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Fight or Flight Response

  • Saturday, 03 November 2012 21:23

Over the 12 years battling the grade 4 GBM brain tumor I’ve come to realize that often when my “damaged” brain gets cognitively confused, overwhelmed, or over-stimulated I often react with a “fight or flight” response. It’s often not pretty. I hope what I learned to “calm it down” helps brain tumor patients and caregivers too.

A few examples of things that get me in the fight or flight response: Someone asks me a question out of the blue (and expects an answer). Someone I am having a conversation with, changes the topic quickly and unexpectedly and I get confused. Someone expects something out of me that with my brain deficits I just can’t do. A group of people around me start having multiple conversations all at once or people talk to fast and I can’t keep up.

Sometimes I respond with - Flight: Wanting to be completely alone because I feel like “no one understands” what it’s like to suffer with a brain tumor. I stomp off alone and quietly vent in my mind. (not healthy for you!)

Or more often and worse for my husband - Fight: I react in anger. My heart starts beating fast and my blood pressure rises. Then my mouth opens up and stuff comes out……. Often, as I said, not pretty.

OK I know that everyone can respond to situations with fight or flight (that is natural). But for people battling brain tumors, it’s “Amplified” big time! Our brains are already damaged, so we get confused and overwhelmed easily!!!

This is what I’ve learned to do to “calm down” the fight or flight response - When someone “pushes the button” on my brain and I start to respond in an ugly way, I shut my mouth, tell myself to calm down, try to think logically (This is not easy! Takes practice! I recently started reading a good book called “The Willpower Instinct – How Self Control Works”). I tell myself to calm down. I close my eyes, or look away, and slowly take my time to “think through” what just happened (what the person just said) and often ask them to repeat themselves. Then my brain can take the amount of time needed to respond in a calm nice way.

BUT the people around us need to learn too!!!! I had to sit down and have a LONG talk with my husband Matt (married 22 yrs) to explain to him how he kept “stepping” on my brain and setting me off when he would ask me something like, “Cheryl, I have to run to work, today can you call my dentist and reschedule my appointment, and I lost my keys can you find them, and tonight remember I’ll be late because I need to drop the truck off to get the breaks checked.” WOW that is too much for my brain to wrap around in one sentence!!! And it was all unexpected!! He is asking for a “Fight!!!” So now Matt has learned how to “tip toe” better with my damaged sensitive brain. So we both feel happier!

To the brain tumor patient: Don’t use the brain tumor as an excuse to come out fighting! Yes we have deficits and an indescribably hard challenge with brain cancer. But we need to try to be “polite” around our loved ones. Try to stop, calm down, and think before letting it all out!!!

To the caregiver: Try to learn what “pushes” the button in your loved ones brain and sets them off. And try to AVOID IT! Often my husband thinks I’m mad at him personally, but I’m just instinctively responding to the situation in “fight”. Not mad at him. Understand that we patients battling brain tumors love you caregivers VERY MUCH, but often allow ourselves to let out the worst with the ones we trust and love the most!