I’ve written before that hunger is an emotion. Yes, it’s a physical sensation which you can feel. Along with that physical feeling come emotions of various sorts, all of which need to be tolerated and reconciled with until the hunger is no longer there.
Hunger As a State of Being
When we become fixated on a particular feeling, such as that of being hungry, that feeling intensifies. But imagine this: Imagine what it would be like if that feeling were to be your state of being. Imagine if being hungry were to be a perpetual state from which you have no escape. Imagine if hunger were to be your normal.
I am listening to a book by Primo Levi entitled “Se questo è un uomo.” The literal translation of this book title from Italian is “If this is a man.” It is a story about the author’s time in a concentration camp in Auschwitz and a story of the human spirit and of perseverance. I only understand about 80 percent of what is being said in Italian, but that’s enough to get the gist of the tragedy of his circumstance at the time.
We Are the Hunger
He says, “ma come si potrebbe pensare di non aver fame? Il Lager è la fame. Noi stessi siamo la fame, fame vivente.” My translation: “But how can one think about not being hungry? The concentration camp is hunger. We ourselves are the hunger, living hunger.” In this passage, a physical place and space represent an emotion and a state of being. This state of being is hunger. It is constant and never-ending. One cannot get away from it. When you are trying your best to survive and you have lost your spirit, all you can think about are the essentials, such as the universal need to be satiated and to not feel hunger.
Fear Instead of Hunger
When you feel fear and all you can think about is being afraid because the world around you has proven itself to be a scary place, how are you supposed to not think of fear? You can’t do it. Fear has become your state of being. All you can think of is the fear and thus, all of your reactions to stimuli in the environment are based on fear, even if the original fear-provoking stimulus is no longer present. It’s like that with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Healing from this takes time, patience, and understanding from a dedicated professional who is able to help a person to reduce their lashing out at themselves or to others in a self-protective manner.
A Different Normal
One can apply this concept to depression, eating disorders, anxiety, mania, being out of touch with reality, and other things as well. If you have ever experienced anxiety, imagine that elevated, anxious state as a pervasive state throughout your body and your mind. Imagine never having peace with that state of being. Imagine that being your normal. It’s not easy to imagine. That is why people who have never experienced a mental illness can so easily dismiss the reality of mental illnesses. They have no concept of what it is like. They cannot even imagine it.
A Personal Anecdote
Let me tell you a story. Five years ago the world was a scary place for me to be in. In fact, it was terrifying. At any moment day or night, a rapist could jump out of the bushes and attack me. Anything, any stimulus, could make me want to punish myself by hurting myself because of the awful things which had happened to me. I could trust almost no one because for years prior to this my trust and my boundaries had been repeatedly violated. I let that happen because I had been manipulated into believing that I was a worthless human being. All I was good for was my body being used as a sex object against my will. Rape was my normal and I was nothing without this man.
Taking a Different Perspective
Fast forward a number of years and this is no longer my normal state of being. I know that I am worthy just as I am. Primo Levi never knew if the next day would be his last day alive. The only way I could imagine being out of the abusive situation was to be dead. Criticise me if you wish for taking an example from World War II and applying it to mental illness and to my own past. But the concept of one’s “normal” being so far removed from the “normal” of the majority of the human species still stands. The example gives you a different perspective on those who suffer from a mental affliction.
I like to think that the world was not made for misery, torture, and war. We are not made to be barbaric people. In modern society, we strive for personal enlightenment and a collective wisdom which comprises a culture. Yet is this culture and in others, there is misery, bestiality (as in the cruel depravity of The Lord of the Flies), and torture. Sometimes that torture is inflicted by one’s own mind, sometimes by others, and sometimes by both. Human suffering is universal and generational hurt is a real thing. Hurt gets passed down from one generation to the next if it is not healed. If someone was abused as a child, there is a chance that they will grow up to become an abuser, as was the man in my case.
I like to think of generational joy being passed down, rather than the hurt. I have faced my own demons for years through psychotherapy and I have come out on top. This leads me to believe that anyone can come out on top, whatever that means personally to you. It takes a lot to break a human spirit. In the concentration camps the weaker ones, whose spirits had been broken, died if they were not murdered in the gas chambers.
You Are Worth Fighting For
If you are still alive, then you still have a fighting chance. If the hundreds of men without morals whom I was forced to have sex with over a period of five years did not break my spirit, then nothing, absolutely nothing can break you as long as you stay alive. You will always, with certainty, one day come out on top of your pain and misery. There is no tragedy whose aftermath is not worth fighting for. This is the human spirit.