Am I stuck in low-grade reaction mode?
I was reading a post recently by herbalist extraordinaire Maria Toll titled, “Reaction Mode, Yikes! Sit, Sip, Breathe.” She explains that in our fast paced modern life, where we operate under a multitude of pressures, it’s easy for our bodies to get stuck in a low-grade reaction mode. This reaction mode stems from the hard-wired fight-or-flight response (or more accurately called the fight-flight-or freeze response) controlled by our sympathetic nervous system. Basically, this response is how our bodies are built to react to significant stressors. Like a lion attack. This nervous system response allows our bodies to shut down “unnecessary” functions and respond to the immediate threat in front of us. It’s what helped our ancestors survive.
It’s what helps us survive modern day traumas too, like rape, war, car crashes, fires. Like IVF. Because IVF and pregnancy loss are traumatic. This flight-fright-or freeze response helps us get through the pain as best as we can in the heat of it all. But what happens when the traumatic event isn’t an isolated incident? What happens when we deal with this stress day in and day out, for years? That kind of prolonged stress response has a big impact on our bodies and emotions.
Now I’m on the other side of infertility. I have two daughters that are IVF miracles. I’m done. No more baby making for me. No. More. IVF. EVER. I’m lucky I made it to the other side. I exhale and think that everything is fine. Finally.
But as I was reading Ms. Toll’s post, I began to think…what if I am still stuck in low-grade reaction mode? As a psychologist, I know that that kind of prolonged stress does not simply vanish when you remove the person from the stressor. On the most severe end of the spectrum, people can develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from their battle with infertility. Others may become depressed, anxious, or have other reactions. It changes us. We all walk away from IVF with a unique reaction, shaped in part by our own stories, outcomes, support system, and experiences. But without a doubt, all of us have been living under the pressure of isolating, heart-wrenching prolonged stress.
I still catch myself holding my breath. Tense and waiting for what will come. I’m still trying to find my way back to myself. I find my moments of calm – when I’m nursing my perfect baby and it’s just the two of us, when I light a candle and sip tea, when I walk barefoot in the grass, when I listen to the birds as I stroll my baby. These moments give my body a break from the tension that seems to hide in the background. In those moments I breathe deeply and exhale.