My amygdala is the only part of me that never seems to run out of energy. Day or night, it is always there to run out of control, spin wild horror stories, or come up with the most inane possibilities. This tiny, reptilian part of our brain, responsible for keeping us safe by activating our fight or flight response, is wearing me out.
Getting ready for bed last night, it asked me, “What if you didn't do that COVID test right? What if you really have it, but you’ll never know because you didn't stick that swab far enough up your nose or twirl it effectively? You’d be infecting people and not even know it. You could be sick for weeks and there’s nothing you can do about it.” I sighed and turned down the comforter, imagining this tiny little thing. The size of a bean, rife with energy, day or night, ready to jump into action and sound the alarm, even when there is nothing to be alarmed about. This tiny part of my brain exhausts all the other parts of me. And I feel so sad for it, because it's only doing what it knows how to do. It is doing what it thinks is right. It’s protecting me and keeping me from harm. All. Day. Long.
As I thought about it, my tiny amygdala took shape in my mind. I could see it, small, petrified, wild-eyed, and needing me to offer reassurance or safety. I imagined its trembling self imploring me to find a way to get another test Right Now. At 11pm. And do it right this time. I imagined giving it a hug, calming this shaking, frenzied part of my brain, and let it know it would be okay. We would find a way to take care of it. I reminded it of all the vaccines, hand washing, and sanitizing we have been doing. And when it began to pipe up that “some people don't even know they have it! Some families are all symptomatic and only one tests positive! Some people are vaccinated and still get sick!” I nodded and soothed it and acknowledged that yes, all of this is true and we will still be okay. We can only do what we can do. We will be okay. I thanked it for bringing to my attention that my “spicy stick” (what the kids are calling the test swabs) swizzeling skills can be improved upon and assured it that next time I would be more attentive. And in the meantime, I will rest when my ever exhausted body implores rest, take my vitamins, eat the fruit, and drink the water.
This morning, I decided that my tiny amygdala needed to have it’s image personified. The nice researchers at the University of Wisconsin have generated this image of our amygdala and I have included it here so that you, too, can print and illustrate what your bean-sized stress center looks like to you. Drawing and journaling are fantastic ways to contain our over-run emotions. Get that sh*t out onto paper. Tell me you don't notice a difference after you do. Every time, it doesn't matter what it is. Drawing or writing it out helps. It doesn't change anything but you. Which (if you’ve been listening to your therapist) is the only thing you can change :-)
I hope you have a peaceful day today. I hope you are able to recognize your sweet, protective anxiety center for the care-er that it is. And I hope you are able to offer it a hug and some reassurance that We Got This.
Your average amygdala, compliments of http://pages.stat.wisc.edu/~mchung/research/amygdala/
My amygdala, compliments of genetics and environment.
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Cindy Goeller is a licensed therapist who loves listening to others, eating Maryland steamed crabs, and exploring the Finger Lakes of New York. When she is not in session with her clients, she can be found writing, baking, or spending time with her family.