The Startle Reflex

It happens at least once a day. Al creeps upon me unawares and I startle and scream. It’s embarrassing. I worry my neighbors will think he’s abusing me. This is not a new thing, I’ve had a strong startle response my entire life. People startle me in the grocery store. But it’s gotten worse since Al retired. At first, I thought, okay, well, I’ll get used to him being around and it will calm down. Also, he is doing things to help me now like walking a little louder or making some kind of noise to alert me to his presence before he’s right behind me. As of yesterday, it was not getting better.

I finally looked “startle response” up online yesterday, pretty sure this was going to be just another weird something I have to live with. As it turns out, some of us are born with stronger startle reflexes than others, and, with it, eventually, comes anxiety. Not sure why this surprised me. When I was teaching, I’d be alone after class, erasing the board and someone would stop by the door to say hi, and I’d be so taken aback the eraser would fly from my hand.

Turtles sunning themselves on the bayou

I still don’t have any good answers about what to do with this increasingly annoying reaction of mine, although Al is trying to help by being a little louder when approaching me from behind. I’m trying to be more mindful, meditate more, and I’m practicing yoga. Also, I’m taking my meds.

I got the mindfulness idea from an article in Psychology Today. Mindfulness is just being in the moment, having a single focus. I tried, yesterday on our walk around the bayou, to keep my mind from wandering. Mindfulness is exhausting! And I’m not sure how it helps calm a crazy amygdala. (The place mid-brain where the fight or flight response resides.) I think if I was totally tuned in to simply taking one step then the next, I’d be even more startled by an alligator crossing my path.

Baby Snapper sunning in the bayou

Our alligators have their favorite spots to bask in the sun, but they are mostly well away from people. We did see an alligator on our walk yesterday. It stayed in the water, only eyes and snout on view as it floated along like a peaceful log. I call the huge resident alligator here on the bayou Big Snapper. Now, there’s a Baby Snapper, too. Al told me the one in the water next to us yesterday was Baby Snapper. He showed me a photo of Baby Snapper sunning he took last year. She’s bigger now.

Last year, I gave up nature walks entirely. I was just too fearful of ticks and also Big Snapper, despite it never getting near anyone in our large community. But yesterday, I was not afraid of the alligator in the bayou. Maybe because it was Baby Snapper. Maybe, could it possibly be, because I’d been practicing mindfulness? For whatever reason, I had a lovely walk in nature with my dear understanding husband. We even stopped awhile to observe the leisurely progress of Baby Snapper floating down the bayou.

14 Comments

    1. I never knew it was something people are born with! Some people have it so bad that they fall down in paralysis. I noticed for me, I used to just jerk is surprise and suck in my breath. Now I do the scream. It’s maddening. As you know 🤗

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Where I live, if the police are called for what is reported as a Domestic Violence call, someone is going to jail. There are no exceptions. Hopefully you don’t live in a city where that law is in effect. My co-worker years ago got in a slapping match wither her husband, the police showed up, arrested him until he pointed out that she started it. She admitted to her part and both wound up going to jail.Had she denied her involvement in a believable manner, they would have taken him away.

    That doesn’t even consider the possibility of accidentally giving someone a heart attack or other health complications due to the startle factor, or potentially causing an unexpected response from you. I was younger and a woman decided to do a knee to the groin trick. She assumed I would see it coming, but I didn’t. She was very apologetic. My favorite was my middle brother’s fun of coming up behind someone and popping a bag behind them. He was cured of that when he did that to my father. The cure? He didn’t realize there were toothpicks in the bag and when he popped it, the toothpicks went into both palms.

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    1. I will have to tell my neighbors what is going on. I have wondered if so many of these strong reactions, which make my heart gallop fast, are hurting my health. So many people think scaring someone is hilarious. Not!!! Something your brother learned the hard way.

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      1. I don’t intentionally scare people, but I am also not a quiet person. I scared my neighbor’s oldest son last night. I figured as loud as I was riding my bike, huffing and puffing, into my driveway, he should have heard me.

        Known a few people who got hit in the head, face, or other body part with whatever the scared person had in their hands which is why I don’t do it. I never rarely got into it to begin with.

        Another friend hasn’t learned the lesson even though his wife has hit him with any number of things over the 10+ years they have been married. Figure one day, he’s going to do while she a pot of scalding water in her hands and the only question is who gets burned – him, her, or both? I gave up warning him as he doesn’t get it.. I figure he’s going to have to experience something similar to my brother before he understands why it’s a bad idea.

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  2. When we are expecting visitors or I am alone expecting a friend and I know she is going to come just after 2pm, I potter around, maybe look out of the upstairs window and down the road, not in sight. Wander downstairs… but when the doorbell rings at 2.05 pm I jump out of my skin, even though I was expecting the ring any moment.

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    1. I get that. It was really difficult to make my husband understand, though! He says logical things like “Who else is in the house?!” I don’t think anybody chooses to momentarily freak out about anything!

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  3. I’m easily startled, too, Cynthia. I think I’ve always lived with hyper-vigilance, so I understand. I have to deal with ticks, copperheads, and mosquitoes here in NC, but I do not think I could handle walking around alligators! They’re fun to watch from afar, but, dang.

    Liked by 1 person

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