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This Different Way of Seeing My C-PTSD Flight Response Blew My Mind

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I opened my eyes and the first thought that popped in my head was: “I do not want to get out of bed.” The classic morning refrain for us countless many. After 40 minutes of arguing with myself, I pushed my way toward my coffee pot. I then dragged out my yoga gear and propped open my computer. “Time for Zoom class,” I dutifully told myself, as I then clicked “join meeting.”

• What is PTSD?

For a few years now, I’ve wanted to take a trauma-informed yoga class. I am someone who has faced trauma, and because of that, I experience complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD). So, when a local nonprofit offered up such a class free of charge, I called to register the minute they posted we could do so.

“This is only class two,” I argued with myself. “You are the one who wanted to take it, and you were thrilled with the opportunity. You should be happy, you should be participating, and you should turn your camera on….”

Death by a thousand shoulds.

Then it hit me, a feeling that I am all-too-familiar with — a feeling where my insides all but scream: “Run away as though your hair is on fire.”

Decades after my traumatic experiences, I’ve since learned this type of feeling usually means my flight response has been triggered. My nervous system is hardwired to scan my internal and external environment for what it perceives as a threat. Rightly or wrongly, when it detects something is amiss, I can be flooded with anxiety and a strong urge to flee.

This class encourages open dialogue, so if we are comfortable we can share the thoughts and emotions that arise as we participate. I wasn’t planning on saying much but eventually, I found myself typing into the Zoom chat.

“Right now, I have that feeling like I want to run away from everyone and everything, and the best I can do in this moment is show up.”

The teacher read my comment out and thanked me for sharing. She appreciated my honesty and was glad I had indeed logged on. And that’s when my fellow classmate responded with these words of wisdom:

“What if you aren’t running away from others; what if you are running toward yourself?”

I sat there stunned, or to use internet vernacular: “Mind blown.”

The conversation continued, and truthfully I didn’t hear (or read) much of it, as I was still dazed from this little turn of phrase.

What if I am running toward myself?

It’s OK if I don’t feel like doing something. It’s OK if I change my mind, struggle to get out of bed, choose not to turn on my camera, or I’m not particularly thrilled about interacting with others. These are choices I can make, and if I don’t make them, there are going to be times my nervous system chooses for me.

My inner critic can be a pretty noisy fellow at times, which is common for us folks with C-PTSD. The “shoulds” come out quickly and can spiral in my mind within seconds. Compassion — I have learned — is what helps to turn that volume down, compassion for myself and for my inner workings. I can be tired and not want to do something, and my nervous system can sense when I’m disregarding my own needs. Due to my history, it thinks the best thing for me in those moments is to give me a jolt I couldn’t ignore to get the heck out of Dodge. As my therapist would softly say, “of course.”

Now, I’m not denying there are times when things do need to happen, and situations where a little bit of pushing is necessary. It’s not as simple as never getting out of bed, but it’s OK for us to take a bit of time to listen to these feelings when they come up. And we can take some time to consider how we want to respond, which will indeed at times mean “not doing the thing.” Or maybe it means we “do the thing” but we go about it in a gentler, kinder, or more measured way.

I left my computer on for about another 20 minutes as the class continued, but I wasn’t paying attention. I started to ask myself some questions: “Is this class what I need today? Is sitting here but not participating helpful or is it distressing for me? Does it really matter one way or another what I choose?” And as these thoughts swirled around, I decided that on this day I was going to choose something else. I closed my computer, sat down on my couch and had another cup of coffee.

I was content, the flight response lifted, and the sky didn’t fall.

I ran to myself.

I ran to myself, and I don’t regret it. Yet, I also don’t regret that I did log on even though I wasn’t wanting to. Without having done so, I would not have heard this helpful turn of phrase. And I very much think this new slogan is going to help me with being kinder to my future self.

I share it hoping it can help you too. You can also run to yourself, with whatever significance that has in your circumstance. It may mean doing something hard because you need to, making an adjustment that helps you to be more comfortable, or it may mean finding a corner with your coffee in hand. And if you can’t quite run just yet, that’s OK too — perhaps you can meander or try a light jog.

If you enjoyed this article, please take a moment to check out some of my other articles here on The Mighty. If you’d like to follow along with my journey, you can find me on Instagram as @mentalhealthyxe.

Photo by Benjamin Elliott on Unsplash

Originally published: October 13, 2021
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