Carry On

December 17th, 2012

Do you guys feel like you’re just flailing in the dark? I am having a hard time, and I’ll be honest, I’m not usually a person who has a hard time with these things—not because I’m a cold-hearted snake, but because I have a way of keeping a protective shell of denial around me at all times to shield me from the actual reality of what could happen and frankly, of what has happened. A lifelong anxiety sufferer, I’ve always gone back to my cognitive behavioral therapy lessons — think about statistical probability, think about what you CAN control, think about the moment right in front of you, not the moments that may or may not (and probably won’t) come.

I do this because if I don’t, I flail in the dark and spend a lot of time thinking about how terrifying the world is. When I was first put on medication (a short-lived stint on Paxil, the devil’s med), it was years and years ago, shortly after Adam and I got engaged, and I became paralyzed with fear that something would happen to him — he would cross the street and a bus would come; mustard gas would fall from the sky; he’d choke on a South Korean chicken ball. (Bonus points if you can tell me the movie where that happened to someone.) I used to think about not having children, in part because I literally could not fathom how I would live just sending them out into the world unprotected, because all those things could happen to THEM, too, right?

I don’t know how to work through this. Adam said earlier that he doesn’t know how to digest it, and I think that’s a good word — digest. You think through things, take what you need to take, and purge the rest. I can’t figure out how to do that, so it just sits there like a rock. I keep wanting to throw up — literally — because then, what, I’ll feel better? This isn’t food poisoning. It’s not a virus that will run its course. I can’t get rid of it, and nothing I do will make it go away.

I didn’t know anyone involved. This isn’t my tragedy, and by writing this, I’m not trying to make it so or make it about me, it’s just honestly, I do not know how to process this, and I’m hoping that by writing it down, maybe I will, a little, and maybe you will and maybe some way we can get through this without losing our minds, because right now I’m not confident that’s even a possibility.

I have delayed reactions to things. I float in denial for a few days, and then bam! I can’t get it out of my head. I’m there now, right as everyone else is at least attempting to return to normal. While everyone else is returning to normal, I am just sinking into the pit.

What gets me about tragedies like this is the awful way it makes me — and I’m imagining, other people — think. Everyone’s hugging their babies a little tighter, grateful for them; but what it really feels like is thanking God that someone else’s babies were taken instead of yours. “Thank God they didn’t go to MY kid’s classroom,” we all think in moments of weakness.

And that’s when it starts feeling really sick. Like the reaping is upon us and if we have to choose — if this is the price of living in our world — let it be someone else who has to do without. The completely understandable, sickening selfishness we’re all reduced to is what keeps me up at night. I blame no one for thinking this way, as I do, too, and I hate it. I hate it. I hate feeling grateful for what I have at the cost of someone else, but I don’t know how else to think. I don’t know what else to think about. I don’t want to see your instagram picture of how grateful you are to hug your babies, because someone else isn’t, and that feels shitty, but at the same time? I need to see it. I need to hug my kids, I need to reassure myself that it can’t happen, even though it’s a total lie.

I don’t know how to thank God without a desperate anger about what happened to someone else. God works in mysterious ways, they say, but right now, I’m feeling kind of like screaming, hey fuck that shit, this is crap, and we don’t have to put up with it. Where is management? Who can I talk to about this experience? I want a do-over, a refund, a guarantee. I want a guarantee! Where is my fucking guarantee? I didn’t sign up for this.

Columbine, September 11 and this — three events that cost me so little in terms of collateral damage, but so much in innocence lost. This. This is the hardest in some ways — after 9/11, there was a certain xenophobic false sense of safety; an us vs. them situation, the ability to move forward drawn from the realization that the calls, at least, were not coming from inside the house. Columbine, a little tougher — disillusioned and disenfranchised high school students lashing out the only place they knew how. But this? I got nothing here. I got a kid — a random kid — shooting up LITTLE kids, and this time. This time, I’m a parent, and it’s not to say I care more about humanity than I did before, it’s that I can visualize, with greater clarity, exactly what those kids were like.

Before my children were born, my knowledge of a six-year-old was hardly intimate — a fleeting stage of my nephews that happened in an instant and was quickly forgotten. I could pretend a six-year-old had little knowledge of what was happening. I can’t anymore. I know exactly, in intimate detail, what kids that age are like.

I don’t know what to do. I don’t know where to look. Shit, I don’t even know who to pray to or what for, because I’m so angry that this was allowed to happen. I don’t know where to put this anger and I don’t even know if what I’m saying is right or sensitive or appropriate or any of those things, I just don’t know what else to do. I don’t know how to get up and live in a world where this shit just HAPPENS and we’re supposed to carry on with our lives without throwing up from pure terror. We’re just supposed to DEAL with it, and no one asked us if that was okay.

Help me figure out what to do. I’m angry, I’m sad, I’m lost, and I’ll bet you are too.

*Uh, Fun. Also, I did not edit this. At all.

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72 Comments Add your own

  • 1. sarah  |  December 19th, 2012 at 1:12 pm

    I work in a school (multiple, actually) as a psychologist, and my first week on the job after grad school, there was a shooting here. No one was killed, the shooter’s gun jammed and our school resource officer & driver’s ed teacher were able to bring him down. The shooter killed his father, made a video, sent it to the newspaper, and then came to the school. I was here when it happened, and oblivious.
    Sometimes I am *not ok.*
    Most times I am. I keep functioning because I use the CBT techniques that you describe (especially in lockdown drills, or real lockdowns when they occur) and because I have to. I have to keep putting one foot in front of the other. I have a kid to come home to, and a husband, and scads of well-meaning sometimes annoying family to be loved/annoyed by.
    But I also think on a smaller scale than you do? I’m not overcome or moved to do something for the country or the world, just the kids in front of me. I’ll advocate like HELL for these kids, who need support that they aren’t getting. However, I also recognize my boundaries and what I can/can’t do. i worked on a case when I was in grad school that wrecked me. I called my professors immediately, and they talked me through it enough for me to figure out that I cannot adopt all these kids, but I can do a damn good job at my job. So I do.
    Back to work, now.

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  • 3. Alexa  |  December 19th, 2012 at 1:59 pm

    I just wrote an eerily similar post, and yeah. I am entirely devoid of wisdom and understanding. The world feels incomprehensible to me right now.

  • 4. shin ae  |  December 19th, 2012 at 11:51 pm

    Reading this made me want to sweep you up into a big, weird, possibly unwelcome hug. I appreciate you so much.

    (1) I have struggled with anxiety. A little over a year ago, it became difficult for me to leave the house, and even to be in the house. Life just became insurmountably difficult no matter where. Intolerable. I am a Christian. It was through learning more about who God is to me, who I am to God, and how to act on all that (however imperfectly) that my mind has gradually been healing. It has been a process.

    (2) When my friend’s daughter died, I cried every single day, I think, for about a year and a half. I didn’t tell anyone. I felt like I couldn’t tell anyone. I STILL wouldn’t tell anyone who is a mutual friend. It just didn’t feel like I had a right to be so upset–it wasn’t MY tragedy. But I WAS that upset. That event changed me forever. My grandmother felt that my level of grief was more than was appropriate for the situation: it wasn’t my child, she wasn’t my best friend, I don’t know. I felt that it was completely appropriate, because it was such a shock and so terribly, awfully sad. And, our babies were close to the same age, so YES with the intimate knowledge of a child that age. Anyway. My point is that yes, it’s hard because sometimes things ARE that upsetting, but it seems somehow untoward to be so affected from your place on the outside, and I don’t know how to be…acceptable. Not a weeping fool.

    (3) About this situation, I am dazed and foggy and sad, and I think it’s just fine. I think it’s a fine and appropriate response. I am not anxious, but I am very much grieving because I want to and I can’t help it anyway.

    (4) I am not watching the news, though.

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  • 6. Sarah  |  December 20th, 2012 at 1:09 pm

    Oh my gosh, thank you thank you thank you for posting this. I don’t even live in the US and this has troubled me to the absolute core. The first 72 hours after it happened I literally just kept thinking “where can in the world can I take my kids and hide from society and never have to know that these evils are happening?” It felt like the entire world has changed in just a matter of minutes. I hate that feeling so much.

    There isn’t much I can contribute for coping tools because I certainly don’t feel like I am. But I kind of agree with what Swistle said- I don’t think any of us will EVER EVER forget this story, but it is worth reminding ourselves that even in a few months it won’t be so raw and in a few years it will be even less. We will never forget, but there will come a point when it isn’t all consuming either.
    That said, I am also avoiding the news because the more I know, the more upset I get. And in order to still function as a person and as a mother, I just can’t know details right now. It’s helping a little.

  • 7. Suebob  |  December 21st, 2012 at 7:37 pm

    It helps me to believe in both a loving God and a world that He/It/Whatever doesn’t interfere in. I have to believe that we are put here to do what we will, and the only thing God will change for us is our thoughts, and only if we ask.

    So this place is our home, not God’s. And that gives me a great sense of responsibility to take care of as much of it as I can, to make my part as clean and happy and loving as possible. Other people may try to screw it up. And some of them will succeed. But it isn’t a God-problem.

    I get the comfort of also believing that those kids are in a place of perfect peace beyond this world.

    That’s how I make it work in my brain.

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  • 9. Blythe  |  December 30th, 2012 at 7:39 pm

    It’s two weeks later and I sort of thought I had moved through a lot of the shock, and then I watched a movie last night with a workplace shooting scene and I started to feel panicky again, like there isn’t a safe place in the world.

    I am trying not to make this into *my* tragedy, but as you said, that’s hard. I have a five-year-old son. I work at a school. I was a witness to a school shooting at my high school when I was a sophomore, more than 25 years ago. And most of us have something like these touchpoints that draw us straight into the story. But I guess I would rather feel sad and afraid than feel like this is normal.

    I am afraid that it’s becoming normal.

  • 10. sara  |  January 2nd, 2013 at 10:12 am

    For some reason, this post did not show up in my reader. So, I have been trying to deal with this for weeks now and can’t. I spit out a lame version of my thoughts and feelings the other day, so it was helpful to read your post today and others comments. I don’t think that any of us can properly digest it. I can’t imagine what the first responders are dealing with. As someone else said, I am afraid this violence is becoming normal.

  • 11. 2learn2  |  January 6th, 2013 at 6:37 am

    Do you guys feel like you’re just flailing in the dark? I am having a hard time, and I’ll be honest, I’m not usually a person who has a hard time with these things—not because I’m a cold-hearted snake,

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