Why am I not the same person I was? Understanding how the Hypervigilance Biological Rollercoaster can Impact You
We have talked about how trauma affects the brains of first responders. All that biological stuff that goes on in your body when you are exposed to high-stress situations every day.
But how do you know when YOU are dealing with the hypervigilance biological rollercoaster?
According to Dr. Gilmartin in his book “Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement”, there are 7 symptoms to be aware of.
- Isolating from other.
- Not wanting to talk about things that are not first responder related.
- Not engaging with friends outside of your first responder circle.
- Not being an involved parent.
- The "I usta" Syndrome.
1. Isolating from others.
When you find yourself struggling with the hypervigilance biological rollercoaster, you will often isolate from other people, especially the people you live with.
Maybe you used to sit and cuddle with your spouse while watching a movie, but now you find yourself not wanting to sit on the same couch. Maybe you find yourself not wanting to even talk with your roommate on your days off.
Whatever the case may be, your relationships are suffering now.
2. Not wanting to talk about things that are not first responder related.
Talking about work is easy. You are trained really well on how to manage situations that come up at work. You know about the most recent issues facing your career, and it is easy to talk about them.
But talking about life outside of work? Other than the quick “Hey how’s it going?” “Good.”, it’s not coming as easy or as natural.
And to be honest, you really don't feel like trying to.
3. Not engaging with friends outside of your first responder circle.
Why would you? They don’t get what it is like.
And you would rather talk to your buddies about your war stories. Those are fun conversations, and you can feel your blood pumping when sharing those stories.
Why talk to other people who are boring?
Now, don’t get me wrong. My husband has ALWAYS been a procrastinator. That is a part of his personality.
But this becomes an issue when it is different from your normal self. Normally, when I ask my husband what he wants from the store, he would give me some idea (like “Just get me a coke”).
But when you are struggling with the hypervigilance biological rollercoaster, you can’t even make those decisions. It’s when you go from the “get me a coke” mentality to “surprise me” mentality (aka “who gives a sh*t").
Sometimes you really don’t want to go home. And for some folks who are struggling, going to someone else’s home to have their physical or emotional intimacy needs met seems like the better idea.
This can partly be impacted by the biological rollercoaster because of the desire to be in the heightened state rather than the detached state, and infidelity can create that heightened response in a person.
6. Not being an involved parent.
You come home and go from the heightened state to the detached state of the rollercoaster. Your children may often see you in the detached state.
And when you have a hard time coming out of the rollercoaster, you have a hard time connecting with the ones you love. You don’t have the energy to coach little league or watch your kid’s piano recital. And you can’t find the energy.
7. The "I usta" Syndrome.
This is the one I see the most.
“I usta golf.” “I usta lift weights.” “I usta take my spouse on dates.”
You used to do so many things for yourself, things that you enjoyed and that brought you happiness, made you feel connected to yourself and others.
But now, you are so detached from life that you haven’t been golfing or lifting weights or on a date for months, or even years.
Well, crap! What do I do about this?
We don’t want to just read about the parts that are no fun, the things to look out for, without having an idea of what to do about it.
Here are four things you can do to manage the negative impacts of the hypervigilance biological rollercoaster.
- Schedule time to exercise or do the things you "usta" do.
- Be intentional about connecting to those closest to you.
- Plan time with people who are not first responders.
- Seek professional support.
1. Schedule time to exercise or do the things you "usta" do.
If you don’t schedule it, you won’t do it.
Put it in your schedule, either on your first day off or right after the end of your shift.
Doing the activities that you are interested, as well as exercising, can help to release the biological craziness going on inside your body.
I get it, this can be a hard one because your schedule is crazy. Especially if you have kids during the pandemic.
Reach out for help from others if you are having a hard time scheduling this. See if a family member or close friend can watch your kids for a couple of hours, or even talk with your partner to see if they have some ideas of when it could fit in the crazy schedule.
2. Be intentional about connecting with those closest to you.
Whether it is your spouse, your children, your roommate, whoever it is.
But the key is being intentional.
When you just say, “okay, I will hang out with them today", guess what happens? You sit there and don’t actually engage in a connection with the other person. It will be superficial and not helpful for you.
Intentional connection would look like putting your phone down and engaging in an activity, either shoulder to shoulder (going for a walk, playing racquet ball) or face to face (sitting down and talking over coffee).
You are choosing to give your focus and energy to the person and the relationship, it is not a convenience, it is on purpose.
3. Plan time with people who are not first responders.
Your job should not define your identity. Ever. No matter where you work.
By maintaining relationships with people outside of the first responder world, you are reminded that there is more to life than the chaos you are exposed to. And there is more to yourself than a job title.
These people will help to remind you to be grounded and connected with the whole world, not just the dark part you see all the time. To remind you of why you do this job.
4. Seek professional support.
Sometimes this crazy world we get it can make it harder for us to have the time and space to figure out what is going on and how to manage it.
Sometimes things get away from us before we realize what is going on.
If you are struggling with the hypervigilance biological rollercoaster, or don’t have the time to learn about it yourself, support from a professional counselor who is trained in treating first responders can help.
Not only can a counselor who specializes in first responders be able to help, but they can often help you more quickly than if you tried to do it on your own.
Whether this is new to you or you have been dealing with it for a long time, the hypervigilance biological rollercoaster can be tough for first responders. But the thing is, you don't have to stay in it. You can find a way out of it.
Just remember, it may be your battle, but you don't have to fight it alone.
Take care, friends!
If you find that the information here brought up some stuff you are struggling with, either individually or in your relationship, please do not hesitate to reach out to us for help. We at Code 3 Counseling are here to support you, and we understand that this can be a challenging issue to face.
Photo by Andreas Wagner on Unsplash
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