There is so much to unpack here. Too much. Because it shouldn’t be possible that an atrocity like this can happen in the first place. The fact that it can is terrifying and horrific. My heart is broken for these children, teachers, and their families. I would really encourage anybody who is able to, to donate to the gofund me that has been established to aid them in the aftermath of this tragedy. You can find the campaign by clicking here.
I spent the full hour in therapy yesterday talking to my therapist about the shooting and how distraught I am over what has happened. I’m going to share some of my thoughts- not because I’m asking for support myself anymore, but because despite how certain I was that absolutely nothing could pull me from the deep pit of despair and terror that I felt I was drowning in- a few things did at least give me some footholds, in order to move forward. And THAT is what I would like to share in this post. I know that usually, in this blog, I focus on the politics of different events, and I will address those a little bit, but it won’t be the majority.
Right now, the second I open facebook or any other social media platform, all I can see is discussion about the Robb Elementary shooting. And thank goodness, because given the rate of gun violence and mass shootings in America, I’m at least grateful, if bitterly so, that people ARE talking. There have been at least 24 school shootings this year alone and I heard very little about any of the rest of them. We have become either desensitized as a country to events like this and that CAN’T be the case. The massacre in Uvalde was the second deadliest in our country’s history, after Sandy Hook. We SHOULD be talking about it. We should be grieving. We should be figuring out what we can do to make sure that nothing like this ever happens again.
Unfortunately, as is often the case with tragedy in America, instead of uniting to find solutions and learn from the past, we are once again devolving into petty party-based arguments and digging our heels into the ground, staunchly defending our personal opinions, instead of walking open-mindedly forward toward possible courses of action.
The biggest argument I’m seeing, obviously, is about gun-control. I have lots of thoughts on this subject and a definite opinion, but- as I said- I’m not interested in getting into that right now. You know why? Because children are dying. They are being killed. There have to be ways to protect our children and I don’t give a flying f*** if those measures, policies, or solutions align with my own person feelings or opinions. All that I DO care about is that we pursue EVERY viable action possible in order to keep these kids safe.
The next biggest thing I’m hearing is the revisitation of discussion on police reform. People are questioning the immediate response taken by local law enforcement in Uvalde. I have lots of thoughts on those things too, to include (when scratching just the surface): my personal thoughts about police reform as a whole, empathy and expectations for people facing danger in the line of fire, and my own questions and concerns about whether something could have been done differently to save more lives this week. I’m not going to get into those feelings now, I’m just saying they’re there.
Following those conversations are the loud opinions and commentary about arming teachers and the need for more discussion on mental health. This may sort of be hypocritical (in that it sort of is like engaging in the argument, which I don’t want to do right now), but I find the conversation about arming teachers so completely absurd that I’ll be forthright about my opinion on it. Simply because I think that avenue of action is at such a high level of asininity that it is distracting us from searching for real, plausible, measures and solutions. Ones that might, indeed, have to do with allocating more resources towards dealing with mental health in our country. But I’m not sure, because we still aren’t even ACTUALLY seriously talking about mental health issues or how to address them, we are just talking about the need to be talking about mental health. We haven’t even moved on to being in controversy about how to address mental health concerns, we are still hanging out in the controversy of whether or not we need to be thinking about mental health in the first place.
Having laid out some of the political frustrations tied up in this tragedy, I’ll get to the emotional aspect, which is what I actually wanted to talk about, because I think it’s the part that might actually be the tiniest bit helpful right now.
When I heard the news, my body literally froze. I felt cold everywhere and like I couldn’t take a full breath. And those feelings stayed with me. My thoughts spiraled.
And the only reason I was able to stop the spiral is because I NEEDED to make sure that I wasn’t hurting or scaring my son with my feelings and response, and I needed to just keep getting up and moving forward, even if it felt impossible or terrible or wrong. So, I didn’t just crawl under a rock and stay there, even though that’s what I wanted to do.
On Wednesday night, I spent most of the evening crying. I tried to keep it at a level that could be used to teach my son about how sometimes people get sad, that it’s okay to cry, and that sometimes hugs helps us feel better. He’s three… I didn’t want to freak him out, so I toned it down. But I also didn’t want to hide my sadness, because I think it’s important for children to get to see what it looks like to work through difficult emotions.
Even with those thoughts in mind, every single time I looked at my little boy that night, I would see all of his beauty and potential and then immediately be triggered into a misery that was equal parts-
- Sadness, imagining the people out there, mourning their babies
- Anguish, picturing how I would feel, facing that same loss
- Fear and helplessness, desperately wanting to keep my son safe
- Rage, that somebody could hurt anything so innocent and amazing
- Trepidation, that as an educator, I may face the same thing someday
I could break down each of these feelings and their associated thoughts or questions into tiny, microscopic subdivisions- each of which would be entirely impossible to answer satisfactorily. Because the thing is- there is no satisfactory answer here. Zero. This was senseless. This was awful. And in this case, as opposed to many others, we have almost no specific and/or personal course of action to prevent it from happening again.
I know that I’m not making anybody feel better by reiterating these hopeless thoughts and worries. But I’m sharing them because I want people who are having similar ones to know that they’re not alone. The only thing worse than having all of these helpless, hopeless, overwhelming feelings is to feel like you’re alone in them.
So then what? What do you do? How do you cope or go on with life normally, with this kind of horrifying internal monologue wrapping itself into some kind of sick Möbius strip in your mind?
I don’t have a straightforward answer. What I will say is that I did a ton of things to try to feel…not ‘better’ exactly…but able to cope. And at some point, some part of it- who knows which or what combination- started to work. I started to be able to look at my son without crying. I started to be able to be alone, without panicking. And I started to feel like moving forward was the better option, not the only one, or one that I should feel guilty about (although certainly one to feel grateful for).
So honestly, I just wanted to write, because I want to share the things I did, so that if there is anybody who is struggling and just wishes somebody would tell them what they can do to feel better…they can try these things, because it might help.
Again, not a trained therapist or professional and I really can’t tell anybody which one of these things was more/most effective or which combo was the exact thing that made a difference, but I do think that all of these things at least contributed a little and would be worth trying if you’re somebody who is struggling right now. ❤
I, almost immediately after hearing what happened, started to be really intentional about compartmentalizing. I am still doing it, honestly. But compartmentalization is not the same thing as denial or repression- which are other tactics I often, unhealthily, employ when there is something difficult I’m facing. In this case, however, because these problems aren’t going to just magically go away and because they’re so deep and painful- I couldn’t resort to simply ignoring my feelings or squashing them down. Which is good- I don’t generally recommend those strategies/traps for dealing with difficult issues, regardless…I’m just admitting that I know that I do it myself, so I had to be pretty measured about not falling into those patterns.
So, in this instance, I started out by deciding on certain parts during the day where I was going to specifically sit and think and feel about what had happened. And, although I felt some guilt for it (because I have the privilege and option of being able to set this all aside)- I told myself that outside of those allotted times, I would actively push away the thoughts and worries in relation to Uvalde. Which is what I did. It worked better than I expected, because I knew that I WOULD take the time to think and mourn when those times came up- I wasn’t trying to just pretend everything was okay. It wasn’t. It’s not. But compartmentalizing in this way made it so that I could make it through my own personal day, while making sure that I took the time to address my feelings.
I said before- and I’ll say it again- The only thing worse than having all of these awful feelings is to feel like you’re alone in them. Honestly, I didn’t really start out doing this piece intentionally, but a couple of close friends reached out to me, because they knew how hard it was hitting me…and it really helped. This is one of those things that seems so obvious, but I just wasn’t in a place to do the obvious. This event didn’t happen to me, I didn’t want to burden anybody else with my own fears and spiraling thoughts, talking about these things wasn’t going to fix anything or change the outcome of what had happened…so I truly did think that I didn’t really need or want to talk to any friends about this. But when they reached out to me, I realized that even if I didn’t talk much about it, I was surprised to see that I really did feel better knowing that we were going through these fears and feelings together.
Apart from my friends, the intentional support that I DID seek out was that of my therapist. I know that not everybody has access to therapy, so I can completely see that this might not be a viable avenue for everybody to pursue. But I’m actually only bringing it up because, even though I know my therapist’s professional insight helped guide the discussion in a couple of good directions (which I will get more into in a bit), for the most part I really got the sense that the biggest thing her training added to this session was that she could be comfortable with me displaying some pretty intense emotions. Nothing she said or did was really helpful specifically as a result of her knowledge as a therapist. In all honesty- she mostly just listened. So I was really surprised when I felt better at the end of the hour…but something about being able to just say everything I was thinking and feeling all at once to somebody else definitely alleviated some of the weight of the pain.
**Couple of quick disclaimers here before I keep going with this thought though. First- I am not saying that the training and education that therapists go through isn’t valuable or that anybody can do their job. I don’t think that AT ALL- I’m just saying that in this one instance- the value that I got out of going to therapy was not their professional insight, it was simply the fact that she listened while I talked. I HIGHLY recommend seeing a trained therapist if you’re really struggling and you have the means. I just understand that not everybody has the ability to do that and I don’t want them to think or feel like they’re screwed or there is no similar outlet available to them. I think talking to a strong friend or mentor would serve similarly- it just happened to be, in my case, that I spoke with my therapist.
That said- I’ll get back to what I was getting at.
When I went into this therapy session, I knew that I wanted to talk about the shooting. It was one of the times I had “allotted” to myself to think about everything I was thinking and feeling and I hoped that maybe my therapist would have some words of wisdom.
But let’s be clear- I hoped she would have some words of wisdom. I was actually very doubtful that my hopes would be realized. I am a huge believer in therapy and my therapist is wonderful, but I just felt like…with how much fear for my son I had(/have) coursing through every part of me, with how enormous this tragedy was, and with how powerless I am to change anything that happened, or even to try to find some meaning in all of it….I just didn’t expect that there would be something she could say that would make me feel better.
And, I was pretty much right. For the most part, I just talked and cried, while she listened. There would even be pretty big gaps of time where I would be crying and not really able to formulate my next thought, and she would still just sit there quietly. Every so often, she might ask me to either further clarify a thought or think more about a fear or feeling I had expressed. One of the most notable questions she asked, me although I still haven’t thought my answer all the way through, was in response to how distraught I was over the fact that, someday, I will have to have a discussion about these kinds of events with my son. Kids do lockdown drills at school now- this isn’t something I can avoid forever and, furthermore, I don’t want to, because I want to be able to be there for him as he starts to consider these things. What she asked me was- “When this conversation does arise for you, what do you think you might say and what messages or values would you like to impart on him during that discussion?” I stumbled around in response. Vaguely, I answered something about wanting him to understand that there is threat out in the world, but somehow impart that living in constant fear isn’t the way to handle that. How? Unsure. Might take more therapy to unwind that. Might take more research, reading, thought, or a whole slew of other things. If I come up with anything that feels “good” or helpful later, I’ll add it to this post as an edit. But for now– what I’m saying is that, even though she asked some thought-provoking questions, what I felt was the real value of my time with her had so much more to do with the fact that I was able to speak honestly and fully about my feelings to another person.
Going through the Motions
Beyond those major strategies, I also adopted a “fake it til you make” it stance…which sounds sort of flippant, but what I mean is- I truly couldn’t picture making it to the other side of these feelings. I knew I would likely feel good again at some point, but I couldn’t picture it. A return to any sort of normalcy seemed both callous and naive….and that’s without even approaching something as elevated as ‘happiness.’
What I did know though, was that even if I couldn’t picture it for myself or didn’t really believe that any of these things would work on me- there are a whole bunch of things the are supposed to help. Things like exercise, deep breathing, hanging out in nature, doing activities I’d ordinarily enjoy, practicing gratitude, spending extra time with loved ones, and listening to music. But I, albeit skeptically and grudgingly, forced myself to do those things anyway and I’m still doing that.Things still don’t feel good, in general. I still don’t feel good, in general….but when I do these things, I at least feel less bad for a minute and I’m noticing that slowly, some of the things that were just making it so I felt a little less bad, are actually beginning to open up into little rays of happiness here and there. And I think that’s worth pursuing. ❤