Fight or Flight

by Lori Dwyer on May 23, 2011 · 19 comments

When under extreme duress, faced with pumping adrenalin and a sever threat or danger, the brain chooses it’s mechanism within a millisecond- fight, or flight.

Fight. Attack. Defend.

Flight. Run…. like the wind.

When the unthinkable happened, my mind, it choose flight. As I said, a millisecond, it’s not a conscious choice, it’s just what your brain does.

I try not to beat myself up about it. I’m imagining the primal section of my brain did it’s thing- it weighed up Tony’s size against mine, added in my terror. And then, to compound it, it assessed the child in my arms. And maternal instincts, mixed with adrenaline…

Run. And scream. Fly.


I hadn’t done it right. I’d made phone calls in the wrong order, I’d ran instead of stayed… everyone, everything I came across while my husband’s body was dieing in the ICU, told me I hadn’t done this right.

“You just don’t know what you’d do it that situation..” This nurse is plump and lovely, sweet and supportive and tells me what a fantastic job I’m doing as I sit and hold my husband’s hand, and speak to him of our wedding day, “You did what you could. You did well. I had a friend, her husband committed suicide, on the back of the laundry door… a bit different to you, he was already dead when she found him… but she chopped tomatoes. While the police and the ambulance came, and they took his body away… from the moment she called 000, she began chopping a kilo bag of tomatoes, and didn’t stop through all the commotion, not till they were done. then she put down the knife and said “OK, I’m ready to go now.”

I feel for that woman. I know the ugly horror she experienced, the feeling that the Earth is quite literally changing beneath your feet and you’re not sure where you’ll end up.

I think, perhaps, her mind chose Fight. But he was already dead. So all it could do was retain some sort of normality, while the world came crushing down.

The tomatoes needed chopping.

Everything else, it could wait.

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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Veggie Mama June 21, 2011 at 9:41 pm

Sometimes any sense of normalcy is needed x


Suz @ Segovia and The I Love You Song May 26, 2011 at 6:34 pm

You did all you could Lori. Go gently xx


Dorothy May 24, 2011 at 9:59 pm

It's quite likely the you will keep reliving those moments, hours, days for a long time to come. Wondering how it came to pass, wondering what you did, why you did it, did you do it right…

I don't know how healing happens… We each do it our own way.

You did what you did. There is no changing the past. There is only this moment. Do what feels good right now.


Christine May 24, 2011 at 8:41 pm

There is no template – even if one is a counsellor – which I am. One does what one does. I am one of those, I think, who flees.


Hear Mum Roar May 24, 2011 at 9:45 am

Lori, I don't think it'd matter what you did, I honestly don't think you could've changed the outcome:(

I think your brain did what it needed to do to protect you and your kids. The human mind can be very kind sometimes. Other times, not so kind:(


PBfish May 24, 2011 at 3:37 am

There is no way of knowing what would have happened if you had done something else. The outcome might very well have been the same. You took care of your baby and that is naturally the first response any mama would have. It breaks my heart thinking of you feeling guilty for the actions of another. You did what you could do and that is surely enough.


Madmother May 24, 2011 at 8:57 am

Keep on chopping, my sweet.


Melissa May 23, 2011 at 8:51 pm

I very much agree with the previous commenter – as a nurse we run emergency drills over and over and over and over – it's annoying and boring, but in an actual emergency – you simply don't think clearly, rationally. It's a fact. Your training gets you through, because your thinking is totally muddied. You did an awesome job during an unthinkable, horrible situation.


Amy xxoo May 23, 2011 at 7:34 pm

I really dont want to contemplate it but i think i'd be more like the other woman – stuck in some kind of fog and only being able to focus on one repetitive task to stay calm… but like i said, i really dont want to ever have to find out.


liz May 23, 2011 at 7:10 pm

Hi Lori,

You reacted as you saw fit; well, actually, your brain reacted as it saw fit. Your reaction was pretty much taken out of your hands. By your brain.

I believe that in such horrific and intense situations, something in the brain kickstarts and over-rides any other cognitive processes.

When my sister called me at work, to tell me my Mum had killed herself, I walked calmly into the office, informed my manager and colleagues in an extremely straight-to-the-point manner, and then started cracking jokes.

I was in complete shock, and had absoloutely no control of how I was reacting.

It was only weeks later, that I actually broke down and lost control. Until that point, I just kept going, on autopilot, until, I guess, my brain figured it was ok to break down. I went out and bought new clothes, busied around everyone else, and generally acted like nothing had happened.

I follow your blog everyday, Lori, and you never fail to inspire me with your extreme strength and determination.

Keep going, it gets easier, I promise.


Miss Pink May 23, 2011 at 4:16 pm

I would be like that lady.
At least, i am now when i'm hit with hard stuff. I busy myself. Suddenly the dusting i put off all week is so thick it needs to be done right this second. And the trip to the pet store to gaze adoringly at pets we will never buy with the kids that i put off each time we walk past? Yep, i NEED to do that too. And i throw stuff and shout at Mr Black about all the little jobs he has promised me he will do but hasn't yet, and i don't CARE how busy he has been, they need to have been done yesterday.
Grief hits us all differently. Some cry, they talk and they cry and they find comfort in others. How i ache to be that type of person. I look at those people with longing. I am just…not. And it does hurt, because you are not openly grieving, you are not shedding tears or howling about it all, and you yourself feel the questions "Am i a monster?" "Why am i not crying?" creeping in. And then suddenly you find yourself faced with those questions by others. Others that have no right to even accuse or ask.
If i were in your situation, i would have done the same, i would have looked after my kids first. I think it was part of you knowing that there wasn't anything you could do for Tony. Sometimes we never understand our actions, why we did this or that, and it's frustrating, but just trust that whatever you did, it was right for that moment. There was a purpose to it. <3


MaidInAustralia May 23, 2011 at 3:53 pm

Hugs. It was an impossible situation for you …who would know what to do? Be kind to yourself honey. xo


Daisy, Roo and Two May 23, 2011 at 2:46 pm

The kinf of loss and trauma you went through in those few split seconds are the kind that nightmares are made of, Lori. You did everything you were capable of. No one can or should judge you on those split seconds. Not only are they not qualified, becaue they are not you, but there is nothing to sit in judgement of.


themodernparent May 23, 2011 at 2:03 pm

I think we just put it down to the brain doing what it can to cope with the shock. I remember the day they told me that my baby wasnt going to make it, the main thought that kept going through my head was "what am I going to do with her clothes and who should I give them too". This was literally as she was dying in our arms…looking back I believe it was the only way my brain could protect me from the horror of what was unfolding.


Sheri Bomb May 23, 2011 at 1:40 pm

Well I guess I popped my comment cherry over on your guest post at Wanderlust so why stop now?

All I can say is that I would never judge you because that moment is so devastating, so surreal, so unexpected that I cannot even imagine it coming true for anyone let alone knowing what to do or how to react.

When I was 9 years old, my sister and I were playing on the swingset in our backyard. The swing was one of those 2-seater ones and the pole at the bottom of my seat was broken and rusted through. My older sister started tickling me and I was giggling like mad and squirming from all the tickling. I left go of the pole to try and fend her off and as the swing went back I fell off. The swing came back in my direction before I could get out of the way and stabbed into my leg, ripping it open and exposing all of the muscle and sinew. I started screaming and my sister just froze. It wasn't until my mum came down to see what was wrong that she had to shake my sister to get her to listen.

Very different to your situation I know, but I guess the point I'm trying to make is that I don't blame my big sister and I hope she doesn't blame herself. And as hard as it must be for you…I hope you learn not to blame yourself as well.


Lynda Halliger-Otvos May 23, 2011 at 1:25 pm

You did right as you were able with the facts you had in front of you at that moment in time. My hope is that someday you understand that and can forgive yourself. Until then, there are those of us who are thinking of you.


Crystal Cheverie May 23, 2011 at 10:15 pm

Wow. Well, everyone else here has pretty much said it for me – there is no "right way" to act in such a situation, and honestly, your brain really does take over. You really do just go on autopilot. For sure nobody has a right to judge you or your actions on that awful day – and really, who could blame a mother for reactively protecting her child? Anyway. It's just so awful that you had to go through this at all, it really is. I really hope that someday these horrible images, this self-blame, all of it, fades away and that you get some true peace. HUG!!!!


thankyou May 23, 2011 at 8:43 pm

Thanx for another powerful post, Lori.

I'm sure you know this, but there is no right or wrong way to handle what happened to you. You did what you did to get you and your children through the immediate aftermath in the most instinctually safe way known to you.

I defy ANYONE in the position you were in to react, 'correctly' or in a 'right' way.

There are a hundred different ways to respond to events. But who is trained to react in a 'right' way when something so totally out of left field explodes in front of your face?

Paramedics? Yes.
Health professionals? Yes.
Counsellors? Yes.

People like you and me? Lovers, wives, husbands, daughters, fathers, siblings, children?


We are not trained.

We do not know b/c we have no template to follow.

No instruction book.

We do what we are able to do.

We do what we know how to do.

And when we don't know how, our instinct takes over and does it for us.

You are still the bravest person I've ever come across.



Toni May 23, 2011 at 1:40 pm

No-one can ever know what that was like for you, Lori. And unless you've experienced it, you can't really know what it's like to have your primal brain take over, and do things for you where you have no control and often no memory of having done them.
Your brain made an assessment and acted on it. KEEP THE BABY SAFE.
I say, good call.
You did the best you could, hon. The best for you and your bub.


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