The world is going to pot and so is my psyche.
October 13, 2016 4:30 PM   Subscribe

It seems like everywhere I look today, there's negativity*. Racial profiling by cops. The Syrian refugee crisis. Syrian children dying by the thousands on a daily basis. School shootings in the U.S. Corruption in Haiti preventing monetary aid from getting where it's needed. And, obviously, the Great Orange Millionaire Disaster, many of his supporters and much of what they represent. Heck, even Kim Kardashian was robbed at gunpoint. I'm looking for ways on coping with all of this, because my hope in humanity is running real low.

I was never this sensitive to political and racial issues, but the combination of emotional maturity and the birth of my biracial son (he is part African-American) has raised my awareness immensely. The physical manifestation of this newfound perspective is emotional fatigue, general lack of motivation, social weariness, and a fast-diminishing desire to educate myself on topics that impact my little family. In a moment of pure, unadulterated sadness a few days ago, I apologized to my sweet sleeping son through tears for bringing him into a world of so much pain and hate.

This isn't clinical depression, as I find joy in my son, my partner and my career. I am a scientist, and Canadian: uninvolved in politics and also unable to vote - which makes me feel utterly helpless. I'm exhausted with the sheer amount of hate and anger and lack of empathy in this world. Does anyone else feel this way? If so, what have you done to combat it? What are some little, everyday ways/ habits in which I can deal with these feelings of dread and helplessness as it pertains to current affairs? At the risk of sounding cliche, what can I do to renew my faith in humanity? I have turned off social media and volunteer with the homeless but the latter sometimes makes these feelings worse. Bonus points for ways to increase positivity given a lack of time thanks to a full-time job and being the mom of an infant.

Thank you in advance, MeFites.

*Not looking to debate any political or social views.
posted by Everydayville to Human Relations (34 answers total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
Not to discount your feelings but for the first couple sentences I was wondering if this was going to be a trick question and it was a quote from the 1800's or Euripides or something else from an ancient time of crisis.

Terrible things but the world is getting better is so many ways. Many of today's "wars" have an entire death toll close to a single day of WWII. This is not to discount the current horrors, it's unconscionable and hard to grasp. But crime rates are on a general trend, many places are safer (don't move to the Chicago inner city). There just was the incredible scary Ebola pandemic, and that is largely over. Bad problems are being fixed, there will be more, which will have fixes or work arounds. Be optimistic.
posted by sammyo at 4:42 PM on October 13, 2016 [7 favorites]

Berkeley Breathed came up with a good idea several years ago and put it in one of his Bloom County strips.

And that's not being flip. If there is something that brings you joy, give yourself permission to disconnect from the world and seek solace with it for a little while. Play with your child, walk in the woods, bake a cake. Talk to a neighbor. Watch the sun on the water. Kiss your partner. Watch Duck Soup. Shake your booty to Devil With A Blue Dress On. Eavesdrop on conversations between little kids. Make small talk with a little old lady. Read the stories on this web site.

The random conversations with strangers will especially help, because it'll reinforce for you that most people are just people trying to muddle along, and most of them are decent and in the same boat with you. That helps put the idiots of the world in perspective.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:56 PM on October 13, 2016 [8 favorites]

The world has always, always, always been this way. The reason you're unable to ignore it is actually a very good thing: We're talking about it. We're shining light on the darkest, most uncomfortable corners of society. Information travels at the speed of light, and information travels more and more freely, so it's increasingly difficult for bad deeds to hide in the shadows.

And more and more, we're saying with increasingly louder voices, This is not okay. This has to change.

And it will. Sometimes too slowly, sometimes painfully, and sometimes in faltering steps, but it will change. Your son will be one of the agents of change, and you've brought that into the world.
posted by erst at 4:56 PM on October 13, 2016 [25 favorites]

I mean, hell, even Hillary Clinton just said today that sometimes she feels like just turning off the news and watching cat gifs, so that's practically a government endorsement.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:57 PM on October 13, 2016 [28 favorites]

Here's an interactive self-care checklist. I find it helps to go through steps to ensure I'm physically comfortable and then emotionally comfortable when things are hard. Things do really suck right now, and it's important to take time to be kind to yourself.
posted by ohisee at 5:04 PM on October 13, 2016 [12 favorites]

My advice would be to disengage where you can. Despite all the things sammyo says being true, the pace of news, the incentives of social media, and the global view we now take means we're every day exposed to more awful things that we have no control over than any of our ancestors, and exposed at a pace that far exceeds our ability to control or change those things by knowing about them.

If an individual in our lives is a constant suck of care in a way that affects our ability to function, Metafilter's advice is often to disengage—you probably can't help this mother/old friend/sibling, and even if you could the effort would still hurt you over and over. We have far less control over the levers of power or structural racism or war across the world than we do our extended families, but a lot of times we still feel unauthorized to look away, as though it's our duty as citizens to pretend to a level of power we don't possess. It's like trying to keep your airplane up by worrying about it.

Do the things you can—vote, be an example to the people around you, volunteer, whatever you think your role is—and accept your limits otherwise. Grant yourself permission to disconnect from the things that are beyond your powers, and focus on the people in front of you. Loving or having faith in "humanity" is difficult, but luckily you're under no obligation to do that. Just love the people around you.
posted by Polycarp at 5:08 PM on October 13, 2016 [4 favorites]

I find the model of near-mode vs. far-mode thinking helpful for bouts of this kind of depression. Basically, we tend to think about Big-Picture World Issues, about events happening in the news or to somebody else on social media or in the semi-distant future or otherwise outside our concrete sphere of experience, in a cognitive "far mode" that eliminates complexity/nuance, reduces issues to simplistic black-and-white, depicts other people/groups and their actions (inaccurately!) deterministically and in terms of stable fixed traits (**Those** people, what can we do about them? They're all alike, I feel so awful about this, the world is doomed...).

But comparing those far-mode responses to the way we think in "near mode," about things very concretely experienced, and/or near to us, reinforces that life is messy and complex, people are complexly motivated (and their actions, just like our own actions, much more subject to external circumstance than you'd predict), and there really is quite a lot of bright to go with the darkness. Think about all the people you, personally, know. Many of them, depending on ideology, would be qualify as "deplorables" for someone on the opposite side of the ideological spectrum-- in fact, right now they're probably (in far mode) the subject of hand-wringing, fear and despair to someone just like you. But are any of those people you know really malicious and awful, seeking to harm others? Or are they just ordinary humans who have a mix of right and wrong ideas, a mix of good and bad traits, struggling to do their best in tough circumstances, and occasionally failing to be as kind as they should be to others? Well, that's also the case for most of the folks you're worried about on the opposite side of the fence.

Far mode is maybe OK for philosophy and professional public policy, but not a great way to guide your day-to-day emotional life as a layperson. Far-mode mediated by the media outrage-baiting is even worse. I'd say take a week off from worrying about anything that's not immediately happening to you or someone you love (vs. "I heard about it in this article, it could totally maybe happen to me someday" or "Well, models predict that in 5-7 years, we could get to a point where..." or "If this happens in a month (way over there), then we predict that within a few more months, the initial steps might begin to be taken toward this bad thing in a year or two"), and see how you feel at that point.
posted by Bardolph at 5:08 PM on October 13, 2016 [19 favorites]

Stay away from TV news. Get your news in text form, either online or print. This gives you more control- if you find a story too upsetting, you can move on to a different one. I did this to cope with 9/11 and never went back.
posted by Anne Neville at 5:24 PM on October 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

I recently took an internet break, during which I didn't have access to television or newspapers. I felt remarkably calmer during it.
posted by bunderful at 5:42 PM on October 13, 2016 [5 favorites]

I keep a list of Metafilter links in my MeFi profile called "things that restore my faith in humanity". I go back and read them sometimes when I feel like you do. You can look at mine, but I encourage you to start your own list of links that are good examples of people being good to others.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 6:09 PM on October 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

The world is not actually going to pot, is the gist of it. Stop reading the news, get off Facebook, most of that garbage literally doesn't matter. The world is chill.
posted by so fucking future at 6:18 PM on October 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

One of my favorite writers today is astrologer Rob Breszny. He has a remarkably grounded and optimistic worldview that I absolutely cherish. He calls it pronoia, which is the opposite of paranoia: that is, the universe is conspiring to shower you with blessings. One of the things I love about pronoia is that it's not as Pollyanna as you might think; it's actually pretty level-headed in accepting that difficult and awful things happen in life, with some frequency... however it regards those with essentially a growth mindset, and he frequently reality-checks that, in many ways, life is pretty amazing and this current era is in many ways the best life has ever seen on earth.

I offer this because one of my ways to combat the kind of weight you're feeling is to read Rob Brezny's writings (including his beautifully-written, thought-provoking horoscopes, and his newsletter) and to cultivate my pronoia. Might work for you, too.
posted by Sublimity at 6:20 PM on October 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

I live far from my son's school and he does his homework and I listen to NPR. Or so I thought. When Trump was ahead in the polls, boy pipes up that somebody needs to kill him. Slowly I turn and boy says "Not you. Then my life would be hell."

So I don't do the NPR thing on the way to school anymore.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 6:20 PM on October 13, 2016 [9 favorites]

I agree with virtually everything above, but as you asked I will give you one specific example from my life. I don't think it's too controversial for Mefites.

I went through 16 years of Catholic school, and during that time it was believed that if only Catholics and others would obey the Catholic church things would get better. Despite hospitals and schools and other socially fantastic things, I think it's now clear that centralized control of society in any form is doomed without individuals taking daily individual responsibility for making a difference. I try to focus on examples where I see people boldly and bravely stepping out in that way because it's the only hope for the future and because I need their inspiration. FWIW.
posted by forthright at 6:34 PM on October 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

News outlets have a vested interest in making you feel alarmed. They know that's a good way to get you to sit through their commercials or scroll through their ads. Just keep this in mind when you watch the news or read news online.
posted by Anne Neville at 6:47 PM on October 13, 2016 [4 favorites]

Take in the good!

"Taking in the Good" is an easy/simple mindfulness practice that only requires that you stop, notice and briefly savor positive experiences throughout your day.

From Rick Hanson's website:

"...tilted toward absorbing the good, instead of positive experiences washing through you like water through a sieve, they’ll collect in implicit memory deep down in your brain. In the famous saying, “neurons that fire together, wire together.” The more you get your neurons firing about positive facts, the more they’ll be wiring up positive neural structures."

I'm in the same fed-up/WTF boat as you and have been trying to do this -- and it's working!
posted by hapax_legomenon at 7:10 PM on October 13, 2016 [7 favorites]

I feel this way too, pretty much constantly the last year or so. I know objectively things are improving all around. Some of it I think is just we're not programmed to handle So Many WTF Things, on a constant 24 hour stream into our pockets. I take social media breaks often and am constantly on the hunt for good news that's really good news. I can't handle "abused kitten thought it's life was over.. you won't believe what happens next!" because of the implied "click on this so I get ad revenue" and also it means a bad thing happened first.

This past weekend I picked up a copy of 14000 Things To Be Happy About, and I keep it in my purse and look at it pretty frequently. Like.. at least every time I sit down when I have my purse with me. It is helping. I also plan, over and over and over, to work on mindfulness and one of these days I will actually start doing it.
posted by teslacoilswoah at 7:29 PM on October 13, 2016 [4 favorites]

Honestly, I have felt the exact same way recently. I want to step away from the news and yet I can't really because it is part of my job, but the sheer unrelentingness of the news this year has been awful.

Luckily, I live in the country so in a sense when I come home I have some sense of serenity as the world immediately outside my doorstep is calm and involves no chaos beyond what I bring myself.

So I sit on my porch and remind myself that in the past, this is all I would have known, the world around me and that it is acceptable, in some ways for my priorities to align with the world immediately around me. I have to take stock of that first and make sure all is well.

Then when I am at work I try to do one thing a day to simply make someone else's life better, luckily I work with a lot of people so it is easy to find someone who needs a thank you note, a pan of brownies, a person to talk to, etc.

Then once a day I check my Amnesty International emails and I forward a letter one behalf of two people who are suffering.

Now that I am no longer living paycheck to paycheck I am trying to find a charity to donate a very small sum of money to each month.

I always feel better in action, so this comes more natural to me. I worry less when I'm moving in a direction.

Of course, in reflection it is so little, my actions are so small....and I'm not much of a praying person, but somehow after having kids the sheer powerlessness to prevent, most anything, is more manifestly evident.

So after all this I say a prayer and it is nothing more than a statement and a wish, "I am small, let this be enough."
posted by aetg at 7:51 PM on October 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

Mindfulness meditation/practice helps.
posted by splitpeasoup at 10:31 PM on October 13, 2016

I really wish I could find this twitter thread: it was from a young black woman, during the first round of Ferguson protests, amid a summer of violence and heartbreak, talking about how her grandmother, who was active in the civil rights movement of the mid 20th century, always made sure to grow flowers in her garden, in her windows. To cultivate that small piece of beauty to make sure her children and grandchildren had something to hold on to in a world where everyone decent really does have to fight this battle against resurgent human evil, and then another one, and then another one. Her grandchildren deserved those moments of love and joy and that time to breathe. You do too. Try to take the time to remind yourself of the good of the things we're fighting for, and that you are one of them. You deserve to take a breath, too.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 10:55 PM on October 13, 2016 [5 favorites]

Thank you for all these thoughtful responses. Another effect of all the Bad Things is that where once I was a stoic individual in the face of sadness, now even reading kind words in a Mefi post makes me teary...

A couple points upon reflection. My logical mind does register the "good" in having all this bad news come to light in that this isn't new: it's always been around, but technology has made it so that these events are quickly and freely made public. I do know that change begins with knowledge, but that tipping point sure feels painfully far away. And it doesn't explain how, somehow, people seem to be getting more and more selfish in day-to-day life when what we seem to need is the exact opposite.

I also realize that the issues causing me the most acute anxiousness are those that relate directly to my son. Someone upthread mentioned 'far-mode' thinking, and that really struck to the core of my distress - that my son may one day experience less than pleasant interactions based on discrimination. I am willing to accept this reality, but being that he is 7 months old, should probably take a deep breath, and take comfort in our (my partner's and my own) ability to raise this boy with strength and wisdom. I have been a worrywart all my life, and if nothing else, do not want that trait to pass on to my son.

Thanks again everyone! I am about to delve into some of the recommended reading above before bed. Here's to a better morning.
posted by Everydayville at 11:52 PM on October 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

Maybe I'm wrong about this, but it sounds like you get most of your information about the larger world around you, and especially about bad things in the world, from other people telling you about them, in the news and online. And I think that's a real issue, because those stories make you feel not only sad and angry, but also helpless and hopeless. I don't think you should try to ignore this or tune out or turn off the news. I think you should stop being a bystander and an observer. I think you should seriously consider radically restructuring your life so that you're devoting more of your time and energy to actually working to solve the problems that are bothering you.

I used to have a pretty standard office job. Then a few years ago, I made a huge career change, and now I work directly with children of color who live in impoverished communities and are in the highest risk group for police violence and other crime. I am substantially more optimistic now than I was before I started this job. And I feel a lot less fear and anxiety and sadness, even though I am actually much closer to the world's problems than I used to be, and those problems affect more people I care about more closely, and I see more scary stuff on a day-to-day basis. I am less scared, and I am more hopeful and at peace.

Basically, when I knew what was happening only from the news, I felt anxious and hopeless and upset a lot of the time. Then I set out to get a job where I actually get to feel, every day, like I'm helping to work on those problems. And even though I now see a lot more of it, more up close, involving children I care about deeply, I feel better than I did when I was seeing less of it. Because I see the amazing work that is going on to try to fix problems, and I see the incredibly love and spirit and joy in communities the news tells me should be just unmitigated awfulness.

I think your sadness and fear and anger are trying to tell you something. And I think that what they're trying to tell you is that you feel passionate about working harder to make the world a better place. At least, that's what those feelings were telling me when I was having them. And while I still have a lot of times when I feel like the world is going to hell and never going to get better, those times are a lot fewer and a lot less terrible than they used to be, because I see every day how hard so many people who care are working to make things better, and I see how strong my fellow human beings really are. I think that's what your feelings are telling you to try to do.
posted by decathecting at 12:17 AM on October 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

I mean this totally seriously: Stay off MetaFilter. People here tend to be keenly aware of all sorts of injustices domestic and abroad, and they are discussed here with great frequency. Which is fine, unless you're trying not to focus on that stuff.
posted by persona au gratin at 12:45 AM on October 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Postpartum depression, maybe?
posted by Kwadeng at 1:13 AM on October 14, 2016

I don't think you should tune out the news. I do think you should get it in a way that gives you more control over how much time you spend on a particular story, and you should be mindful that news outlets may have interests that aren't necessarily the same as yours.
posted by Anne Neville at 4:37 AM on October 14, 2016

Keep things local. Walk around your neighbourhood and notice things that make you smile. Pretty leaves, squirrels being silly, kids playing, happy couples, say hi to passing dogs and cats on porches. Be cheery and say hi to retail staff, bus drivers etc. Make a point to look for say 5 nice moments, then ten and so on. The world around us is full of magical little moments. They help insulate against the big bad stuff and make it less important.
posted by kitten magic at 5:19 AM on October 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

It sounds like you could use some more in-person support. Can you reach out to your friends and family and tell them that you're struggling right now and that you'd love to go out for coffee (if they're nearby) re set up a phone date (if they're not)? Can you look for moms groups in your area so you have other moms to talk to? Can you talk to your husband about how you're feeling? I get the impression (sorry if it's wrong) that you are white and your husband is a person of color. If that's true, then your husband has many years worth of experience in making his way through the world as a person of color in a racist society and he probably has lots of ideas about how to help your son navigate through those same situations.
posted by colfax at 6:09 AM on October 14, 2016

7 months old

I think the first year of life leaves many parents looking around with newfound horror and anxiety. I know with both my children I've developed a level of emotional vulnerability to world events that I didn't have before. I know intellectually that the world is as good as it's ever been, but I get the feels looking at my baby and thinking "you're going to have to deal with all this shit"

If my experience, and those of other parents around me, is representative this will get better as your kid transforms from totally-vulnerable-projection-of-our-fears into a little competent person.
posted by French Fry at 7:58 AM on October 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

For what it's worth, I completely agree with you.
It's not depression as far as I'm concerned - in my case, I know I'm getting more and more cynical.
It's one of the BIG reasons why I don't want kids - I just cannot fathom what this world will look like in 30 years, you know? But heck.... I imagine our parents felt the same!

Anyway, I know I'll continue to see the bad in things, I think that is unavoidable for me, but I also do take joy in LOTS of little things. I smile a lot, I smile at strangers a lot, I thank "god" everyday for small blessings. I keep in touch with my excellent friends and randomly text people to tell them I'm thinking of them, I actively compliment people regularly (and mean it), I think when you start to look outside yourself and make someone else feel good, then you will feel better about things. I catch myself when I'm being too negative about things and decide that being sad and negative takes up WAY more energy than seeing the good in things. I have cats.... they help a LOT with their kitty weirdness.

You know, there is a LOT to love in this world. The bad stuff isn't going away, but the good stuff is still there... it's everywhere I promise. And everything will be OK in the end.
posted by JenThePro at 8:07 AM on October 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

It's completely cynical of me, but I'm kind of fascinated by the slow belly-flop into annihilation that humanity is engaged in. I'm really curious to see what kind of culture and weird little niche societies crop up once things spiral out of control.

Of course this sounds very bleak, but I truly feel that humanity will produce, even in its death-throes, works of remarkable beauty, and perhaps some of the most beautiful creations ever seen. I find this idea to be oddly sustaining when I think about all of the terrible metaphorical guns pointed at our heads (which I do, far more often than can be healthy).
posted by Fister Roboto at 9:10 AM on October 14, 2016

Neurological growth: You had a kid and and as a result you developed a bunch more empathy and and probably a bunch more cause-and-effect as well. Happens a lot with new parents who spend a focused time looking at a mewling new human being trying to figure out if the mewling noises mean they should feed, warm, bounce or not disturb their new family member. As well as learning such arcane things as when you should be brisk and when you should be dreamy and slow moving from your small guy's non-verbal cues, you have become acutely sensitive to other information. Another symptom of this growth is crying at soppy movies that you used to snicker at, and getting interested in in boring issues like municipal zoning.

I suggest you actively do something useful. It doesn't have to be anything big. Millions of small things will make more difference than a few big things. So send a two dollar donation one day and write a e-mail for a cause the next day, and speak up on facebook the day after, and read up on getting solar panels the day after that. And tell your family and your friends what you are doing so that they know that you are part of the zeitgeist, and help them join the whirlwind that will make a better world for your son.
posted by Jane the Brown at 6:44 PM on October 14, 2016

A lot of people who aren't new parents are feeling scared this year. This election sucks. I think people on both sides feel that way.
posted by Anne Neville at 9:55 PM on October 14, 2016

« Older What is this rainbow colored plant or fungus?   |   Maximum home cosiness (hygge) with a budget of UK... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.