Published On: January 24, 2022Categories: Blog690 words2.6 min read

PTSD, SPD and Fight-or-flight Response: Recognizing and Reconnecting to Our Proprioceptive Sense

January 24, 2022

My husband and I decided to go for a drive. Neither of us had been feeling well, and once better, we needed to get out of the house. My husband drove, taking routes I typically wouldn’t take. There were dozens of curves and turns. Meanderings. Making me feel disoriented. Off. Like I didn’t know where my body belonged in space. It wasn’t carsickness I was feeling. For if you’ve ever been carsick before, you know the feeling. This was a different sensation altogether: what I was feeling was dysregulation of my proprioceptive sense. 

Prior to my sensory processing diagnosis* a few years ago, I’d never heard of my proprioceptive sense. The sense that tells me where my body is in relation to other things. To other people. The sense that helps me feel safe in my body. That helps me feel gravity. Feel grounded. Present. 

Becoming disconnected from our proprioceptive sense is a complex concept. I’ve noticed that, after not feeling well or being in a fight-or-flight state, I am often disconnected from it. It’s that feeling you get when you’re disoriented. When you don’t quite know where your body is at. It’s like the feeling you get when you think there’s another step when walking up the stairs. The step your body swore was there, but then your foot falls through its invisible surface. Lunging you forward. Taking your breath.

That’s the sensation I get when my proprioceptive sense is dysregulated. Like I’m gliding through the imaginary step. Floating through air. Making my body tense up. Become jerky. Unsure of my footing. Unaware of which sensations are real and which are not. Not knowing what will keep my body safe. 

And what will not.

I didn’t realize it until after our drive, but my fear response had been triggered earlier in the week. My husband was coming home late and I was falling asleep and every sound put my body on edge: is it my husband or an intruder? Dysregulating my proprioceptive sense. Putting me in a fight-or-flight state. 

The fact that my proprioceptive sense becomes unregulated after I’ve been in a fight-or-flight state makes sense. Because when you’re in a fight-or-flight state, you’re between states. You are in a physical state. An emotional state. A spiritual state. You are in the past. In the darkness. In the shadows. It’s like no part of you: mind, body or soul, can clearly define the space surrounding you. Like each piece of you is being pulled into a different direction. Like you are no longer whole but coming undone. 

When we got home from our drive, my husband could tell I was unregulated. I was over-exerting energy trying to accomplish simple tasks. Unintentionally slamming things. Using stiff, uncoordinated movements. What could have appeared to be anger to an unknowing onlooker. 

I started rocking in my rocking chair—thinking I needed to get the energy out—but that wasn’t going to re-regulate my proprioceptive sense. A sense I was unable to connect to and therefore was unable to sense its need. But my husband did. 

He approached me lovingly and told me to stop rocking in my chair. “You need grounding,” he said as he knelt down. Then, he gently applied pressure to my feet, pushing me into the ground. After he pushed my feet down, I realized what I needed and used my weighted blanket until I felt regulated. Centered. Grounded. Exactly what my proprioceptive sense needed—what my body needed. To be reconnected to myself. To be safe. To be present.

If you or someone you love suffers from fight-or-flight responses, I hope you learn to recognize when your proprioceptive sense is dysregulated and find ways to re-regulate safely. I wish you many blessings on your healing journey.

*Since sensory processing disorder (SPD) is not in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the official diagnosis I received in 2014 was for sensory overload. 

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