Archive for the ‘survival’ Category

(I wrote How to Kill Yourself Slowly when I was in college. Initially, it lived on my blog, Bipolar Swirl, until it was published by Denver Syntax. Over the years, I probably received hundreds of emails from people who related to it. After talking to so many suicidal people and continuing in my own recovery, I felt like I needed to document what happened after, what came after the suicide failed. So I wrote the second half to this piece, How to Survive Surviving. For a while I looked for a place to publish the pair, to get it out into the world, but ultimately, I think it might belong right here, on a blog like where it began.

Suicide and self-destruction are familiar topics in my life. I tried to kill myself when I was young and followed that up with a barrage of indirect, self-destructive attempts. I have lost two people in my life to suicide and know more than that who have attempted. If you relate to this piece, please do not hesitate to reach out. My email is christina.bergling@gmail.com. I am not a professional; I cannot fix you. I cannot promise to respond immediately or that I will say the right thing. But I will listen, and I will respond. None of us need to be alone in this darkness.)

How to Survive Killing Yourself

Part One: How to Kill Yourself Slowly

There are so many ways to kill yourself without taking a razor to your wrist or tightening the noose around your neck. The secret beauty lies in the indirect methods. You want to savor your pain, taste your own decay, and kill yourself slowly.

The process should be started when you are young and weak, ignorant. A preexisting mental disorder or a trauma is helpful, but the twisting dance of both intertwining together is best. Maybe crazy is in your blood, passed down the line from a great-grandmother that spent her adult life tied down and shocked senseless in a mental hospital. The legacy of mental illness snakes silently through your genes, only visible in the awkward interactions at family get-togethers. Insanity is painted in the wrinkles of all of their repressed faces.

Never say crazy. You can never say the word crazy.

Their swirling disease now pounds through your mind, taints your world. But you don’t discover this sickness until your world has abruptly been ripped apart. Maybe your entire childhood was a jumble of shifting illusions teetering on a framework of lies that suddenly crashes down in one breath to expose an ugly reality. The life you thought you had vanishes. It did not exist.  Your parents never loved each other; they thought kids would make it better. You were born to save a failing marriage. You find out from your mother’s journal two weeks before she moves out.

You can use your mother’s nervous breakdowns as an example. Hear the slamming door and the stifled sobs from the other side. Watch her tiny body tremble, face turn deep red, small hands clench until the knuckles are a ghastly white. Listen to the tones of her incoherent babblings to herself, up and down, screeching, moaning. See her crumble on the stairs or the kitchen floor in a frantic fit of tears. Her body convulses. This is a good path to follow, an easy plummet to the bottom.

A failed suicide attempt at the age of twelve with your mother and sister arguing in the other room will get you closer to death than you could imagine. You need to nurture a blind hatred of your life and everything in it, blot out the sun with the thick, warm pessimism that nothing will ever get better. Embrace your own darkness and depression. A morbid fascination is comforting.

You want to turn yourself completely over to your disease. Trust the distorted and deformed thoughts that seize your mind. Yes, you are worthless. Yes, no one gives a shit about you. Yes, you want to die. Let the black emotions that taint your veins consume you. Curl up with hatred and sadness. Make sure any flicker of hope is snuffed out.

Your mind is no longer your own. You look into the mirror and see a stranger behind the glass, laughing and tormenting you. Her voice lacerates your mind. You begin to hallucinate sober. See your own slashed arms held before your eyes. Watch the walls bleed.

People can ruin this plan. Support from others can weaken your conviction. You cannot want to be helped or saved. Start by developing a horrible relationship with your father who you loved so dearly in childhood. He is the man who coached your elementary school softball team, who watched your first horror movie with you, who even would play Barbies if no one was looking. But he will become unrecognizable to you—a stranger in the shell of your dad.

Perhaps begin by fighting with him about moving his girlfriend in. He lied about her for months. She has the biggest ass you have ever seen; she tries to be your mother but is scared of you, as she should be. Scrape and claw for your lost father and a glimmer of the relationship you once had until he is telling you at least once a week how worthless you are and how you are fucking up his life. He watches stone-faced as you cry and again try to convince him to care about you. You pick at the gray comforter on your bed and beg him to please, just once, tell you that he loves you. He looks at you and walks out. No emotion; he must never show emotion, just like his father. Only you bring out the hidden temper and a stinging backhand from him.

Maybe also get disowned by his family twice—for having a party at his house while he is out of town and for being a horrible daughter and person to him, their golden boy. Make sure your family devalues and ignores you and your problems.

You should also get close to friends who will abandon you. They will leave you for boyfriends, girlfriends, new people, anything to get away from you. They say that you are too fucked up and need to get over yourself. Become dependent on one person who will tell you she can’t deal with this when you finally ask for help. She cannot even say this to your face; she writes it down in her illegible handwriting during class. You can barely make out the words with the tears blinding you. You actually trusted her; you thought you could. She was the only person you had cried out to. You were fucking up her life too.

Take this as proof that you should never ask for help. Instead, surround yourself with people who do not care about or notice you—except for a few shining individuals who will stop you from taking a swan dive into the asphalt but will overlook a few destructive behaviors. Your disease goes unnoticed here. They joke about it with you. You are not too much for them to deal with; you are nothing to them.

You need to have sex with assholes. This is vital. Lay down for the kind of man your father has become. They don’t want you. They are drunk, and your more attractive friends are already taken. High school dropouts with bullshit jobs who only drink constantly or peddle their drugs: baggy clothes, disheveled hair beneath a hat, glazed over eyes, tattoos, calloused hands, the smell of hours of laying carpet or tossing beer cases. Taste the alcohol and cigarettes on their tongues and follow them into the room. You pretend to fall for their pathetic lines, a blur of syllables you only know to be false, but you are just using them too. Dragging you into the bathroom in the middle of a case of beer. Phone calls at 2 a.m. telling you to come over when they are already trashed. A motel room you barely remember. Let them ignore you afterwards; let them treat you like shit. Have sex that makes you hate yourself. You feel nothing anyways.

Live in dangerous distractions. Find the joy in destructive behaviors. Drinking will poison your liver and amplify your disease. Dark depression will become overwhelming as the balancing cycles of mania are repressed by the alcohol. Any rational thought is washed away, and your control dissolves. You are perpetually lost and disoriented in a rotating world of the same faces and anonymous parties. There is no reality.

You will also need a healthy addiction to smoking. About a half of a pack of menthol lights a day should blacken your lungs nicely and get the cancer going. You use smoking as a crutch – angry, smoke; sad, smoke; bored, smoke. Painkillers also nibble at your liver and bring a distortion to your mind. You convince multiple doctors to prescribe them to you until you are red-flagged for Vicoden, or you get them from people at parties. It is a quiet addiction where having a curved spine and uneven legs are a perfect explanation. You must even eat fatty and salty food in excess and refuse exercise. Five packets of salt on your fries. Tell people that you are trying to kill yourself slowly in as many ways as possible. Jokes dispel concern.

But most importantly, you have to discover self-mutilation as a way to cope with the controlling, overpowering pain inside you. You feel the tingling below your flesh, are saturated by the screaming thoughts in your mind, listen to your strange reflection’s persuasive words. Do it. Just once. It will make it all go away. It will make you feel better. Burns at first because you are too terrified by what you are doing to yourself. A curling iron, a lighter, cigarettes. Your trembling hand then the bite of the heat and goosebumps racing over your skin.

Then you embrace the behavior and move on to cutting. It is a beautiful transition, as if you had been a cutter all your life. Your hands quiver until you fall into that heavy trance. The world falls silent except for your thumping heart. The sharp knife twitches in your hand. An awkward, tentative cut then another—deeper, deeper, always in a line. Your body disappears; you feel nothing but the slice and the thick tranquility to follow, letting the blood escape in front of the other in the mirror. She always smiles.

You need to lie to disguise all of these distractions. Tell your parents you’re working or staying at a friend’s house when you are out drinking or having meaningless sex. The cigarettes and the smell are your friend’s, not yours. The burns are from the popcorn popper at work. You convince yourself that your lies are true in front of your parents. If they question you, you get so enraged that they simply believe you. You learn to lie fluently; it becomes easier than the truth.

Cradle all the consequences of your destructive behaviors close to you. You need to dwell on every one, turn it on yourself, blame yourself completely. Make decisions that you can torture yourself over for years. They are excuses to hate yourself, reasons to be fucked up. You go back to bed with the same men or always the same type of men. They don’t care about you, and you feel dead inside. It must be because you’re worthless; it must be because you’re not good enough for better. You miscarry a child before you know you are pregnant. You must have drank it to death; it must have rejected your body. You take the wrong drink from a guy and are too drunk to fight back when he pushes himself on you. You must have drank too much; you must have let him. It all has to be your fault. Perpetuate your self-loathing, and dive deeper into your disease.

Above all, you must resist help in any form. You need to distance the few who care about you. Shove them away. Isolate yourself, and wrap yourself up in your pain. Refuse therapy of any kind even when your mother forces you to go as a child and attempts to bribe you with $50 as an adolescent. Don’t trust the friends who swear they won’t leave, promise they aren’t scared off by your insanity, and tell you that you really do matter. You must never talk or cry out no matter how desperately the words of a thousand expressions press on your teeth and try to escape off your tongue. Restrain your tongue; bar your mouth. Let it all fester and grow silently like a cancer inside you, killing you slowly.

Part Two: How to Survive Surviving

Well that didn’t work. You’re still here. Still drawing a breath. Still shambling like a zombie through the day to day. Still “alive.”

Now what?

You couldn’t quite press that razor through your wrist, couldn’t quite drink past your body’s preserving instincts, woke up spared from the cost your risks should have collected. All that was there to greet you was a suicide hangover and consequences. So many consequences.

All of your cowardly attempts failed—the tall and the small, the passive and the direct—just to leave you here, wearing the scars of self-mutilation like a roadmap to your abandoned quest. Yet another failure. Those ravenous emotions have left you a hollow shell; the denial of your destination has left you meaningless.

You never told anyone as you were sweetly courting Death, hoping to charm him into snatching you up and saving you from this life. Yet now, they all know. There is no more suffering in secret or keeping that devious little adventure to yourself. You can see it in their eyes when they look at you, look down at you with the condescension of “I told you so.” Your mother tilts her head and looks at you longer, searching for more warning signs she missed. Your father smirks when he asks you about therapy, pleased to have been proven so right. Your friend constantly brings up that stupid shit you did when you were so trashed, forcing you to remember even when alcohol was kind enough to let you forget. What an embarrassing mess you were; don’t you forget it. It’s so glaring back in a social life, so exposed out in their light.

Nothing about this is easier.

They said suicide was the easy way out; who knew they were so right? You thought if you endured and clawed over to the other side of survival, it would surely all be downhill from there. It never crossed your mind that if you did in fact persevere, you would be neck deep in the wake of your termination inadequacy, still hearing the echo of your moaned laments.

Welcome to a whole new hell.

You tell everyone you’re so happy to be better. Those words just roll around sour in your mouth, threatening to choke you behind a thin smile. There was such a seductive freedom in having no responsibility, liberation in having nothing to lose. Victimhood, in all its glory. No expectations were hanging above you out of reach; no risk was there to slip around your neck and hold you back. In the darkness alone, you felt like yourself, your truest self. Suffering made you authentic; it made you something. It was the only way you’ve truly been special. Pain was honest while recovery just feels like a lie.

And what’s worse, you want to go back. You were given the gift of second chance, and you desperately want to return it. You want to run screaming back to your cell. You catch yourself fantasizing about curling up in your darkness. It felt so eloquent to be dying, so poetic to be tortured. It felt safe at the bottom with only a gentle trajectory to the end ahead of you. You knew where you were going, and the journey to get there was irrelevant. There are no repercussions if you skip out on Death’s arm.

Like the addict feeling the sweet, tempting caress of your vice, you feel yourself nuzzling the memories of waking up drunk and bleeding. Who is that beside you? You don’t care because he made you forget who you are. Hearing yourself cry for help takes on a nostalgic tone. That bitch in the mirror was laughing at you for good reason. She knew better. Didn’t you know yourself best there, at the bottom, through her eyes? Raw and honest and weak. It would just be so easy to cut once more. You could bleed just a little, just to ease the pressure. You could just dip a toe back into that dark pool. That would feel better.

It’s too much of a contradiction. How could learning yourself prove so difficult? You’ve been trapped in this skull with her your entire life. You thought you knew the broken self so intimately. How can she be such stranger, conducting covert operations throughout your emotions and sabotaging you in plain sight? All the alcohol in your underage years didn’t drown her; all the smoke you sucked down didn’t choke her. No seedy stranger took your irresponsible invitations to snuff you both out for stupidity alone. She persists like an infectious disease.

In the end, you can’t escape yourself—any of them.

After what it took to dig out of that hole, when the fuck does it get easy? You sacrificed your escape and your self-important pain; where’s your reward, your pat on the back? Instead, you are greeted with condescending comfort and empty offers for help. As if they could crawl into your cage and save you now.

How are you supposed to forsake that version of you that still feels so true? How are you supposed to drink without wanting to drown? How are you supposed to fuck without hating yourself? You have flirted with the other side, let it swipe an icy finger across your heart; how could you ever just live like one of them now?

There has to be a death. All of the fixating and striving must be sated. You must ultimately make a sacrifice to those gods of destruction you have been worshipping for so long.

The old you. You slaughter that self, offer her up, leave her behind in memory. You feel the void at first, an aching hole in your very center that begs you to crawl back down and fill it. You are dragged across the broken glass of mourning as you let her go and all infectiously awful devices she used. Like any other death. Then you make the choice to move on.

In short, you are forced to wake the hell up.

Giving up on being a wobbling sack of victim, you prop yourself up on atrophied legs and stagger away from your suicidal life. One sloppy and pathetic step at a time. You made the choice not to consummate that fate, or in the least, you made the choice not to try and die again—slowly or otherwise. Now, do something.

Choice is a new concept. You curl your fingers lazily around the idea of a shiny new circumstance, yet unfortunately, you find no one else is going to conjure it for you. You are left there in the wake of survival, twiddling your thumbs and waiting for your spirit guide until the silence and solitude teach you that you actually have to pay for what you want. And everything in life has its price.

You reluctantly accept this idea that you are responsible for your life. Not your parents who didn’t bother to notice your pain, not the friends who didn’t want to deal with you when you were so depressing, not the strangers who mocked you with easier and better lives. Only you. Ultimately, you’re still alone. Time to redirect the depth of all the energy you used to dig your grave.

Other people do still exist though. You should know by now; you can’t survive without them. It was so easy to forget them buried in your own mind with your own torture blotting out the sun. While you were busy dying, they were busy trying to live around you. Your best friend gave up on you and fled into her relationship with her boyfriend. Friends turn into acquaintances or cast members in your flashback sequences. Your mother spills her guilt about the traumas she didn’t know you were suffering all over dinner, year after year. Your scars gave her scars. The flames you set to yourself spread, burned all of your bridges, singed anyone close to you. You were just too busy choking on your own smoke to notice. They were running around trying to douse the collateral damage, and you just saw them running away.

It is so arduous to just open your damn eyes. It feels so safe with your eyelids squeezed shut and reality hidden in the dark on the other side. You don’t get to survive as the victim. You don’t get to be at the mercy of your life anymore. You have to actually stand up and face how crazy you were thinking in that place and how crazy it is to want to go running back there.

Making decisions, taking responsibility, being in control is hard. You poured alcoholic accelerant on your own bipolar fire and plunged headlong into the crash; you put yourself vulnerable in a house where you could watch the crack heads climb the walls; you blamed your pain and used it as an excuse to not leave and start a new life. You enticed all the consequences with each cowardly choice. Of course, you want to cower down and scamper back into Self-Destruction’s welcoming arms. Her love is rough, but at least she doesn’t make you do anything but suffer. Break out of that Stockholm Syndrome and see her for the paralyzing bitch she always has been.

The tipping point in your recovery ambushes you from between huge paintings of male erotic art. An unexpected sanctuary for the key to your brain. Resistance is the root of all suffering. So simple, printed in the pages of the book penned by your gay boy’s eccentric sugar daddy. When he hands you the self-published book between drags on a cigarette, a nude and erect statue behind him, you never fathomed it would change your life. Yet the idea splits your consciousness at the seams. No amount of crying will heal the fracture in your diseased brain. No amount of regret will erase that hazy night you don’t remember saying yes. No amount of wishing will make any of them love you. Life is what it is, and all the shaking laments you can muster will not influence it one iota.

After this one catastrophic realization, its children start assaulting you in an avalanche. Acceptance is a slippery slope and skids you right into other secrets that have been laughing in your face all along. It’s all in your head. And your head is one manipulative bitch. You learn the words perception and perspective; then you learn the word distortion. Then you put them all together and start filtering every raging emotion of yours through the concept.

Of course it all really happened, but reality stops at the perimeter of your cell membranes. One interaction with your nerves and it’s all a wash of perception thereafter. Suddenly, the depth of choice makes sense. You see that every single thing you do is a choice. The stimuli hits you; then it becomes how to react to it, how to process your emotions and responses to it, what actions to take to change or influence it—all choices. You find your fraction of control in the uncontrollable.

You seize that power and stop blindly allowing your circumstances and blurry emotions to lead you. Instead, you start deciding how to react to the information coming in and the feelings awakened in response. Responsibility attaches.

You’re crazy. The sweet marriage of tainted genes and traumatic life highlights have damned you. Railing against the gods at the injustice only solicited crushing silence. Defying the cruelty of it by trying to escape into suicide left you in a puddle of failure. None of it made you magically sane; none of it made some creator decide to reconsider. Deciding to deal with it, on the other hand, embracing its reality and finality and learning to dance with it could just allow you to live through it.

Just this idea of ownership has the breath of panic tickling your lungs; you feel the manacles clipping around your wrists and ankles already. Your heart palpitates against the idea of sacrificing a free ride under the exemption title of victim. Yet, at the same time, could you be free? No more being tormented by outside forces, no more being trapped, no more being at the mercy of something or someone else. Your life can be yours, and you can change it.

Another secret: it all changes. Nothing in this life is permanent. Absolutely nothing. As quickly as your reflection shifted into a stranger and laughed in your face as you cried, you find yourself working as a contractor in Iraq, getting a glimpse of what real pain could look like and learning to appreciate the life you wanted to forfeit. You get slammed in the brain stem by the realization of how much you would have missed had your direct methods succeeded at 12 or your indirect methods from 17 into your 20s, how much your life has consistently and quietly remade itself.

That death you were so anxious chasing is the only permanence. Everything short of that is negotiable, variable, evolving. You could have opened up your jugular one day to miss finding utter perfection in a moment watching your daughter and her father marching and banging cymbals in the basement. You could have lived every day optimistic and hopeful to continually and relentlessly be shoved to the dirt by the Fates, like your mother. There is no telling.

That is the catch. You have to pay to play. Let that curiosity motivate you. Let the guarantee of some kind of change and realm of possibility keep you gambling on life. You never saw the fuck buddy who confirmed your lack of self-worth and left you in tears advancing into a violent love. You never predicted a lost pregnancy paving the way for a child you hadn’t dared fathom. You never conceived of finding yourself in such moments of happiness that those demons inside you could feel dead and decaying.

Bite the bullet. Belly up your pound of flesh. Maybe you finally try therapy—yet again. Only this time you don’t ramble on from the couch to validate your pain. It’s not about confirming your defect or excusing your sympathy. You actually let her words break upon your brain, apply to your life. Disease is not damnation. Symptoms can be wrangled and ridden, even without the numbing and neutering of medication. Maybe the work is worth it; maybe change is possible.

Expectations will be your downfall. Every time. Standards and daydreams of what your life is supposed  to be; masochistic little ideas that only serve to mock you down in reality; delusions spawned from an inundation of media where it all gets tied up in a neat little package, birthed from the lies they have told you to comfort you. Your mind resists this silly notion that things do not always work out, that you aren’t somehow guaranteed what you desire. The good does not always win; the hero does not always live; the wicked are not always punished. Life is a cold and unfair bitch, doling out randomness that leaves you wanting for that to which you feel you are entitled.

You expected your father, your family to love you unconditionally, to forgive and cradle all your weakness. You could not deal when their human limitations and emotional reactions corrupted your relationships from the ideal. You were going to be published and successful by now. Romance was going to easily sweep you off your feet and procreate a happy little family for you. Expectations, goals without striving.

Wash those ideas out of the scar tissue of your mind. You learn to stop and identify all this as mental idealizing and migrate it instead to physical actions. It feels foreign to reach inside your own head, pluck out an idea or feeling, hold it out in front of you and inspect it. You turn it over and over in your hands, letting your eyes discover the origin, the depth, the color. You divorce yourself from those gooey emotional strings struggling to keep it inside and actually see it for what it is. Then you plop it back in and make the choice of how to respond, learning to follow the flow of life and abandon those silly archetypes and ideas.

They will call you a pessimist, but pessimism is a survival technique. Liberated from expectations, disappointment cannot find you so easily; things can only turn out better than you thought. It does not mean you have discarded dreams, goals, or pursuit. It only means that you embrace the reality that none of it may happen, and that that reality is survivable.

Amidst the shards of your dark mind, squinting against this strange alternative understanding, you sit reeling. You don’t know how to think as this person. You don’t know how to be ok. All you know is to do something. Time to start making sacrifices. Yes, you have to sit with your pain, be uncomfortable in rigid sobriety against it. Yes, you have to embrace the consequences for your victimhood and everything surrounding it. Yes, you have to risk; tie your heart on a string and dangle it above the lions in hopes of luring something worthwhile. Consider your bet on the table.

Most importantly, you start to appreciate your pain. You feel yourself begin to wear your survival like a badge of fucking honor. You made it. Crippled and limping as you may be now, you earned that. You have been educated by torment. Lessons in the cold dank of the bottom. Your mind has been cracked wide open to see a whole dark and shifting side of life, another depth and degree of yourself. You were bestowed with a rare perspective, and now you allow it to guide you through the black and out into appreciation.

 

Christina Bergling

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SavagesCoverChristinaSavages

Two survivors search the ruins of America for the last strain of humanity. Marcus believes they are still human; Parker knows her own darkness. Until one discovery changes everything.

Available now on Amazon!
savagesnovella.com

TheWaning_CoverThe Waning

Beatrix woke up in a cage. Can she survive long enough to escape, or will he succeed at breaking her down into a possession?

Available now on Amazon!
thewaning.com

When it comes to preparation for the apocalypse, it is more than just canned goods and a bug out plan. Mental fortitude and well stocked supplies are crucial pieces of the survival picture; however, physical conditioning is just as important. All the well laid plans will not save you if you cannot outrun a zombie or assailant.

With the importance of physical preparedness in mind and included in my full apocalypse prepping, I give you my apocalypse anticipatory workout.

(*Note: I have no personal training experience or exceptional fitness expertise, so take this as you will…)

Cardio

Rule #1: Cardio. We all know it. We did not even need Zombieland to tell us (though it was awesome and hilarious to see). Whether you are sprinting to safety with a zombie on your heels or chasing down your dinner or nomadically trekking across the country, you need the endurance and conditioning (the cardio) to sustain the task at hand.

You would think that running and speed would be crucial, and it is important. However, the apocalypse (like a horror movie franchise) is a marathon, not a sprint. Yes, you will be running and fleeing and evading. More often, you will probably just be moving. Probably constantly moving, traveling on foot.

As such, you need to prepare for both.

For my apocalypse workout, cardio will be on day #1 because it is rule #1. It will also be on an additional two days (making it the majority of my routine) because it is the more crucial. First, a long distance run to truly build endurance. Next, running speed work, sprinting and increasing my pace. Then, a very long walk to include intense hills and/or a long hike, conditioning for a nomadic lifestyle that could include a variety of terrains.

Weights/Strength Training

Cardio may be the priority, but resistance training (weights, strength training, whatever you want to call it) also serves an important role. Most simply, you need to be able to carry your supplies. A properly stocked bug out bag is going to be hefty; nonperishable food and water is always heavy.

If you are going to be living a nomadic lifestyle, for instance, you need the cardio to do the moving, but you also need the muscle conditioning to hold everything you need to survive. Even just holding a weapon every waking moment requires a certain amount of musculature.

For my routine, I will include at least two strength training sessions. Once a week, I will devote an entire workout (over an hour) to a full body routine, working each muscle group in two sets to failure. One shorter upper body session paired with a plyometrics workout and one shorter lower body session paired with a cardio day.

Plyometrics

Jumping is important. Plyometrics serves as cardio in its aerobic nature (leaves me panting half to death) but also builds the muscle power. This sort of conditioning would be helpful in any survival situation.

I personally hate plyo. I loather jumping (and also suck at it). But I appreciate its value, so I will include it, paired with an upper body weight workout, once a week. I will probably do the bare minimum to satisfy the workout, but I will try to push myself to do as much as I can take.

Climbing

Climbing (on the comfort of an indoor climbing wall pre-apocalypse) works the entire body, from the flexing fingertips to the gripping toes. That, in itself, is useful. However, climbing as a skill would be helpful in the apocalypse. Without conveniences like elevators or vehicles or anything of that nature, there might be plenty of times the ability to climb would be beneficial. Plus, the knowledge could help mitigate the fear.

So up and down the indoor climbing wall to start. One day, maybe, I will confront my deeply seeded biological phobia of heights and try for the real thing. Preferrably prior to the necessity of the apocalypse.

Yoga

Yoga, for me, is for both the body and the mind. However, in the scope of an apocalypse workout, it would be for the body. Healthy muscles and connective tissues are stretched.

At the conclusion of each of my apocalypse workouts, I will do enough yoga to take care of my body and also subsequently calm my mind.

Rest

There will be no rest during the apocalypse, so before that comes, there will be a designated day of rest in my weekly workout routine. The muscles need time to recuperate; the body needs time to recover. I would like to say I would spend this restful time productively, clean living and what have you. However, truthfully, it will probably include drinking beer, watching shameful TV, and indulging in all the creature comforts I will miss post apocalypse.

My upcoming book, Savages, talks about the physical demands of surviving the apocalypse.

What would your apocalypse workout include?

My partner has a not-so-secret belief that I am a serial killer. Not in a “maybe you were in a past life” sort of way but more an active on the down low sort of way. Dexter-style, if you will.

His suspicions arise from my sadistic streak and my talent for manipulation. I am no serial killer, however. Instead, I think I am just more in touch with my inner savage nature; I am more honest about what am I at my core. That intimacy with my own primal self is what helped me write my book, Savages.

Whichever way you slice it, this part of me is the backbone to our apocalypse plan.

The idea started easily enough. We were watching some apocalyptic movie or TV show (both of which are steady in our entertainment diet). He made some comment that he might not be able to do all the killing required; he would not want to. To this, I replied simply, “Well, baby, I’m going to handle all that; you think I’m the serial killer, remember?”

From this hatched our hypothetical division of post-apocalypse duties.

My partner has wanted to purchase land for years. He would like to permanently reside self-sufficient on said land. Only, tragically, he would have to do so without me, so the compromise is to live in civilization and own said land for vacation and, of course, the apocalypse. Even without an imminent threat or an unavoidable need, he simply enjoys things like living off the grid, farming his own food, improvising conveniences, camping, and survival skills.

Obviously, since he already harbors an interest and enjoyment of these would-be necessities, he would be in charge of managing the related tasks. He would procure our drinking water, grow our crops, engineer devices for our survival.

That leaves me with what he thinks I already secretly indulge: I would be in charge of the killing.

Killing in a post-apocalyptic world would be unavoidable. It could be animals to eat, but, even more likely, it would be other survivors for survival. With creature comforts eliminated and resources restricted, when we all devolve to our savage roots, there will be (many) times it will be kill or be killed. After just the briefest and most peripheral exposure to people at war in Iraq, I believe this would undoubtedly be true should the entire world fall.

So it is a win-win. My partner is able to avoid the dirty work, and I am allowed an acceptable and productive outlet for the darkness he thinks is at my core.

And if I am driven to savagery and survival, I am going to be savage. I told my partner that I wanted to line the far perimeter of our land with the heads of those who had attacked us (and I dispatched) on pikes, as a warning. He only lamented that this approach would require him to make pikes, impale severed heads with them, and plant them in the ground.

I told him I would do the decapitating for him.

Survival is a high stress situation. It is best to have a plan, especially with your family (or established survival group). My partner and I have been together a long time; we know each other and our various talents and proclivities rather well. Yet, I feel more comfortable having discussed our basic plan and division of labors, as joking as it may have been. We have kids and dogs to keep alive; we cannot be wasting time bickering over whose turn it is to kill the latest threat.

Who would start in your survival group? How would you divide duties?

Consider the my to-do list. Consider this my plan to start preparing.

prepared

Let’s say the zombies started shambling tomorrow, staggering stiff-limbed and rotting through the streets, clawing and wheezing and chomping their teeth. Would you be prepared, or would you be lost in the panic?

Would I be ready? Today, absolutely not. I think about preparing; I muse about preparing; I even talk about preparing. Yet I lack in follow through. Like so many, I fall victim to complacency. Sure, the zombie apocalypse looks terrifying (and entertaining) on my lovely flatscreen TV, but surely that won’t happen tomorrow! Or even the next day. I tell myself that I have time.

However, when the apocalypse comes (zombie or no), there will be no announcement; there will be no gradual transition. It will crash down, and you will either be prepared or not.

So I am taking the first step in zombie apocalypse preparedness; I am making my ideal plan.

When the undead begin clawing at my door, or even when I see them teeming nearby on the news, my first priority will be to gather supplies and GET OUT. I love to live in a city, to be near activities and around people and community. However, in the apocalypse, for all their resources, cities are suicide. The more resources, the more people. The more people, the more zombies.

Most importantly, once civilization falls away, you need to survive the other survivors just as much, if not more than, the threat. People turn savage when their resources are threatened, when they legitimately fear for their lives or even their way of life. It is best to band with a group of well-known family or friends and strike out, getting as far away from the dangerous masses as possible.

Plus, if the zombies are infectious, a city is the easiest place to get infected. Priority #1 is to BUG OUT.

To enable me to bug out with ease, I have to be prepared. I will need bug out bags properly packed and stocked at the ready. Most importantly including water purification and food rations and enough for the whole family. We need to be able to snatch up those packs and move at the earliest possible moment to avoid being caught in the surge of refugees.

Beyond the elemental basics of food and water, these bug out bags need to contain provisions for shelter during travel, basic tools, and (perhaps next most importantly) weapons. Guns are extremely effective but require ammunition and attract attention by sound. Silent, reusable alternatives like blades or blunt objects should definitely be included, multiples based on size and weight.

Packed down and bugged out, the next priority would be travel. I would want to move as camouflaged and subtly as possible, making my way apart from the other survivors and zombies. I would want to cover as much ground as possible to put distance between myself and the majority. Being economical with resources and rest would help to maximize the progress made. The goal would be to put down miles without attracting attention.

Ultimately, I would need a bug out location. I would want this property to be remote, secluded, not easily discovered. A cabin in the mountains would be ideal (and would have plenty of non-apocalypse uses beforehand). There would always be the risk that other refugees would find it before I arrived, so I would have to be prepared to either share or reclaim my cabin.

My bug out location would need to be properly stocked. I would want more rations, tools, and weapons, but they would need to be hidden or disguised enough to not be fully exploited by the time I got there. And I would need to be able to protect them once I was on site. I would want either enough rations or enough means to procure rations (hunting, growing, what have you) for me (and my group) to survive at the cabin long term.

The goal would be to resettle in a new and safe location. However, depending on the apocalypse and the duration and severity of the aftermath, that might not be an option. In many scenarios, nomadism might be the most effective survival strategy. Stationary and too comfortable invites threats and most often other desperate survivors, especially the longer after the event. I would need to be prepared to replenish the bug out bags and keep moving.

If settling at the bug out location, I would need to be prepared and staged for self-sustaining existence. I would need a water source. I would need a steady procurement of food, either by growing, gathering, or hunting. I would need to be well fortified and protected.

However, if I was unable to stay and had to continue moving, I would need to be staged to exploit my bug out location and carry the provisions with me. I would need to adapt to a nomadic way of life and find ways to continually find resources on the road. I would need water purification means that would be lightweight and small and could be continually applied to varying water sources. I would need weapons that were reusable and easy to carry; I would want back ups in case one was lost or taken from me. I would need portable shelter and clothing for the different climates I would move through.

Hopefully, all these preparations would keep me (and my group) alive long enough to learn how to live in the new world. Surviving the apocalypse would be about longevity and adaptation. Things would never go back to how they were, so the greatest long term preparation I could have would be the aptitude to survive in whatever was on the other side.

So, tell me, what is my plan missing?

If I am going to be talking about survival (even in apocalyptic proportions), I should start by discussing my own small brush with Death. I have been relatively lucky in life and have not (yet) needed to physically survive much catastrophe.

The closest I came to surviving a natural disaster was enduring a 9-day blackout. A nearby tornado sent a devastating storm cell through our neighborhood, which tore down many of the large, established trees. The trees took out power lines, pulled down the poles, blocked all the roads. My daughter was a newborn, and I was on the end of my maternity leave. We still had access to food and water and could easily drive to electricity (once the roads were carved open). It was just a long series of inconvenient days.

I also went to an active war zone for a couple months. However, by the time I put boots in Iraq, contractors were no longer allowed outside the wire, so I had no direct contact with the country or the conflict. And insurgents were less than effective with missiles over large walls and concrete T-walls.

The first time I heard the sirens in the dining facility (DFAC), all of the third country nationals (TCNs) came flooding out from the kitchen to hide under the tables. My heart started to pound in my ears. I did not know what to do or if a rocket was going to  come blazing through the ceiling. My coworkers calmly kept eating and told me if a rocket hit the building, a table was not going to save me. And that was it.

My closest flirtation with Death, instead, happened when I was 22 on the Arkansas River. I was graduating from college that summer, and a large contingent of family was in town for the ceremony and my younger sister’s graduation from high school. We decided to go whitewater rafting a couple days before the festivities.

I squeezed my (at the time) fat ass into a wet suit, and we took to the rafts. They divided our group into two, and I ended up in the second raft. It was a Colorado drought that year, and the water level was extremely low. As the raft drifted down the river, I often felt the river rocks bumping against me through the bottom of the raft. Over and over, we got stuck on a rock and had to shimmy, shake, pull, and paddle our way off. It was not rapids we encountered; it was exposed rocks.

At one particular point, the raft got deeply wedged up on a rock. The water then poured down from the rock in a small slip but not at enough volume to keep us afloat or moving. The raft clung to the rock, and all our jostling and shifting were for not. As the first raft disappeared around the bend, our guide eventually dismounted the raft and instructed us all to do the same.

As my uncle and I stood, a wave of water pushed the raft up and onto its side, spilling us out. I felt my feet slip from the raft; I felt myself falling. And I felt my leg slide behind the chicken line (the rope that lines the top of the raft). I plunged into the cold water, and the force of the water held me down, yet I was not moving downstream. I was stuck, immobile, caught.

I kicked my legs confused, but my right leg was hooked on that chicken line, caught behind the knee. I was tethered to the raft. My hands shot out only to grope cold, shapeless, moving water. I struggled to sit up, but the weight of the current moving over me held me down. Panic spread through my skin as I realized I could not get out, could not get up, and could not get free.

At this point, my body and my brain divorced. It happened so quickly and so completely. I felt the panic in my flesh; I was aware that my body continued to flail and grope, that I was thrashing around in the water like I was drowning. However, my mind ascended somewhere more detached and placid.

I remember the thought moving slowly over my mind, Holy shit, this is how I am going to die. I’m not even going to graduate college. This is how I’m going to die. This is bullshit.

Even with this bitter acceptance laying across my brain, my body continued to fight. I tried again and again, repeatedly, to catch a breath of air. My lungs and my muscles were desperate. The sunlight danced on the surface of the water, which appeared to be just above my face. It looked so close, like I was right there. Surely, I could just lean up and take a breath. I struggled and stretched, yet every gasp only filled my mouth with more water.

My arms continued to claw out into the shifting nothing around me. They were relentless until my nails raked across something. All my attention diverted to that something. I had no idea what I was touching. I did not care. I focused all my efforts there; I dug in and clawed my way, heaved myself out of the water.

I broke the unimpressive rapids that were drowning me in a desperate gasp and firmly pressed my head against another rock, pinning myself above the force of the current. My family and our guide were surprised to see me. They had assumed I had been washed downstream. My uncle clung to the chicken wire beside me; it had been his arm that I groped up, leaving nail marks deep through his wet suit.

When I did finally emerge from the water, they thought the raft was on top of me, pinning me, and attempted to tug it free. I felt the pull on the back of my knee and the pain. I jerked with their efforts. Feeling myself drag down against my savior rock, I threatened to tumble back into the water. Panic flared up in me again, and I screamed in an incoherent slew of cussing. My father finally climbed forward and heaved me into the raft.

I crouched trembling at the bottom of the raft as we finally flowed down the river again. It was all a blur of fading panic and adrenaline. I was disoriented and at a loss to process what just happened. Our guide had me pick up a paddle and keep rowing.

When we beached the raft, my father came over and held me for a moment without a word. When I later peeled off my wet suit, I had a small rope burn across the hinge of my knee. Yet that tiny abrasion would blossom into a deep and black bruise.

raftingbruise_edited

The force of the water that kept me underwater so effectively also tore a long line in my thigh muscle. The physical therapist I eventually saw a year later said he was surprised it did not pull my hip from its joint. The entire back of my thigh turned black; then the blood began to pool on the back of my calf as well. The rope burn was deep enough, even through the wet suit, to scab heavily.

It took months for the blood to reabsorb and dissipate from my leg. I could not even wear pants for the first week or two; it was so sensitive. Even after the color had faded, the tenderness persisted. I was driving with a pillow to prop my leg off the edge of the seat by the time I relented to see that physical therapist.

I was probably under the water for less than a minute. However, in that detached, accepting, panicked state, it felt like much longer. I would have believed I struggled against the crushing, formless water and eerily calm thoughts for closer to 20 minutes. If my uncle had not been dangling from the chicken line for me to climb up, I do not know that they would have realized where I was before I did drown.

I did not see a light, beside the mocking sunlight playing on the surface I could not reach. My life did not flash before my eyes, only the damning realization that this was it for me. No angels, devils, or anything in between. It was the mental detachment, the calm acceptance that unnerved me. Though I have to admit, that would not be the worst state to exit this life in. No pain, separated from the panic, just quietly thinking it was bullshit.

Have you had a near-death or survival situation? Was your glimpse different than my own?

The apocalypse has gone mainstream. The end of the world manifested in a myriad of scenarios has infiltrated the many forms of the media—books, movies, cable and network television. Right now, it is simply everywhere.

Where zombies used to be at the fringe of horror, they are now their own genre and pop culture phenomena. Where you used to keep some bottled water and canned food in case of emergency, preparation and survivalism have become publicized arts.

This apocalyptic focus is a fascinating cultural fixation. For those of us who have been lurking in horror and the like for years, we now find our interests readily available and flourishing under all the attention. However, despite the avalanche of awareness, there seem to be some real life details that the apocalyptic media glosses over or neglects.

Some of the dirty details get left out. Mundane, daily concerns we would like to pretend we do not have to deal with. Those annoying little realities that will not just be alleviated by the end times. As a woman, three specific examples come immediately to mind.

#1 Periods. Menstruation is a reality most women cannot escape, no matter how much we may wish we could. How in the hell are these surviving women dealing with their periods? Clearly, they did not stop menstruating because a zombie ate their husband or the power suddenly went out. It is safe to assume tampons and pads would not be readily available, and even if they were, how much real estate could these women sacrifice in their nomadic bags to tote them around?

I cannot see any woman just bleeding down her leg (and have not seen it in any movie or show). Not to mention the sanitary considerations this would bring up, blood leaves a trail—both in sight and smell. In most cases, survivors are nomadic and often evading some form of threat. Whether that danger is zombies, other survivors, or (more mundanely) a bear, they would not want that pungent of a trace left leading right to them every 28 days.

Maybe they have gone colonial and are using folded pieces of cloth, if they could acquire enough cloth. However they are coping with the monthly, how are they disposing of the method? Bury it? Burn it? It could be any of the methods used to eliminate shit as a tracker, which I was made intimately familiar with from the stories of my coworkers in Iraq.

Whatever these women would have to do, no one is telling.

#2 Birth Control. This is not all that separate from menstruation. After all, pregnancy is a direct result of the same cycle. And by the same token as assuming tampons would quickly become scarce and nonexistent, condoms are probably not just lying around everywhere. The same would apply for birth control pills, and all medically administered methods (IUD, Depo-Provera, and the like) would naturally be gone with the doctors who would have provided them.

So birth control is out the window, beyond natural methods like pulling out or the “rhythm method” (neither highly effective). People are going to continue to have sex, apocalypse or not, maybe even more so in the face of their demise. Apocalyptic media surely includes plenty of sex between characters. Sometimes there is even pregnancy. However, it is rarely addressed how they would avoid getting pregnant.

Walking Dead did make an exception and included two instances of pregnancy tests miraculously spared and available being used. When Laurie finds out she is pregnant (with a child she eventually has) and when Maggie is confirming that she is not pregnant. Laurie’s pregnancy was a significant plot point, but Maggie’s test was merely a raw and real detail to thicken the authenticity of the show.

#3 Shaving. I will preface this one by acknowledging that Hollywood in particular has to make things pretty. Movies and television have an inescapable visual element. Just like there would no longer makeup or curling irons after the apocalypse yet the characters are still startlingly groomed and sexy; there would not be frequent showers or time with a razor. I understand why this particular aesthetic detail is purposefully ignored and contradicted.

Nonetheless, this applies to both men and women. If the story takes place two years, seven years, decades after the fall of civilization, why does everyone not look like Tarzan? Do they all have a razor and clippers packed efficiently with their magical tampons and birth control pills? When people are scrounging for food, it is very unlikely they are concerned with keeping their hair trimmed short and shaving their legs.

Not many people want to watch a movie with a zombie-slaughtering heroine with French plumes of armpit hair, yet that does not alter the reality of it. Hair will keep growing; women will continue to be fertile and still have their periods.

Shaving does not affect much from a survivalistic standpoint; what difference would it actually make as to whether a survivor makes it or not? A screaming newborn or a trail of blood, on the other hand, would impact the chances of surviving whatever apocalypse in which the character might be trudging. Pregnancy weakens the woman, limits her activity and possibly mobility or ability to flee. A baby makes very clear and constant noise. Blood leaves a trail to follow.

Maybe it does not matter. Maybe these details are deliberately omitted for entertainment value. That is perfectly reasonable, yet I cannot help but notice as I indulge from the buffet of apocalyptic media options.

The questions become:
Apocalyptic fans, would these details make the movies/TV shows/books more realistic or entertaining; are they necessary?
Preppers and survivalists, how would you deal with these realities after the world ended?