Reader QUIT: Obsessive Tragedy-Following (by T.Z. Wallace)
Perhaps it has something to do with growing up in a family with rather strong (ahem)…Southern Gothic tendencies. Or maybe it has something to do with being a writer and the resulting need to see every story through to its natural conclusion. So, when news of another tragedy hits my inbox, my world slows to a stop as I begin to read. I become embroiled in the drama, and it nearly consumes me.
A Little Goes a Long Way
With the advent of social media, it is easier than ever to be “up to the minute” with every breaking news story. Every school shooting, every murder-suicide, every instance of child abuse, or elder abuse, or animal abuse is now delivered to your e-mail, your iPhone, your Facebook page and Twitter account. Refresh the page and watch the death count rise. Refresh the page again and garner some new grim detail to keep you awake long into the night.
Of course, it doesn’t help that every tragic story seems to feature a child who (inevitably) is close in age to my own children…or has a similar crooked smile…or blue eyes. The news stations run a never-ending loop of images, the victims’ faces frozen in time, smiling out at me. They never saw it coming, I lament as I reach for yet another tissue. Then I wonder what lurks out there for me as I go blithely about my life. Because, you know, it is all there—just outside the door.
Maybe It’s in the Genes
My grandmother (may God rest her soul) saw danger everywhere. Every stranger was a murderer. Every dog was rabid. Every sleepover was just an invitation to be molested. Nothing was ever safe. Trust no one, she cautioned. Be vigilant. Check the back seat of the car when you get in and, for the love of all that is holy, lock your doors!
I have to quit. I have to quit obsessively following each tragedy, quit hitting the refresh button, living out each tragedy as if it is my own to bear. I have had my fair share of sorrows; I do not need to borrow the grief of others—because there is a difference between being aware of current events and compulsively hoarding every scrap of information (and misinformation). There is a difference between caring for your fellow man and succumbing to empathy so extreme that the weight of another’s pain is more debilitating than your own.
Quit Obsessing…NOT Quit Caring
This does not mean I want to quit feeling. I just want to give myself permission to be happy even though bad things can (and will continue to) happen, to live my own life without feeling guilty, and to strive to raise children who can acknowledge that painful things go on in the world, who will do their best to make things better, and who leave the spectacle and melodrama behind…the last vestiges of a tired, Southern Gothic tradition.
Stop the Cycle
To break the cycle, a trauma junkie needs to go “cold turkey.” Otherwise, the lure is too great, and the tragedies are too profound to ignore. Headlines blare from every media outlet. Well-meaning friends, wanting to keep others in the information loop, post and repost link after link to one heart-wrenching story after another. The only solution is a clean break. Turn off the television. Unplug the computer.
Perhaps when I am stronger, I will be able to check headlines or skim stories for just a basic overview without feeling the need to read every article related to it, to see if the story is trending, to search blogs for posts related to the event, to…
Well, clearly, I have a ways to go.
T. Z. Wallace is a cantankerous ginger who can be found hunched over her keyboard pecking out a living. She spends her free time writing, reading, blogging at http://booklaunch-countdown.blogspot.com, eating obscene amounts of vegan chocolate, and adding to her menagerie of cats. Despite her somewhat ornery nature, she loves discovering new things as well as trying to prepare herself for all manner of disasters, both natural and man-made … which means she may be your best chance of surviving a zombie outbreak.
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