Reader QUIT: Obsessive Tragedy-Following (by T.Z. Wallace)

The Paper BoyPerhaps 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. WallaceT. 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, 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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  • Christian

    I have discovered that every behavior of mine is motivated by a feeling, sometimes an unconscious feeling buried deep. Because I have gotten in my own way so many times I have been reflecting on my motivation and its sources. When choices I make begin to go awry or things feel out of whack, I have begun to search my feelings for possible solutions to my motivation. I thought about this as I read your Quit.
    You could no more stop refreshing the pages of news, looking for the latest update to today’s tragic event than you could stop breathing. That is, without discovering what is driving your need. Your feelings are legitimate and borne out of some thinking. It seems your grandmother had a profound effect on you. Or maybe not. My therapist has said that all of our feelings, good and bad, have a positive intent. Things like guilt, anger, fear, etc. are as genuine as generosity, happiness, and love and all serve a purpose, even if only to draw our attention to some thinking or behavior. Perhaps there is something buried there regarding giving yourself permission to be happy?
    I agree that we do a great service to our children to show them how we can be happy even in a world where bad things happen. Otherwise, what is the point in living?
    Thank you for sharing your Quit.

  • I long ago gave up following the news for this very reason–it’s extremely depressing, and you rarely ever hear the amazing things people are doing around the world. It paints a grim picture you can’t help but feel horrible over.

    And when the political season starts? Forget it. I’ll do what research I need to to learn each candidate’s positions, then it’s a total media lockdown. I feel my blood boil just thinking about political campaign ads.

    The way I see it? If something *truly* noteworthy happens, I am bound to find out about it through friends, family, Twitter, etc. I feel perfectly fine missing out on all the rest.

  • Melinda Gonzalez

    I think it’s the normal human condition to be intrigued by drama and bad events. That is why the Romans built coliseums and watched prisoners duel to the death. It is also why hangings, as tragic as they are, brought huge crowds back in the day.

    I think it is just a re-run going through our heads. As collective humans we have dealt with tragedies in many forms throughout our life(s). I believe, when we watch drama, we are simply replaying the feelings of tragedy we perhaps never dealt with.

    Like Christian said, there is a feeling behind every action. Perhaps there is something there, something not quite dealt with or released. Maybe your grandma scared you when she acted the way she did. Maybe that fear just needs to be felt and released. If it isn’t released it will continue to try to replay itself in some form until it is.

    I don’t think there is anything wrong with what you do. I think if we just ignore the magnetism toward drama, we are simply delaying the feelings another day. Perhaps you could read it and try to feel what it is underneath all the pull.

    Either way, I wouldn’t judge yourself so harshly for it. You are only doing what feels right to you at the moment, and it might even be your body’s way of pulling you to something you need to deal with or figure out.

    We are only attracted to what we need in the moment.

  • Best wishes with this Quit, TZ!

    I’ve generally succeeded in withdrawing from artificially-induced “doom an’ gloom” in all media – no easy feat, since so much of our language use seems shaped with “Bring More Drama!” (and/or “…Negativity”) as either the stated goal or an inadvertent consequence.

    Bright Blessings to you!

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