Giving Up After TSHTF

I don’t like to be the Doom and Gloom guy, but I do a lot of thinking about various topics and something the other day got me thinking about this:  not everybody has the will to survive when things get tough.  I’ve heard people say things like, “I don’t like camping.  I can’t stand to be without electricity,” or “If civilization ended I’d kill myself,” and statements to that effect. 

Now, if it doesn’t get bad then this is a wasted train of thought, but if civilization does go to hell then at least you’ve got a little thinking done about the subject.  So with nothing to lose except our happy thoughts here we go…

This is as much about mental toughness and the will to survive and persevere as it is about surviving after TEOTWAWKI or in a SHTF situation.  For example, people who have been lost at sea have struggled and fought and survived when common sense said there was no way they could.  Yet they did.  If you want to talk about mental toughness and making hard decisions take a look at Aaron Ralston.  He went hiking without telling anyone where he was going (bad decision) and wound up getting his arm trapped under a boulder way out in the middle of nowhere.  Did he give up and die?  Heck no.  HE CUT OFF HIS ARM WITH A MULTI-TOOL and hiked out!! 

In the movie “The Road” the man’s wife decides she can’t go on like that any more and walks out into the cold with the intention to die.  Now, if you’re reading this blog I highly doubt that you fit this description; however, you may know someone who does.  If that someone is your significant other you have some hard thinking to do.  You can try talking to this person about why they feel that way, but you might also want to prepare yourself for the fact that they might decide not to be around if things get tough. 

It may be that if/when TS does HTF that person will toughen up – mentally as well as physically – as we all will.  It may be harder for them, but they might step up when they’re needed the most.

Then there are the people who won’t want to.  It’s a shock when you take away someone’s lifestyle.  Some, I’ll even give humanity the benefit of the doubt and say most, people will come around and do what needs to be done.  But when some people’s luxuries and status and importance are taken away it’s hard to say how they will react. 

Since I don’t want this to be all about negative thinking today I’d like to share a story from my own life about when TSHTF and a little trick I employed to manage the situation.  As many of you know I broke my leg hiking on the Appalachian Trail about five years ago.  I wish I could tell you how brave I was when it happened and how I jumped up and hiked out on the broken stump, but alas, that wasn’t the way it happened.

Right after the fracture, as I was laying there with my head burrowed into the wet forest floor clenching my fists in agony, I had a quick mental image of all the things I had to do to get out of there.  Take off my pack, splint my leg, make my way back down the trail, etc etc.  It was like a tidal wave of information and nearly overwhelming.  I had an ultimate goal to shoot for and that was to get to the hospital for medical treatment, but there was a hell of lot of stuff to do between where I lay with my head in the dirt and that nice clean hosptial room with the pretty nurses and the helpful doctor. 

Here’s the trick I used:  break the whole thing down into manageable steps.  This was something I read in the book, “Touching the Void,” <– (movie trailer on Youtube)  where a climber falls and breaks his leg and then manages to get off the mountain by himself.  It’s an amazing story.

Quite honestly, I never thought I’d be applying that technique to my own predicament, but there I was.  So what I did was first focus on getting the pack off.  This is easy when all your parts are working normally, but it takes on a new complexity when the slightest twitch can put you in agony.  Once the pack was off I focused on making a splint.  To make the splint I needed sticks, twine, a piece of my sleeping mat, and so on.  Each step is broken down and that becomes the sole focus until it’s done and then you focus on the next step without looking too far into the future.

If you ever feel like giving up or know someone that feels like giving up – no matter what the situation – use this technique and you’ll be surprised at how well it works.   If you’re out jogging and feel like quitting say, “I’ll just jog two more telephone poles,” and when you get there set another goal to the corner or whatever.  This can be applied to nearly any situation that I can think of.  It works!

How do I know?  I’m still here ain’t I?

Your Jarhead Survivor five years ago.  Still alive and kicking! 
(Sort of.)

Could you get tough if the chips were down?  Are you a survivor?


 Happy Presidents Day!


35 comments… add one
  • ChefBear58 February 21, 2011, 9:46 am

    Good article Jarhead!
    This technique is one that was POUNDED into our skulls when I played football in high school. IT DOES WORK! I still use it to this day whenever I hit the gym. Seeing as you went through a fair bit of physical therapy after you broke your leg, then you are probably aware that this is one of their favored methods of “motivation”. With having to recover from MANY different surgeries myself (L4-L5 fusion- wound up being 4 surgeries; Torn Left ACL- 4 surgeries (3 “scopes”, 1 “major” Cartacel repair; R Knee Meniscus tears- 1 “scope” surgery to repair; I can tell you that it definitely helps to set “little” goals and strive to achieve them, which in turn helps you to reach the long-term/BIG goals, and helps to “keep your spirits up” while busting your ass to get back to “normal”!

    However the really great thing about this series of goal setting/achievement is that it can be applied to just about any situation. I have used this idea in managing my weight, increasing my physical/mental strength, and even used it to help build deeper/stronger relationships with people I care about. Though admittedly it can take some “tweaking” to fit the application.

    • Jarhead Survivor February 21, 2011, 2:41 pm

      Tweaking is exactly the right word. But it is amazing how well it works with lots of different situations.

  • Spook45 February 21, 2011, 9:57 am

    I have to say that on several occassions I have been in situations where I thought I was going to die. QUIT is the only four letter word that is NOT in my vocabulary! I think it is genetic. My family tree goes all the way back to the boat. I am a direct decendant of Fracis Scott Key, This shit is in my blood! I refuse to die, when My time comes it will be because GOD HIMSELF reaches down and smashes me with hios thumb!
    I cant even relate to giving up, in fact, if my family members have been killed or taken away and my friends are gone, I will be like a man on a mission. There will be no stopping whilst I am alive……

    • Jarhead Survivor February 21, 2011, 2:38 pm

      That’s the kind of spirit I like to see.

    • NoMEPreppy February 21, 2011, 6:53 pm

      Most all of us go back to a boat of some kind. Some just have to go back further than others.

  • carl February 21, 2011, 10:02 am

    For us mere mortals who are sometimes simply over whelmed by a world of hurt that will be the end of our cushy civiliation it will be a true test of your question…

    Honestly, the last two years have been quite the test for me. I learned a lot about me..Perhaps it will help in the coming storm.


    • Jarhead Survivor February 21, 2011, 2:44 pm

      I went through a divorce that was pure hell, but by using this technique (and another) I was able to come through. Bruised and battered, but I survived!

      And learning some things about yourself is never bad, my friend.

  • Jack Fallin February 21, 2011, 11:12 am

    Whenever anyone questions my or their mental toughness I always like to bring up Sir Ernest Shackleton. There was a man. He never, ever gave up. His true story is so amazing that I don’t believe Hollywood could top it. Look at people like Lewis & Clark. They could have given up and just died out in the western mountains. Eventually someone would have found the way but they wanted to be the ones. For all his issues and problems Columbus believed in what he was doing. Winston Churchill, not perfect but a heck of a brave man and one who could very easily have given up knowing what was really going on in 1940. He decided not to and and History proved him right. All of us will not have the privilege of having history prove us right but then does it matter if we are not here to read it. I still believe that people should have a solid moral, ethical and responsible background and then find what is right and do it. Hurt no one but follow what you believe and if that means to prepare for something that may not happen, so be it. I am gratefull that those before me paved the way for me to be here. I believe we are preppers for a reason and some day we may be proved right but as in many things I pray for the best, plan for the worst and learn to live with the now. If life were easy we would not be here. As the say if it were easy anyone could do it. I don’t worry about those who ridicule me, I know why I do what I do and don’t need the approval of anyone else to do it.
    Semper fi

    • Jarhead Survivor February 21, 2011, 2:40 pm

      I love Shackelton’s story. He (and the others you name) had to have serious force of personality and deep convictions to pull off all that they did. True pioneers and heros.

    • NoMEPreppy February 21, 2011, 6:54 pm

      You should read up on Churchills early years. That’s a story of determination.

    • Jason February 22, 2011, 1:38 am

      Well said Jack.

      In the movie “A League of Their Own”, Tom Hanks responded to Gina Davis’ complaint that baseball was too hard – he said:

      “Hard?!! “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great!”

      I absolutely love that dialog.

    • already there... February 25, 2011, 3:40 pm

      Jack Fallin…this is an excellent list of examples of people who showed what it takes to persist despite incredible odds. This reminds me of how one of my grade school teachers summed it up. He said it is easier to persist if you have a short, simple mission that describes the future you want. For instance, for Golda Mier, it was “the state of Israel.” For Anwar Sadat, it was “a Modern Egypt.” For Churchill, it was “survival of the British People.” Stuff like that. One more example comes to mind. For Mary Kay Ash, it was “Unlimited Opportunity for Women.” Thanks for the examples!

  • Prepared N.D. February 21, 2011, 11:36 am

    The technique you mentioned does work – I’ve used it myself to muscle through extended fasts and once when I got heat exhaustion and didn’t have any other option but to get to my car. I haven’t had to chew my arm off or anything in a severe situation, but I believe that if I have a pulse, God still has a purpose for me and it is my duty to push forward to fulfill that obligation. Similar to what Spook said, I’ll die when God makes that decision. It won’t be by my own choice.

    Your will to survive and handle stress becomes greater when you have kids I think. Me and my wife were determined before, but when there is an ever growing list of things that have to be done (and you still haven’t slept in what seems like days) you still plow forward without taking the time to feel sorry for yourself. I believe self-pity is a big pitfall to watch out for. Most survival situations only get more dire as time progresses, if you take too long to wallow in your own misery, you may not have the energy or desire to act at all.

    The other big one which I believe is most important is keeping a positive attitude. Looking back at your broken ankle situation, that was extremely tough. You were assisted in part by rescue crews but what if things were different? What if you were completely alone and your game plan was to reach a ranger station to call for help. You spend 2 days crawling to the ranger station but arrive exhausted, hungry, and in severe pain. That was your Plan A and as far as you were concerned it was mission accomplished. BUT, (this is wild, but bear with me) what if the SHTF while you were in the woods and there is no communication or medical care to speak of.. Now what?

    It required a great deal of fortitude just to attempt Plan A. Now after all that work and coaching yourself (just a little more, I can do this), those dreams are dashed and you have to go to Plan B which is even worse.

    I bring this up because a lot of people put their eggs in one basket. They’re relying on a bug out location (and are ill-equipped to reach that location) or they’re fully committed in bugging in and have no other alternatives. Being caught off guard and having to walk a week to your bug out location is one thing – doing all of the above to realize that your location was burned to the ground is another one.

    At that point, I think some people will give up and others will continue to forge ahead – but will they forge ahead with the same can-do attitude, or will they begin to subconsciously cut corners and give up without actually giving up. Will they even be able to formulate a game plan to keep moving forward? I believe the situations like that will be the ones where mental health is paramount to being able to continue. At that point, simply having a will to live is not enough – you have to be able to keep your composure well enough to actually formulate a game plan without fear and pity clouding your thought process.

    • Jarhead Survivor February 21, 2011, 2:36 pm

      Prepared N.D. – I know exactly what you’re saying and that’s a great question. Let’s say I’d have had to get to the Ranger station myself, which was about ten miles away – it was only three miles back to where we’d crossed the river and the road. The actual Ranger station was a good deal further away. I’m pretty sure I could have made it and you’re in that it would have taken a couple of days to get there the way I was going. But if I arrived and no one was there? And TSHTF in the meantime? Man, I’d love to say with all certainty that I could do it, but until someone has been in that situation you can’t really say. I *think* I’d have the fortitude to go on, but that’s written from the comfort of the basement in my home with a hot cup of coffe just a quick trip up the stairs. Nobody can say with certainty until they’re in that situation.

  • Jennie February 21, 2011, 4:25 pm

    Hahahah… the few times I actually jog, that’s totally the running commentary in my head. Come on, get to that telephone pole over there… that’s not that far… look how easy that was, you can do one more pole.. :-)

    • Jarhead Survivor February 21, 2011, 5:26 pm

      Haha! When I first started running last summer that’s the technique I used to finish my three miles!

  • Suburban Survivalist February 21, 2011, 4:49 pm

    I’ve had a couple very close calls scuba diving in wrecks, in both cases I had a sharp focus on what *not* to do, and secondarily on what to do. They weren’t situations where I had a lot of time (air), first was to focus on not panicking or even breathing hard, get completely oriented before moving. That gets difficult when it seems you can literally feel adrenaline blasting through your veins.

    • Jarhead Survivor February 21, 2011, 5:25 pm

      Most times diving when I’ve got into a low air situation is because I’ve pushed it to the edge. These days I tend to be a lot more conservative when it comes to air in my tanks. The only time I ever got in *real* trouble I was diving for urchins and came up right in the middle of some float rope. It got wrapped all around me and when I got to the surface my head was just below the surface. I didn’t have a snorkel and I only had about 300 pounds in my tank. Luckily the tender saw and came over before I ran out of air. Stupid!! After that I was a little more conservative, but still put myself in low air situations when I shouldn’t have.

      Wreck diving can be super scary. What were you diving on?

      • Suburban Survivalist February 22, 2011, 2:22 pm

        WWII wrecks in the Pacific.

        One incident was at 120-125′ at the end of the dive (hence low air, not a lot of time). My computer beeped time up, I pushed up off the silt getting ready to go, and something in my inner ear went out of whack – I didn’t have contact with any surface and had no sensation of direction at all (never happened before or after). Not a problem when you can see, but I was inside a hold that was completely mucked up as I’d been looking for stuff in a few feet of silt for ~15 minutes. I always carry at least two lights but they’re no good in such an environment. It was too mucked up/dark to even see bubbles right in front of my mask (as a way to tell up from down). So just sort of drifting in total blackness with no sense of direction.

        That’s when the adrenaline hit. I controlled my breathing to conserve air, but I could not force myself to stop breathing/force the air out of my lungs long enough to since back to the bottom to help with orientation.

        Since I’d dove the spot dozens of times, I was used to feeling my way over to one bulkhead, move down it a few yards out of the muck/into light and out the cargo bay. However, a couple yards to the other side there was a huge tangle of wire and other metal debris that I could get tangled up in and that would’ve been real bad news.

        I didn’t move at all since I could end up in the wire/debris, or get even more disoriented if I got to an unfamiliar area of the ship with limited air. Got lucky and drifted towards the exit until I saw light, then went that way fast. Probably lasted all of one minute. Had plenty of air to do a 15 minute (I think) safety stop, which the computer now said I needed.

        • Jarhead Survivor February 24, 2011, 7:58 am

          Man, that had my pulse racing just reading it. I was on a night dive once and my main light died. I was down maybe 60 feet, but that same feeling of vertigo hit me as well. Like you said, it only lasted for a minute until I could get my other light out and all I had to do was go up, but it was still a freaky feeling not knowing which way is up.

          Another time I was helping to raise a lobster boat that had sunk in 50 feet of water and nearly got tangled up in a bunch of rope in the wheel house. After that I avoided going into cabins and such unless absolutely necessary.

  • Anonymous February 21, 2011, 7:19 pm

    Thought provoking, thank you Jarhead.

    There is an excellent book that explores this subject in supreme depth in one of the most intense places on this planet, the Auschwitz concentration camp. The book: Man’s Search for Meaning by Dr. Viktor Frankl.

  • russel1200 February 21, 2011, 9:31 pm

    “I don’t like to be the Doom and Gloom guy”

    Maybe you should change to your name to Maybe the S won’t HTF: the Lighter Side of the Apocalypse. LOL Not that I am one to really be talking.

    That is some story. Ouch!

    David Allen in Getting Things Done: uses a similar technique to avoid procrastination on difficult or complex projects:

  • Jason February 22, 2011, 12:39 am

    I was a cyclist in the mid 70’s to the early 80’s and generally would ride 20 miles a day – actually night. I’d usually gear up about 11 pm and take off around 11:30 and hit the road. The late nights were pretty safe & did that for years because I liked the solitude, the fewer cars and the darkness.

    One night as I was on my cool down final 2 miles which meant I rode with my hands off of the handle bars in a upright position doing about 2o+ mph. This was in the days before the cleats that clip onto the peddles and my feet were in the basket type toe clip and cinched very tight.

    The very familiar street I was on had a brand new addition – a small pot hole and before I knew it, BAM! Front wheel goes in and the bike exits out with an instantaneous right turn (remember, no hands) and into a concrete wall head on, in what seemed like 1.2 seconds. The front rim folds upon impact and my right elbow takes the full blow. The next thing I know I am laying on my back, light pointing straight up and I am wondering what in the hell just happened & I’m still strapped in. I tried to undo the straps that held my feet but my elbow shot a pain through my skull that ricocheted off the moon. It was paralyzingly intense. Shit, damn, – they all came out of my mouth in rapid succession.

    I laid there trying to gain my wits & questioned why I was such an idiot to ride at night. Alone & about a 1/2 mile from my house, I needed to walk with my shattered elbow at a right angle and clutched gently against my stomach.

    After, what seemed like an hour, I had my bike hung on my left shoulder (it was very light and very expensive but thought seriously about leaving it) and made a game out of the painful walk. I would do meditative breathing exercises, count steps, make milestones, would think about the repairing the bike, silently scream when I tripped on a sidewalk crack and sing a song but always progressed to my destination. Like Spook, I literally do not understand the word quit – I don’t fight it, I just keep going.

    Got home, into the car – dizzy with pain, and drove to the ER. Two days later I had surgery and the orthopedic doc said he stopped counting bone fragments when he reached 50 and ended up removing the radial head and installed titanium.

    After four months of rehab, I became a swimmer.

    • Jason February 22, 2011, 9:44 am

      Although I do not swear in everyday life, the deleted four letter word was punctuating that point of pain so intense that your mind can go beyond reason. However, I do get the censoring & the rest.

      BTW, many times opportunity comes from the least likely of places ~

    • Jarhead Survivor February 22, 2011, 10:56 am

      Great story. How’s the elbow these days?

      • Jason February 22, 2011, 12:14 pm

        The orthopedic doc said I’d never gain full use of it again or be able to fully straighten it. I did the rehab myself and asked him many questions about design & if there is anything I can do to hurt it in rehab.

        He said I could not hurt it if I was relatively reasonable and patient. What I did & do is examine the integrity of design and deal with that & try to eliminate any preconceived ideas or notions I may bring to something because most times my initial ideas are wrong. I am half Irish and with that heritage (this) one tends to be stupid until proven to be smart.

        He gave me exercises & said for me to hold a full paint can everyday to extend the arm and break up the scar tissue but went on to tell me most cannot endure the pain – this where stupidity became a blessing.

        I decided to take that as a challenge and pushed through the pain – not fight it (there is a big distinction between the two) by using breathing & meditating exercises plus I did the exercises without cheating. I held up to 2, 1 gallon cans of paint and watched as my body would literally shake & sweat in resistance & my wanting to quit thoughts but my elbow did not abnormally hurt.

        It was not easy whatsoever but it worked and today I can hardly tell the difference between my left arm & the repaired arm.

  • Jason February 22, 2011, 9:32 am


    Today’s news had a story about the earthquake in New Zealand. Building collapsed & have trapped many, how would you mentally handle it if you were one of those victims?

    • Jarhead Survivor February 22, 2011, 10:54 am

      Good question. The answer is: I don’t know.

      Until you find yourself in a situation like that it’s hard to say how you’ll handle it. I like to think I’d stay calm because freaking out isn’t going to get you anywhere. In the past I’ve handled pain because it was something I had to do and didn’t panic. But this is one of those situations where you’re dependent on someone else to get you out, which is a pretty helpless feeling.

      Probably not the answer you were looking for, but I’m just trying to be honest.

      • Jason February 22, 2011, 12:45 pm

        I completely agree with you & made a great point. Being trapped in a building like that you are forced to rely upon others to rescue you and that would be difficult because you have no control.

        Thank you ~

  • Jason February 22, 2011, 12:49 pm


    That was not the answer I was looking for but it was exactly right on the money therefore, the answer I was looking for!

  • gat31 February 22, 2011, 8:13 pm

    Well, based on the headline on this article, l thought it was exactly the situation l have been facing for awhile. l have children real and honorary ranging from 14-20 that keep giving me the l would just rather die than do without power, internet, etc. As a mom who’s first instinct is to protect her brood, it pains me to hear this. l’m actually a semi secret prepper to my own family. l try to get them involved by showing them a cool item l got and then let them try using it, slowly trying to change thier minds and show them they can survive. Mostly l get the eye roll or the blank stare and occasionally the l just grew a third head look as they decide to put the white coat guys on speed dial.
    So reading through the article, l realized like water on a rock to make a hole, l need to wear the kids down and hopefully shake them up a bit to get them going. Any suggestions on how to get teenagers involved in a fun way? Gosh knows l need help on this end.

    • ChefBear58 February 24, 2011, 5:33 am

      Are they interested in camping/hiking/fishing/hunting?
      You could try to do a family camping/hiking trip, this might help to “broaden their horizons”. Though I can imagine it would be pretty difficult for a teenager these days to get the same enjoyment out of being in nature as some of us older folks do. Most of the youths that I know just don’t see the rewarding experiences in the outdoors as I do, they crave the instant gratification of winning a video game or whatever they are into.
      Another option might be to take them to the range, some of them around here even have fully automatic firearms which you can rent and shoot there (nothing like unloading a few mags of 9mm through an MP-5 to “one up” the video games!). That might help to peak their interest and make them more receptive to other things you would like to show them.
      Explaining how the skills you want them to learn will give them an advantage over other folks might help some to. You could try to make it a competitive thing within the family, like see who can build a fire the fastest, who can catch the biggest fish, ect. That does sound like a pretty tough challenge, and I wish you the best of luck in your efforts to sway them, it probably won’t be easy!

  • already there... February 25, 2011, 3:45 pm

    My wife and I often discuss how we would react in an emergency or when TSHTF.

    Something that might help you decide how you would react if TSHTF is to read The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes – and Why by Amanda Ripley
    The author tells stories of disasters such as the World Trade Center on 9/11, fires, terrorist attacks, school shootings, plane crashes, etc. In each, she describes peoples’ reactions that often go counter to what most of us think (i.e. panic).

    The bottom line she makes is that most people react in the same way they have been “practicing” under normal circumstance. Some freeze up. Some jump in and help. Others run.

    This is good stuff.

    P.S. Jarhead/Ranger. Could you please reply to this with a link to your online book seller of choice so you get credit for any clicks? It is important to me (and I am sure others who enjoy this site) that you get funding to keep up the good work. thanks!

    • Ranger Man February 25, 2011, 5:49 pm

      Please use the Amazon search bar link in the left sidebar for all of your Amazon purchases. Many, many, many thanks.

  • T.R May 23, 2011, 10:17 pm

    Yep , my ex wife was a person that would roll over and panic at the smallest thing . If its in the persons nature , they are just weak willed and not much you can do about it . You have your work ( burden ) cut out for you . Not their fault , just the way it is . Fortunately my new sweety is good looking AND tough with a sexy Russian accent . makes things much easier to deal with and gives you more options . I ‘ve found that most eastern europeans , male or female are pretty tough people , and by tough , I mean do what it takes in a hard situation .


Leave a Comment