I Heard the News Today, Oh Boy

What is there to say about something like the Boston Marathon bombing? There is no sane way to reconcile the gruesome images, the suffering and destruction with our need to believe that we are safe. We are privileged enough in this country to think that this sort of thing does not happen here. Once I confirmed that everyone I love in Boston was ok, my real-world connection to the event faded. But this morning, my mind and heart are still bound up in the news.

Being housebound makes me vulnerable in an odd way. On the one hand, I am remarkably safe in my home and neighborhood. I rarely go in to the city or to places with large crowds. But on the other hand, I am an automatic audience for big news events.  I don’t have a meeting to go to, or kids to pick up from school, or any other demands on my attention. Most of the time, it’s just me, the tv, Facebook and Twitter. If I choose to tune in, I end up vicariously experiencing these events.

I watched the Columbine shootings unfold. For a week after 9/11, I only turned off the tv to sleep. Six years ago today, I followed the Virginia Tech shootings on CNN, and I held my breath between the phone calls from my brother who was there. It has gotten to the point where I start to cry as soon as I learn about an incident like these. Sometimes I have the self-discipline to avoid the media if I think the news will be too upsetting. I stayed off Twitter and Facebook for days after the Newtown shootings, and I still have not seen any footage from that day. I long ago decided that tv news is shallow, and frequently borderline moronic, so it’s easy to avoid that. But if I pay attention – and Twitter makes that incredibly easy – I get sucked in to following every update and rumor.

Emotional shock and distress quickly induces a cascade of physical exhaustion, pain, and brain fog. The more I watch, the worse I feel. Compounding the simple stress is an overwhelming feeling of powerlessness. I am trapped in my home, alone with the images of people who need help. There is nothing I can do. I remember the despair I felt after 9/11 because I couldn’t simply drive to New York and pitch in. After the Virginia Tech shootings, my brother started volunteering for an emergency services provider. I am limited to donating to the Red Cross or knitting afghan squares. This is not a substitute for directly helping people face to face. Watching people suffer, and being unable to do anything about it, feels like sandpaper against my heart.

This morning, I’m thinking about the people who will now join the ranks of the disabled. There are reports of people who lost legs or feet. Sure, they’ll get prosthetic limbs and rehab and lots of attention. But their lives will never be the same. Perhaps there will be people disfigured by the blasts, or people who develop post-traumatic stress disorder. Some of them may have great family support and health insurance, but others may not. In the moment of the explosions, everything changed for these people. They have to run a different marathon now. This is the marathon of doctors and procedures and medication and paperwork and learning to live with a changed body. This is the marathon of people helping in the immediate aftermath and then fading away and going back to their lives. This is the marathon of answering the “how are you?” and “it could have been worse” comments. This is the marathon of the sick and injured.

I don’t know what it’s like to be the victim of any crime, let alone a crime like this. But I do know about suffering and endurance and navigating a changed life. The real crisis is not the moment of explosion. It’s everything that comes after. I know a little bit about that marathon, and I wish I could help other people on that path. But my own marathon keeps me imprisoned, acutely aware that others are suffering and completely unable to help them.


This entry was posted in Commentary and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to I Heard the News Today, Oh Boy

  1. michelle says:

    You put into words my feelings. “watching people suffer, and being unable to do anything about it, feels like sandpaper to my heart.” Being home most of the time you are so right, we are overloaded with news and emotions. It gets hard to process. You know, writing pieces like this is helpful. It’s how you help-by being a voice. Many soft hugs to you today. xoxoxo

  2. michelle says:

    I think I put my email address where my web address should be. sigh. if so could you delete it? super brain fog here today, haha! hugs, Michelle@michelle

  3. Joe Landson says:

    As a former Arabic linguist (before this stupid illness), it took a long time to train myself to reduce my level of caring about everything happening in the Middle East, bomb-related or not. It’s just too much torture to think that, healthy, I could be helping in Libya or Egypt, preventing attacks here, or just resettling the few refugees we have taken in. Sigh.

    • Jennie Spotila says:

      Joe, I can only imagine how difficult that is. I don’t have skills specifically applicable for this sort of thing. If I were a doctor or counselor or other kind of specialist, I would have a much harder time being unable to help!

  4. prefer not to say says:

    Ah. Your comments strike me as so ironic. Many a time when an Occupy CFS entry comes up in my Google Reader, I think to myself “My God, I can barely keep my job, take care of my husband (the CFS sufferer in our family), and get a respectable dinner together every night. How come Jennie Spotila, who is obviously so sick herself, can get organized enough to do things that help the entire CFS community? Why can’t I be a little more like her and do something USEFUL?”

    True story.

    • Jennie Spotila says:

      Oh anonymous, you work harder than me! Job, family, caregiving, and shouldering a double share of household/family management??? That’s a very heavy load. I am fortunate to have the luxury of family support and lots of help. I’m never satisfied with how much/little I do, and that’s an ongoing issue I’m working on. I always focus on the To Do items that did not get crossed off. But I try to do what I can, as do you. Thank you so much for reading, and for reminding me to pat myself on the back for doing what I can. I need that reminder most days!

  5. Kathy says:

    I agree with Anonymous, Jennie! You are amazing. You write on these complex political topics with such clarity and understanding. I appreciate the way you keep us up-to-date on the important issues pertaining to our illness, like the FDA. Please pat yourself on the back for me, too!


  6. Jocelyn W. says:

    Just chiming in to say that prefer not to say and Kathy are right. And Jennie, I went through the same thing this week…having to turn away from the news coverage because it was devouring my tiny store of energy and leaving me weak and anxious. It made me remember following the 9/11 events (which was when I was still well) and not having that happen. It made one more entry on the “things I’ve lost that I didn’t even realize I had” list.

    • Jennie Spotila says:

      Thank you, Jocelyn. I had not thought about it as a change from before I was sick, but now that you mention it I think it is true. My reactions to these things have deepened over time, and it feels much more raw than it did before. I’ve been sick so long that I ascribed it to getting older, but perhaps the illness plays a role too. Certainly our bodies are more sensitive to the effects of stress.

Comments are closed.