Reading Dr Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning shows that being a crash survivor who is locked in a suddenly half paralyzed body has a surprising number of experiences in common with, but thankfully a greater number of experiences different than the experiences of those locked in German concentration camps.
Both the actual similarities and the actual differences themselves are of interest to this post only so far as they can help us come closer to understanding how the attitude we choose can affect how well we handle the particular situation in which we find ourselves.
This whole concentration camp idea offers a fresh lens through which to view my ongoing interest in the power of Attitude. Considering the sufferings that others endured, and overcame, not just in body but also in spirit, serves, for increasingly long periods of time, to keep me from possibly retreating to a state of self pity. This is accomplished by encouraging me to focus on helping someone who is sailing troubled seas.
Because of the extremely important role one’s surroundings play in controlling one’s Attitude, I believe the two most basic and important differences between my experience on the rehab floor and Frankl’s experience in concentration camps were that:
1. We rehab patients were surrounded by people who had our best interests in mind. Feeling cared about and caring about others strongly impacts our Attitudes.
2. We rehab patients had plenty of nutritious food and warm comfortable surroundings. Although a positive Attitude could only help someone lacking these basic needs, adequate food and safety makes a positive Attitude easier to achieve.
Upon reading Frankl’s book, a few similarities immediately struck me:
1. The shock Frankl describes running through the former citizens–in-good-standing as they were reduced to prisoners who were treated worse than rabid animals.
Although we patients were never subjected to inhumane and cruel treatment, the similarity I noticed right off was the shock we both felt. Sure, I’d known that crashing a motorcycle could, and often does, result in life changing injuries, but I never imagined it would happen to me. Things like this always happened to someone else.
2. Delusions of Reprieve Many of the people in concentration camps, myself, and more than one of the people I’ve spoken with who experienced life changing trauma and time on a major hospital’s rehab floor report experiencing what psychologists refer to as “Delusions of Reprieve.”
Dr Frankl told that he and his fellows clung to any shred of hope that could possibly mean that things weren’t going to be so bad after all. I remember clinging to self manufactured hope that I was either dreaming or being tested, that none of what was happening to me was actually real.
3. Relative apathy is the next phase—an emotional death—Dr Frankl says prisoners felt as the hopelessness of their situation dawned on them.
Apathy, the giving up as hopeless, is definitely a stage trauma survivors can pass through. My apathetic stage quickly gave way to feelings of non concern in regards to how or what other people felt or thought. My entire awareness seemed consumed by self absorption that manifested itself in feelings of self pity at the perceived injustice of my situation and extreme impatience at anything or anyone that slowed my progress toward something I wanted.
Dr. Frankl described seeing the “first piteous, then amused , mocking, insulting” expressions on the guard’s face when he learned that Frankl wanted to keep a manuscript he’d been working on. This is when Dr. Frankl says he realized his former life was gone forever.
Unlike Dr. Frankl, I can’t say on exactly what occasion I quit the various denial systems I used and finally realized my former life was really gone, but I did get to that place of utter hopelessness. At any point, short of dying, as many in the concentration camps unfortunately did, the human animal is amazingly resilient.
Through the love of family and friend, I eventually rebounded from my state of shock and delusional apathy enough to want to find a way out. I found peace in reading encouraging Bible texts and in reading various self help books that describe our power to choose our Attitude and our self image, it was like my spirit climbed from a mucky swamp. This was my first exposure to the power of one’s Attitude—I gobbled it up. I loved this stuff!
Having my feet once again on firm ground, which is how I see learning to rebuild my Attitude, I started the long climb to regaining the positive view I’d had of life. Life is an endless journey not a trip to a specific place, so anywhere and everywhere along this climb toward possessing an increasingly positive Attitude can be seen as a type of utopia.
It’s actually quite paradoxical. Since the journey toward a better Attitude continues indefinitely, with the health of the Attitude ever increasing, it’s not like I’ve arrived, or like I even can arrive, but, since I do seem to be on the right path, it can also be seen that I arrive every minute of every hour.