I screamed when my husband came into the kitchen.
It wasn’t because he was wearing a clown mask or brandishing a role of duct tape in a Fifty Shades of Grey sort of manner.
Screaming is my usual greeting for hubby on his return home from work accompanied by the welcoming words: “In the name of God you scared the wits out of me!”
He has even taken to texting me five minutes before his arrival as a fanfare of his approach. He hopes this will prevent him having to deal with my nightly histrionics, but it’s to no avail. Even though I know he’s on his way, I still jump and shriek when he comes through the door. I can’t help it. I’m incredibly jumpy; I’ve been like this for years. I also scream when the phone rings, threaten heart failure if someone pushes the doorbell and I almost require a valium drip when the toaster pops up.
Many of the women I know suffer from the same affliction. My friend nearly dismembered herself when she was chopping vegetables in the kitchen and her son, who was sitting at the kitchen table reading, sneezed. To be fair he is one of those ear splitting sneezers who has to do a scream like yell in the lead up to the nasal explosion. So startled was she, she narrowly missed her finger, jumped, threw the knife in the air, screamed and almost burst into tears. This was greeted by the same male response I receive in my house when I have a mild coronary at a loud noise, a tut of disgust and the words, “get a grip” were thrown in her direction.
The more mature I get the more acute my startle response becomes. It’s like a finely honed radar, detecting any sudden noise or movement and interpreting it as an imminent attack on my life.
Take yesterday, I took my son’s clean laundry up to his room to put it away and didn’t see him standing behind the door ferreting through his chest of drawers.
“Hi Mum”, he uttered, causing me to throw the pile of ironed clothes up in the air, scream dramatically and take on the stance of a trained ninja ready for attack.
My son and husband both seem to have the ability to materialise out of thin air, frequently scaring me half to death. I’m often reminded of the phrase from Mr Benn; “and as if by magic, the shopkeeper appeared.”
I’m never prepared for their entrance into a room and mortifyingly greet them with my usual dramatic jump and accompanying suitably terrified sound effect.
If you too suffer from this heightened startle response you might like to go to Youtube and have a look at Catherine Tate’s: ‘Margaret the frightened woman’ clips. I recognised myself so much in them I ended up snorting with hysterical laughter. My husband came into the room to see what all the hysteria was about, looked over my shoulder, saw Margaret the frightened woman and quipped: “That’s you!”
Obviously Catherine Tate must suffer from heightened startle response or at least know someone who does or she wouldn’t be writing sketches about it. Not to mention the 41, 000 plus viewers who have watched the skits, no doubt, like me, recognising with delight their jumpy selves. If you don’t have periods of heightened startle response then you either have perfectly balanced hormones or you’re a man.
Here’s the science bit: your acoustic startle response, which is basically your inner alarm system which warns you of danger, fluctuates based on where women are in their monthly cycle.
Specifically we are more startled by unexpected sounds in premenstrual week four when our oestrogen levels are at their lowest. This also puts us in a negative state of mind making us more aware and afraid of potentially threatening situations.
So you can imagine what the drop in oestrogen levels can do to the peri-menopausal/menopausal woman’s startle response, yes, it makes some morph into Margaret the frightened woman!
Scientists believe research into low estrogens levels may provide insight into fear regulation.I’m now off to lie down in a darkened room as my post has just been delivered and the almighty clattering of the letter box nearly gave me a heart attack! HRT, here I come!