Run away! Run away!

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August 26, 2008 by 8junebugs

My “flight” response is kicking into overdrive.

Years ago, I blogged about “discovering” that my body produces excess cortisol. “Discovering” is a generous term — they don’t test you for this, but years of symptom evaluation and treatment trial and error have narrowed to this: the stress hormone that regulates the human fight/flight mechanism is a little out of whack in my system.

Like most mysteries involving The Brain, there are plenty of theories around why this happens and approaches to treating it. Chronic stress is the probable cause that best fits me, especially during some pretty formative years, and some combination of medication and self-awareness has been the most effective treatment.

At one time, it seemed I needed to adapt my expectations to include lifelong medication. This was a difficult step for me, until I realized that this imbalance is like any other disease in which the body’s chemicals go permanently wonky; diabetes is one easy example. And would I refuse to take insulin, if I were diabetic? Of course not.

But some diabetics, to continue the comparison, are able to manage the disease with diet and lifestyle changes. Similarly, this year has shown me that eliminating the major stressors in my life — the ones that continually jab the fight/flight button — has relieved the pressure and allowed me to cut the pharmaceutical help back dramatically.

You can’t live without stress, obviously, and I work well under certain kinds of pressure. I’m a writer — that’s what we do. And you can’t change the people who have the effect of sending cortisol coursing through your brain, sending you flying toward one extreme or the other…or both, in some cases, where you refuse to back down (even if you’re wrong) and then you decide to take a walk and wonder how far away you can get.

You can, however, decide to have around you (in your personal life) only the people who understand you and love you and support you and know, somehow, how to back you away from the ledge. These people are out there — if you’re lucky, you find the ones who get it and are still able to have a challenging, rewarding relationship with you. (Have I mentioned that I am very lucky?) And you can remove the other ones, the button-pushers, from your personal life.Fguy_stewiekillslois_poster_v3f_1

Unless they gave birth to you. And have terminal cancer.

I have mentioned before that my mother has a problem with lying. A big one. The kind of problem that, in the end, is manipulative and damaging. Her latest lies have been revealed and I’m the one being manipulated and damaged. She’s messing with relationships that are already under enough strain, and the only goal, as usual, is to make sure she is the sympathetic character in whatever drama unfolds.

Mom always wants to be the favorite.

Ordinarily, I tend to be the one to call her on this — the rest of my family is much nicer than I. She has also taken care of them much the way some might say she should have taken care of me; that’s neither here nor there, but may explain why they are more generous toward her than I might be.

You can’t trust someone who lies to you. If you can’t trust your own mother, your relationship with the rest of the world will take more work than it should. And it has taken — and will always take — a conscious effort, which I have come to accept. Not being able to trust Mom was likely behind that first cortisol upswing, and it ain’t stopped since.

But I find I am less inclined to take a stand this time, and more inclined to flee…more inclined to say, “That’s it, stick a fork in me…I am done.” I attempted a trial run at this earlier this year when I needed some distance, but cancer complicates things, does it not?

There is a middle ground: to stay the course, however long, and let bygones be bygones. The problem is that these are not bygones — these are stillheres, and they are in direct conflict with my own values and what I want my life to be about. They affect relationships that will last longer than Mom.

How long can one act in a way that is contrary to one’s nature, and what are the short- and long-term effects? Have I reached the point where I can handle this without absorbing the behavior? Because history has shown that my mother has an osmotic effect on me, and I am no longer willing to risk the consequences and collateral damage.

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