Further to last week’s moorland misadventure, I have to admit that the incident is still preying on my mind.
Each night as I go to bed my thoughts are filled with deep mud pools and fruitless flailing. As my mind replays the incident the bog is always deeper and more sucking, solid ground further away. The helplessness and lack of mobility recall those common childhood nightmares of trying to run through air that feels as thick and unyielding as treacle*.
I have tried to persuade myself that I was really not in as much danger as I thought. I have researched the subject a little. I even found a video of Bear Grylls purposefully wading into quicksand in order to demonstrate how to escape it. He made it look easy, of course. I struggled to visualise accomplishing the same manoeuvre in my situation last weekend – even if I had known or dared to lie horizontally on the surface.
When I mentioned the incident to a guy in my pilates class he said that he’d had a similar experience – sinking up to his chest in a bog (in the same location). A friend had to haul him out by his rucksack.
None of this reassures me.
But last night a new thing occured to me. If help had immediately come, if strangers had turned up and pulled me out of the mud, I am sure I would feel twice as troubled as I do. Although the memory of helplessness is what frightens me, I was not helpless. I did rescue myself. If someone had immediately pulled me out I wouldn’t know whether I had the power to do it myself. I wouldn’t know if I could keep calm and behave sensibly. The What ifs would be all the more powerful and insistent.
This has led me to wonder about the psychology of the rescued.
It is of course a common trope in all kinds of fiction that a (young and beautiful) lady is in some terrible danger, but is rescued in the nick of time by a sword-wielding, wise-cracking, solid-jawed hero.
I have never before really considered what the victim/heroine’s feelings on that would be. Relief, of course. Gratitude, probably. But what about later? In the deepest, quietest hours of the night? Would she see again the dragon’s powerful teeth, smell its fetid breath? Would she struggle against the memory of those binding ropes, flinch from the licking flames?
Rather than marrying the hero and living happily ever after, I now wonder if she would go mad with post-traumatic anxiety? If she would become clingy and neurotic, never allowing her rescuing hero to leave her side for fear of some further calamity befalling her – a calamity she had no power to escape herself. Or, at least, no power that she knew of.
Surprisingly few fictional characters ever do suffer post-traumatic stress – despite the heroic amounts of trauma we subject them to. If they do, we quickly become impatient with their self-indulgent whining and moping.
As authors we want to retain the flavour of realism, while filtering out the tiresomeness. After all, our primary objective is to be entertaining; to tell a good story.
With hindsight, it seems I have something to be grateful for. I may have felt alone and forsaken as I stood dripping mud on the edge of that bog. But I have come to the conclusion that self-rescuing is far more satisfying and reassuring than being rescued. I just hope I don’t need to do it again any time soon.
* That wasn’t just me, right?