Step Away from your Television
Step Away from your Computer
(after you have finished reading this)
Something very terrible happened yesterday in Connecticut, and there’s no denying the trauma that has caused for many people, both those involved directly and those of us who are watching it all replayed on our screens. In what I am about to say I am not down-playing what happened, nor am I ignoring the needs of the victims and survivors. What I want to talk about it how do we manage our feelings as onlookers.
I have a mental illness, and because of that there are a number of things that I have difficulty with. I know I’m not alone in this, and that’s why I am stepping away from my normal policy for my blog of not giving advice.
I just want to share something I’ve learned over the past couple of years. With the shooting yesterday I know the automatic thing is to sit glued to the news channels, etc. Don’t. You’ve got the facts. Now turn off the television/computer/ phone, or whatever your source of media information.
The media are there to give us the information but so often in times like this, they ‘play it up’ for want of a better term, they go on to talk about why something has happened, and really they don’t have the knowledge or the experience to do that without setting people off on tangents that really aren’t helpful. They might give us information but they make it more emotional, hype us up and leave us more upset.
It’s hard for anyone to handle, but it’s harder for people with mental illnesses for a number of reasons. Firstly our moods can already be lowered, and news like this plummets anyone’s mood lower. For some people (including those like me who have Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) we struggle at best of times to regulate how we’re feeling. News like this leaves us unsure of how to react, and how to manage those feelings we have. The temptation can be to reach out to unhealthy coping mechanisms like drinking, drugs, self harm and the like.
We know it’s happened, we know it’s terrible. But we don’t need to go on tormenting ourselves by watching it. Turn it off, light a candle, say a prayer or whatever you need to do, and then do something nice for yourself. We don’t need the details replayed to us, over and over again. Turn it off.
The other thing that is difficult for people with mental illnesses is the inevitable talk of whether the gunman had a mental illness. I am choosing not to debate that here because I don’t think it’s helpful right now. What does matter is that if we have a mental illness ourselves, we can hear what the media, or other people say about people with mental illnesses… and we hear them saying that stuff about us.
Suddenly we’re thinking that media and others are saying we’re capable of such terrible acts. That’s not what is being said, and if it is then they’re saying it as a cruel generalisation. It’s hurtful and it’s dangerous.
It was only a couple of weeks ago that I commented on my personal Facebook page that watching the television news was very traumatic, and that it could replay in our minds things from our past. I said this in relation to a weather event in New Zealand, because watching it had brought to mind all I had experienced in our earthquakes in Christchurch during 2010/11. Simply watching the television was replaying my traumatic memories.
What is being played on television and other media today, and in the weeks to come, is traumatic for anyone. But for a person with a mental illness is going to be so much harder to bear. I really believe (and am choosing to do this for myself as much as possible) that it is time to turn it all off.
Remember the victims and the survivors. Think of those who are working to help the town grieve for their lost. But what good can come from having it replayed over, and over on your screen? What is something more productive that we could do? One thing we can do is something to soothe and take care of ourselves.
“And when your sorrow is comforted (time soothes all sorrows) you will be content that you have known me. You will always be my friend. You will want to laugh with me. And you will sometimes open your window, so, for that pleasure . . . And your friends will be properly astonished to see you laughing as you look up at the sky! Then you will say to them, ‘Yes, the stars always make me laugh!’ And they will think you are crazy. It will be a very shabby trick that I shall have played on you…”
― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
- Beauty for Mourning (infinitesadnessorhope.wordpress.com)