A few weeks ago I was interviewed for the local slice-of-life article called “My Favorite Things” in Competitor Magazine. The article was just published in the June 2011 issue. Below is a clip from the magazine.
I’ve never really been the outdoorsy type and I’ve certainly never had an experience that might be defined as a “survival challenge”, but I love stories about adventures and extremes. The closest I ever came to getting stranded in the wild came in high school when I went canoing on a Saturday afternoon with my friends, Lance and Peter. We parked my car on a bridge over a dull, murky, slow-moving river near my home in rural Illinois and then drove Lance’s Mustang back up stream about four miles and slid the boat in off the bank. We expected to be out for a couple of hours and things went well for the first mile. After that, the river abruptly turned to a creek and then a series of semi-connected mud puddles. Crap.
Overgrown with vines, tree roots and mosquitoes we eventually found ourselves carrying the canoe more than riding in it. Throw into the mix the fact that while the driving distance between the two bridges was about four miles, the flow of the river was about six and a half. It got dark and we were freezing, exhausted and wanting very badly to go home when the river opened up again and we got back in the boat. Soon after, we finally spotted the lower bridge. Cheering, we pushed the canoe forward and landed on the bank. We were thrilled, but our excitement soon ended. As we scrambled onto the bridge we found Lance’s Dad sitting on the hood of my car. “Pissed” wouldn’t even begin to explain his demeanor.
Turns out that when none of us showed up for work that evening (we all worked together at Domino’s Pizza), our boss called all of our parents. Our parents in-turn called the State Police. There was a helicopter looking for us. Lance’s Dad had a sense for where we might have gone and had just happened upon my car a few minutes before.
What’s this have to do with my being sick now? Well in a nutshell, Gonzales’ book examines why, in certain survival situations, do some die a cold and lonely death rim rocked on a cliff or stranded in the middle of a national park while others persevere. He really gets into both the literal, physical functioning of the brain and how it interprets survival challenges as well as the psychology of facing a life or death challenge. I really enjoy reading about the physical/emotional dance that goes on when we face these tests. Fascinating.
I’ve still got about 1/4 of the book to go, but how I see all of this relating to my illness is that more often than not its not the well prepared person who makes it. It’s the person who stays cool under pressure. I use to think “staying cool” meant not being afraid, suppressing your fears and being mentally tough, but the book has shown me differently. Being scared is not only okay, but it’s a necessary factor in the survival equation. If you’re not scared for your life, you’re not fully appreciating how fully fucked you are and you’re probably going to die.
According to Gonzales and his research, there are 5 stages that we go through when we’re lost:
- Denial – You deny the fact that you’re lost and push on with greater urgency attempting to fit your surroundings with the (broken) mental map you have of your location
- Realization – It really sinks in that you’re lost and you go into emergency mode. You panic. Thinking clearly becomes a challenge and your actions become rash and dangerous
- Regrouping – After exhausting and possibly hurting yourself in the previous stage you regroup and try to devise a new plan for find your way home. This is usually a fruitless exercise because you’re lost and you can’t remap from an unknown location
- Deterioration – Both rationally and and emotionally you’re spent as your regrouping strategy didn’t work
- Resignation – You’re out of options and energy and must really become resigned to your plight. You need to dig deep, learn about where you are and channel your inner Bear Grylls.
It’s somewhere around stage 4 that makes or breaks your situation. In fact, it seems to me, the faster you can get beyond stage 3 the better your chances of survival are. It’s in there that you live or die, give up or keep walking, stay awake or fall asleep and freeze, etc.
Now, I’m not dieing (as far as I know). Still, I sort of see my situation as life-threatening in that the life I had previous to getting sick is gone. Things are very different for me and life, at times, seems significantly less worthwhile. Before picking up Deep Survival I was trying to tough it out and stifle the fear that I may not recover or that I may, possibly, get worse over time. Luckily, I now realize that ignoring the reality of the situation is exactly what may enable that possibility.
And I guess that’s where I am right now — step 4. After flailing around in step 3 with seeing 7 doctors, asking 100s of questions and reading 1000s of web pages I’m pretty physically and emotionally spent. Still, I plan to keep walking… though I’d rather be running
Maybe more on this later…