I’ve learned recently about ‘trigger warnings’ as a way to manage my own self care. I am living with mental illness, so I try to avoid situations and content that might put me and my mental health at risk. But the news doesn’t come with trigger warnings. Life doesn’t come with trigger warnings. So how do I ‘self manage’ something like the news of the Orlando attack?
I’m young, queer and living in Melbourne Australia. Those who know me know that I can be unapologetically verbose when it comes to topics I’m passionate about, particularly so when I’m angry or upset. Well, for the past two days I’ve been searching for the right words to say about the Orlando shooting. And trust me, there were many things I wanted to say, entire heartfelt rants that kept running through my head but that vanished as soon as I tried to put them to paper.
When I heard the news of what happened in Orlando, I found myself paralysed by grief. I’m aware that it may sound dramatic, but it’s the only word that comes close to describing my feelings after hearing about the terrible terrible events in Orlando on Sunday night. Grief. Deep, profound grief.
I struggled with conflicting thoughts: I would feel selfish for feeling so hurt, like I was latching on to somebody else’s grief when I had no right to. But then I would feel selfish when I tried to distract myself, to keep my mind off the recent events, because it would feel like I was disrespecting all of the victims and their families by brushing it aside.
The truth is that neither of those things are selfish. Grief manifests in so many varying ways, and it is important to let a person grieve in whatever way best helps them.
If you need to completely block yourself off from social media, distract yourself, watch your favourite tv shows, hug your pet, look at beautiful and inspiring art, then do that. You are not being selfish or disrespectful. It doesn’t mean your grief is any less than anyone else’s. You are looking after yourself, and that is what’s most important.
If you need to call up a friend in tears and talk it out or feel a driving need to do something productive, whether it relates to the shooting or not, then do that. Chances are, your friends will understand and may even be in a similar position. And if they’re not feeling up to talking about it, that’s okay too. Talk to someone else, or write your feelings down on your blog or in a private document.
If you need to immerse yourself in news, to soak up every minor detail of what happened, to arm yourself with information, to furiously share the information or write your own account of your findings, then do that. Just be careful to include trigger warnings and tag everything so other people can block it if they choose. And don’t ever respond to someone when you’re angry; wait until you’ve calmed down and can answer logically. Lashing out is also a symptom of grief. Be aware of this, and try to look past any aggression you may come up against. Protect yourself, and protect others by making sure you’re not lashing out as well.
And if you need to do all three of these things erratically throughout the day, then do that. Because I’ll admit, I have done every single one of the above points. Grief can be unpredictable, but it’s important not to fight against it. Follow what your body and your mind are trying to tell you. Feeling antsy and irritated or restless? Try going for a walk, or playing an instrument or a video game, or cooking something, or creating something. Don’t forget to eat and drink. And above all, allow yourself to cry if you need to.
Most importantly, please, please, please talk to somebody if you feel you are not coping very well. Talk to your friends, your family, your blog, a counsellor. Seek help. It has been documented that suicide rates greatly increase after public tragedies, so please look after yourself. And if you’re feeling okay, talk to your friends and family anyway. Make sure they’re okay. Look out for one another.
Because in times like these it’s easy to believe that the world is only filled with hatred and violence. We need to show each other that this is not the case. There are many communities hurting right now; not just the queer community, but the Latinx and Muslim communities as well. We need to stand together, protect each other, help each other. If you are hurting, find someone to lean on. If you’re keeping strong, be that support for someone else. Be kind and gentle. Be loving. Be human.
Because at the end of the day, the only thing we truly have any control over is ourselves.