A Brush with Snow
I looked up and all I saw was white, I thought to myself "Okay... I'm still alive and breathing, but for how long?"
I never knew my conversation about behavioral responses just a few ski lifts beforehand with my fellow skiers would play out in my own life drama. Reacting and responding to stressful situations teaches us a lot about ourselves was the topic of the chairlift ride. I'd shared my point of view in the conversation that I'd experienced a freeze response in past dramatic moments. I tended to not react as quickly and instead - I processed. We discussed how important it was to react with haste sometimes without over thinking, like if you had to administer an epi-pen to save someone's life and was instructed to do so...you can't afford the luxury of thinking about it.
In my case I was trapped and buried under a foot of snow above my head and my body was cradled below another 3 feet of snow pack. My arms and legs were immobile and I couldn't move the snow away from my face. Skiing inbound on a major powder day with low visibility resulted in an unexpected tomahawk when I hit a large piece of avalanche rubble and was tossed through the air landing a few meters away from where my skis struck the rubble into soft powder. A soft landing is always good, but sinking and being buried and immobilized, was not. An extreme calm came over me, perhaps because I knew I could not move or perhaps just shock - I had to think clearly what would happen next. I remembered in those seconds that I needed a pocket of air to breath (I'd heard this from an avalanche training course that aired on TV at some point in my life) and that I'd need that fairly quickly before the snow set, I wiggled my head and nose as much as I could down into my chin. It gave me just enough room to feel like I was able to take some breaths. I had no idea if I was visible although I knew help was nearby. I needed to breath enough until they could dig me out. I was stuck and frozen in place. I didn't panic. Why didn't I? Because inside I could have gone into a panic, but I didn't. I was reacting exactly as I predicted I would - I freeze, organize my thoughts and then react. Skiing in a group saved my life. My fellow snow lovers dug me out within minutes - thank goodness my ski tips were sticking out. Once freed and knowing I was safe was when the shaking "ugly cry" erupted. Adrenalin coursed through my veins and I wailed with relief.
I learned about the flight, fight, fright and freeze human response to crisis some years back in my coach training course. The idea behind this study of human reaction to fear is that way back when our brains were underdeveloped and we traipsed around hunting and gathering, we'd have to react fast enough to run away or kill a saber toothed adversary. Our flight response would kick in. Instinct would have us fight or flight. If we froze we might die, but then some species learned to adapt this as a way of survival by playing "dead" - the chase would be off and the predator would give up the hunt and kill. Of the natural responses from our lower brain kicking in instinctual behavior, we ultimately aspire to react from a more calm space so that we can make choices and engage our neo-cortex. Ha, in certain situations that's impossible!
We skied to the bottom and celebrated a very early lunch with flowing champagne, after all life is fleeting, short and fragile. What I know about myself is that freezing, playing dead, is my go to reaction & once I know I'm safe, I'm free to let the flight, fright response take over. I would like to give my years of meditation and yoga some credit for calming me, because somewhere in the frozen moment I was able to still my heart and know that whatever my destiny - I was okay.
Life Coach & Author