The old ones of Auschwitz Birkenau, the survivors, called them the ‘Muselmann’ (german for Muslims); the weak, the inept, the ones who distanced themselves from suffering by giving up. Deprived of any expectation or hope, they no longer suffered, they just existed, shuffling along like zombies to the inevitable conclusion; already dead in spirit. Any hope had been destroyed together with their humanity and dignity. .
Jenny fell passionately in love with a man, who abandoned her. So she declared War on Want by refusing to submit to her own emotions and with that her need for sustenance? This is Jenny’s way. Others use drugs to fill the void left by the loss of hope, others eat or drink too much, others seek sex and others find refuge in illness or madness. In a moment of clarity after the storm, Lear expresses that it is better to lose his mind than to be preoccupied by devastating grief.
David has been my client for twenty years. He first came to see me because of persistent abdominal pain and constipation, which he was convinced was caused by a cancer of the bowel that his doctor had failed to diagnose. No medical tests could convince him that he did not have a disease that would kill him unless promptly and properly treated. He was very suspicious of any notion of any psychological cause but never stopped coming to see me. David has never given up, but he has been a hostage to fortune and he suffers for it. He clings on to the idea a notion that life has to be fair. He believes in trust and in spite of everything, retains expectation and hope. If he were religious, this might give him peace of mind, but he’s not and it doesn’t. Instead his expectations condemn him to torment of frustration and disappointment as life lets him down yet again. For David, the pain and mental anguish represents his life force, a continuous grudge against the ineptitude of doctors, the neglect of society and the unfairness of life. .
It was only recently that he came to the realisation that he doesn’t have to be a victim; the passive recipient of what life delivers. People rarely do what we want. They are much more concerned with their own needs. In that respect, life can never be fair. It’s a world in which those who shout loudest often get all the prizes. So if David wants to get what he needs out of life, he has to create the conditions that provide what he needs.
Those who survived the dreadful conditions in the Nazi concentration camps were the ones who were able to retain a sense of their own identity and adapt to the environment without giving up. They had no expectation of kindness from the prison guards, but they could gain sufficient life force from a brief glimpse of the mountains, the sound of birdsong, the memory of a melody or composing a poem. Life is what each of us can make of it. David’s wife was recently seriously ill with cancer, but this gave him a sense of purpose and worth as he negotiated with the doctors, looked after himself and the house and kept up a email commentary to friend. .
Life is never easy, but we don’t have to submit to its cruelties and injustices. Neither do we have to make ourselves ill by railing against the world and suffering the torment and the illness. There is a third way. That is to adapt and take responsibility for our own destiny.