Usually I’m the kind of person who has no problem coming up with things to say, but with this week’s blog I found myself at a loss. I’m struggling to comprehend the tragedy of this weekend, and to be honest, I strongly considered just writing about something else. But I’d feel remiss if I didn’t address it, and since it’s also mental illness awareness week, I thought I could try to say something about maintaining mental health during this painful time.
When Sandy Hook happened in 2013, I was a senior in high school. The awfulness of it all was only compounded by the fact that, Connecticut being a small state, almost everyone knew someone who knew an affected family. Along with shock and confusion, I remember feeling a need to understand everything I could about the event, to read every story, as if learning more would somehow help it make sense and put things right. I stayed in front of the TV for hours watching a live feed of a meeting at which members of the affected community shared their grief. It hurt, but I felt a responsibility to watch, as if by feeling these people’s pain more acutely I could take some of the burden off them- as if I could feel it for them. To turn off the TV, to try to continue living my life in the same way, would be callous, I thought. But while I assumed that diving in deeper would eventually help me work through the grief, as the media reports started to say the same things over and over and the headlines on my new smartphone echoed each other it all started to feel like waves crashing in my head, a dull roar that followed me everywhere. I spent the next three weeks in a fog. I was anxious and irritable and disconnected. My friend pulled me aside to tell me he was worried. “You need to take care of yourself,” he said.
I learned a lot in that experience, both about myself and about grief. They were lessons I hoped I would never have to use again, although this is now the third time I’ve needed to reflect on this kind of tragedy. But I guess what I’m saying is that it’s important to check in with yourself after an event like this. It’s okay to turn off the TV or the car radio if that’s what you need to do. And it’s important to seek out the good among all the bad. Take a second to appreciate things that make life joyful- maybe it’s your family, spouse, coworkers, or even your dog. As for me, I’m inspired by the hard work and generosity of the volunteers, donors, and staff at UWSECT- all those who reach out to help others not because they have to, but because they understand that as people we need to take care of each other.