I almost didn't read this, didn't feel I needed to. After all, I survived an unthinkable that was inconceivable to the author when she wrote this book. Also, I have absorbed Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzales into my DNA. I didn't believe that Ms. Ripley could add anything useful. I'm glad I had the opportunity to learn that I was wrong.
From My point of view, The Unthinkable provides insight that differs from Deep Survival in two general ways. First, the later focuses exclusively on individuals and how they interact with their environment, while Ms. Ripley widens her focus to include that of groups large and small. Second — and this addresses my initial thoughts regarding the book's utility going forward — The Unthinkable, I find, is a great tool to allow me to understand what happened during the catastrophe rather than as a guide for my actions in the future. That's not to say this couldn't be useful for those in the future who did not live through the Zombie War.
Ms. Ripley's thesis is that there are three mental stages one goes through in a crisis: denial, deliberation and the decisive moment. This matches my experiences, personally, and what I witnessed in others over and over again, from the outbreak all the way through the War. The author talks about this in two stages: dealing first with your immediate situation, then the realization that the world at large is affected, too. Think 9/11 and an escape from the World Trade Center only to find that you aren't yet safe from the collapsing towers. My personal experiences are similar to others who survived and I probably cycled through that process a dozen times in the first week alone.
This was the primary cause of death during the outbreak. How could pre-SHTF folks possibly deal with the dead rising? And what if that zombie was a loved one? I'm surprised anyone survived. But that was just the beginning. How many people were in denial that their fellow survivors could be more dangerous than the zombies? How about that first winter? It felt like each succeeding crisis made it harder to move beyond the denial stage.
This is where The Unthinkable complements the work of Mr. Gonzales. One's ability to keep your mental map in sync with reality goes along way to predicting who gets out of denial quicker and able to act effectively.
This is the critical step. Once you accept that the shit has hit the fan, what do you do? Unlike the crises detailed in the book, we had to think in the long run. It wasn't enough just to get through the immediate situation, you had to also think of shelter, food and rest. It was too easy to let that slide in the name of hasty escape only to ensure you eventual death.
Another factor in deliberation is that most people were unable to get through this stage alone. They needed someone to lead them through it. I fear I was not always the person I wish to be during this stage. I didn't always help those in need. It's not hard to find an excuse in a crisis: I need to get to my family, I have only enough food for me, etc. And there was once or twice where someone snapped me out of it in time. Ms. Ripley talks of heroes being a rare breed, but our situation was long enough, replete with plenty of opportunities, that I dare say everyone, at one time or another, was both a hero and a villain.
The Decisive Moment
If denial gets harder to shake off over time, the ability to act gets easier. The less you have to think about it, the likelier it will happen. How this played out varied greatly with the type of crisis you faced, but there was one commonality: suicide. From beginning until even today, years after the end of the War, suicide seems like the only viable option to some. I've talked about this before, my feelings are known, so I won't discuss it here.
Think of this book as a call to action. You cannot blithely go on about life as if nothing bad will happen. You need to be mentally prepared. I'm not saying you should live in constant fear. I am suggesting that it couldn't hurt to always be aware of your surroundings and to at least play out certain scenarios in your head. You don't want the first time you think about escape to be when your life depends upon it.