From June to September 2009, Ed Wardle, a Scottish extreme photographer, filmmaker and adventurer was “Alone in the Wild”. It was his childhood dream to spend 3 months in the wild, alone. He never had any survival training (except for how to scare off a bear and which plants are edible and which are poisonous). He was dropped in northern Canada, with just a camera, some tools, a gun (just in case), some clothes and a sleeping bag.
Ed Wardle in Yukon
Not long after he was dropped, the loneliness began to gnaw at him. He began to feel intensely scared. Soon, all he could think of was bears and what they would do to him. Beside that, he had to go without food, sometimes for days at a time, and found he couldn’t concentrate or focus anymore and lost all his physical power.
At the end of the third and last episode, he lost half of his body weight and looked 20 years older, both because he couldn’t find the food he needed, but he was sometimes so afraid that he couldn’t even muster the courage to venture out in the woods to find the sustenance he needed. But when he did go out there, he couldn’t even find anything nutritious.
Definitions: anxiety and fear
Anxiety and fear are actually something entirely different. This is how David Barlow and Mark Durand (two professors in psychology) define anxiety and fear in Abnormal Psychology (2009).
Anxiety is a negative mood state characterized by bodily symptoms of physical tension and by apprehension about the future.
Fear is an immediate alarm reaction to danger.
One of the nights Ed couldn't sleep because of his fear for bears
Both anxiety and fear are good for us (in moderate amounts). Psychologists have known for over a century that we perform better when we are a little anxious and fear protects us by activating a massive response from the autonomic nervous system (e.g. increased heart rate and blood pressure) which, along with our subjective sense of terror, motivates us to flee or to fight.
Solitude means “lack of contact with people”, but to develop sensory deprivation, there must be no way to keep one’s mind busy.
Ed Wardle has a girlfriend, friends, a family and (like most of us) is generally used to receiving external stimuli all day long. Because of Ed’s complete isolation in the wild, he had no way to keep his mind busy, except for having to find food. This (and starvation) led him to think of possible events that might occur – such as him being slaughtered by a bear or wolves at any moment.
Ed had no way of distracting himself of these thoughts, and so he quickly developed extreme anxiety and even illusions. At one point, he reported that he was making phonecalls to his girlfriend “in his head”, and that he would have a conversation with her for hours on end. He said “I can hear her as if she was here”.
Ed Wardle got himself "Bruce the Moose" to talk with
Some people, such as monks or people that were marooned on an island, did not develop the symptoms of sensory deprivation. This could be because they felt safe where they were, and monks say they find “enlightenment” through their solitude. However, it’s common for people that have spent a long time in solitude to develop clinical depression.
After his return to the “real” world
At the end of episode three, you see Ed in an ugly hotel room. He tells about his experience in the wild: he thought it was horrible. Not much later he says he’d rather be back in the wild than be in the ugly room. He seemed entirely overwhelmed with the stimuli, and seemed to have a general feeling of derealization.
Unfortunately they haven’t done a “Ed Wardle, 6 months after Alone in the Wild”, because it would have been great to see how he experienced his return and how long it took him to recover from his trip. He has, however, written an article on the National Geographic site about his experience. Find it here.
If I have sparked your interest… You can watch the episodes (split in seperate videos) here. I would recommend everyone to watch it, both for the fantastic views of the Yukon area in Canada, and for Ed’s extraordinary journey.