“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” – Jiddu Krishnamurti
You’ve seen the videos on the television news and YouTube: Employees diving under their desks as TV monitors and filing cabinets fall. Dramatic shots of walls of water racing through coastal towns and destroying everything in their path. Oil refineries blazing as though Hell’s inferno had escaped.
You’ve read the headlines in the newspapers and online: “Nuclear plant blows.” “Searching for survivors.” “Quake moved Japan coast 8 feet; shifted Earth’s axis.”
Your friends on Facebook have posted links to videos and news articles, commenting on how horrible this tragedy is and urging you to donate money to relief efforts.
As the waves of media coverage about Japan’s double tragedy washed over you, you may have felt desperately sad. Perhaps you were moved to tears. Maybe you watched helplessly as the equilibrium you’ve fought so hard to achieve has given way to an episode of severe depression. Your heart aches for the people of Japan and the devastating losses they are experiencing.
If your depression is getting triggered by following the coverage of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami and their aftermath, particularly if you are becoming non-functional or suicidal, then just stop.
You can’t afford to become another statistic of this disaster.
Change the channel or turn off the TV. Skip the front-page news in the newspaper. Close YouTube and log out of Facebook. Stay off of CNN.com. Better yet, exit the Internet altogether.
Give yourself permission to remain out of touch with what’s going on in Japan. And everywhere else, for that matter, even in your own town. Bad news is endemic; it’s part of being on the planet. Unless it directly affects you or someone you care about, however, you don’t have to take it in.
I know: That sounds cold. Harsh. Uncaring.
But it’s not. Instead, it’s self-protective. Remember, the “C” in “CPR for Depressives” stands for “Care for yourself radically.” Protecting yourself from things that can trigger your depression is a form of radical self-care.
The fact is, people with chronic depression care too much. We tend to feel things more deeply than other people. We are easily moved to empathy, pity, and tears. This is not a weakness; it’s simply the way our brains are wired. Because of that, we need to protect ourselves more stringently than other people do, by avoiding information and situations that trigger our depression.
The disaster in Japan falls into this category. So do the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the recession, and the federal deficit. Poverty, hunger, and homelessness. And the myriad murders, rapes, and fatal traffic accidents that are happening all around us every day.
Avoid it. All of it. If you need permission to do so, then I hereby give it to you.
Not knowing what’s going on in the world does not make you a bad person, somehow lacking in social and political sensibility. Instead, it makes you more serene and better able to function.
One of the most serene people I ever met was my medieval and renaissance literature professor in graduate school. We students sometimes had a gentle laugh at her expense because she had no idea what was happening in the world. She never watched TV, never read the paper. Pop culture had no meaning for her. In her mind, she lived in the 10th thru the 16th centuries. Chaucer and Shakespeare were her contemporaries. She was clear on what contributed to her aliveness and functionality, and what didn’t. Tuning into the news didn’t. It was that simple. Her face was unlined and lit from within, in spite of her years, and smiling came easily to her. She was an excellent teacher and a joy to be around.
An essential part of recovery from depression is letting go of our attachment to wanting things to be different than they are. You and I can’t change the fact that a disastrous earthquake and tsunami occurred in Japan on Friday, killing thousands of people. What we can do is accept it, send our prayers winging across the oceans and continents, and make sure that we take radical care of ourselves by keeping ourselves out of the line of fire called “bad news.” Only then will we be able to make a positive difference.
(c) 2011 by Patricia R. Henschen, M.A.