I'm a wreck
March 22, 2007 8:19 AM   Subscribe

How do you get over some of the disturbing things you read in the news?

There has been in the local news the story of a young boy, about my son's age, who was kidnapped, molested and killed. Today I read details of the indictment and wish I hadn't. They were far more upsetting than I realized (this is coming on the heels of the Jessica Lunsford case, which is big news here) and now I can't stop crying and visualizing this child. I want to leave and go pick up my son from preschool and just bring him home and hold him.

I need to be able to turn this reaction off, since I have to be able to function, but right now I can't stop shaking and crying for the ordeal this child went through. How do you get things like this out of your head?

I'm sorry if this is "chatfiltery", but I really would like some serious suggestions for how to deal with some of these horrific things. I stay away from other stories where I expect to be disturbed if I think I can't handle it, but this one took me by surprise.
posted by hollygoheavy to Health & Fitness (28 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
My partner has a no-TV-news policy at home. He says TV news is bad for one's mental health, and I have to agree. I remember after 9/11, I was tuned into the news stations almost non-stop for a couple days afterwards. My mental state was not good.

Local news is especially bad, because it focuses on emotional sensationalism over actual, real news.

For example, when your local news outlet reported this kidnapping and murder, did the news program spend any time on what might have caused this? Is this type of crime endemic to your neighborhood or was it random? Is this symptomatic of incompetent neighborhood policing or is it just random violence? That sort of thing.

Today's news outlets offer very little in the way of analysis or useful detail, instead stimulating your instinctive, emotional response. They go in for the quick sting and then cut to commercial breaks. Then back again and then more commercials.

At some point, the simple solution becomes turning it off, and being selective about what you read and watch.

It's hard at first, but by thinking about your news diet as GIGO: garbage-in, garbage-out, and just as a good diet is less food and better food, by reading and watching less and better news, your mental health will improve.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:32 AM on March 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

I had a similar reaction while watching the James Kim incident unfold. When he was found dead I felt horrible and cried, as if he had been a close friend. After allowing myself to grieve for a short period I made myself push it out of my mind and thought "better him than my own husband". Just try not to think about it. Go do something to make yourself smile. It took me a few days to get over it tho =/
posted by Sufi at 8:34 AM on March 22, 2007

You have had a very human reaction that most people train themselves NOT to have when reading the news, which practically by definition is disturbing and traumatizing. I'd take a break from news in general for a while.

Instead of feeling trapped by your overwhelming feelings, turn them into action. Find a way to send a card or flowers to the family. Make a small donation to the local hospital's pediatric ward in their name. Or volunteer at the hospital so that you can come to grips with the reality of what many children go through all the time and so you feel like you are doing something to help.

If this feels too painful for you, then there is no better way to ease your troubles than by talking about them. In a way making this post is sure to help; sometimes you just need to get things off your chest. Find a friend or two who you can open up to about this, you'll feel better.

The best way to keep yourself in check is to remember that you have a child of your own who needs you, and the very minute these powerful feelings become projected onto your relationship with him, you need to take the reins. This did not, and will not, happen to your child. You may swell with empathy, but do not let yourself become paralyzed by despair.
posted by hermitosis at 8:38 AM on March 22, 2007 [2 favorites]

This story hit me the same way. My son is much younger, but I had the same reaction. It made me nauseated and I had to go to the restroom to compose myself.

I feel like I have to balance the reality that this is a real boy with devasted parents with the separate reality that horrible things happen every day and we just don't hear about them. This is different because CNN and other outlets have revealed horrendous details that maybe the public doesn't really need to know.

I think it's only going to get worse (this type of reporting). I avoid the news as much as possible - now that I'm a parent it seems like everything on the news is about toddlers being molested, raped, and killed. I know this isn't true, it's just my new perspective. I try to keep that in mind.

Sometimes it feels wrong and selfish, but I try to think like this: whenever I'm having a hard day as a parent, I think, "I'm so lucky - my child is alive, well, safe."
posted by peep at 8:38 AM on March 22, 2007

Response by poster: Thank you everyone. I called my husband and he and I are going to pick our son up and go to lunch together. Then I'll spend the afternoon just having "baby" time (even though he's 4) and go back to usual tomorrow.

And there's a news ban on me for a while.
posted by hollygoheavy at 8:44 AM on March 22, 2007

I have decided that, in cases of those kinds of news stories, the headline is news enough. Knowing something happened is, most of the time anyway, ample information as it pertains to my safety and well-being and informed citizenship. I believe the press should be free, which means they're allowed to titillate viewers/readers/listeners with gruesome details of toddler molestation and torture, but I can be above that and I choose not to be entertained by it.

I don't watch TV news at all except in weather emergencies.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:45 AM on March 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

Accept that sometimes bad things happen to good people.

The "no news policy" is an absolute disaster -- people are already detuned from reality in the western world enough that the notion of a well-informed electorate making democratic decisions on how their country should be governed is increasingly a horrible joke.

However, the "no local news channel" policy may be ok, since usually they deal with the "if it bleeds it leads" news mentality, rather than anything with lasting consequences for the world.

So, I know this doesn't give you any answers on how to feel better when reading about tragedy, but please, PLEASE do not isolate yourself from what happens in the world in general because of it.

I couldn't disagree more with the idea that "news makes you feel bad, so its better to just live in a bubble" mentality that some have outlined here... its an abdication of your responsibility to your society.
posted by modernnomad at 8:49 AM on March 22, 2007

The press should be free, meaning they're allowed to go past the politician's soundbyte or the freak crime scene and explore a story further. But they don't do these things too often.

I echo everyone above, saying turn off the TV news. Do you get any newspapers? If there's a good newspaper in your city, subscribe to it. The paper in my city is famously bad, so I look for other sources. I highly recommend the Monitor. It's pretty much the polar opposite of TV news.
posted by roll truck roll at 8:56 AM on March 22, 2007

You could flip this around and argue that the people who are numb to a gruesome story have something wrong with them. In other words, you reacted the way you are naturally supposed to react.

I never watch local news. Never. Why would I? I know there are murders and rapes and creeps nearby as a general concept, but I see no value in knowing about specific cases, and the harm is that it's mind poison. Your world is not the world on TV, its your backyard and the places you and your family goes regularly. If you don't voluntarily watch horror movies (and I'm guessing you don't), why would you watch that? At least you know the horror movie is fake.

Furthermore, the local news isn't real in any important sense. Is your life really like the lives of the people shown on the news? Do you behave the same way they do, do the same things, etc? Perhaps they are geographically close to you, but that usually means very little.

I live in Washington DC, but there are part of the city that I never go to and will never go to. Not because I'm avoiding those places. I never actually think about them. My life and the activity taking place in that part of the city are mutually exclusive. What happens there might was well happen in NY or LA, and it does. And as with those cities, when it happens in mine it has no effect on my life.

Finally, the national TV news is almost equally pointless. As an individual, you have no control over world events and little way of impacting them. The influence of those events on your life is so diffuse as to be negligible. A half hour of reading yahoo news or a major newspaper will give you more in depth news and information than three hours of television. You don't get all the salacious video, but again, maybe those are pictures you don't need to see. Furthermore, that half-hour would be spent reading things that are directly important and of immediate use to you.

In short, if it interferes with your life (and it sounds like it does) eliminate it. Focus on the things in your life that actually matter to your life.
posted by Pastabagel at 9:14 AM on March 22, 2007

Holly, I just wanted to tell you that you're not alone. I've written fairly extensively here and on my personal blog about what a surprise it was for me (after my son was born) to find that stories of all kinds -- including fictional stories -- involving children in pain were unbearable to me, often leaving me (as you are now) visualizing and deeply empathizing for the child, as if it were somehow my own child. Many, many other mothers experience this.

(I've been thinking about the nameless little boy from your news article myself for the past while while I waited for a break in my work so I could reply - how alone and scared he was. Its so very hard not to put my own son's face on him.)

I've honestly never found a way to completely turn off the reaction but for me avoiding the news has not been the answer (although I would not have read the details of the indictment or the details of the news story). Hugging my baby boy close is one answer; another is to simply let yourself feel the emotion. I've always found that its useless to resist -- the emotion is going to come, one way or another.

So, maybe this is a non answer, but I wanted to tell you that you're not alone -- there are a whole army of us out there who feel the same way.
posted by anastasiav at 9:45 AM on March 22, 2007 [2 favorites]

I toggle between rightwingnutjob talk radio and NPR on the way too and from work. If it's really, really important one or the other will mention it, in which case I know that I need to learn about something.

Otherwise, I avoid the news. The rise in depression in this country can probably be directly correlated with the rise in 24 hour news coverage. IMHO, depression is a *valid reaction* to the news that's pumped out everyday.
posted by jaded at 9:54 AM on March 22, 2007

I couldn't disagree more with the idea that "news makes you feel bad, so its better to just live in a bubble" mentality that some have outlined here... its an abdication of your responsibility to your society.

Oh, please. Not watching TV news does not equal "living in a bubble." If hollygoheavy wants to skip CNN, she can still read a newspaper, surf online news sites, or listen to NPR to be a "responsible" member of society. The point is to help her avoid the sensationalized garbage (which is a problem with virtually all TV news outlets, not just local news).

Definitely turn off the TV news. You'll be amazed at what a difference it makes.
posted by somanyamys at 9:54 AM on March 22, 2007

Get some statistics on the various kinds of bad things that happen every day (crimes, particularly). It's amazing how a few hours actually reading the figures can show you that the traumatic things really don't happen that often - it's like the anti-lottery. On the other hand, all sorts of very mundane but dangerous bad things go wildly under-reported - being killed by traffic is the obvious example.
posted by reklaw at 10:11 AM on March 22, 2007

Another vote for turning off TV news. With written news you can usually cut yourself off before getting too deeply into a story that will disturb you.

And I can't disagree more with modernnomad. I would argue that someone who watches too much TV news lives in a more distorted bubble of reality than one who doesn't. Watch it enough and you do start to believe that these horrible things happen all the time and will happen to you!

I haven't owned a TV or subscribed to a newspaper or news magazine in over three years and while I would not do well at pop-culture quizzes, I am as informed about the important things in the world as I was before, I'm just not as paranoid and fearful. (As to how informed I was before: I had read three newspapers and watched 2+ hours of TV news +NPR daily since I was 8.)

Why did I go on a news ban in my life? I smiled at a mother and child. They seemed happy enough, walking down the street, the child was being a joyful kid and the mother was enjoying being a mother to such a vibrant child. So I smiled at them.
When the mother saw me (an adult male) smiling at her and her child, she gave me a scowl that could have made the dinosaurs extinct, grabbed her child, whispered for him to be quiet and made haste away from me.

Where did she learn to be afraid? I'm not sure, but the news sure seemed like a good vote since there had been a similar crime in the news at that time.

It turned a friendly greeting into scampering in fear and taught the child that the world is a fearful place. Please don't do that.
posted by Ookseer at 10:20 AM on March 22, 2007

I'd just like to point out that the OP said she read this story in the news. Not watching TV news is good advice for anybody but turning the TV off would not have helped in this case.

And FWIW, I have a five year old son and these sorts of stories disturb me too. I didn't even read the full story but just reading this thread I'm getting the gist of it and it's bumming me out.
posted by bondcliff at 10:27 AM on March 22, 2007

As callous as this may sound,..... "It wasn't your child." Yes, I know, that whole "Well it could have been! oh noes!" but the fact remains that it was not.

In my work in emergency medicine, being able to keep that in mind is extremely important. I think that you should consider focusing on your own child and cherishing him. There isn't anything that you can do about the other ones no matter how much you may want to.

Also, second the "donate to the children's hospital."
posted by drstein at 10:30 AM on March 22, 2007

My strategy is to just think the world has gone to pot and have an intense distrust of strangers and disdain for all forms of authority. This might not work for everyone.
posted by wackybrit at 10:39 AM on March 22, 2007

Stop watching TV news. All the news you need can be found in Slate's Today's Papers, which they'll send you by e-mail every day. NPR also stays away from sensationalism, mostly.
posted by exhilaration at 11:02 AM on March 22, 2007

Your reaction is natural; humans have evolved to empathize with people they know because it's an altruism-related survival trait. The problem is, TV and other media make it easy to feel like you know people that you don't actually know.

When my dad came out to visit me in Seattle a couple years ago, all he wanted to do was sit in the house and watch for news about Natalee Holloway on Fox News. I had to drag him out of the house to go do vacation-y things. Reading some of these responses, it is clear to me now (in a way that wasn't at all clear then) that he was projecting his parental concern for my sister onto her. Also, he just really really loves Fox News.

As a practical matter, though, there are six billion people in the world, and you just can't get upset every time you hear about something bad that's happened to one of them. You'd spend your entire life in depression and turmoil. There are some who say that is the only proper reaction to the state of the world, but you'll notice that the people who say such things don't themselves spend their entire lives in depression and turmoil.

I suggest you pick something you can do to make the world better, and do it regularly and continuously, and think of that every time you see something bad in the news. It can be very affirming.
posted by kindall at 11:08 AM on March 22, 2007

Time, just time. I have the same shock reaction to seeing horrible visual images, I just think about these things all the time for months. It's dreadful, but it passes.
posted by markovich at 11:30 AM on March 22, 2007

Response by poster: Thank you very much everyone-everything you've all said has been very helpful.

I did read this on the local news station's website. I check it every morning for weather, etc. The incident happened in my area, so it's local for us and has been on the news daily for a couple weeks. I don't watch the news on tv and our local paper is awful, so I tend to get my news from the internet (thanks RTR and exhilaration for the links), and NPR.

I picked my son up from preschool, we had lunch with daddy and then rented Sister Act 2 so he could dance in front of the tv. He's on the couch next to me coloring and I just keep touching him-my husband is making a contribution to a memorial fund for the child and we're all shopping tonight for things for the children's hospital here in town.
posted by hollygoheavy at 11:47 AM on March 22, 2007

TV news does not now and never has bothered me. Perhaps this is because I'm a young (read "raised on this junk") male who is childless. I hear the stories, and no matter how horrible they are (academically), I don't have any gut reaction. I'd be worried that I'm some kind of emotionless sociopath, but I'm plenty affected emotionally by other people.

[An interesting note, I almost wrote "real" rather than "other" to signify people I know and/or see. That's kind of disturbing that I consider everything that happens on TV to be fictitious. I get my news through teh intarbus and the web. TV is good for weather and very local news (i.e. $neighborhood lost power for n hours today, ConEd has no comment at this time).]
posted by Xoder at 11:52 AM on March 22, 2007

Stop watching the news. If something really important happens, you'll hear about it.
posted by almostmanda at 12:07 PM on March 22, 2007

I know a lot of journalists/people who work in the news who go on "news blackouts", where they take in no news whatsoever, while on vacation or for the weekend.

But I think, generally, cutting yourself off from information only weakens you. If there are bad things happening or there are threats, I need to know about it to better protect my family/city/state/ nation/ etc. or try to make changes.

It's hard to accept that terrible things happen to people all the time. I forget sometimes that that side of reality is dealt with all the time by a wide range of people: police, firefighters, soldiers, doctors. (I know a lawyer who is a guardian ad litem who sometimes has to delve into all sorts of vile detail, but her work certainly benefits the children involved.)
posted by mrmarley at 12:14 PM on March 22, 2007

I'm with everyone else on avoiding TV news. You can catch NPR in the car in the morning or afternoon once or twice a week and be better informed than most people. Hit Google News or a few RSS news feeds once in a while to see what's shaking.

Keeping up with the news can easily become an obsession and--as much as they simply repeat the same stories over and over--a huge waste of time. Try taking a week off from it, then work it back in and keep it in check. You'll probably feel much better.
posted by wheat at 1:05 PM on March 22, 2007

I had a job a few years ago where I spent months at a time researching torture, war crimes, and other evidence of the worst humanity had to offer. After a few weeks of reading this stuff day in and day out, I actually found that I had become numb to it, and that it didn't bother me as much as it once had. The realization that I was no longer upset by it was far more disturbing to me than the material itself had been initially. I felt on some level as though, in the course of trying to fight these problems by appealing to other people's sense of humanity, I had lost a part of my own. Friends who work in the media have reported the same feeling.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that having these feelings - the sorrow, the revulsion, the pain - is a good thing. It means that you're human and that you care about other people in the way that you should. If you can channel those feelings into something productive, like working in some small way to try to prevent such horrors from happening to others, that might serve both to make your suffering meaningful and to make you feel a little better. But just know that having these feelings is a sign that your brain is working correctly, because incidents like this are horrifying, and we should be upset about others' suffering. I try to take comfort in having such feelings, because I believe that they're what spurs us to make the world better.
posted by decathecting at 2:20 PM on March 22, 2007

I never watch local news. Never. Why would I?

If instead of music, Reginald Denny had been listening to the radio on April 29, 1992, he would've known better than to drive into the intersection of Florence and Normandie. This demonstrates how it's dangerous to completely tune out what's happening around you. On the other hand, I reject most TV news for reasons detailed above, so I completely agree with the suggestion to stop watching TV News. In fact, just stop watching TV -- you'll feel much better.
posted by Rash at 11:56 AM on March 23, 2007

When I was ten years old, my mom's co-worker's daughter (who was 19) was kidnapped, raped, and murdered. We are in a low-crime city where "things like this just don't happen." My mom didn't want me reading what happened in the paper, but my babysitter showed me the article.

It bothered me growing up. She was working the night shift alone at a convenience store at the time, and so for the longest time I told my mom I'd never work at night alone. I never knew the girl, but just having read the paper and talked to my mom about it, it bothered me. (I think the key thing to point out how this relates to your situation, is that my mom and I didn't know the girl.)

A few years ago, nearly 25 years after she died, I wanted to put an end to my thinking about it. I found her parents listed in the phone book, but I felt it wouldn't be appropriate to contact them for my own selfish need for closure. I asked around on FindAGrave.com, and someone found her grave for me (it wasn't listed on the site - they found it in a library archive.) I haven't done it yet, because she is buried several hours away, but I plan to someday stop and place a rose at her grave. Just knowing that I can do that has helped me immensely. I think it's given me closure.

So even if perhaps you can't go to this actual child's grave, could you go to a cemetery where there's perhaps a statue or monument to deceased children, or even maybe a statue of an angel, leave a rose, and use that to give yourself closure? Or perhaps go to a church and light a candle for the child? Just do something... some small action... and it will help, I think.

And as so many others have said, you are not alone. America's Most Wanted ran a segment on a wanted man named James Bulger, who is no relation to the murdered child Jamie Bulger, but his name reminded me of the child and I still feel sad for him. I think everyone feels especially horrified when it's a child who is murdered.
posted by IndigoRain at 3:57 AM on March 24, 2007

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