Like the person who's received a terminal diagnosis and says 'well that's a bit of a blow', it's fair to say that we Brits with our reputation for understatement could be excused for finding life a bit tough at the moment. It would be easy to say that some war-bound or famine-stricken countries experience worse than Britain has in recent weeks; but that would be to miss the point. We adjust to our normal, and what's normal for Britain has been repeatedly, crudely, painfully shattered. I may live several thousand miles away these days, and I may be suspicious to say the least of patriotic flag-waving and nationalism; but I'm still aching. I'm waiting for the next incident to touch someone I love - as if it wasn't enough to lose a good friend to a terrorist's bullet a few years back in Kenya. I've learned that it's useless to tell yourself that the odds are against me knowing someone caught up in something when that's already happened to me once ... so why shouldn't it happen again? On such truths the gambling industry is constructed.
What to do, then? How to cope with a wave that doesn't seem to stop breaking? What follows isn't original, but is the hard-won truth I've settled on with the help of a good therapist since my friend was shot outside a Nairobi supermarket. Neither is it exhaustive, but I've found it all help me and people around me. Maybe it will help you also.
1) Turn off. It's OK to turn off the news. This isn't denial - you know what's happening out there; it's scarcely possible to avoid it even if you want to. But once you've found out what's happened, there's no shame in not following rolling news. Coldly put, the dead will still be dead when you switch on again in a few hours' time. You can't change anything by watching. It's OK to turn off; tragedy out there - even close by - shouldn't stop you from laughing, watching a movie, playing with a pet, making love, sleeping, playing loud music, knitting, gardening. Whatever it is. In the days after my friend's murder (and I had to - long story - handle the media for a few days) the best things I did for myself were keep up to date with football scores and to take myself out for my favourite breakfast (pancakes, bacon, maple syrup).
2) Go easy on the caffeine. I love good coffee, and drink a fair bit of it. But be careful with the stimulants - they heighten anxiety and keep us in a slightly altered state. Don't go cold turkey - but watch your consumption.
3) If you're prone to depression and need to check in with a doctor to get prescription medication, then do that. It's not weak. You're ill. It's not weak to put your leg in plaster when you break it; it's not weak to put your mind in plaster when you're vulnerable. Only do it under a doctor's guidance - but don't be afraid to do it.
4) Do something good. Something small is easiest, especially if you're low on energy. This could sound like the worst sort of positive-thinking, pollyanna-ism - but there's truth in it. As one of the writers of the Bible put it about 2,000 years ago "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people." I'm not advocating for redressing the universe's karma imbalance here; I'm suggesting that responding to darkness with light is a sensible, helpful, life-giving thing to do. Even if it's only striking a small match.
5) Cut yourself some slack. If you feel a bit numb, if you struggle to feel something about a tragedy in the U.K. or further afield, be kind to yourself. Try not to fall victim to the competitive compassion that says we have to feel the same about every awful thing that happens. The truth is - and it's a sad truth, but truth all the same - that we can't feel the same about everything. We'd cease to function if we did, and trying to do so is dangerous for our well-being. We threaten to overload our circuits. Some will feel more for one thing than the other. That's fine. You don't have to. Feeling numb, feeling 'nothing', is still a feeling of sorts. Ever had pins and needles in your leg after sitting funny? That 'feeling nothing' is still a feeling.
6) If you're scared, you haven't let them win. If you're sad, you're not giving in. You're just being human. The 'keep calm and carry on' meme is all very well, but we have to carry on or life would cease to function. The thing about terrorism, or impersonal things like fires, is that they are terrifying. It's not a failure to be scared or sad. I have Ankylosing Spondylitis; people think I'm brave for carrying on with life. I'm not; I have no choice but to get on. But that doesn't make me any less sad about my sickness some days. Sadness is no failure.
7) Treat social media with suspicion. The constant posts about how bad it is; the retweeted news updates; the connecting and emoting ... they're all addictive and feed cycles that can be unhelpful to us. So be careful, and don't be afraid to log off for a while - you won't miss much, really. See point 1) above for what to do after you switch off.
Summed-up, just be kind to yourself. Please.Suggest a correction