Ali is almost finished with her master’s degree in counseling, and she’ll be providing insight here relating to horses as well. Here is Ali’s first blog post for you, enjoy!
“Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable.” -Mary Oliver
Hi! I’m Ali Capurro and I am currently beginning the final year of my graduate program in marriage and family counseling. I feel super excited to work with Kendra on this blog! It’s such a great way to combine our strengths and reach out to anyone experiencing the challenges we both deal with. Our friendship developed initially because of those challenges, and I think both of us agree that those challenges have shaped who we are in incredibly positive ways. As daunting as it is to expose our inner worlds, it also feels that the time is right. For my portion of the blog I hope to incorporate pieces of my personal experience, what I’ve learned from the counseling perspective, and, like Kendra, the incredible lessons I continue to learn from horses.
I want to start by sharing some things I’ve learned about fear and anxiety while facing my own obstacles. One of my favorite personal “anxiety” stories happened about twelve years ago. My husband and I were visiting our newly born niece at the hospital. At that time I had a true phobia of elevators and refused to ride them. Because of that, we were taking the stairs to the second floor maternity ward. When I reached the second floor and tried to open the door, it was locked. Before I could register what was happening, I was in fight or flight mode. While I pulled desperately on the locked door, my husband was talking to me and trying to explain the posted sign describing that visitors had to take the elevator. I truly could not even hear him. I thought I was trapped in the stairwell. My adrenaline was on fire: heart racing, intense focus (I couldn’t even hear!), super strength (I was sure I could bust the door open.), and shallow, rapid breathing. Eventually the security guard on the second floor, obviously irritated, opened the door and commanded that we take the elevator if we want to see the new babe. Once I understood that I was not eternally locked in the stairwell, I was able to get back into my rational brain, to grasp the situation, and chill out a bit.
A phenomenal psychiatrist, Daniel Siegel, describes this reactive fearful response as “flipping our lid.” When this happens our rational prefrontal cortex takes a back seat, leaving the limbic part of our brain (sometimes referred to as our lizard brain because it’s the most primitive part of our brain) to make decisions. Rather than think through a situation logically and calmly, we feel and/or behave fearfully, out of a sort of fight or flight mentality. (Again, think of me reaching a locked door in a stairwell…no real danger, but a lovely flip my lid response.)
What I love about my “flipping my lid” story is how well it relates to horses. As we know, horses are prey animals. When we humans get in that space of working from fear or reacting from our “primal, lizard brain,” (Imagine me, one foot on the wall, two hands frantically gripping the handle, trying to pull a heavy hospital door down and not hearing a calm voice of someone I love standing directly beside me.) we are no longer using our rational brain and begin acting as a sort of prey animal. At this point we we are making decisions and behaving so much like a frightened horse. With horses, a common technique is to distract them somehow, which often works to engage their calm, thinking brain. The same technique works in humans! Even deep, relaxing breaths can offer a distraction and help us get back to our rational selves.The link to the article below talks more about this concept of flipping our lids in humans. It briefly describes our brains and explains what is happening in our bodies. Fascinating! Oh yeah, the best part about all of this brain stuff is that our brains can change and literally rewire. I love this! When I first learned this incredible fact I felt a powerful feeling of hope and a renewed belief in the idea of second chances.