Crisis Mode

Crisis Mode

There are so many memes on the internet these days, I barely pay attention anymore. While scrolling through my Facebook news feed a few days ago, one did manage to catch my eye. It was one of those simple black and white images with a quote proclaiming some people think they could survive the zombie apocalypse but can’t handle spiders. It’s the kind of thing most people will chuckle at and scroll on, but it made me stop and think for a moment. The meme maker couldn’t be more mistaken.

For one thing, spiders are scary as shit. Let’s just make that clear. But that isn’t why they’re harder to deal with than a zombie apocalypse.

That’s right I said harder.

Here’s a scenario. You’re alone in the house. If you have a significant other, they’re gone. Maybe they’re away for the weekend, maybe they’re visiting someone or maybe they’re at work and won’t be home for a few hours. The biggest spider you can imagine scurries across the floor. Or maybe you wake up in the morning and it’s hanging out on the windowsill beside the bed causing you to scream and flee the room (not that that’s ever actually happened or anything…). What are the consequences of your failure to confront that spider? Maybe it’s going to rule your bedroom until you work up the courage to throw a shoe at it. And maybe, when you finally do work up the courage, you’ll realize it’s a jumper and abort the mission so that the spider rules your room for another few hours until you figure out that hair spray will do the dirty work for you (not that I have experience or anything). But it’s just as likely that, by the time you work up the courage to go back in the room, the spider will have found itself a hiding place. No matter how hard you look for it, you might not see that spider ever again. You might spend the next day or two cautiously approaching the area you last saw it, expecting it to leap out at any moment. But as time passes you’ll forget about the spider.

In other words; nothing bad will happen if you get the hell out of there and leave the spider to its evil, dastardly work. In fact you may even consider this flight response a reward; you didn’t have to deal with the spider, it may have dealt with itself. You may be able to wait until your significant other gets home to deal with it. And you get the relief of being far away from the icky scary thing.

Let’s apply the same scenario to a zombie apocalypse. You can hide under the bed as long as you like but, chances are, that zombie isn’t going to get bored and wander away.

You hear a lot about the fight or flight response. You have a choice; you can stand up to whatever intimidates you, or you can turn tail and try to escape. That’s all well and good in scenarios where you’re just as likely to survive or succeed no matter which choice you take. What about situations where your chance diminishes? What about a choice where running away or ignoring your problems results in certain disaster?

People always assume they won’t be able to handle a crisis. The very idea of crisis is a crushing weight on our shoulders, so unbearable we know the onset of crisis will destroy us. Until we actually find ourselves smack dab in the middle of a crisis. That’s when crisis mode kicks in.

Now there’s plenty of evidence to suggest in large-scale disaster situations the crowd tends to panic. I’m not here to refute that. I’m talking about personal situations. Situations where you’re home alone and zombies are scratching at the door to get in. Or a sudden unexpected flood of raw sewage into the house you just bought a month ago. (If you think about it, the two situations are the same, really.)

Like our spider scenario you do get a choice; you can face the problem, or you can run away and hide. The problem is, hiding in either one of these situations might actually make it worse. If you’re not at an advantage when those zombies get through the door – say with a shotgun poised for a head-shot – you might be staring your own demise in the face. Or in the more realistic situation of sudden financial crisis, ignoring the problem could cause massive property damage.

When people heard the story of my basement flooding with sewage (something my husband was actually there to assist me with), they always say a variation of the same thing; I’d have fallen apart. I couldn’t handle that. I don’t know what I would have done. And my favorite: I would have bawled my eyes out (as if this was something I didn’t do). But the fact is I bet no one who says that would have fallen apart. They’d have handled it the same way I did; I just did.

When you find yourself in a crisis situation and there’s no one around to do the thinking for you, you don’t just curl into the fetal position and wait for death (no matter how much you want to). Granted this scenario ignores sudden, unexpected grief, but I’m going to wager crisis mode would still kick in given a life or death scenario. When you know no help is coming, you find a way to manage the situation. You go down into your basement and suck sewage out of the carpets for three hours at 1 AM even though you can’t clean your regular non-sewage smothered bathroom without rubber gloves. Because if you don’t do it, the damage by morning is going to be that much worse. Because if you don’t do it, no one else is going to do it.

Crisis mode. When your brain turns off all the anxiety ridden uncertainty and allows you to simply act with stone cold clarity. If you think about it for a few minutes, I bet you’ll discover a situation where crisis mode kicked in. It isn’t epic. It doesn’t save the day. You don’t even notice it at the time. But later you look back and say wait, how the hell did I do that?!

Crisis mode.

That’s why spiders are harder to deal with than apocalypses, zombie or otherwise. And if you think about it; that may be the very reason zombie stories are so compelling. Not because they involve dealing with a merciless, mindless evil that can’t be reasoned with. Because the heroes are so often every day people managing to deal with high-crisis situations. We all sit there and think I couldn’t do that. But with your life on the line, maybe you could.

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