Like many of you – okay, probably all of you – the events of at Majority Stoneman Douglas High School earlier this month took my breath away. There’s simply no other way to say it. Watching those children weep, their parents weep, their families in anguish – you have to be born without an empathetic bone in your body not to feel their pain and be willing to do almost anything to ease the suffering of those affected.
I’d argue I spent a good two days feeling depressed, having struggle concentrating, and with an enhanced sense of anxiety. I have a six and a five year old, and every time I drop them off at school, that thought is always in the back of my head.
Please understand, of course, that I don’t want discuss Parkland from the perspective of “Oh, poor little me, so sad.” I’m using the recent tragedy in Florida to discuss a much broader issue and how it affects people with mental health challenges to begin with. Again, I come back to The Lost Connections, the book that I read a few weeks ago and reviewed in a recent blog entry.
One of the central points of the book was this: We live in a sick world, where we are bombarded with threats on a daily basis. And, watching Parkland, I was reminded of the accuracy of this theory. As noted by Dr. Graham Davey in this Huffington post article:
“Negative news can significantly change an individual’s mood — especially if there is a tendency in the news broadcasts to emphasize suffering and also the emotional components of the story. In particular… negative news can affect your own personal worries. Viewing negative news means that you’re likely to see your own personal worries as more threatening and severe, and when you do start worrying about them, you’re more likely to find your worry difficult to control and more distressing than it would normally be.”
The article goes on to note that negative news DOES make us more depressed, leads to more negativity towards the environment in general, and in extreme cases, can lead to PTSD-like symptoms.
Sort of related observation here: Don’t you feel better when you put your phone down and pull away from the world? And, is that the answer?
No, it can’t be. Painful as this planet can be sometimes, pulling away from it cannot be the way that we cope with it, at least in the long-term. I refuse to believe that, because if that’s what happens, this world will collapse. But, limiting our exposure has to be a necessary thing sometimes. And that leads me to my next observation: Sometimes, it’s okay to put your phone down, put the TV down, and read a book. Play video games. Stare out the damn window. Honestly, what you do is irrelevant – but what IS relevant is that you do take time for yourself and away from the world.
I’d also say this: The world gets scary when we feel powerless. So, don’t view world events from that perspective. If you truly feel powerless, reassert your power. Find an issue you care about, and attack it. Make the world a better place by pledging to make a difference on a small problem. In the case of the tragedy at Parkland, it can be something small, like writing your legislator and asking for gun control, or something large, like organizing a group dedicated to making a difference.
Whatever you do, reassert your power; as a state legislator, that’s been part of how I cope with the world today. We are not lemmings on this world. We aren’t sheep to be lead to the slaughter. This is our world, dammit, and the best way to make it a better place is to shape it to be the place you want it to be.