The news yesterday and today have focused on the explosions at the Boston Marathon. Before that we had Rehtaeh Parsons, Syria, Sandy Hook, Hurricane Sandy…. The list seems endless and overwhelming. With the news of major tragedies so ubiquitous, it is easy to get caught up in the constant updates by the talking heads who so often repeat the same facts over and over and over. I struggle with depression that can be triggered by a myriad of things and can, by times, be debilitating. Sometimes tragedy, man made or natural just drags me down. I try not to let that happen, but it does. One of the reasons I blog is to provide somewhat of an outlet for these emotions, but sometimes I find myself wordless.
In the midst of this, a post by Stephanie Zvan who writes at Almost Diamonds struck home for me primarily because she articulated one of the ways I try to deal with this myself. In her words: It’s Okay to Look Away.
It’s okay to look away. It’s okay not to see all the pictures and all the reactions. It’s okay not to hear or read every new thing that all the reporters and friends of the affected and bystanders hear or think. It’s okay to put your head down and walk away. It’s okay to go do something that makes you feel good even when this many people feel bad.
I, for one, can’t take it all. The stress of hours spent on this is bad for me. I’m hardly alone. Whether the tragedy is due to unpredictable occurences, negligence, or malice, spending too much time dwelling on the fact that the world contains all these things just isn’t good for many of us.
It isn’t any abrogation of our duties as human beings to take care of ourselves. Once we know that our loved ones are safe and help pass that news along, there’s very little that most of us can do in this age of global news. Looking after our own mental health (or that of someone close to us) is more productive than most of the choices out there. The time will come when we know what happened, and sometimes why. If we’re in good shape, we’ll make better choices about how we deal with that information.
It isn’t coldness or callousness to shelter ourselves either. If we didn’t care, it would cost us nothing to watch. Emotional callouses are what happen when we can’t get away from something too painful. Limiting our exposure to overwhelming pain and confusion helps to stave off compassion fatigue.
Just a few decades ago, our exposure to this kind of news would have been limited for us. We would have had newspaper printing delays and space constraints. Television time was not something we were so desperate to fill. News from our friends came at a higher cost and, so, was more filtered. We didn’t see tragedy the way we do now.
There were downsides to that, but there were benefits for some of us as well. If you’re one of the people who suffers from the change, you don’t have to. There is no moral obligation. You can look away. And if you must somehow justify your action to yourself, find someone else who suffers the same way. Help them walk away too.
This does not mean we should totally ignore everything that is happening around us. It means we need to take the time we need to process what has happened. If we try to force ourselves to absorb everything at once, we become overloaded with both information and emotions and become unable to help anyone.
We can’t take care of those we love if we don’t take care of ourselves first. It’s cliche, but true.