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Books Happiness Wellness

Why & How to Sustain Severe Mental and Physical Pain?

Mental health is a grossly ignored subject. We visit the doctor for slightest physical pain and disorder but we do not think to go to a psychiatrist even if we are suffering the most horrendous mental health issue. The reasons are mainly two:

  1. We don’t know we are suffering from a mental health issue
  2. Going to a doctor for a mental health issue is a taboo.

The issue comes to light whenever someone rich and famous commits suicide. Earlier a few months ago CCD Chief V.G. Siddhartha committed suicide. Before that, the owner of Raj Travels Lalit Sheth committed suicide. We often read about suicide by TV and film personalities. Many students commit suicide. The movie 3 Idiots confronted the society with the mental pressure a student goes through.

& now the shocking one, Sushant Singh Rajput, a bright, charming young actor.

In the last couple of months, I have come across one book referred by many other books while dealing with the subject of enduring severe mental and physical pain. The name of the book is Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. The author, a psychiatrist, was captured by the Nazis and who lived in Nazi concentration camps during the 2nd world war.

The author has documented his camp experiences and insights from his experiences about life. To understand the insights, a glimpse of life in the camp is necessary. He writes about the camp admission process;

Fifteen hundred persons had been travelling by train for several days and nights; there were eighty people in each coach. All had to lie on top of their luggage. The carriages were so full that only the top parts of the windows were free to let the grey of dawn. Everyone expected the train to head for some munitions factory, in which we would be employed as forced labour.

Inside the Auschwitz camp which was known for gas chambers, crematorium and massacres the author writes;

In the camp, fifteen hundred captives were cooped up in a shed built to accommodate probably two hundred at the most. We were cold and hungry and there was not enough room for everyone to squat on the bare ground, let alone lie down. One five-ounce piece of bread was our daily food in four days.

On arrival, the prisoners were divided into two categories. One fit to work and another weak, unwell, and unfit to work. The 2nd category of people which comprises 90% of the people was chosen for death and their sentence was carried out within the next few hours.

The author further writes about life in the camp;

Textbook tells lies. Somewhere it is said that man cannot exist without sleep for more than a stated hour. Quite, wrong! I had been convinced that there were certain things I could not do: I could not sleep without this or I could not live without that or the other. The first night in Auschwitz we slept in beds which were constructed in tiers. On each tier (measuring about six and a half feet to eight feet) slept nine men, directly on the boards. Two blankets were shared by each nine…. And yet sleep came and brought oblivion and relief from pain for a few hours.

About the endurance, he writes,

We were unable to clean our teeth, and yet in spite of that and severe vitamin deficiency, we had healthier gums than ever before. We were to wear the same shirts for half a year until they had lost all appearance of being shirts….

If someone now asked of us the truth of Dostoevski’s statement that flatly defines man a being who can get used to anything, we would reply, Yes, a man can get sued to anything but do not ask us how…

The thought of suicide was entertained by nearly everyone, if only for a brief time. It was born of the hopelessness of the situation, the constant danger of death looming over us daily and hourly, and the closeness of the death suffered by many of the others…

I made my self a firm promise, on my first evening in camp, that I would not “run into the wire”. This was a phrase used in camp to describe the most popular method of suicide- touching the electrically charged barbed wire fence.

From the above, you can make out the life in the camp. This is just a glimpse of what is stated in the book. The author has written about several such painful daily life experiences of severe hardship, enduring violence, hunger, insults, and witnessing many deaths daily.

In-spite of several such days, he and some others survived the camp life and were finally released with the help of the US army. What he learned and experienced from this life is worth knowing.

  • It is well known that Humour, more than anything else in the human make up, can afford an aloofness and an ability to rise above any situation even if only for a few seconds.
  • The attempt to develop a sense of humour and to see things in a humorous light is some kind of a trick learned while mastering the art of living.
  • No man should judge unless he asks himself in absolute honesty whether, in a similar situation, he might not have done the same.
  • Everything can be taken from a man but one thing; the last of the humans’ freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. (Profound)
  • Even though conditions such as lack of sleep, insufficient food, and various mental stress may suggest that the inmates were bound to react in certain ways, in the final analysis, it becomes clear that the sort of person the prisoner became was the result of an inner decision and not the result of camp influences alone.
  • The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the sufferings it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity even under the most difficult circumstances to add a deeper meaning to his life. It may remain brave, dignified, and unselfish. Or in the bitter fight of self-preservation, he may forget his human dignity and become no more than an animal.
  • Everywhere man is confronted with fate, with the chance of achieving something through his own suffering.
  • He who has a “why” to live for can bear with almost any “how”.
  • For no man knew what the future would bring, much less the next hour. Even if we could not expect any sensational military events in the next few days, who knew better than we, with our experience of camps, how great chances sometimes opened up, quite suddenly, at least for the individual.
  • Only slowly could these men be guided back to the commonplace truth that no one has the right to do wrong, not even if wrong has been done to them.
  • The existential vacuum manifests itself mainly in a state of boredom…..that mankind was apparently doomed to vacillate eternally between the two extremes of distress and boredom.

There are many such inspirational gems in the book. The author from his personal experience in the camp and as a psychiatrist practitioner eloquently establishes man’s capacity to endure severe physical and mental pain.

It’s all about our hope, meaning we attach to life and our sufferings, the capacity to choose how to feel, and much more.

The fundamental truth to imbibe is,” He who has a “why” to live for can bear with almost any “how”.

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