In this episode of Unlocking Us, Brené relates a deeply personal story about going into "over-functioning" mode during an emergency, and what this revealed. Listen in as she explains how anxiety is contagious and how patterns in our day-to-day lives reflect the roles and expectations of childhood.
Publish Date: Jan 21, 2021
when we dress, rehearse tragedy, these air the calls we dress rehearsal. I received one of those calls that brings time to a standstill and without warning, kind of violently reorganizes everything. And it was my sister Ashley, and she was screaming, Something's wrong with Mom. Something's wrong with Mom. She's passed out in the driveway. Something's wrong, something so wrong. And I have to say that I'm someone who chronically and compulsively rehearses things like that, assuming that then I'll be prepared when it comes that did not work. I think I also practice it just to be honest with you, because I think that if I constantly stay on ready and scared that that's the price I'll have to pay. You know, that's my deal with the devil, basically, that I'm always kind of scared and worried, so nothing really bad could happen because I'm always prepared. But, you know, the devil never pays up. So all I felt in that moment when Ashley was saying that was sheer terror. I just remember thinking nothing can happen to my mom. I won't survive it. Nothing can happen to my mom. I won't survive it. So 30 minutes after that call I'm in the emergency room with Steve and Ashley were huddled together, waiting for someone to tell us what's happening to our mom behind those big, heavy, scary doors. And there was no doubt in my mind that it was serious because there was just too much commotion behind the doors. Plus, it was written all over Steve's face. The good news in these situations is that Steve's a doctor so he can translate What's happening for us. And the bad news is, I've been looking into those eyes and that face for decades, and I know when he's scared or worried. And again, I just remember on repeat saying, no one can come through those doors with that look on their face. I refuse to let anyone come through those doors with that look. I refuse to accept that outcome. I cannot do it. No one can come through those doors with that look on their face. I just can't do it. Finally, a nurse walked out and without breaking her stride, she said something to Steve about getting my mama heart catheter and something else was gonna happen. And Steve started explaining Tow us how? Ah, heart catheter works, and then the doctor came out, and apparently my mom's heart had stopped, which is why she had passed out in the driveway. And the doctor explained that the electrical system that controlled her heartbeat had shut down. And the default condition, I guess, of our body is this very low heart rate and that they were moving her to the cardiac intensive care unit. And of course, this made no sense to me at all. My mom was healthy. She's young, active, work, full time, lived on black beans and spinach. It just was not possible. So the doctor explains that they scheduled her surgery for the next morning and that it would be a least a couple of hours before he could see her that afternoon. So we stayed at the hospital and waited while my other sister, Barrett, who's Ashley's twin, arrived from Amarillo. And then we put my brother, you know, on standby in San Francisco in terms of when he should fly in. One of the things that started happening to me slowly in that moment, outside of my awareness, is that my physical stance became very resolute. I don't know if it. Waas My response to my own pain are watching my younger sisters in such deep fear. But it was definitely a stance that I have known in the last couple of weeks. During co vid teeth clenched, jaw hardened eyes narrowed with focus tears stop right away. My hunt shoulders. Straighten up, the armor begins toe lock into place. It's a Siris of barely perceptible movements that have definitely been choreographed by my history. Very quickly my arms will slide around my younger sister's. I grow taller. I become the protector very much takes me back to who I was growing up when my parents would fight, and I would gather my brother and my sisters in my room. It's the same protector who intervened with my parents when I thought one of my sisters and my brother was in trouble unfairly. And so I slide into this role of protector and co parent, and while I'm in it, I'm fierce. You know, nothing bad can happen, and unfortunately I start over functioning at the highest level possible again. As an over function er, we tend to move very quickly to advise rescue, takeover, basically get in other people's business rather than looking in at what's going on inside under function. Er's tend to get less competent under that stress, and they often invite people to take over. And often not only do they invite people to take over, but in addition to whatever is causing the stress and anxiety they become. The focus of more stress and anxiety on the outside is an over function. Er we can appear to be very tough and in control, and sometimes the under functions can appear to be irresponsible or even fragile. When we were finally allowed to see my mom, my sisters did their, you know, their very best, but they were barely holding it together. I, on the other hand, was in my unflinching mode. What do you need from home? What can I do? Who do I need to call from the office? What needs to be done? My mom is also a massive over function, or so over function or toe over function Her my mom and I came up with a long to do list When the doctor came in, he reached across my mom to shake hands with her husband, but I intercepted the handshake of course, introduced myself and began drilling him for information. My mom's husband just took a step backward. Let me run the show. Afterward, we regrouped on the first floor of this hospital. I have to tell you this. We were at an amazing hospital, Houston Methodist Hospital. It's weird downstairs in that hospital because it's very beautiful. There's big fresh flower arrangements on top of tables and sculptures and a grand piano. It's wonderful, but it's weird. And every time I walk through it, I always struggle to reconcile what feels like the lobby of like, I don't know the Hilton with all of the wheelchairs and people in Scrubs, and it just is always seems, no, no jarring is that the right word may be jarring to May. So I'm standing next to the grand piano and I pull out the list that my mom and I had made and began to kind of delegate the assignment. So Ashley, go to Mom's house and get all over medicines, put him in a baggie, including her vitamins. Barrett called Jason. Give him the update. That's our brother. We also need to get mom's and lightweight cotton. Ujaama's I started writing down everyone's initials next to what their task was. And then as the task started getting taken over by everyone and the list started getting shorter, I started getting panicked and nervous, and I finally just said, You know what? Let me get Mom's medicines. I know where she keeps everything. Barrett, let me call Jason. He's scared. He's so far away. It will be a tough conversation, and I'll also run by and get the pajama. Is that button up the front? I know what she likes. I was looking down the list. I was changing all the initials from my sister's initials to my initials and rank ordering. What order? I should do all the chores in, and this is better. I'll do this myself. And in that split second, it took me to change the initials and make the notes to myself. My sisters had stepped back from our talking circle next to the piano, and we're whispering to each other. When I finally looked up and saw them, they were holding hands and looking straight at me, and, you know, you know that feeling. If you've got sisters or friends that are like no bullshit straight talkers. You know, it's a terrible sense of dread and relief, but mostly, I guess, dread. So I said, What's wrong? What's wrong? What is it? What's wrong, what's going on? And then Ashley very quietly said, You're over functioning. Bernet and Barrett jumped in and said, We can help. We know how to do this. We know what to dio and the hard story to tell, to be honest with you, even though I've written it. And the minute Ashley said, You're over function and Barrett said, We can help You know what to Dio. My body gave up. I just went limp, and I dropped the list on the floor and I fell into the chair behind me and just started sobbing. But I mean sobbing, inconsolable, sobbing, and I know people cry in waiting rooms, but it felt weird to be crying in the fancy lobby, and I'm sure I was making a scene, but I couldn't stop. My sisters had pierced the armor, and in that moment it was as if 40 years of doing instead of feeling, had caught up with me. Actually, embarrass started crying, but they held me and they kept saying that we were going to be okay and that we're going to take care of each other. And David was there. My mom's husband, I apologized to him and we divvied up the list. And when you look it over functioning and under functioning through a vulnerability lens, it's easy to see that both ways of functioning are forms of armor. You know. They're learned behaviors for getting out from underneath fear and uncertainty over functioning. I won't feel I will do. I don't need help. I help under functioning. I won't function. I'll fall apart. I don't help. I need help. So the good news for my mom surgery is that everything was successful, and that afternoon we were back with her in the hospital room. Someone brought her this pamphlet that explained her news pacemaker, and the cover of the brochure had this silver haired couple in matching pastel sweaters riding bikes, I guess like E don't know Martha's Vineyard or something. My sisters and I just could not stop giving her shit about her sweaters and her bicycle writing, and so we were all laughing until we cried. But then we actually got kicked out for making too much noise. So I think for me this story is about how we all have pattern ways of managing anxiety that come from roles that we played in our early families or our first families over function. Er's like me if we can name it and own it can work on being more vulnerable in the face of anxiety and under functions can work to amplify their strengths and competencies. And on top of all that both under and over function Er's can work to develop a calm practice that I think centers us and keeps us from defaulting into these patterned ways of behaving. So when it comes to calm, I consider myself to be nouveau calm. It does not come naturally to me. I was not. I don't know that I was born calm, but I have made it a priority over the probably the past since Elin was born. I made a commitment when I was pregnant with her that I wanted to be a calm parent, and so I started reading and studying on calm and I define com based on the data that I've collected as perspective, mindfulness and the ability to manage