No Fair: A Mother Allergic To Hugs?

This morning I awoke to the soft carpeted thuds of my seven-year old’s feet rounding the side of my bed.  He quickly scurried under the covers and his head popped up next to mine.

“Good morning, Momma.”

Isaac & Mommy

“Good morning, Little Fish.”

I smoothed back from his forehead dark hairs recently parted by a mischievous scissor incident last week.  He wrapped his arms around my waist and folded into my body.  I love that my children are still small enough to fit so close.  I can imagine I am still carrying them in my womb.  I miss that time of wonder and flesh rolling with their bodies shifting under my skin.

Within minutes, Levi came to us in a flying leap.  He kissed his daddy on the face about 13 times, rolled over, lifted his arm and said,

“Mom, smell my armpit.”

I don’t know why I get armpit and dad gets showered with kisses.  Levi made it up to me by rolling over again, announcing more than asking, “Dad, smell my breath.”, before breathing hot into Paul’s face before he could contest.

For a time, we are cuddled in a warm cocoon.  Limbs all tangled with covers as we put off heading into a day apart.

Suddenly, I realize that I cannot move my arm.  I realize that I cannot quite roll over because my legs are under the dog.  I find my body in a contorted position that I cannot change or control.

And just like that, the panic sets in.

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My Amygdala & I

I just sent my husband out for ice cream and wine.  I needed some space to write this down.  I needed medication for after I had let the blood.


Yes but I just had a deeply difficult counseling session.

Something happened.  The road did not rise up to meet me.  It dipped, steeply and I fell face first into the hard ground.  I got side swiped by something unexpected.

I never know where the past is lurking.  Is it the man wearing my father’s cologne in the grocery store?  Will it be a stranger on the bus that gives me that feeling?  I never know for how long it will be staying or what will happen while it’s kickin’ it on my couch.

I brace myself.  I sit smaller.  I stop eating and find it very difficult to end the day by going to bed.  Usually, my husband will have to locate me in some random spot in the house making myself very busy.  Insanely, unproductive busy.

It’s like I am sitting at a desk in a quiet room with only a single stone.  On one side, it says, “flip me over”.  So I flip it.  Then, I read the instructions and flip it again.  I keep flipping.

Mother Flippin’.  Everyday I’m shufflin’.  Sorry.  I nearly burst out into my own rap with all that flippin’ out.

I saw my counselor today and she reminded me what happens to a tiny child’s brain when faced with trauma.  It is rewired.  It is jacked up.

My amygdala has a problem.

For those of you not super scientific or partnered with a brain studying counselor, let me explain my friend the amygdala.

I just realized that could totally be a derby name.  Amy G. Dala.

I am a genius.

The amygdala is the tiny, almond-shaped panic room.  It is the part of the brain that during trauma says, get your shit and run!  It helps you select whether you are a fighter, a flighter or a freezer.  It helps you survive.

In a normal, and I use that term lightly, adult individual it goes off for short bursts.  Just long enough for you to leap from the moving car of an abductor, fight a battle in military combat or say, grab that wedding dress on sale from that other girl.

Some believe that repeated trauma for a child trains that amygdala to never shut off.  It is like a smoke detector with a battery on the verge of running out.  It keeps beeping….every….three….minutes.  A constant warning that something, anything, anyone might at anytime be coming for you.

When your father is a predator the idea that you are not safe is a constant one.

Your amygdala is always ready to send you into survival mode.

Here is the extra crappy part.

What if, like me, you are six when your trauma starts and you cannot fight, flight or freeze to defend yourself?  What if nothing you do makes a damn bit of difference?  What if your amygdala is screaming for you to do something and you can’t?

What if that happens for four years?

As my counselor is explaining this to me, I kept seeing a hummingbird with one wing trapped in a slammed door.  A bird trapped, vulnerable and not strong enough to tear its own arm away like a wolf.

That was the condition I was living in when my brain was developing.

So now, my amygdala goes off at the slightest provocation.  If it even thinks the cookies are being slightly over cooked that alarm goes off with wild abandon.  I wave my kitchen towels at it, smack it with a broomstick and hit the buttons.  Nothing shuts it off until the battery is removed.

I cannot shut if off until an undetermined amount of sleepless nights have been endured.  I cannot sit still until I have flipped that rock a thousand times.  I can’t quite manage a silent meal or a quiet car ride.

My body is screaming run like hell, little girl! My wing isn’t trapped anymore. So I run.  I starve. I stay awake.

This time I will get away.

This is not fair but it is true.  Earlier today, I may have said that this calming of my amygdala was a battle.  That is not a completely accurate description of my mental stability or lack thereof.

It is a finding of balance.  It is a soothing.  It is a comforting of that tiny bird girl suddenly and frantically released.

My amygdala and I are learning what safety is.  It is freaking out and I am running after it, grabbing it with both hands and confirming that we are indeed fine.  We survived and now, we truly can eat, sleep and rest in peace.  I am convincing.  My amygdala is not convinced.

I suspect that this may take a couple of rounds. It is exhausting and frustrating.  It makes me tired in ways I can’t express in words.

Imagine that possibility. :)

Shhh….amygdala.  Be cool.

My husband has returned with the ice cream and the wine.  I swear somedays, with all that I’ve been through, we are all just lucky I am not bathing in a tub of chocolate and drinking wine double fisted from the bottle in a padded room.

Thank you for listening to my brain’s struggles.

Recently released,