Recent life events have got me thinking about how we perceive ourselves quite differently to how we really are. You go through life thinking that you are good at some things, bad at others and have a fairly good idea of how you’ll react.
I come from quite tough stock, at the time of my life I needed toughness the most, it did not fail me. But since then, for smaller events, Im always sadly surprised by how much of a let down I am. Im a big believer in circumstances and understand they play a big role in the outcome of situations, and I believe firmly in mind over matter.
Recently, I found myself clinging to a steep gravel slope in tears, because at some stage, I lost complete control of my fear of heights and found myself unable to pull myself together. That was quite a surprise, after years of ‘heights training’, where I have learned to breathe deeply, calm my nerves, stop thinking and just do. It was really embarrassing.
If that wasn’t bad enough, my dad will be able to recount the sheer terror I fell into during the earthquake on Sunday. I called him with uncontrollably shaking hands and it took me several seconds to coherently explain that there was a big earthquake happening and I wasn’t sure how much bigger it would get (though, how coherent that was is debatable). I understand that immediate reaction now, my place was cracking up, things were falling over and moving and swaying. What I dont understand is how, for hours after, my body refused to stop shaking, I got cold, and suspect (also due to my inability to remember clearly the event itself now), that I went into some kind of shock.
Mind over matter totally failed me.
This isnt a pity post, it just got me thinking about the point that I crack. I know in other circumstances, Ive held it together and surprised myself with how I managed to do so. So far what Ive come up with is:
1. Being alone.
When you are alone in an unusual situation, the world very quickly spirals out of control. There is no sounding board or sense of normality to snap you back. I imagine this is the case in a lot of situations. Simply being around people can get you quickly back on track
2. Responding to others
If I was responsible for others in each situation described above, I wonder if things would have been different. I hear from parents that their first thought is helping their kids. Their brain doesn’t have room to be scared for themselves. On a smaller scale, when someone’s falling apart in front of you, you tend to automatically take on the reassuring role.
3. Having a plan
This is probably one of my crazy sides, but I have a plan for most things. Im one of the people who sits on a plane and actually does a mental run through of my emergency plan. Ive done the same on dark streets, I have a plan for what happens when someone grabs me, I revised that plan after a particularly dodgy experience in Melbourne. Ive researched how to get the best results. In the earthquake, I think this backfired. Id spent months trying to understand how it must have felt for those in Christchurch, so when it hit, I immediately assumed this was the ‘big one’.
4. Mental toughness
I think Ive replaced on this front recently. Ive spent good parts of my life being scared of one thing or another (managing staff, and ensuing they get paid, taking business risks etc etc) and learned that sometimes you’ve got to override your own brain. Its a skill you have to work on apparently, because in the past few weeks when I expected that to kick in, nothing did.