Monday, March 18, 2013

Sarah Vs. Lizard Brain

Strike that.  Reverse it.  (Bonus points if you get the reference.)

Sarah is still not Gully, of course; she never will be.   After Saturday's superlative foxhunt I'm more appreciative of her wonderful qualities and the partnership we've developed so far.  I've also developed some insight into my Lizard Brain. 

Yes, I said foxhunt.  You can stop that about the poor foxes.  Of course we don't kill them.  If we killed them, what would we chase next time?  In this particular hunt, hounds ran one fox to earth (translate, "into his underground den, where we left him alone") early, then ran a coyote off the property we're allowed to hunt over, then may or may not have found another scent, but didn't find another quarry. 

Between family commitments, bad weather, and spending 2 weeks in Florida, I hadn't ridden to hounds since late December, and this was my last chance this season.  I went out first flight--that means fast and jumping--and we had the most ridiculously fun run, across open fields, up and down a few wooded ravines, a quick canter down a paved road, more open fields, a few bogs--flying.  Flying.  Sarah was in her element, happy, sure-footed, and brave.  At a brief pause, the 13-year-old girl riding ahead of me turned to grin and say, "Good thing we have good horses," and she and I laughed, not because it was funny, but out of sheer joy.  It's a wonderful thing, to ride good horses doing what they love.

On Sunday, not surprisingly, my butt hurt.  You don't use your gluteus maximus much when you ride in a ring, but going downhill fast you have to push your hips forward to stay in balance.  Apparently I'd stayed in balance quite well.   Now, I have complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  This is related to but not quite the same as the PTSD suffered by battlefield combatants: in complex PTSD, repeated trauma actually causes physical changes to a child's developing brain.  The good news is that the changes aren't absolutely permanent, but the science behind reversing them is in its infancy. While  I've been able to make progress with some of the modern treatments, I'm still not wired like most people.

Whenever I've had a traumatic trigger, my legs cramp in specific ways.  I don't know exactly why--I'd guess either muscle memory or that my Lizard Brain (the tiny ancient brain we all have, camped out beneath our big Emotive Human Brains) thinks it's time to Flee.  You know, Flight or Fright.  The Lizard Brain--yours, mine, everyone's--is never particularly sophisticated.  Mine tends to be both stubborn and frantic.   This thing with my legs cramping is reliable enough that I use it to gauge why I'm really upset about something.  Is my husband at fault, or is he the innocent victim of a hit-and-run from my past?  (Do my legs hurt?  Why, yes.  Yes, they do.  Then it isn't his fault.)  I can't sleep when I'm triggered.  Neither could you if your Lizard Brain was skittering madly inside your skull, shrieking, "Run!  Run!  Run While You Still Can!"

We have a neurotic elderly dog who panics and pees inappropriately during thunderstorms.  For awhile we tried him in a Thundershirt, a tight swaddling band that was supposed to reduce his anxiety.  It didn't seem to do a damn bit of good.  However, at the same time I was taking some medicine (prednisone, for asthma) which caused a huge and wholly predicable surge in my anxiety levels.  My Lizard Brain was tap-dancing, and I couldn't sleep.  So when I saw the dog walk by in a Thundershirt, I thought, I need a Thundershirt.  So I went online.

They actually make things very like Thundershirts for humans, mostly for autistic children.  They also make weighted blankets.  My Lizard Brain licked its lips.  Mmmmm.  Heavy blanket.   MMmmm.  I ordered one immediately.  It's the size of a zipped sleeping bag and weighs 25 pounds.  I don't sleep with it every night, in part because to my husband it seems like I'm locked away in a cloth sarcophagus, and in part because since I can't travel with it I don't want to become too dependent on it.  But it's fabulous, I tell you.  Supposedly it helps the body's proprioception, which is to say awareness of itself in space (gymnasts have very good proprioception) and also activates deep pressure sensors, which in turn causes a release of serotonin.  In any case, it has the effect of slapping my Lizard Brain into a little tiny jar and screwing on the lid.

Which is good, because it turns out the leg thing works both ways:  when I'm triggered, my legs hurt, but also, when my legs hurt, I'm triggered.  And the glutes must be close enough to the legs.  I lay awake last night, perfectly content with my day, my life, even my past, and my Lizard Brain went running up and down the hall, yelling, "Her legs hurt!  It must be worse than we thought!  Run!"

"No, you idiot," I told my Lizard Brain.  "I went foxhunting.  It was fabulous."

Lizard Brains must be preverbal.  Mine ran in circles and wailed.  I stretched my legs, futilely, watched the ceiling, thought about Sarah jumping the coop.  Thought about Sarah's perfect happiness; about the way she came up to me when I went out to feed on Sunday, thought about how she said, quite clearly, (when horses know you well they speak to you), "Wasn't that fun, Mom?  Can we do it again?  Wasn't that fun?" 

Sleep was nowhere.  Lizard Brain rampant.  Then I remembered the heavy blanket.  I fetched it and tucked it all around me.  Ohhhh.  Lizard Brain sighed in relief.  It curled itself up neatly, at the base of my head where it belongs, and within moments we were both sound asleep.