I often discuss how our amygdala, the part of our brain that is responsible for the flight/fight/freeze reaction, is hyper sensitive and gets triggered when we are not facing actual threat in our daily lives. When it does, it actually distorts our perceptions and causes us needless heartache. However, when we are in danger, our amygdala can save our lives. Here is an instance when my amygdala served me greatly.
I was coming home from an appointment in Manhattan. I got off the subway train at my stop. It was one o’clock in the afternoon on a dark, cold rainy day. As I emerged from the sublevel to the street, I made contact with the rain. Since I did not have an umbrella, I began to walk fast to avoid getting drenched. When I came to the first intersection, the pedestrian light was green. The moment I stepped off the curb, a small blue car came in my direction. I stopped to let it go. The driver stopped and looked at me. His look was ominous. I gestured to him to proceed, but his eyes stayed locked in mine as he remained still. I quickly ran toward the other side. I felt his eyes following me, searing my back. Fear washed over me. I took a few steps and could not resist the temptation to look back. As I feared, he was still in the crosswalk staring at me. I quickened my pace and went into a store.
I lingered in the store for a few minutes, calming my self down. I could not understand my extreme reaction to this incident, but I knew something was wrong. His eyes frightened me. As I left the store, I looked around, he was gone. I proceeded to walk toward my home. I turned into my block. My heartbeat was returning to normal and my fear quieted. I continued to walk briskly to avoid getting too soaked. I still had three long blocks to walk.
I live on a lovely, tree-lined street that has a small incline and curves in such a way that one cannot see much ahead. Because of the weather, the street was empty. I was focused on getting home and had put the incident behind me. Suddenly I notice a car to my left seeming to move very slowly. When I turned my head in its direction, to my horror I recognized the blue car and the guy in it. My terror returned. I looked around for help, but the street was desolate. I was all alone with this wild looking guy, and he was clearly menacing. I quickened my pace and his car kept pace with my strides. I could feel my knees buckling under me. My heart was racing, my throat dry, my hands drenched with sweat. My mind was reeling as I attempted to keep a clear head and brace for the worst. Time stood still.
He was not communicating with me other than with his actions. What did he want? I could not figure him out. Did he want to rape me, steal from me, kill me or just torment me? What shall I do? Should I run? Where to? Anyway, he has a car. I thought of screaming, but I knew no one would hear me. No cars were passing by and there was not another soul around. I remembered reading that when in danger, it is essential to present a strong appearance. I decided to ignore him and walk confidently. It seemed to work. He sped away.
Still shaking and unable to see too much ahead of me, I wasn’t sure what to do. Should I go back to the main street, or should I continue on home. I was one block away from my building. I decided to go home. I needed to be home. As I came around the bend, I saw him at the top of the hill, outside of his car, waiting for me. My world came crushing down on me. I have never felt such terror in my life. I looked around again and it was as if every person on this planet had vanished. I was all alone and there was nothing to do but move forward. I tried to go into another building, but the door was locked and no one answered the buzzers. With absolute horror and determination I stepped out of the building and walked toward my building. He was still standing there. I walked toward him, my head held high and my strides strong. I placed my house keys between my fingers ready to go for his eyes. With all my might, I forced myself to conceal my trembling body. At about ten feet away from him, my eyes caught a bulge in his pants. It looked like a gun hidden in his waste. His arms were on his hips as if he would be reaching for it any moment. I felt all the blood drain out of my face. I realized that I was in grave danger. I could hardly breathe. The only thing left to do was to fight to the death. I was certainly not going to let him take me anywhere with him, gun or no gun. I screamed at him, Get away from me. At that point his hands quickly drew toward the front of his pants and suddenly a huge penis popped out. I was never so happy to see a penis in my life. In an instant my terror switched to rage. I ran toward him screaming to the top of my lungs, You disgusting pig, you pervert, you sicko, get away from me before I kill you. He moved a few steps back and said, please don’t be afraid I am not going to hurt you. I shouted, you damn right you are not going to hurt me because I am going to hurt you if you don’t get out of my sight. He quickly zipped his pants and ran away. Shaking with rage, fear and relief, I ran to my building opened the front door with my keys and entered my lobby. When I turned around he was gone. I stood there for a long moment allowing my emotions to subside. I fell to the floor crying as I realized I was home, I was safe and I was sound.