One thing we’re all acquainted with is suffering. Yet despite knowing the fact that it’s unavoidable in life, we attempt to evade it, and when we get hurt, it’s as if we’ve experienced it for the first time. Just take a look at heartbreaks, or grieving a loved one, or perhaps losing a part of your body. No matter how many times it’s recurred before, it’ll always be a fresh wound once when we’ve experienced it again. Perhaps it’s due to the fact that memory, or lack of it, blunts the trauma. Yet there are actually two things that many people fail to recognize.
The first is that the crisis is not the most painful part we can experience. It can be breaking up with your boyfriend or girlfriend, failing an important exam, losing a limb to an accident, or sudden bankruptcy in your business. Many will attribute loss to that particular event. “It was the saddest moment in my life,” one might say. But it’s also the briefest, which is also why we might cling to that particular memory, playing it over and over in our minds, as if we could mend the mistake we make, despite loathing it and preferring not to dwell on it. We are, by our very nature, illogical and contradictory after all. Yet if we came face to face with the facts, what’s truly terrifying is not the present but the future.
A man who breaks up with his fiancé might cry and feel depressed on the eve of their separation, but what haunts him is the events to come. It’s in the days that follow where he is plagued by nightmares, dreaming about his lonely life, or worse, the past or what-ifs he could have had. It’s in the post-crisis period where he dwells on how there’s no one he can share his life with, or how he might not be as lucky the next time and find someone who enjoys his companionship. The same goes for anyone else who experiences a disastrous event in their lives, such as an earthquake or a typhoon. It’s not during the earthquake that you’re most distressed, but rather later on, when it’s all over, and you have to start picking up the pieces. Emotionally, it’s a lot less to handle because there’s no time pressure, no immediate need to resolve things. But in truth, it’s also the most difficult, because it’s when you come face to face with your own feelings, and realize that it’s not going to be over as quickly.
If there was an explosion and I died, it really wouldn’t be a problem because I had a quick death. However, if I somehow managed to survive, and find out that I lost an arm in the process, that would simply be horrible. When I’m in the hospital bed, I’ll be thinking of my future, how I’ll live life with one less arm. Sure, I’ll channel my anger and disappointment at that one point in time, during the explosion, but you know what, that event’s done and over with. It’s the difficulties in finding employment, or losing sex appeal, or simply not being able to eat with a fork and a spoon that’ll haunt me for the rest of my days. When I fall down, it hurts, but finding the strength to get back up hurts even more. It’s the only way we’ll survive or cope but hey, it’s not a pretty sight.
The second item many people don’t recognize is that we fear pain and suffering not simply for the emotions themselves, but because they bring about one important aspect: change. The truth of the matter is, complacency is lack of change. It’s being able to predict what’s going to happen tomorrow, of being in control, of living life in the way you expect it. Any form of crisis wrecks your plans. A couple to divorces, for example, have come to live a life they’re previously familiar with. Now, it’s an entirely new game, and they’re suddenly lost as everything seems strange and new again. Honestly, no one wants to start out fresh. In Monopoly, it’s like starting with zero dollars and zero property, while everyone else has their cache of money and hotels.
If an accident suddenly befalls me, it’s painful not just because of the actual sensation of pain, but because of the changes I’ll have to make in my life. If someone close to you dies, the first thing you’ll notice is how he or she isn’t there anymore. Our point of reference will always be the past, which is something we already know and base our future assumptions on. We live life in a certain pattern, and we’ve grown comfortable with that particular lifestyle. Change wrecks that lifestyle, and it’s extremely uncomfortable to change habits, to live life in a way you never expected.
Perhaps that’s why we suffer most after the disastrous event. Because then, we have time to think of the consequences, to feel fear and be frightened. And we’re not frightened for the sake of being frightened, but at the fact that we have to change and adapt to the new circumstances. If we fail in that, it’ll lead to another trauma, thus causing an eternal loop of pain and suffering.
Some of you might be asking how do we stop this? The sad thing is that we can’t. It’s a cycle, and no matter how we avoid change, it always catches up to us. Except in death, and there I comfort in that because the results can be predicted: if I slit my wrist now, I’ll stop breathing, and I won’t have to face my problems anymore. Note that the problems haven’t been solved, merely made inaccessible. And death, in the end, has a certain finality to it because it resists change. When you’re dead, you can’t change the world anymore. Only your previous legacy and other people can do that for you. So is it really a big surprise that people find comfort in suicide?
Saturday, September 10, 2005
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