Friday, April 25, 2008

The Brain's Reaction to Crisis

Harriet Brown of Madison, Wisconsin, recently wrote a piece in the New York Times about her two daughters being ill and how it affected her. She writes about how after the danger had passed for them she found herself reacting in ways she couldn't understand.

She wrote, "In times of crisis, the brain goes into protective mode, a kind of extended present tense intended to get you through danger without wasting energy or emotional resources. After all, there is no evolutionary advantage to worrying about the future when the future may never come."

Today was my mother's birthday. Since she died, April 24 has been a day when she's very much on my mind, even though birthdays were never a big deal in my family. Tomorrow was my brother Jim's birthday. I'm guessing April 25 will be a day when I think of him in all my future years. I know I will this year with his death being so recent.

Brown's sentiment here sums up a phenomenon I've noted in myself many times. I'm great in a crisis. Fabulous. But, once the crisis is over I crumble. That's when I fall apart in various ways. It's as if I know I just can't when the crisis is underway, but afterwards I make up for lost time.

When my mother died I went from writing in a journal almost every day to never doing so. In a year I wrote one and a half pages. I knew that writing would bring up emotions I just couldn't indulge. There were things to be handled. But, when April 24 rolled around the next year, almost a year since her death, I fell apart. It was ugly. It took me some time to put myself back together.

I no longer fall apart on April 24. It's more a remembrance now. I know tomorrow that Jim will be on my mind, but I intend to just be thankful for the time I got to spend with him the last couple of years, and not indulge in the sorrow. I don't know if I'll be successful, but that's my plan.

I do have something positive to think about on April 25. Tomorrow is BC's 18th birthday. It's hard to believe he's 18, but he is. I've always adored BC. He's a very charming young man, and always has been. You know how some little kids are just perfectly pleasant? He was one of them, even when he was three years old. He has never lost that. It has just grown with him.

Mark told me recently that when he went to Kentucky for Jim's funeral he had an opportunity to chat with BC for quite a while at the dinner after the funeral and was really impressed with him. He also told me something that made me smile deep inside. He said that when he was watching BC and me talking by ourselves at the end of the day that it seemed we had a special relationship. I asked what he meant and he said, "it just looks like the two of you are in on a joke that nobody else gets."

I guess in some way that's true. I'm still a kid in many ways and so we've always been able to relate to each other on that level. Maybe it's because I'm the only adult around who's not a parent. He's also the only one of my great nieces and nephews I've gotten to be around from birth to adulthood. And, yes, he's officially an adult as of tomorrow. Actually, as I look at the clock now it's midnight so I guess even as I write. He is now old enough to vote. And, unfortunately, old enough to fight.

Well, before I get back into crisis mode with that thought I'm going to close for today. And think good thoughts as I head off to bed.

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