I’m pretty sure that nearly everyone has a family story about themselves that is someone’s favorite to tell. This might be the go-to story that your relatives tell on special occasions or when they meet your significant other for the first time.
It might start out with, “Let me tell you something about ____, this one time…”
This story tends to give the listener some kind of special insight into the person’s personality; it’s like being told the history of an inside joke or otherwise being given a special nugget of information.
My story is this:
This one time, when I was little, my family moved to Minnesota for the longest 18 months ever (we were not equipped to survive in the frozen tundra- long story, another time, moving on…) and my grandfather came to visit from DC. He and my sister were going to walk to the local convenience store to buy candy.
I wanted to go, but my grandfather said, “You’re too little, Nic.” He didn’t think I would make it all the way to the store. I pouted a bit, and he and my sister left for their walk.
A little while later, as they turned to leave the store, in I walked, dragging my dad behind me. I walked right up to my grandfather, looked him in the eye and said very directly,
“I told you I could do it.”
He seems to remember there was even a foot stomp for emphasis.
I was 3.
The fight or flight response is a funny thing. It’s meant to protect you from sabertooth tigers or mountain lions or whatever else is chasing you according to whichever evolutionary scientist is explaining it.
The point of fight or flight is simplistic. Danger = Huge surge of adrenaline to give you the energy and boost of endurance you need to either fight that mountain lion off or hightail it out of there.
In the 21st century, there are 99 things that are not sabertooth tigers that can trigger your fight or flight. If you encounter these things too often, your fight or flight response can get a little wonky. If you happen to end up with a chronic illness, your fight or flight can end up downright broken.
Mine, unfortunately, happens to be pretty shot.
I’m very rarely not running from a mountain lion, or at least that’s what my insides think is happening. So, evolutionarily speaking, I have 2 options.
When I was 3, I was a fighter. In fact, I was a fighter for a really long time. If something was hard, scary, or couldn’t be done, I was pretty ok with trying it anyway. Ask me about the time I jumped off a roof when I was 15 because everyone else was doing it. (Or don’t, haha, KIDS: DON’T JUMP OFF OF ROOFS JUST BECAUSE EVERYONE ELSE IS DOING IT!)
Sometime around age 16 or 17, though, I got tired. I got worn out. I burned out. My chronic illnesses took over more than they ever had before. Fighting didn’t get me anywhere any more. It didn’t feel worth it. Everything became so flippin’ hard.
So, I started to flee instead.
Flight can look like a lot of things: You say no to invitations. You leave the party the minute you start to feel a little out of sorts (if you even made it there in the first place). You start to believe that “I can’t” is true about everything. Eventually, you just plain all-out avoid stuff.
A decade is a long time to be an avoider. 10 years is a long time to condition yourself to believe that “flee” is the only option available to you any more.
I have been reading the autobiography of Ronda Rousey, the undefeated UFC champion. Ronda is a fighter, and I wanted to know what it is that makes her so.
If you read her book or watch any of her fights, it’s easy to see why she is a champion: No matter whom she fights, Ronda always makes the first move.
She says the first move is the most important because everything that comes after is a series of reactions. Ronda will run right up to her opponent, her challenge, and punch her in the face before that girl even knows the fight started.
This is the absolute opposite of avoidance.
Having a chronic illness has made me an avoider. Every excuse in my mind masquerades as a valid point- they all sound so incredibly legit, and some even might be. I say “No” and “I can’t” a lot.
This is not who I really am though. I do not want to continue to be an avoider. I used to be like Ronda, running right up to the challenges to punch them in the face. I didn’t sit around waiting for my grandfather and sister to bring me candy; I went out and proved them wrong. I’d really like to figure out how to be like that again.
Of course, I have to consider all the Chronic stuff. I want to be a fighter, sure, but not a dummy. It’s not a good idea for me to say, go on roller coasters that have “No Heart Patients” warning signs. I’m not going to hang upside down from a bungee cord anywhere. Jumping off a roof really wasn’t that fun and I am never, ever doing that again.
However, I know that there are things out there that I have been writing off as “I can’t” and “No way” that I might be able to find a way to do and be if I just get creative. Running was one of those things, and I’ve been building up my endurance slowly, slowly for a while now. I fought for that.
The adrenaline is always going to be there, it’s always going to come knocking. It’s my choice to decide if I’m going to open the door to see what happens next, or to hide behind the couch hoping it will go away if it thinks no one is home. (Spoiler alert: It won’t.)
You’ve got a choice too, Chronic friends, and I hope that if you’ve been stuck in “Flight” mode that you’ll join me in trying to find your own inner Fighter again. ❤