5 Disturbing Ways The Apocalypse Will Destroy Your Psyche
Hollywood seems pretty convinced that you want to survive the apocalypse, because apparently none of us can wait till we're eating dogs and fighting off roving gangs of wasteland cannibals. In a real life apocalyptic scenario most of us wouldn't survive, and it probably won't be the murderers or mutants that do you in. It'll be your brain. In a post-apocalyptic scenario the human mind would snap. Not just because it's a reaction to a world gone mad, but as a necessity for your basic survival. Gotta shed that sanity if you want to survive in a crazy world.
When The Unthinkable Becomes Necessary
In a post-apocalyptic world, survival will be a decision you have to make every day. The morning after your entire outpost of ragtag survivors is eaten by mutant toads the size of an F-150, survival may lose some of its appeal. It is about harnessing the motivation to make the tough choices.
This but 50 times bigger is a pretty good motivator for survival.
The stress of being forever on high alert, making fast choice after fast choice, takes its toll. Decisions must be made with a cool mind but the action is high intensity, and that needs tunnel vision. Despite what Kevin Costner and Mel Gibson may have you believe, it is impossible to keep up. It is a punishing and brutal exercise which will break you.
Remember the dude who had to chop off his own arm to save himself because he got it stuck between a literal rock and a hard place? In the apocalypse, situations like that are your whole life. Your daily schedule will be something like:
1) Wake up.
2) Kill someone's beloved pet for breakfast.
3) Fight over the carcass with an emaciated kid.
5) Cry with gun in mouth until exhausted.
"Hm. I'm in the mood for gun metal for breakfast."
The assumption is that this will become routine, but the post-apocalyptic world is unpredictable. The brain can adapt to almost anything but only if that thing happens regularly. Almost every day, a survivor would have to make a choice that would have brought them to the point of tears and vomit in their pre-apocalyptic life. Right now, in our modern world of ultimate comfort and convenience, do you have a hard time deciding what to watch on Netflix? Then good luck making a decision when you're starving and one of your fellow survivors starts to look like a giant roasted turkey.
When The Pack Is Gone
There are seven billion people on the planet. The virus/holocaust wipes out nearly all of them. A few hundred thousand stragglers are left on the planet and they're dropping off, too. We're not built to be alone, and as appealing as the thought of every annoying douchebag you hated in the Before Times being wiped off the face of the earth is, being this isolated would suck. Humans have built an unspeakably complex society, with every aspect of our lives directly linked to the efforts of others.
How much of your day is made tolerable by the efforts of other people? Coffee brewers, podcasters, plumbers, and pot dealers -- All. Gone. Humans feed off each other, and when the stream of information is cut, the "human" in us starts to fade out. Will Smith's character in I Am Legend would be delusional and have no impulse control. You kind of see it in his tableau of mannequins in the video store that he's assembled to achieve some semblance of normalcy. In reality, his madness would be much more like that of a man in long-term solitary confinement, but the cell is the entire city of New York. Loneliness would soon start to chip away at your sanity.
Would have lost his mind and eaten his dog within a month.
The Lone Wanderer type is a favorite of the post-apocalypse genre. It's what the Fallout series is all about. Max Rockatansky of the Mad Max series has a better relationship with his car than he does with other people. The sole survivor trudges through the [insert your preferred wasteland], finding it in them to somehow trudge on. But what post-apocalyptic fiction is saying about Lone Wanderers is that they basically have a superpower. They've somehow been able to remain relatively sane without humanity's regular social structures. No amount of survival training can prepare you for a potential lifetime of loneliness and sorrow. Tom Hanks in Cast Away is so desperate for anything resembling human companionship that he inadvertently builds a friend out of a volleyball and his own blood, and gets into an argument with it. It feels so human to argue with someone again.
"What you looking at, bro? You wanna fight, bro?"
Extreme isolation fractures our reality and makes it impossible to make sane, rational decisions. What I'm saying is, if the shit goes down and the life of everyone you know and have ever met is extinguished in the blink of an eye, the first thing you should do is find an object with a face, like a teddy bear or an action figure, and formally introduce yourself. You two are going to become lifelong friends eventually, might as well get a jump on it now. You're going to need each other.
When The Rule Book Has Been Pulverized
Think of Negan from The Walking Dead -- a total sociopath who has without a doubt reached his full potential in the post-apocalypse. In times like these, fairness becomes a luxury. Not everyone has access to resources. The survivor will have no one to answer to but himself/herself. With scarce resources and death perched on your shoulder, morality might have to take a backseat to staying alive.
The very model of mental health.
When some semblance of community is created, you want to be at the top of the hierarchy. It's like the cliche advice people in movies always receive before they go off to prison: Pick a fight with whoever looks like they're in charge to establish your spot at the top of the pecking order. And there's good reason to be at the top.
In a post-apocalyptic universe the dirty work isn't just hard physical labor. It's giving someone an order to do something morally repugnant so that you don't have to do it yourself. You never have to be nice to anyone ever again. Sounds like a dream, until you realize that no one ever has to be nice to you either. What's important to remember is that this is familiar. The last remnants of humanity in you may be the glorious history of remorselessness in the relentless search for power.
When The Brain Is Trapped
Max, specifically in Fury Road, is a brooding anti-hero with explosive fits of violence and rage because the scary little voices in his head won't leave him alone. These are the voices of those he failed and whom he lost. For survivors who lived a healthy happy life, who travelled and fell in love, who were part of a community and liked it, the apocalypse will fill their heads with a thousand terrible voices.
You can tell he's crazy because he's wearing a black leather jacket in the Australian desert wasteland.
PTSD will plague survivors. The relentless onslaught of destruction and loss will devastate the human mind. It is over, everywhere, and there will be no recovery. The moment they watched their world die will never leave them; it'll replay in their heads, day and night. Even if things get better, which they probably won't, that unimaginable moment will trap them in their own mind. Take note of how bad you felt when you lost a friend or relative. Now extend that to everyone you ever knew, and extend that further to the rest of the world.
There will be hunks of time where the trivialities of survival will take center stage, but sleep will suck and sometimes separating the living nightmare from the horrors of past ones will be impossible. The severity will be on a scale never before seen. Hope you like living in a prison of your own sadness!
When You Are Out Of Reasons
In a post-apocalyptic world there will always be one bullet in your gun reserved for yourself. A survivor would feel an itchy trigger finger within weeks, once the hopelessness really set in. Hopelessness will be the natural response to an apocalypse. A survivor may (justifiably) not see the point of trudging through and living for ... what? The abyss staring back at you? You're not, even by the broadest definition of the term, keeping your shit together. Reality is warped and your brain has never experienced anything like this before.
"Oh, pointless, hopeless abyss! Promise you'll never leave me!"
This is how the apocalypse manufactures War Boys. Martyrdom is the only way to live in a barren wasteland populated by the beaten and broken. The cult of death will promise better; it'll make you feel like you're a part of something larger than your sad, lonely existence. At the very least it will give you peace. This way you can let go of your struggle to survive a little and spread it among your new larger family of psychos. Sure, in your past life you never would have pillaged settlements and stolen food from the mouths of children, but these people are your new family. Without them you are nothing but a dusty face streaked with tears. You'll do whatever it takes to fit in with the cool kids.
Every family has its own quirks.
So when the big one finally hits you want to be the conspiracy theorist standing in Yellowstone, arms wide open, embracing the volcanic ash. Do not run, do not huddle and make a plan. Just close your eyes and picture the gates of Valhalla, because even if you're not sure if there's such a thing as an afterlife there's no better time than now to find out for yourself.
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