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  • Writer's pictureSuzanne Venuta

I'm Going Outward Bound Once Again- sort of!

Updated: May 11, 2020

Have you heard the joke? “An Amygdala and Hippocampus walked into a bar”.

Well me neither, but for the past 12 weeks I have been living it. I feel like my Amygdala and Hippocampus have been partying hard and don't want to stop. Visualize college students in Florida at spring break

The amygdala is the part of the brain responsible for emotions, survival instincts and memory. The hippocampus regulates motivation, emotion, learning and memory. And believe me the present state of the world and Covid-19 is fodder for them both to go rampant, and they have run off with my nervous system like world class sprinters out of the gates.

I’m exhausted.

The frustrating thing is, I have no control over it and that it’s not really about the present situation.

The amygdala and hippocampus senses danger so their on full alert, hyper vigilance and replaying all the times in the past when there was danger, which in my case, means it goes back to the first 20 years if my life and the trauma that happened. While this is great survival tool and warning me of danger, (it did help me survive my past) it’s an automatic response and one I have no control over. I can’t stop this from happening any more then I can stop my B cells from going on alert and producing antibodies- immune response- when it notices a foreign substance.

I feel we are all like B cells, trying to figure all this out, learn how to deal with a live in a world we have never experienced before. How do we live with this new antigen that has entered our life? I’m sure I’m not the only one who is being triggered or struggling during these times.

My nervous system has been on high alert since the beginning of February. I could feel my anxiety rise. I knew it was connected to the Covid-19, but the height of anxiety didn’t make sense for the present situation. I was in a quandary. As the days went on my anxiety would interfere with my day more and more. I would go to the grocery store and the atmosphere felt like everyone doing the last-minute shopping 2 days before Christmas.

On my last hike before the state of emergency- the one where I got stuck in the mud- I was talking to one of my hiking buddies. I am fortunate to have this group in my life; they accept me for who I am and where I am at. As I was explaining how I was feeling and the confusion around it- it came to me. My nervous system was getting ready for battle, clarity can be a lovely thing. I was brought up in a form of battle zone, never knowing when the battle would start, or finish, or what kind of battle it would be. So, I walked around “ready and loaded” always on the look out for danger etc.

Now that I had some clarity, I could start to work on my response. I pulled in all my grounding techniques, mindfulness, self-care tools etc. All of these did seem to help temporarily, but it never lasted, and I didn’t seem to have the break through I usually did when my anxiety etc visits. I then made more frequent therapy appointments- via computer video- which is a trigger in its self- and through hard work I came to the realization of what the triggers are and what was going on. Its been a long haul, and I am still working on it. But I will get through this.

Through all of this, I kept telling myself that this is like a very long Outward Bound course. I have been using the skills, knowledge and insight I gained on my courses, to help me through these difficult and challenging times of Covid-19 and the trauma memories it has brought forward.

Outward Bound has taught me that I am stronger- mentally and physically -then I ever realized. While on the trails I learned to adapt to the challenges and changes that would happen daily, and accept that some things I just can not change. I learned it was not only OK to accept help, but also to initiate and ask for help. I learned that we are stronger as a group and no one does it all on their own. But one of the most valuable things I learned was to persevere through the really tough days, and there were some really tough ones. I learned that no matter how hard these times were, it was OK to fall and I knew that I would once again eventually find my own rhythm, no matter how hard the challenge.

Who would have known that a pandemic would give me an opportunity to heal at an even deeper level- not me!

When I go on an Outward Bound course, I have a gear list, the right boots, make a support plan, and have prescribed medication to take as needed for my anxiety. I usually also have airline tickets and leave home.

This time round there are no airline tickets and I’m not leaving home. I have pulled in extra therapy sessions, and checking in twice a week, via phone, with my family doctor. I have prescribed medication to help with my anxiety and sleep if needed.

I have work to do, and a times it will be hard, painful and I will have tough days ahead of me. But I also know I am strong enough and have a resilience deep down that will get me through this. I will have moments when I fall down, but I will get back up, and in time, find my own rhythm once again.

And like every Outward Bound course, I will come back a different person, a stronger more confident and whole person. I will once again retrieve part of myself and have found even more of my essence.

I also know if I had not had my Outward Bound experiences, I would not be able to do the work I’m now doing. Sure, I do have a choice. I can choose not to do the work, but like Outward Bound Canada’s motto, “A ship in harbour is safe- but that is not what ships are for” I may not be physically leaving home for an Outward Bound trip- but I am doing a stay at home Outward Bound course, I am “ Getting Out, Looking In’ and I will be a better person for it.

Be kind and gentle with yourselves during these challenging times. And as Dr Bonnie Henry, here in BC would say….Be Kind, Be Calm, be Safe.

Take good care of yourselves, and each other and until next time


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