4 Things You Can Only Learn by Surviving an Earthquake

#2. Your Coping Strategies May Get a Bit ... Weird

Frederic Dupoux/Getty Images News/Getty Images

That first night, John and his brother slept in the car of a fellow survivor. The next morning, they had to decide whether to stay up in the mountains and wait for the rescue effort or cross the rubble to get closer to it. They chose to keep moving. The first step was to cross the Israeli consulate, or what was left of it, located just beneath their makeshift sleeping quarters.

The Israel Defense Forces
Having to make do through chaos and destruction seemed pretty routine to the Israelis.

The Israeli consulate had been a beautiful and ornate building, but more than half had collapsed. All that was left was a massive, dangerous, uneven pile of debris that the brothers would have to find their way through.

Hey, gamers: Does that setup sound familiar? It's like one ethnic stereotype and a swinging blade away from a Prince of Persia level.

Frederic Dupoux/Getty Images News/Getty Images
John didn't say anything about retrieving mysterious relics, but we just kind of assumed.

The realization was not lost on John, and here is where it gets weird for him: He actually remembers the whole experience as though he was playing a video game level. The series of decisions he had to make on the spot were translated into gaming language. The gaping holes he needed to jump over, the unstable rubble he had to maneuver through ... these became obstacles to clear. Archways turned into checkpoints. The ground looked like it could collapse at any second, but John felt only the adrenaline of crossing it, not fear -- even though it had been at least a few decades since his last save point.

"This was the strangest moment for me," John says. "I don't know if what I had was the most appropriate reaction, you know?"

Joe Raedle/Getty Images News/Getty Images
Curse him for not conforming to our expectations of victimhood!

John's "virtual" experience is actually pretty common: It's an example of depersonalization (when a person feels like they're watching themselves) and derealization (when a person's surroundings suddenly seem unreal). Long before we invented video games, our brains knew that some traumas were just too horrifying for the puny cotton strands of our sanity. It's not uncommon for people to recall traumatic moments as if it was all a movie, and they were the protagonist.

Funny how nobody casts themselves as the red-shirted extra.

#1. Survival Is Surreal

Allison Shelley/Getty Images News/Getty Images

It would take a few more days for John and his brother to be evacuated from Haiti. When he got home, there was a message on his Facebook wall from the girl he liked -- the one he'd been flirting with seconds before the earthquake hit. "Are you OK?" it read. Obviously, according to movie rules, John dated the hell outta that girl in his first few weeks back. But this is reality, and John suspects she only said yes because she felt like she couldn't say no in good conscience. Surviving a Haitian earthquake is one thing; surviving heartbreak is a harrowing tale for another article.

puchkovo48/iStock/Getty Images
Both require copious amounts of whiskey to get through.

When you make it through a catastrophe that decimates an entire country, killing hundreds of thousands of its citizens, it can be hard to process. Harder still when you come home to a lot of possibly unwelcome media coverage. John wants to stay anonymous, so we can't point you to the stories, but there was a lot of attention, and he didn't feel he could shut himself off from the overwhelming goodwill given by his community just because he was still a bit rattled by the time the Earth tried to swallow him whole. Experts have a term for this early stage in post-trauma: It's called the honeymoon phase. It seems like some pretty cynical phrasing on the part of psychiatrists to infer that marriage is some sort of soul-scarring disaster.

4774344sean/iStock/Getty Images
"No, no! The wedding is the disaster in this analogy. The marriage is years of depression and horror afterward!"

Positive attention or not, John couldn't exactly rejoice in the miracle of his own survival. He knew people who had died in the earthquake. He also knew that his survival over theirs came down to nothing more than the most haphazard luck, the help of strangers, and possibly some latent force-bubble powers.

Related Reading: We're all about talking to people with interesting lives, like this Homeland Security agent who went undercover with the cartels. We also talked to a woman who spent her childhood as the accomplice to a mass murder and this big bunch of drug dealers. Have a story to share with Cracked? We're right here.

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