I sometimes wonder whether our responses to crisis situations are learned or if they are just part of our personalities. My formative years were spent with a variety of people, so I'm not entirely sure that I can claim to have learned my responses from them. The last two females in charge of my care had completely different ways of responding to a crisis. Alice would generally start screaming or hollering and generally run around like a chicken with its head cut off. For those unfamiliar with old-time American English slang, chickens who have been beheaded will still keep running, and without a brain to direct them, they run aimlessly. Gram, on the other hand, was the kind of person who would see smoke coming out from under the hood of the car in which she was riding, and calmly comment that she believed the car was on fire.
I think that for Alice, the age-old fight-or-flight response definitely tended to flight or panic. Gram obviously tended more toward the fight or calm response. I discovered, literally by accident, that I tend more to the fight end of the fight-or-flight spectrum. When I was almost eighteen, in fact just about one or two weeks before my eighteenth birthday, Alice finally gave me permission to get my driver's permit. I spent a few days poring over the state driving manual, and passed my written test like it was something I was born to do. I now had a permit. By this time, I had only one week to learn to drive since the permit would expire on my eighteenth birthday. No, I did not pass my driving test on my birthday, but I did soon after.
When I got my license, I was the one person who felt that I had no business driving. I had so little time to learn and become comfortable with operating a vehicle. Driving certainly didn't feel like a fun, freeing activity. It was more of a stress-filled chore than anything else. Shortly after I got my license, I went to spend an evening with some friends. While I was driving around their new neighborhood with them in my car, I had my first accident. Like I told you, I knew that I wasn't ready to drive, and I sure wasn't. But here's the funny thing. As I turned right around a corner and ran into a motorcycle in the left turn lane, it was almost as if time was spun out like delicate strands of melted sugar. I'm having an accident, I thought. I was incredibly aware. I saw the face of the motorcycle driver and recognized him as someone who had gone to our school. I was afraid that I might have hurt him or his passenger. And even though I was scared, I was incredibly calm.
When the police officers arrived, they didn't find a hysterically crying eighteen-year-old female. I was calm and answered their questions honestly, taking full responsibility for what had happened. I remained in control until after everything was over and done. Then I had my opportunity to cry and get scared that I was in trouble and follow that with several days of depression.
Many years later I was in another car accident, not my fault this time, in which I was t-boned by a car running a red light. I had been first in line at the left turn light and didn't notice the arrow had turned green. The people behind me had, and honked. When I entered the intersection, I could hear the yells from driver of the truck that was about to run into me. "Get out of my way, you effing b!" I heard. I saw his face, and his motions for me to get out of the way, which I did try to do. Then, boom. The people in the car behind me were very upset, feeling that they had put me in harm's way. Actually, they probably did me a huge favor - if I had gone into the intersection a second later, the truck would have hit the rear of my car and spun me around, at the very least, or even pushed me into other cars.
I was calm enough that when the people behind me came to apologize and check on me, I had my plan in order. You see, I was on my way to work, and that was the first thing on my mind. By the time these lovely people got to my car, I had my purse in my lap, looking for coins to be used in a pay phone for them to call my bosses. I had their business card in my hand any everything. I was even fairly calm when I was taken to the hospital by the local fire rescue team. I tried to make sure that I gave the emergency doctors all of the right answers to their questions because I really wanted to go home. Yes, I knew that it was Saturday, and the date, including the year. The President was President X. (Yes, I knew who he was, but I didn't let them know that I couldn't remotely recall his first name.) After some x-rays and painkillers and muscle relaxers, I was ready to be taken home by my sister. No meltdown happened; I was far too drugged up for that! But once again, I managed to stay calm in a crisis.
No, I am not the calmest person on the block, much less the calmest you could ever meet. I am emotional enough to have trouble getting through gushy commercials without crying. I have a temper and have been known to lose it. So I don't want you to think I am someone who is amazingly calm, cool, collected, and controlled. I'm far from it. I just seem to have an ability to turn on the rational, analytical part of me when the whatever hits the fan. So, for me, it appears to be fighting and not flight when it comes to emergencies. I can live with that!