Feeling Overwhelmed and Stressed Out? Read This.

February 6, 2017
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Dearly beloved, we are gathered here to survive this moment in our country’s history.

I don’t know how else to begin after a long, planned absence from my blog.

Through no planning of my own, I’m returning to write just as the country is ankle deep in President Trump’s new administration.

In other words, I’m coming back just after 2.6 million people marched in cities across the globe to protest attitudes within the Trump White House.

And just after President Trump tried to ban travelers from 7 Middle Eastern countries… and Judge James Robart ruled you couldn’t do that.

And also after the two parties began fighting it out in Appeals Court.

Just when you think you’ve seen it all, right?

Aaaaaaanyways, things are obviously going swimmingly.

Be Careful Little Eyes What You See

For the past two or three-ish years, I’ve sunk myself into toddlers and research, wiping noses and mining data.

A lot of my work, especially the stuff ripped right out of the headlines, was as emotionally charged as the political conflict going on now.

It hasn’t been pretty.

My eyes cannot un-see, my ears cannot un-hear, my soul cannot un-feel what we have witnessed in the space of the last 12 months.

I can’t unread the words of Dylan Roof–for instance–who was tried at the beginning of the year for killing nine black church goers in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015.

“I would like to make it crystal clear I do not regret what I did. I am not sorry. I have not shed a tear for the innocent people I killed.”

I cannot un-listen to the broken, choked up words of Jamie Meredith–the Townville Elementary School mother who described the horror of arriving at her daughter’s school as emergency vehicles responded to a shooting.

I can’t unsee video footage of grief-stricken Syrian men salvaging toddlers…and babies…from the rubble in Aleppo the month before.

I can’t un-hear the 911 calls from the night of the Miami Pulse shooting in June that left 49 dead and 53 injured.

“Please hurry, because my friend was shot in the chest and he’s bleeding a lot. Please hurry.”

I can’t un-wrap myself from the pain and anguish surrounding the death of Alton Sterling or Philando Castile and so many others. I can’t untangle myself from the fact that, during encounters with officers, unarmed black men are more likely to be shot at and killed than unarmed white men.

I can’t un-grieve the loss of 62 police officers shot and killed while in the line of duty last year, including state trooper and personal friend–Chad Dermyer–who was killed by a man in a Richmond Greyhound bus station.

This doesn’t even touch on other “lowlights” of 2016–how a truck driver rammed crowds in Nice on Bastille Day, how another one rammed crowds in Berlin near the Christmas holiday, how the Brussels airport was attacked, or how nearly 4,000 refugees died seeking safety across the waters.

Nor does it include the hundreds and hundreds of other headlines and non-headlines that stick deep in the souls of others but escape my memory now.

Today, like every other day, I scroll and I click, I scroll and I click…just like you, just like everyone. And when I open a fresh, clean blog page to begin again, I notice the ugly, scary questions that swirl in me as I do so.

I confront them, I look away, I confront them, I retreat again.

These are questions that won’t go away.

Data = Questions = More Data = More Questions

Of every negative headline, I find myself asking:

Is this particular news story–this absolute tragedy that happened on this specific day–just a one off thing?

Or is there a pattern?

…Or (gulp), could something about the fabric of our country even be changing as these stories pile up?

Of course, I–the ever-loving moderate–feel obligated to uncover a balanced point of view. To scrutinize whether our society is realllllly changing…or whether, for example, we might just be more aware of violence and tensions now than we used to be.

I retrace my page flips, browsing backward through many of the tragic events I can remember–the Aurora movie theater shooting, the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting…

My eyes narrow, I rub my temples. I don’t remember this sort of thing happening so much as a child. 

I have a vague memory of a disgruntled employee shooting up an Oklahoma post office in 1986. I look this up. It turns out his name was Patrick Sherrill and he shot 20 people. 14 of them died.

I also uncover other prominent incidents I don’t remember–a shooting at a welding shop in 1982, a McDonalds massacre in 1983, a print shop shooting in 1989.

But more than that, I uncover data that answers my questions.

Lately, it turns out, this sort of thing IS happening more often.

According to an analysis by the Harvard School of Public Health and Northeastern University, such attacks tripled from 2011 to 2014.  A similar analysis by FiveThirtyEight revealed that “there have been more total mass shooting incidents and deaths in the 11 years starting with 2005 than there were in the previous 23 years combined.”

This only prompts more questions.

Where are things breaking down?

Do these acts of cruelty and brutality suggest our commitments–to peace, to justice, to the shared public good–are declining?

Is our sense of community eroding? Are we becoming more isolated from the rest of the world? 

I begin digging for explanations. There are as many as there are people. And, Google shows me, I’m obviously not the only one looking for answers.

Why are there more mass shootings and more terrorist attacks? Why is the nation so angrily divided over immigrants and refugees? Why are our two major political parties locked into such fierce battle?

Of course any time things go south, fingers point everywhere. Guns. TV. The legislature. A broken mental health system. Video Games. Law enforcement. Music. Educators. Conservatives. Liberals. Parents. The list goes on.

But in there among the factors is a storyline that catches my eye.

Could this all be about a break down of community?

As it turns out, the way shootings unfold has changed too.

According to The Centre for Research on Globalization, two things about mass killings have changed: who is being targeted and where they’re being targeted.

From around 1930 to 1960, they say, most mass shootings were “familicides” or felony related murders. But from 1960 to the present, most mass shootings are against unknown bystanders in public places.

Out of the 67 mass shootings the Centre tracked between 1983 to 2013:

  • 20 of them occurred in the workplace
  • 3 occurred in religious spaces
  • 32 unfolded in other public places

The U.S. National Library of Medicine seems to concur. They, too, have found people today have a greater chance of dying in mass shootings if they’re at work or at school. 

This, of course, leads to at least one more question. WHY have shootings become such front and center events, such public affairs?

One University of Alabama researcher believes shooters are targeting workplaces and schools because these institutions represent the social systems that the gunmen believe mistreated them.

Angry, unwell people are setting out to make society pay for their social wounds.

It doesn’t take long to match this finding to stories about the perpetrators.

Sandy Hook’s Adam Lanza was described as a loner. Acquaintances frequently said they knew “of him,” but didn’t “know” him. He was estranged from his brother, had a falling out with his one primary friend, and spent a lot of time playing video games alone.

Dylan Roof, too, was quiet and kept to himself. Childhood friends called him unpopular. He never got past ninth grade in school. Officials said he barely attended at all. Even though Dylan adopted racist beliefs over time, he never formally belonged to an organization. He self-radicalized. Everything he did, it seems, he did alone.

And it’s not just them.

The links between isolation and violent crime are noticeable enough that the Southern Poverty Law Center began studying it. And they found about 70 percent of the 60 recent domestic terrorism attacks were conducted by people acting alone. They call the perpetrators Lone Wolf Extremists.

Did Lanza and Roof’s and others’ social isolation play a role in what happened? Or could the atrocities they caused have even been prevented? Surely, there were other important variables. And without far more comprehensive information, I can’t begin to guess at the answer to that.

But one thing is for sure. The public places targeted by these attacks are symbols of community. Attacking them shakes us at our core.

These attacks–and many other tragic events across the country–harm not only the victims, but they also harm our overall feelings of security. They damage our ideas about the places we live, our impressions of the people around us.

To compound the problem, when tragedies like these happen, they tend to dominate the airwaves and headlines. They often consume disproportionate space in the media, which can exacerbate public fear. Add in that social media, too, has been proven to make us more aware about more negative events in the lives of “friends”… and it is clear that tragic events probably further skew our perceptions and biases.

They hit us where it makes us most vulnerable. They make us afraid of living alongside each other.

Additional research is needed to more fully understand the links between connectedness and community well-being, as well as the links between disconnectedness and harm to the community. But suffice to say, there are some links.

So in the meantime, everyone to the basement bunker?

As you process these events in public spaces, what toll does it take on your day? Does it raise your level of paranoia? Make you quicker to lose your cool or tear up out of nowhere?

If it does, that’s okay. Even normal. Healthy people feel things.

Even in our not-okayness, when confronting the bad things going on in the world, all is not lost. The people who walked these roads before us faced their own monsters and adversities and they still built a pretty snazzy society. Good things have happened. Noble, people-honoring movements were born. Compassionate, thoughtful leaders rose to influence. Plus, we’ve got a bunch of tall buildings and railroads and Disney World and Panera Breads and everything. ;)

In the giant picture–okay, yes the picture you take from so far away you’re in outerspace–the world and history can hold right now in perspective.

It’s likely going to be okay.

But working through the tragedies and tensions might–no, scratch that, will–take some work and some bravery and some kindness and some patience. Because problems like these don’t just solve themselves. Nor do they get solved overnight.

And…unlike those who attack our public places want us to believe, pulling together IS going to help us get through this.

So on the days when our healing seems to move two steps forward, three steps back, pray. Talk to someone. There are a lot of good people and things still out there. Like we still have chocolate, you guys. And sweet tea. All can’t be lost if we have chocolate and sweet tea.

And in those moments when you’re not sure what to think about EVERYTHING? All the social media things–the opinions, the memes, the people who fully believe the fake news headlines they post? In those moments when you don’t know what to do?

When you don’t know, operate from what you DO know.

Look out for the poor.

Help the marginalized. Listen to the vulnerable.

Hold your neighbors a little closer–those ones with the picket fence next door and those distant ones across the ocean.

No matter what your position on vetting immigrants, don’t lose track of the babies being pulled out of the rubble or the mommas trying to life raft them to safety.

(Or I swear I will pull this car right over and give my Jesus was a radical, homeless refugee speech again.)

There’s a lot we don’t know, but there’s a lot we do know too. If–in responding to the tragedies around you–you’ve already prayed some knee-holes into the carpet, donated to charity, and lobbied those government types, another safe bet would be investing in strengthening your community…wherever you may be.

You invest in your community and I’ll invest in mine. And little by little, we will wage friendship on our world. We’ll push back these forces that make us fear each other. We’ll help people, even on the margins, feel valued and included. We’ll hold strong to our ability to gather, to organize, to work toward the common good together.

My hope is next week’s post and other content on this site will be a resource for you along the way.

So go on, dear ones. The world needs more brothers and sisters now more than ever.

Featured Photo Credit: Liz Lemon

24 Comments. Leave new

When I started reading this I wanted to argue. I thought you were going to say something polarizing. I was looking for the places to disagree.

But as I read I realized the tensions you were describing are the feelings that motivate me to be on the defense even when all I’m doing is reading a blog post.

Not sure if we can come to a simple conclusion like ‘lack of community creates criminals’… Maybe? But the point is we all know people who don’t have community. A lot of us have hit times in life where we don’t have support either. And it doesn’t hurt any of us or our political party to admit that isolation brings out the worst in people.

Thanks for the post. I hope you keep writing more like it for me to chew on.

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I read with interest. Normally, I don’t give a lot of time to think about these sorts of patterns in society. I feel inside of me that something is wrong with our culture. It nags at me during the day. I don’t always take it to the next step and ask why it’s happening or if it’s happening more often. Helpful.

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Michelle Murphy
February 8, 2017 9:15 am

I feel helpless when I hear stories like this. My default is the police should handle things. But this excuses me from responsibility for responding myself which prob isn’t good. It’s a good reminder that there may be consequences to the changes we’ve seen in this generation.

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The problem with this is domestic shootings, terrorism, political clashes, criminal injustice don’t all stem from the same thing.

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I don’t get the impression that she thinks they all have the same cause. Her language seems to suggest that the lack of community is one piece of many, imho.

I think it’s easy to see how breakdown of community is related to many negative occurrences including crimes and acts of violence. To me that seems logical. If a person isn’t happy or supported they have less to lose in acting out.

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That may be. There just isn’t enough research cited here to make the case she’s making.

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Whoops, meant this as a reply here:

Did you even read to the end?

“Additional research is needed to more fully understand the links between connectedness and community well-being…”

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Hey Rob, I see the breakdown of community as one factor of many that contribute to these tragedies. I do admit I’m choosing to focus on it over others that, in my opinion, get a lot of coverage elsewhere. :) Thanks for commenting.

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Did you even read to the end?

“Additional research is needed to more fully understand the links between connectedness and community well-being…”

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I didn’t take it as she thinks terrorism and political conflicts etc. are the same. More that she’s grouping them together as tragedies that might reflect a breakdown in community. Does that make sense?

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Thanks, everyone. For sure, two events–say, terrorism and a protest over police brutality–aren’t the same thing. There are plenty of distinctions. BUT, there may be–for ex–similar attitudes and feelings in both. People involved in either, for instance, might feel frustrated, they may feel insulted or offended, vengeful. They may be acting out of pain or disillusionment and so on.

So you’re right. There’s never going to be any one explanation that comprehensively explains even ONE of these tragic types of events (shootings, terrorism etc.), let alone an explanation that captures the variables involved with ALL of them.

I think there is good reason to study all angles (mental health, gun laws, police reforms, etc.) and, as follows, to explore possible solutions and preventative measures that address each angle.

Here, I’m making a choice to talk about one of the variables: the social health one. Connectedness. There are other people and organizations dedicated to exploring some of the other variables well. Hopefully, together, we present a fuller understanding of the problems facing society and the possible solutions available to it.

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Feeling stressed? Check. Overwhelmed? Check check. Yes. This is me. Please carry on. I need this right now.

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So lets get this straight. Someone says pull together and people argue that the problems mentioned aren’t all the same. Why would you even say that? What’s the point of taking away from a post calling people to unity?

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It does sort of matter because problems like terrorism (external) aren’t the same as mass shootings (domestic). Terrorism related deaths aren’t the same as deaths by law enforcement abuse. The distinctions do matter if you’re trying to work toward solutions.

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Are all the problems the same? No. Do they have all the same root causes? No. same solutions? No. I will give you that improving community could possibly help all of them. Or at least couldn’t hurt.

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I think we’re mostly in agreement here.

Not suggesting we lump different types of incidents into the same “research” category. Just saying that all of the above are “tragic.” You know?

I believe relationships/community is one ingredient in both the cause and solution.

I.e. Our country’s international relationships may influence how and why people are radicalized to terrorism against us. An individual’s criminal path may be influenced by their acceptance in society, their ability to feel included and supported via honest means etc. An over-stepping police officer may be influenced by attitudes about race present in family or community. And so on.

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I’m with the person above. Commenters who read a post like this that encourages people to give back to their communities and ARGUE…YOU’RE HALF THE PROBLEM.

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I think I hve the right to examine whether the premise is correct. Doesn’t matter if I agree with the end game. Is critical thinking is banned here? If nstant acceptance of an opinion is required then I’d be out.

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I don’t get the impression anyone here is against community.

If they’re coming back and commenting, they’re invested.

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I think this approach is beautiful. Also its way more productive than reactions I’m reading in alot of places.

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The profile pic is anti-trump. Are you?

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I picked the photo to reflect what was happening in the world during the week I came back to blogging.

That said, I’m a moderate. I’ve voted for both Republicans and Democrats. But I have no qualms about emphatically stating that I DIDN’T vote for Trump. I am deeply concerned by some of President Trump’s attitudes and statements. I try to teach my kids to look for the good in everyone and to recognize that President Trump’s experiences and successes do bring something to the table. But personally, he doesn’t demonstrate some baseline qualities–like the desire to be respectful–that I’d consider non-negotiable in a world leader who represents us in so many significant, potentially volatile conversations.

I pray for Trump. And reading headlines about Trump makes me pray harder for our country. ;)

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yep i figured you were one of them

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Seriously? One of them? You’re a walking, talking part of the problem.

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