Flight, Freeze, Fight – Personal Crisis Response

I’m terrible in a crisis.

A personal crisis.

Terrible.

Fight. Flight. Freeze.

My first instinct is Flight.

As soon as a personal crisis happens I want to run away from it, it’s instinctual, primal even, everything in my body screams “RUN!”.

And by “run” sometimes that looks like turning my back on the situation and trying to pretend it isn’t there. (Okay, being honest, that is often my go-to.)

When I eventually turn back around, or re-enter the room, and the situation is still present, my next instinct is to Freeze.

My mind goes blank, I don’t know how to proceed, I have no access to any thought at all, let alone logical, rational thought.

The last time I dropped and broke a glass I stood still for about 3 minutes just staring at the pieces on the floor, no thoughts, no synapses firing, just staring, blankly. When I finally came out of the freeze, it was a slow return that went something like: first I came to recognise that I was standing and staring blankly, then that there was an incident, then that the incident involved some danger (broken glass with bare feet), then I took in the coverage of the broken pieces (every-freakin’-where), then an idea came to mind as to how to clear it up, then another, then another, and then movement returned to my body and I was able to deal with it sufficiently.

Freeze takes over every cell of my body for a good minute or five – depending on the severity of the situation.

My very last instinct is to Fight.

For myself, or my own personal crisis.

If the crisis is happening to someone outside of myself (and I consider my cat an extension of myself), so if the crisis is happening to a friend or co-worker or anyone else outside of my personal sphere, then I am awesome in a crisis. Fight is definitely my first instinct, protecting others, taking action, taking charge, and knowing exactly what to do to make things better, easier, fixed.

Why am I so incapable in my own crisis?

This past weekend Greyson hurt his leg again. The same one that broke just over a year ago.

When it happened I wasn’t watching, it played out behind me and when I turned to see the commotion, the freezer door was wide open and he was no where near the fridge.

I closed the freezer door and laughed to myself about my “silly kitty”, I went back to what I was doing.

Then I looked up.

He was in my line of sight in the living room with his eyes wide, pupils dilated, sitting awkwardly. He looked wrong.

I called to him, he stood up but held up the one leg, he tried to touch it to the ground, but lifted it again immediately.

FLIGHT. I wanted to look away, I wanted to run. Not again, please, not again.

I walked to him he stood still waiting, looking at me with those dilated eyes, distress apparent, he was looking at me as though I could fix this for him.

FLIGHT. I could see that his leg was hurt, that it was bad, that he didn’t want to stand on it. I could see it was the SAME LEG as last time…

[panic gripped my heart] Please no.

I flashed to the last time, those first few moments, the sound of his cry, the way he cringed back from the place where he’d been hurt, the panic in his eyes and how the instantly dilated all the way, the sound of him crying as he tried to move.

Those sounds ringing in my ears I wanted to run, far, far away. I couldn’t go through it again. I couldn’t stand to see him hurt that badly again, not again, please, not again…

I couldn’t run though, he needed me.

Calling his name softly, he looked at me hurt, confused, he waited as I walked toward him. “Are you okay love-bug?” I asked him.

He looked at me and tried to take a step closer, I stroked his head, he touched his toe to the ground, then pulled that leg back up and limped closer so he could lean against me. Then he sat awkwardly down.

That leg, that damn leg, he stuck it out to the side on a weird angle.

“Oh no, oh no, oh no,” I said aloud as I looked around the room for something to help me, someone to help me.

It’s only me, there is no one else.

“Oh no.” I repeated.

Then paced a little, walked into the kitchen to try to gather my thoughts, then I worried he would try to follow me and do more damage.

Damage.

I remembered this from last time. Last time I panicked too and I didn’t confine him right away and as injured animals do, they try to climb things or get into dark tight spaces when they’re injured. And he tried this the last time, dragging himself all over the apartment doing more damage to the leg with each movement.

I turned back to the living room and there he was trying to jump onto the couch. He missed. It’s a very low couch and I froze.

FREEZE.

A minute passed, two… he was sitting there bewildered looking at the couch as though he couldn’t believe he didn’t make it.

The freeze-fuzz started to give way and I was regaining some active consciousness.

What do I do, what do I do, I don’t know what to do, help me, what do I do?

The mantra running through my mind as I watched him lay back down beside the couch, panting but not crying.

I don’t know what to do. I’m scared. Help me. What do I do?

I just stood there, uncertain where to move, how to move, what to do next.

DAMAGE

The word flashed in my mind, followed by, Isolate him, so he doesn’t do more damage.

Right. Right. Of course.

Still I stood immobile, my stomach churning. I wished there was someone else, someone to take the lead, someone I could assist as they took control, I’m an awesome assistant, someone that would soothe my heart as I soothed Greyson’s. I needed support. I needed support.

He tried to stand up, and he struggled.

FIGHT.

The desire to protect him turned my attention to FIGHT. Reminded me that there is no one here, there is only me, and I’ve done this before. I’ve got this. And he needs me – NOW!

Still panicked and with shaking hands I pulled out the small cage I bought last time, I laid a blanket in the bottom and opened the door.

Then as gently as I could while talking softly to him the whole time, I lifted him up and put him inside.

Shutting the door behind him I instantly started to feel relief. He could not hurt himself more while in there.

He stood and looked at me, then stretched his leg, tried to put it down, limped as he turned around, he laid down and then stood up again, turning around again, to lay on the other side. He continued this motion over and over, unable to get comfortable and I wanted to cry.

I wanted to make him better. To instantly take away his pain, to have the Greyson back that I’d had only minutes ago.

Why can’t we turn back time? For things like this? Why?

Irrational thoughts raged… I was heading toward FLIGHT mode again.

Stay with me Ali, call the vet.

My brain was slowly taking back the reins.

I called the vet and got the call back service.

While I waited for the call back I walked into the bedroom to work out what I would need to move to make it safe.

He couldn’t stay in the cage for too long, it was standing/turning room only – no room for food, water or a litter tray.

The task of clearing out the bedroom again felt enormous. I sat on the edge of the bed and stared at the floor for a few minutes wishing with all of my heart we could just go back 30 minutes, and trying to work out what I could have done differently so this didn’t happen.

The vet called back, it was not my regular vet but a different one. He asked me if I thought it was an emergency.

“I don’t know,” I said, then I explained what had happened. As I did so I moved back into the living room and watched Greyson in the cage.

He stood as I entered the room and was now trying to put his foot down. It appeared he was putting a little weight on the leg and that was better than minutes ago.

I told the vet this, and he felt that I should monitor him for the rest of the day and bring him in the next morning.

It was Sunday after all and the office was closed. There is a $300 call out fee, so he said if it wasn’t truly an emergency then save my money, keep him safe overnight, and he’d see me tomorrow.

Then I phoned a friend. Then another. And texted yet another.

I needed to hear caring voices, and voices of reason.

Then I texted my boss and let her know I wouldn’t be in on the Monday, I had to take Greyson to the vet.

The afternoon loomed, I was going to have to change the bedroom.

One friend suggested making steps up to the bed and not taking the frame apart just yet.

As that was the hardest and largest task to do alone, I took her suggestion and just cleared out everything else. Making things as safe as possible.

I had kept the tarps from last year, and got them out, laying the larger one in the corner so I could move his litter tray, food, and water back to where it had been when he was last confined to the bedroom.

It took me several hours to complete and by the time I was done I was exhausted and sweaty. I took a shower while he was in the cage where I knew he was safe. He’d been sleeping the whole time I was moving stuff in and out of the bedroom.

His silence was almost as unnerving as crying. He’d withdrawn into himself and my usually vocal, chatty cat was as quiet as the dead.

So much so I did keep checking he was breathing.

I took the cage into the bedroom and let him loose.

He didn’t go far. Just laid on the carpet. Quietly.

I stroked his fur and sat with him. I held his head in my one hand and he closed his eyes to snooze, it’s a thing with us and I often hold his head while he sleeps. In fact, the reason I got him as opposed to the other cats in the SPCA initially was because he did this very thing. I gently stroked his fur for 30 minutes or so before my legs and one arm were completely numb.

I had to move.

He sussed out his new space. Limping – heavily, and taking small slow steps. My heart ached for him, watching him made me want to turn away (flight) once again.

But I kept my eye on him.

He ate some food, drank some water and investigated his litter tray.

Then tried to get up on the steps I’d constructed out of Rubbermaid boxes to the top of the bed. He made it (phew!) and then curled up next to the pillows and went back to sleep.

I took this as an opportunity to leave for a while… regain my faculties. Make something to eat.

Our night was restless, for me almost sleepless. I was conscious of his every move as he slept beside me. And anytime he needed to get down from the bed or back up, I transported him.

He didn’t settle until around 5am and then we slept solidly until 9am – the longest stretch of the night.

Our appointment with the vet was 10am.

The vet took him away to examine him, then came back and asked me to leave him for the next four hours so that he could take x-rays. He wasn’t certain just yet whether anything was broken or just badly sprained but the x-ray would help.

I drove away in a daze. Not again. Please make him okay.

I called a friend and asked to borrow her husband to help me dismantle the bed. It had been too stressful the night before worrying about him trying to jump up onto it. My bed with the mattress, box spring, and frame was waist height for me – so a fair jump for him.

He came over and we made fast work of it, 30 minutes as opposed to the 90 minutes it took me last time. I was grateful. (Thank you A.)

The bed back on the floor, I decided I would do away with the frame from this point forward. It’s too much work to put it back together again and I hope to be moving sometime soon anyway.

Then I cleaned and vacuumed and scrubbed everything… trying to keep busy waiting to hear from the vet.

When I got the call and went back in, he told me there was no break. However, he did show me the x-rays.

Last year when his bone healed it healed sideways. To compensate for the misalignment his body had grown bone where it needed (such as at the knee joint, and the hip) so that everything still worked as it should.

He was a little bit excited about how miraculous and incredible animals are to heal like they do, and how their bodies adjust and regrow what is needed to keep them active and moving.

While I was happy for his enthusiasm, I was horrified at the image I was seeing, feeling enormous guilt that perhaps I should have gotten the enormously expensive surgery last year.

I asked if this was my fault.

“Not at all.” He said strongly, “we all made the best choices we could last year based on the information at the time. He was healing, and he was healing fast, his body was incredible.”

Still I felt bad.

Then he told me that the new bone – and this too is “normal” for new growth – is arthritic.

That this arthritis in his leg will bother him for the rest of his days…

AND that likely in the span of his lifetime, this leg will have to be amputated.

AMPUTATED… W.T.F.

That was about where I stopped listening (FLIGHT) my mind just switched off (FREEZE) it was too much to take in.

He said there would be drugs to give him for the next 5 days to help him be comfortable. To limit his activity again, keep him confined to the one room and then bring him back in two weeks to re-assess.

Also to keep an eye on him for the next 24 hours due to the sedation they gave him for the x-rays.

I took him home and let him out in the bedroom once more, this time the bed lowered, and even safer.

He was heavily sedated, his pupils fully dilated, and his movements weird.

At times his tail was curled under him in an awkward fashion and I’d have to straighten it out for him, or he’d sit in a weird position and stare at the wall, or he’d roll and roll and roll on the floor, then eat and eat and eat, then roll some more, he seemed completely restless.

Stoned. He was completely stoned.

I hate seeing him this way, out of control, unable to care for himself. I am sure he would have been mortified if he knew how he was acting and it hurt me to imagine him knowing what was happening.

Left over angst from seeing my dad’s body breaking down when I was so young I suppose. I don’t deal very well with the once vital becoming sick.

It’s hard for me to witness, I want to fix it, I want to cry out for the injustice of it all, I want to make it stop, make it better, make it go away. I feel the humiliation they feel, I feel the frustration they feel, I the anger, the confusion, the deep sadness, I put myself right in their shoes and the emotions overwhelm me.

I put him on the bed and stroked him until he fell asleep.

Then I contacted work and asked for another day off to care for him. I wasn’t ready to leave him alone, I needed to know he would be okay without me before I left him alone.

We had another restless night, or at least I did. Each time he woke I woke. I was hyper-conscious of his leg to be sure I didn’t hurt it more while I slept.

The next day was a restful one for us both. I spent most of the day in the bedroom with him, stroking and soothing him until he slept. And reading quietly while he did.

At the end of the fourth day he seemed to be getting a little better, and I started to relax. I’d been wound tight and had not realised, until that first muscle relaxed, then another, and another.

I still cancelled all of my classes and volunteer commitments for the week so I could be home with him right after work. I have spent almost all of my time, other than to prepare meals, in the room with him for comfort (his and mine).

It’s now seven days later and his limp is becoming less pronounced, though it is still there, I’m feeling hopeful that he will make a full recovery.

Well, as full as possible with a bone turned sideways.

While he makes that recovery, I will keep him confined to the bedroom – likely for a month – and make changes to the kitchen area so he can no longer get on top of the cupboards, or the fridge.

I have also started to empty out the living area – donating items I no longer need. I have been wanting to clear the space for when the baby comes, and with Greyson confined to one room now is a good time to start.

The bright-side I suppose.

I eventually stepped up and did what was necessary, and according to friends, going above and beyond by rearranging/dismantling my bedroom.

My instincts are FLIGHT, FREEZE, then eventually if they don’t deal with the situation….FIGHT.

Perhaps this is not the best way to deal with things of a personal nature, but it appears it is my way and I’m thankful to be aware of this, so I can work with it.

Fear is tough to overcome. Fear of recurring trauma is perhaps even tougher. When the trauma is still so easily recalled and fresh in my mind. Just like my fall in August, I still flash-back to those first few moments on occasion and the fear of it happening again freezes me in my tracks. This fear sometimes stops me from doing simple things, like stepping off a curb, or walking over snow.

PTSD? Maybe. But we have to work with what we have. Self-awareness helps I believe, and I am definitely that!

To combat future Flight/Freeze moments – I’m going to make Emergency Response lists that I can look at and follow when something happens, so that when I finally “unfreeze” I have clear instructions to follow.

How about you? How do you cope in a personal crisis?

Warm smiles and Love,

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