No News Is Good News: How Avoiding Sad Stories Protects My Mental Health

June 15, 2016  |  

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I barely watch the news. Sometimes it makes me feel guilty, like I’m an uninformed rube or something, but I don’t avoid the news because I don’t like to keep up with current events. I do it because news stories, like those about the Orlando mass shooting, make me very anxious and very depressed.

The Orlando shooting happened overnight, so I had a brief respite from the breaking story while watching “CBS Sunday Morning,” the kind of news program that fills my need for information. That was until the “Breaking News” graphic covered the screen and I was filled with dread; no TV station ever breaks into programming for a positive story. That’s when I learned what had happened and I was sad, for the families of the victims, for my gay and lesbian friends who lost a sense of security, for the country.

My sadness isn’t clinical, like my depression. You can’t treat it with medication. But it activates the constant thrum of melancholy that I feel every day, even under the best circumstances. It triggers a litany of negative thoughts about when the violence will be turned against a group of Black women like me, and how much worse it has to get before our laws are changed. The thinking and the over-thinking — plus the positive affirmations I need to help move my mind in a good direction — are exhausting. Actually, it’s exhausting to go through the process on a regular day. Add in a national tragedy and the chatter in my brain becomes unbearable.

Added to the story about the Orlando shooting — as happens with all public violence — is the topic of mental illness. The shooter always has a mental illness, or has seen a therapist, or maybe had a behavioral problem as a child. This layer of the story is something that I always ignore. There are millions of people with mental illnesses who aren’t violent. Who don’t buy guns or knives or weapons of any kind. Who are more of a danger to ourselves than we could ever be to others. But the general public will learn, again, that people with mental illness are dangerous killers to be feared and possibly locked up. This makes me just as angry as anything else, ready to don a t-shirt saying “I Have Bipolar and I’m Not Violent.” Not that the rabid news media would pay attention to a bit of truth.

So what do I do to maintain my sanity? Mostly, I ignore the daily drips of information. I never watch TV news, shielding myself from stories that aren’t intended to be useful but are meant to boost ratings. I don’t click on Facebook or Twitter posts about the Orlando shooting; I read the headlines and move along. I refuse to engage in conversations about the violence. Anger isn’t my best emotion, and I choose to avoid i,  lest it turn into anxiety and depression, which it usually does. I look at pictures of puppies and kittens and babies as a palate cleanser and a therapeutic tool to reset my mind.

You might think I’m a baby who can’t handle the real world, but I disagree. Mass killings aren’t normal, and I refuse to treat them as such. And I’m adult enough to know what I need to do in order to keep myself happy and healthy. So bring on the kitties and just let me watch.

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