I’m a little interested in the cool and weird facts about animals. Daughter and Husband are completely fascinated by them so, I hear about animals quite a lot. Either a small voice or a much bigger voice will tell me, with equal enthusiasm, “Ooh! Ooh! Ooh!! Did you know…?” What follows will inevitably be bizarre or fascinating or down right crazy. “Ooh! Did you know that when the sea cucumber is threatened, it releases a toxin from its body? And if that doesn’t work, it will sort of squeeze some of its own organs out of its anus so that the predator thinks it’s already dead? Eeeew!! What’s an anus?” Yeah, I know. You want my life.
There are a lot of amazing animals in nature with pretty remarkable behaviors to protect them, though. Thanks to my family, I know all about the toad that shoots blood from its eyes, the cuttlefish who can camouflage its body color and even shape, and Husband’s current favorite, the mantis shrimp. If you don’t know about the mantis shrimp yet, read about them in this exciting infographic, here. If you don’t wish to read, the gist of them is that they see a bazillion colors, they are so string that they can break through aquarium glass and so prey is no competition, and they move so quickly that the water around them boils from the rapidity of their motion. Husband is right to admire these weirdly beautiful creatures.
With the recent discovery of my mother’s advanced cancer, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about defense mechanisms in people. I’ve witnessed a few of them, to be honest, and I’ve written about some of it already. I know that when people are frightened or hurt, many of them go on the attack, just like “lesser” animals. There are a lot of other defense mechanisms out there that people show us when there is grief or fear, too, and let me tell you something: mostly, they’re pretty stupid.
Some people feel the need to perform a sort of martyrdom as their means of coping. They make it all about them and the sacrifices they have to make. Sometimes it is even a “look at how good I am when this is happening” kind of thing. They are able to make it through, somehow, with the knowledge that others are impressed by their strength and courage. I suppose society rewards that sort of thing. There are books and movies and interviews on TV with the people who have lived through tragedies telling us their stories and letting us know how we can use what they did as inspiration.
There are those who simply shut down in times of despair. They need to feel everything all at once in a way so powerful that they are not able to do or experience anything else. Their pain must be acknowledged and experienced on a visceral level and it will not be contained. From anger and outbursts of violent rage to deep sadness escaping through oceans of tears, the feelings must be felt and given free reign over their entire being.
Two of my favorite people in the world share what I think is probably the least helpful of all the world’s defense mechanisms: humor. I suppose it comes from a sort of discomfort at having to experience pain, and no one likes to be out of control. Making jokes is a way of taking the power back and letting the world know that you’re ok. There is no need to take care of me, thank you very much world, because I am taking care of myself.
To a certain extent, I know all of these means of defense because I use all of them from time to time. I write here to share my own personal feelings, at times I am inconsolably sad or angry at what is happening, and I even make jokes, and sometimes they’re wildly inappropriate. I fight with myself to handle all that is happening with Mom and other sadnesses that I defend myself against, and sometimes sadness wins.
I’ve decided that I am going to let myself be myself in my defense mechanisms, even though they’re pretty impractical. I will allow for the tears, the wisecracks, the performance of my grief. And I’m going to learn how to be a mantis shrimp a little bit, too.