Survival Instinct

The instinct to survive is supposedly intrinsic. And yet, all the time, people go against it.

Some say that this is because Depression is a disease that alters your mental state, that makes those neurons fire incorrectly, so that the survival instinct is eclipsed by the depression itself, and suicide is the only viable option people see.

Others say that some people just don’t have the willpower or strength of character to fight the impulse “that everyone has sometimes” to go against the survival instinct.

I recently read an article ( about studies that are in the early stages that are showing that it might actually be a genetic mutation, where this one gene is different, and because of that, people with that mutation were more likely to attempt suicide, or go against that survival instinct.

Earlier this week, I was driving (a tad too fast, but nothing crazy) down a two lane country road on my way home for lunch. I crested a hill, and in front of me, on my side of the road, halfway on the shoulder and halfway into the lane, a car was stopped. Coming fast in the opposite lane was an ambulance with lights flashing. I had to slam on my breaks after making the split second decision not to attempt to pass the car because there wasn’t enough room.

Survival instinct kicked in. I hit the brakes. I stopped. Everything was fine. And I was, briefly, vaguely disappointed.

It’s amazing how much you can think in a split second like that. Before I saw the ambulance I thought about the driver of the car, ‘What are you doing, you idiot?!” Then I contemplated just passing them. Then I saw the ambulance and wondered if I should still try to pass. Then I weighed the consequences, and decided to stop. All of this within 1/100th of a second.

My survival instinct wins out. I don’t know what the difference is between Ian and myself on that. There’s SOME difference, for sure, or I’d be where he is. Or, rather, I wouldn’t BE anymore, the same as him. And yet, here I am. Living on. Continuing to obey that survival instinct.

I can’t honestly say that doesn’t annoy me just a little bit.

Written 8/1/2014

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2 thoughts on “Survival Instinct

  1. As a therapist, my perspective is that suicide is a symptom of an intense, over-whelming need for change. This is based on my education, my work with clients, and my own experiences fighting severe depression in my youth. When most suicidal individuals are able to talk it through with a professional, they can identify that they feel trapped in something unbearable. They have this desperate need to not be trapped anymore: they need CHANGE. But their depression messes with their perspective so that other options for change seem impossible. Quitting a job seems overwhelming, moving seems foolhardy, altering relationships seems doomed to make things worse. The depression makes it appear as though the one option for drastic change that remains is death (this flawed perspective may be that gene mutation at work). In a bizarre way, they feel suicide is a way to survive–it’s how to get out of the trap.
    A couple years after I began using this idea in counseling, it was brought to my attention that in Tarot, the Death card is almost never taken literally. Rather than signifying death of an individual, it signifies the end of something. In other words: a big change. When I work with clients who are comfortable with Tarot, I bring this up, and it often helps a little lightbulb come on in their heads. Then we can focus on what needs to change.

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