In Which I Feel Like a Terrible Person

Friday, April 19, 2013

I think it's fair to say that this week has, by and large, been ridiculous and terrible for a lot of people. I can't even pretend to understand what the people of Boston are going through. Much like everyone else, my Facebook feed started going nuts on Monday after the initial bombing, and it hasn't really quieted down since then. I know lots of people who have friends and family in the area, and I know some acquaintances that live there, so obviously that's scary. The media is constantly posting updates, practically minute by minute, and people seem to be glued to various news outlets. People are obviously shaken by the events, and everyone is posting about how horrible the world is, etc.

And then there's me.

I heard the news from a friend whose husband had told her about the bombings. I read an article or two, surmised that it was (obviously) horrifying and terrible, and also that no one knew anything other than "holy crap, bombs went off and people are injured and/or dying". With that, I closed the news and decided I would try to shut it out as much as I could. No one knew anything yet other than the obvious, and I didn't want to focus my day on following every blip that the media released. I've reacted quite similarly to the news since then about the shooting at MIT and the subsequent manhunt that is going on in Boston at this moment. Obviously, bits of news have filtered through my newsfeed, so I'm not completely in the dark over here... but if I was, I don't think I'd mind.

It makes me feel horrible that I'm not glued to my TV (or because I'm at work, some live internet feed of the news), and that I'm not collapsing into a sobbing mess, terrified about how horrible and scary the world is. I'm not trying to determine how people could do such a thing. I am not sure I can even imagine how absolutely petrified people are in Boston, being told they can't leave wherever they were when the lockdown was started. Instead, I've been trying to figure out why I can't seem to feel these things that everyone around me seems to so easily access.

When the bombings happened on Monday, my friend Colleen mentioned that one of her friends does disaster planning and management for a company, and said something to the effect of, "You know, like... here's a bridge, what's everything that can go wrong with it and how do we help people if it does," kind of a thing. I responded, mostly jokingly, "I do that every day. It's called anxiety, and no one pays me for it." It's true, though. I may not be thinking about everything that could go wrong with the bridge I'm driving on, or what I would do if someone started openly firing at people in the grocery store, but every day, I am managing micro-disasters in my head and making contingency plans for contingency plans. If I let my thoughts wander to everything abstractly terrible that could possibly happen to me, I'd probably never leave my house. It's already a struggle some days to not think that the world is ending because of something stupid in my own life that doesn't affect society at large; if I actively contemplated how many different ways I might die simply by going about my every day life, I would have to be committed.

A quick example of how quickly I can catastrophize something. Last Friday, I said to Ken that sometimes I'm afraid that I shouldn't go back to school because we'll be going from two incomes to one income, and while we've lived on less than his single income before, it makes me nervous. I have a lot more expenses than he does (b/c I have a lot more educational and credit card debt, although thankfully way less credit card debt than most people), so I had mentioned that we might have to shift "my" expenses to the joint account. In the worst combination of poor communication on his part and my tendency to internalize everything in the most negative way possible, I soon had decided that no, I couldn't afford to go back to school, and that I was a horrible person for having educational and credit card debt and not being able to have a significant chunk of savings built up. My options became:

1. Go back to school, screw us financially, make Ken resent me, after which he'll leave me, and then I'll be alone, poor, and then I'll die.

2. Don't go back to school, resent Ken for the rest of my life because being a doctor is the only thing I've ever wanted this bad ever, subsequently ruin our marriage, at which point I will be alone, poor, and then I'll die.

Clearly, these are super rational thought processes. (insert eyeroll here)

This meltdown took just under 24 hours to resolve, and involved me lying in bed and crying for most of Friday night until I fell asleep, and then refusing to leave the bed the next day until 2 pm when Ken said, "Alison, you can't just lay in bed and be sad all day, we have to go grocery shopping." All that to say, something as inconsequential as going back to school can lead me down the spiral of doom to "dying alone, most likely in a ditch", so thinking about the fact that random people like to blow up other random people for no good reason isn't going to help me get through my day. When I went to Israel in 2011, there was a day we spent traveling near the security fence/apartheid wall, visiting bus stop memorials, and generally talking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Despite the fact that any time during the 10 days we were traveling in Israel, I could very well have been a victim of some crazy attack, that day was the worst for my anxiety because I was being forced to think about how terrifying it is to live in a place where, really, at any moment and in any place, people might be trying to kill you simply for existing. And now, it's happening here, in our country, in places where we usually feel safe.

You can call it avoidance, and that's probably what my therapist would call it, but I simply do not have it in me to face that fear. I'm the kind of person who hides under my kitchen table when things go sideways. (No seriously, the first time I took my MCAT, I hid under the kitchen table the night before. I also hid under the table before I left for Israel, but that was because I was afraid to travel on an international flight). I would not be able to leave my house, let alone work or be a normal 27 year old if I entertained these thoughts. In high school, I was so anxious that I couldn't leave my house or drive after dark. I was convinced there was someone in my back seat, ready to murder me, so I pulled over and checked multiple times while driving anywhere. I moved out of Philadelphia because I was convinced I was going to get mugged or raped (little did I know I'd get mugged on a bus in the middle of the day in 2013). If I think about everything that can go wrong, I will literally cease to be a functional human being.

But because of that, I also can't seem to access the moderate emotions of sadness over such a scary event. I can understand, intellectually, why people are scared and sad, and I think that those feelings are totally healthy, but I can't get to them myself. If I open that door a crack, it will come flying off the hinges and so will I. I feel like a terrible person because I seem so unaffected. It's not that I'm heartless, I swear. I feel sad for the people who lost their lives and whose lives are so dramatically changed forever now because of the actions of these bombers. I am scared on behalf of my friends who live in Boston, and for my friends who have friends and family who live there. I am globally disappointed that we live in a world where things like this happen. None of that has made me cry. The only thing that made me tear up was hearing that runners who had finished the race picked up and ran to the hospital to donate blood for the victims. What made me emotional was not the sad, scary, things, but knowing that hundreds of doctors, nurses, EMT's, policemen, firemen, and even completely medically untrained people ran towards that chaos to help people they probably didn't even know. Maybe that means I'm put together wrong, I'm not sure. What I do know is that the best that I can do right now is acknowledge how broken this world is and try my best to move on in spite of the anxiety that is constantly bubbling under the surface.

And on that note, I am going to leave my office, go get a haircut, and eat pizza tonight with a friend. Sending love and comfort to those who need it. XO

- A

1 comment:

  1. No, I don't think any of that makes you a terrible person at all. I do some of the same things as you, although for different reasons. But I am not glued to any news outlet at all. I found out about the bombings when a coworker told me about them the other day, Brad and I googled for more info when I got home that night, I found out the same basic bombs-went-off-people-hurt-and-dead-no-more-info-yet, and then stopped seeking more information out. Brad has told me a few things as they've happened, including about the chase after the suspect last night/this morning, and I'm sure others will continue to tell me relevant details as they become available. But my reasons for not immersing myself in the minute-to-minute flood of soundbites is mostly that there's no point. Is me freaking out and wailing and gnashing my teeth going to change anything that happened? Is it going to help any of the victims? Is it going to bring the culprits to justice any faster? No. I feel awful for everyone who was affected by the tragedy, and I wish them all the love and support they need to heal and move on from this. But that doesn't mean I need to be miserable and sobbing all the time. The sad reality is that there is horrible shit going on in the world all the time, every day. And it is a shame that any of it is happening. I will certainly help in the ways I am able when I can (I already give blood regularly, and will continue to do so, and if other more direct opportunities come up, I will take advantage of them). But if everyone melted down every time there was a tragedy, the whole WORLD would stop functioning, not just you. So I think the ability to take things like this in stride and deal with them without letting them majorly impact your life is a good survival instinct, and one that we'd be pretty damn fucked without. In other words, you are definitely not a bad person.


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