Thursday, April 23, 2015

Survival Mind

Yesterday morning, I read a post over at Daughter Number Three's blog about laughter, and it got me thinking.  It's been months since I've had a really good belly laugh.  It takes breath to laugh well, and when the breath isn't there, neither is the laughter.  This flowed into the notion of "survival mind" that I've noticed happens during health crises I've been through.

What is survival mind?

The first thing I've noticed about survival mind is not being able to maintain normal concentration. That is, being able to read or write or carry on a conversation with someone and switch among them easily.  I find that my mind has shifted channels and landed on the physical problem and won't move. It makes sense that there'd be a primal response: if the health crisis is serious, the focus needs to be on survival and what needs to be done to insure survival. For me, this turns into....

...obsession with the problem.  I am a problem-solver.  Problems drive me to research, learn, test solutions, ask questions, and push others to help me.  I can distract this aspect of my personality by watching mystery movies or TV shows, or reading mystery novels, unless my concentration has entered into survival mind.  Then it's better if I watch things on TV that require little thought and let survival mind do its thing. 

Another aspect of survival mind is a single-minded focus on myself.  Until the problem has been solved, my mind has no room for any other problems or tasks.  As a result, life tends to stop -- bills pile up, work stops, housework stops, the social life drifts.  About all I can manage is to fix meals for myself, and even then I don't cook much.  When hospitalized, even that is done for me.

My sense of humor takes a hit, too.

Fortunately, the laser focus of survival mind tends to speed up finding the solution to the problem.  It gives me the energy to work with the people who are helping me, e.g. doctors, nurses, etc.  And when the solution is found?

The sense of relief is profound.  Once again I experience true, deep gratitude.  To know, finally, means to be able to fix the problem and move on.

In medicine, nothing is ever so simple or straight-forward.  Even in the depths of survival mind, I was well aware of the possibility that no answers would ever be found for my problem -- the mystery of my ailment would not be solved.  Survival mind keeps me focused on the possible, keeps me working with the people who are helping me, and keeps me from becoming overwhelmed and despairing of my physical condition.

Survival mind is a beautiful mind.  And I can laugh again.... 

1 comment:

Daughter Number Three said...

Your term "survival mind" reminds me of the psychological term "tunneling" that was used in the book Scarcity to describe how people experiencing scarcity react and then behave. Nothing is seen outside of the tunnel -- just what is needed to survive. It causes many behaviors that appear irrational to people who aren't experiencing scarcity.

I mentioned the book here ( but didn't mention that term in the post.

The parallels between a health crisis and an extreme economic one are clear, I think.

Glad you are doing better!