Things I have learned: Fight or Flight

I get panic attacks (tingling extremities, rapid breathing, light headed, adrenaline surges) when I see names of places we went on holiday. Or when images of the happy times play in my mind. Thinking of happy times, of holidays, of times we went away together in particular, bring on a very physical response.  I suspect it is related to the fear of: What if that happiness was actually not real? What if I was already being deceived at that point?

My brain treats those thoughts as a threat and responds accordingly with a physical fight-or-flight response. Sad memories don't elicit that response. Sad memories make me sad. Memories of times when I either felt or knew things were not right just make me sad. That makes sense: I already was feeling the appropriate feeling about something at the time. There is no dissonance between what I thought was happening and what was really happening.

It is almost 18 months since I found out. I feel my soul has been cracked open and it has revealed a darkness I did not know was there. Most of the time, I am only aware of it in the background. Maybe a bit like tinnitus. But at least once a day, it comes to the foreground. And it roars with a deafening cry, overwhelming everything else and making me worried that I will have permanent hearing damage from it. And those are the times where I just don't know if I will ever be free of it.

[SNIP - There was a large section here about how C's behaviour is continuing to feed my corrosive insecurity but I'm so tired of it sounding like I am just wanting to badmouth her that I deleted it]

When I think of places we went, fun times (I thought) we had, a physiological response kicks in. A kind of protection mechanism that tries to figure out if my responses back then were appropriate. Did she really have fun when we went kayaking? Or did she just say that to please me? If that's the case, then me getting excited about maybe buying a kayak with her must have made her feel I was pushing her, whilst I felt we were sharing something. That surely means my interpretation of her emotions/behaviours was wrong and I made an error of judgement about the right things to do. So maybe I have no idea about when to respond in certain ways. Maybe I don't understand people at all...

Did she really enjoy going for hikes in Snowdonia or did she just say that to keep me happy? If that's the case, then me suggesting she might want to invest in some hiking trousers and "Oh Look, there is a sale on them in that shop, why not buy them now", must have felt like me pushing her into something she did not want. Whilst I thought we were sharing something. That surely means my interpretation of her emotions/behaviours was wrong and I made an error of judgement about the right things to do. So maybe I have no idea about when to respond in certain ways. Maybe I don't understand people at all...

Did she really enjoy singing with me or was it those times when she was reluctant that were closer to the truth? How can I believe her when she says she enjoyed things at the time we were doing them? How can I believe her when she also said she was not having an affair. And then that she only kissed him, really. And then that she did not conduct their affair in our house. How can I heal when nothing feels true? How can I heal when none of the feelings I had feel, in retrospect, like they were based on reality?

I am having physical responses to the question whether everything I thought about her, me and the way we were together was wrong. Fundamental assumptions about how I think people behave in relationships (i.e. be open, tell each other the truth and don't lie) have turned out to be untrue. Those thoughts threaten my fundamental beliefs about life and about people. No wonder it produces a fight-or-flight response.

It is a scientific fact that break-ups that involve a partner leading a long-term double life can cause significant trauma. A recent study suggested that giving people Propanolol (a beta-blocker) before making people re-live a painful memory can help them to retain the memory but to remove the painful physical and mental response it creates. In other words, it might make you able to think of your relationship and see things without feeling the crushing pain of those specific memories. If that was available in the UK, I would do it. In a heartbeat. Because I am so ready to move on. But parts of my brain won't let me. My body responds to my memories in the same way it would respond to an existential threat. I just don't know how to be free of that. It's not like we can control our body's responses to triggers.

Oh wait, we can. Kind of.Treatments for PTSD that may work for a traumatised lover include relaxation therapy, cognitive therapy and eye movement treatments that desensitise you to the trauma (The Guardian). It seems more than a little perverse that people who did no initiate the break-up are more likely to suffer from mental health problems afterwards.

When we had just met, Corinne wrote a song for me about grieving for my first wife. The opening lines are ironically appropriate here:

"We say time is a healer, and desperately hope that it's so".

I continue to hope. But I think I need more than that. Hand me the Propanolol.

See also: Rejection Can Be More Painful with ADHD

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