Once there was a cat named Tom.
Tom had a problem. When alone he was happy, calm, purring & lounging around on his back. When humans came he became agitated, meowing & hissing. If many came he hid under the bed, unmoving in terror. Tom had had an incident with one of these crazy humans they called a child, who had pulled his tail painfully. Now Tom noticed things were worsening with his emotional reactions, and felt less able to relax, even when by himself.
Jess the neighbourhood black Labrador was very wise. She barked to Tom one day, “Tom you can’t go on this way! I know some one who can help.”
Tom hissed back, “I don’t need any help”.
Later Tom realised he did need help & meowed to Jess, “OK. Who can help me?”
Jess barked, “Melissa is a great psychologist. She can help you.”
Tom warily arranged an appointment: the day arrived. With apprehension & fur standing up on his back, he entered Melissa’s room. In surprise, Tom licked his lips & contained himself.
Melissa was a petite mouse.
She squeaked, “Relax Tom, and tell me your story.” Melissa’s whiskers tweaked as Tom meowed his sad story. At the end Melissa sat back & contemplated, and then explained to Tom. She squeaked kindly, “Tom this reaction is a natural response to trauma. Trauma can be one big incident, or it can be from many small incidents which cause overload. Eventually everyone’s nervous system has a limit to the level of stress & trauma they can take.”
Tom relaxed a little & purred as Melissa continued, “Normally we are calm in the GREEN zone, you would call it the purr zone. When confronted by a threat we move to a more hyper-aroused YELLOW zone, where your body is prepared for fight or flight; you would call this the agitated meow & hiss zone.
And if the threat appears life threatening, then the ancient part of your vagus system, causes you to go into hypo-arousal, where all you want to do is curl up frozen – this is where you need to hide under the bed.”
Tom meowed, “Yes, yes, this sounds like me. What is this vagus thing?”
Melisa continued, ”The vagus nerve is part of the nervous system which calms you down and aids recovery. It is called vagus as it means wandering, and the vagus nerve wanders down from the brain to the heart, lungs & upper abdominal organs. The vagus nerve actually sends more signals from the body to the brain, than the other way round. It’s what makes you feel butterflies in your stomach when nervous. With trauma, this part of the system fails to work properly.”
Tom found this a lot to take in for his simple cat brain, but he felt he had got the gist.
Melissa continued “The great thing is that this problem can be helped. It will take effort & time, but you can get better. The solution has 5 parts:
1 Education & understanding – which is what we are doing today.
2 Awareness & acknowledgment – this means you need to slow down and take time to observe these reactions, then acknowledge them and not resist them.
3 The need to restore your purr zone – you can do this with breathing, deep relaxation, yoga, and meditation.
4 It may help to make changes to your lifestyle to work toward restoring balance. It is well known that spending time with nature, may help – you know, go outside and chase some butterflies. But don’t catch them, they are too beautiful to eat…”
5 Plus we will need to stay in touch and just work through the issues.”
Tom felt better & hopeful, and was glad he had not immediately enjoyed Melissa for lunch!!!