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Once, when I was in an emergency situation where we could not flee and could not fight, I too experience the freeze response. I had a feeling of being disconnected from myself in that moment -- even though I was there and aware. It was like my emotional center just shut down to bland neutrality.
I felt like I had the potential to fight or flee, but that it was impossible to know which was better until more information appeared. Until then, everything was in a state of "pause" and "wait."
My companions, however, experienced a "cry/wail/panic/beg/pray/tremble" response.
I felt very calm throughout the ordeal. I was able to observe my surroundings, think about possible ways out (found none viable enough to try), reflect on what I would do differently if I were to make it out and experience this traumatic situation again in the future, etc.
I found that I talked to/at myself in my head a fair bit, not like I was going crazy, but as if I was trying to give myself directions or reassurance.
("Right now, just wait. Breath. Listen. Think. You can freak out later. But right now, you need to keep your head. Think. You got pushed in here and she said there was a gunman, but you didn't see or hear one. Correct, but there was a panic in hall and everyone ran, I can't go back out that way safely. Is there a window? No Is there a phone? No. Do you hear shots? No. Is anyone in the hall still? Probably not--
it sounds like a ghost town now. Can you get down the hall to an exit? Maybe, but it's a long way and I don't know if the adjoining hallway is clear. If I were caught in the hall, I'd be screwed -- there is nowhere to hide there. Ok, if there is a gun man, and he comes anywhere near here, he will hear you because the other girls are loud right now. Agreed. Can you make them quiet? Doubtful - even quiet sobs will carry to the hall way and they aren't going to cry quietly any time soon. Ok. So if a gunman comes, you'll need duck low and then try to fight. What will you use? The door swings in not out; no one has a purse; I could throw a shoe or the trashcan, but otherwise it'll have to be fists, knees, and kicks. Shit -- okay, remember this: if you're shot it'll hurt, but you might not notice -- adrenaline will help and you 'll keep going, got it? Yes, but I really wish I had my cell phone - I'm not much of fighter. Who would you call? Dad? Understandable, then who? Mom. Interesting order there. Let's not dwell on that. Fine, but there's a better answer. 911? Yes. Sure that's the "right" answer but right now I really want my dad. And it's not like a have a phone here anyway so this is all just hypothetical anyway. True. You do realize you're arguing with yourself over a guilt trip that doesn't really matter because you can't do anything about it right? Yes, but I'm sane. Yes, so, you'd call Dad, then Mom, then 911, or perhaps 911 then Dad then Mom. Right - better to tell dad first anyway; he'd help mom handle it and he's more likely to answer while at work if I only reach one of them, but I'm not going to reach them at all until I'm out of here, so let's change the subject. The other girls are all praying. Uh, yeah, I noticed -- they're also very loud and not very good at hiding. True, but you haven't prayed? Oh, er, the idea hadn't occurred to me. Why? I don't know, maybe there are atheists in foxholes after all. Are you an atheist? I, um, I don't think so. But you didn't think to pray? No, I didn't think of it until now. And now you have thought about it, but still aren't praying. Should I be? Probably, your Mom would be praying if she were here. Well now it just feels like it'd be a cheap prayer, "sorry God, I forgot about you because I wanted to call my dad--and mom-- instead of you." So, you're not going to pray now? I suppose I could try it -- talk to HIM for a bit instead of with myself for a little, see if HE replies or not. You don't think he will? I don't know - if HE does, HE is very subtle about the whole thing. So you don't believe in miracles then? I've never seen one like my mom and others seem to have. So do you believe in them? If I was supposed to believe in them, I'd hope HE'd realize I'm not very good at noticing subtly -- Hey God, why don't you use louder miracles? You're very rude and cynical at the moment. Well, I'm not a fan of being trapped in a bathroom with 3 other teenage girls who are all panicking and so I've only got myself and God to talk to, and ironically neither HIM or I am very useful company at the moment. Reall? Well, maybe you're both useful in distracting me... without you two, what else is there to do, count tiles? You don't want to count tiles. Tiles wouldn't give me a guilt trip at least. True, but they're boring and crooked. Crooked? Yeah, especially that one. Grr... I wish I had my phone. So you could call your dad? Yes. What would you tell him? etc...")
As the experience dragged on with no change to our situation, I actually even felt bored and eventually became irrationally annoyed by the shoddy workmanship of the small windowless room I was stuck in as we hid the supposed danger outside. For years afterwards I would avoid that room, not because of the trauma/fear of violence but because the crooked tiles there bugged me so much. From that day: The crooked tiles are seared into my brain. Fear and panic, however is not.
My counterparts eventually calmed down on their own. It took them a while to notice me actually, because I hadn't thought to talk to them as they were freaking out. I then was able to talk with them calmly too. I answered their questions and explained why our best option was to wait patiently for someone to come and get us. I even said that I thought the danger was probably past and why I thought that, but also that I didn't feel confident enough to leave the room to check.
The group settled into a sort of weird, quiet, wait.
Eventually someone did come. I was immediately relieved. I hadn't released how tense I was until I heard her approach our door.
Meanwhile my companions initially freaked out. They thought it was not a savior but rather the threat/gunman we were hiding from. I actually laughed at their panicked hissing because the idea of our rescuer as a dangerous gunman was ridiculous. It felt so good to laugh right then.
I was grinning like a loon and still laughing as I opened the door and greeted our rescuer.
I'd been calm enough to recognize that our savor was an older female woman who I knew well (the footsteps sounded like heels, a charm bracelet, and when she said "Is anyone hiding here? Come out. You're safe." It was a sweet, familiar, older voice). She didn't sound anything like a dangerous gunman.
Whereas they were still so keyed up that they just panicked irrationally at the sound of an "unknown" person on the other side of the door, even though they knew her too.
In the holding area after our rescue, with the others who'd be found hiding in other places, as we waited to be interviewed/searched by police/security, everyone seemed exhausted or shell-shocked.
One of my companions then turned to me and told me that I was "freakishly calm" throughout the ordeal.
I wasn't sure how to respond to that.
I thought 'Well, you all had the panic and freak-out roles already taken, so one of us needed a calm head.'
But I actually just shrugged and explained that "I never saw or heard a gunman. There was nothing to do but wait for someone to find us - for better or for worse."
I think that just confirmed her assessment that I was "freakishly calm" about it all.
I don't think my calm was really "freakish." And I don't think I was 100% calm really. I think I was more stuck in limbo that truly calm. I wasn't actually both "present" and calm until we were released and I could see my family. And even then, I had a bit of an internal "freak out" when my mom asked if I'd prayed or not while stuck in there. I said I had, which made her feel good, but I was secretly annoyed that's she'd asked me that instead of being focused on the fact that I was out safely. I blame the popularity of the "Jesus Freak" books and post-Columbine martyr stories in the media for that being so high on mom's concerns.
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