I have just finished reading a book entitled Escape From Camp 14. It tells the story of a man that was born and raised in a North Korean labor camp. A true story. It’s a story of life in less than deplorable conditions. It’s a story of survival. Survival through starvation, physical and mental abuse. Where nobody, including ones own family, can be trusted. But through the horrors of the camp, and an ultimate escape, is also woven a tale of the human spirit. And the ability of the human spirit to dream and hope even in the darkest hell. A story that is difficult to comprehend living in the luxurious freedom we experience on a daily basis.
Because he was born inside the fence of this most notorious of all North Korean camps, Shin, the main character, has no concept of life beyond the electrified barb wire fence. He has no clue that there even exists a world beyond. A world where people live free of the terrors that he is subjected to. One day he is partnered with a fellow prisoner who has lived on the outside. And as their bond grows Shin begins to hear about and understand that there is a world outside the fence. That friendship changed Shin’s life. Where, before he had been wary and distrustful of everybody, he now allowed himself to trust one person. As the author states in the book; “Shin was no longer a creature of his captors”. In a sense that one relationship, that one connection, provided some freedom for him. He began to think “outside the box”.
This is similar to the “bonds of trust and mutual protection” that existed in Nazi extermination camps. Researchers have found that survival depended on “pairs not the individual”. Eugene Weinstock, an author that has written about these camps, states that “survival. . . could only be a social achievement, not an individual accident”.
There is a valuable lesson to be learned here. How often, when we struggle with issues in life, do we withdraw. We isolate ourselves. We have a tendency to bottle up these things. Don’t have the freedom to talk about them. We may feel shame. Our pride takes a hit. We lose our self-esteem. We think we are the only ones that are having these experiences. We become captive in our own worlds, unable to see what is beyond the misery we are feeling.
Reiterates a point I often make. “Relationships provide us with identity, purpose and direction. In essence, relationships and therefore community is a life giving, life defining, life nurturing process.” Without relationships we have nothing. We remain lost in a sea of resentment, self-pity, and pain.
However, if we build on relationships, when we share with each other, when we talk, we gain the freedom we so desperately strive for. We can think outside the box. We discover a world we know could exist but can’t see because of the box we have put ourselves into. We find new direction. New identity. And a new purpose.
As I have said before, talking works. I know. I have tried it. Three weeks ago I quit fooling myself. I talked to a few people I have shared with in the past. Through those conversations I have been able to make strides in improving my mental health. Nothing happens overnight but over time the quality of life improves. For me the journey continues, with a keener sense of what works and what doesn’t. May you also find positives on your journey. Make it a good one.