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What Life Is Like With an Overactive Fight, Flight and Freeze Response

Today has been a very long day. I am exhausted, partially because it was another long day of adulting and being super pregnant, but also because I have a wildly overactive fight-flight-freeze response. This response got triggered today because my husband and I tried to build our baby’s crib and it turned out to be faulty.

At first we didn’t realize the parts were wrong, so we both got frustrated when they simply wouldn’t go together like they were supposed to. This is totally natural, and I was just as irritated and frustrated as my husband, and yet, something about his anger (directed entirely at the crib, not at me) still set off my fight-flight-freeze response.

I’m a freezer. My brain has learned that fighting almost always makes the situation worse, and running betrays the panic I feel inside which could also make things worse. So I just freeze up, get quiet and hope the “threat” will wear itself out and go away. In this particular case, I was hoping the pieces would magically work and all the frustration in the room would melt away. That didn’t happen though. Instead the frustration kept mounting, and more and more of my brain started to get taken over by sheer survival instinct, until I was completely frozen and ready to burst into tears.

I hate this. I understand that a faulty crib is obnoxious and frustrating, but not the end of the world. I recognize that my husband has every right to be just as upset with the faulty parts as I was, and to express that anger with some muttering and mild swearing. I wish I could have just sworn at the faulty parts too, and moved on to ordering new ones. That would have been a perfectly normal, acceptable response that wouldn’t have derailed my whole day. But my brain is not great at normal, acceptable responses. Instead, it loses its damn mind any time anyone in my vicinity is even mildly upset.

The truth is, I feel responsible for others’ emotions. And when they’re strongly negative, I feel like I’m either at fault, or in danger of being at fault for failing to fix it or respond to it the correct way. I feel all this in some deep, core part of me that my big brain can’t get to, so my freeze response takes over even when I intellectually know it will only make me feel worse.

Freezing means going into survival mode; which means using up a ton of mental and physical resources, and leaving me completely and utterly exhausted. When the frozen feeling finally starts to recede, it sucks when it’s 3 in the afternoon and you had plans for the day beyond crying and napping.

I managed to get through my day (in no small part because my husband was incredibly kind when he noticed I was not acting super normal), despite also juggling his own emotions of frustration. But I also have to give myself some credit. In the past, a freeze response like this may have led to an all-out breakdown lasting several days and involving unhealthy amounts of ice cream. Now, though, I have a much better understanding of why my freeze response is so sensitive. Even though I still can’t change the core part of me that freaks out whenever someone near me is upset, I am getting more and more of a grip on it intellectually, and to a certain extent, that helps. I have put in a lot of work, and part of me is disappointed that I’m still so prone to these panics, but another part of me is thinking…”huh, when was the last time I had one of these freeze responses?” Because it used to be all.the.time. I’m making progress, even if that progress is slow and doesn’t always feel great…and it’s important to remember that.

Follow this author’s journey at Megan Writes Everything. 

Photo credit: ilterriorm/Getty Images