussed. And it’s not like my group designates who is going to speak so I have that one-two second to either speak up or keep silent and hope someone else from my group speaks for all of us. I can’t believe how much of a coward I am. I know it’s something I cannot avoid forever. In the class I have now, everyone has to at some point give a 5 minute oral presentation and also a 15 minute one. So if I cannot stand sitting in my seat and speaking a sentence or two about a class topic, I don’t know how I can manage to stand up in front of the class and speak. I am doing the presentation with another classmate, which makes it somewhat less daunting but also makes me as accountable for my part in the project, you know?

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      2. Oh, Nat, I do know… do people still use PowerPoints? Those are great for keeping you on point and remembering what you intended to say. And oh, you are not a coward: I think you are SO brave to be putting yourself out there when it is so hard. Not sure who said this: “bravery is not the absence of fear, but acting in spite of it” If that’s the case, you are as brave as a lion…xoxo

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      3. Yes, people still use powerpoints. The thing is I feel stuck between wanting to read everything off the slides but then that would be really boring and it would be better if I just have key points on the slides and the rest of the time I am explaining things from memory. However, I am terrified of eye contact especially when I am being looked at intently by more than one person, which is also why speaking up in class scares the hell out of me. In my every-day life, sometimes I find myself freezing for a second when someone looks at me when I start talking. Lately I’ve been trying to make more of an effort to catch myself when that happens and brush past it and just continue speaking normally. But it’s hard. This is an avoidant habit/behavior I’ve had since I was very young when I started to have trouble socially so it’s no wonder to undo everything is obviously not going to take a day or two or even months for me to kick the habit.

        Your support means the world to me. I might’ve had an easier start to life if I had more of a person like you back then. There are so many things I wish had been different. All that is over and done with, and everyday living with this much anxiety is a reminder that I have to rise above my past and change what I can for the future because of what I cannot change about the past.

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      4. I don’t mind you keeping my name on the positive vibes list. 🙂 I will try to remember that somewhere in the world, there is someone named Patti who is wishing me well every day!

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  5. Just dive in! I love this. For me, it’s all about practice. My mom would always tell me to try visualizing turns or something–I was a ballet dancer in my youth. But practice is the only thing that’s ever calmed my fears. I would also get terribly nervous to speak in front of a group. I hear you! What’s finally helped with that is that I started singing by myself, for masses and funerals and weddings. And I figure, if I can sing in front of others, I can speak. Still, I do feel that as an introvert I’m much better on paper. Your jotting notes makes a lot of sense. Without a few notes I am useless!

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