In light of the past few years, as I watch people in my grocery store avoid eye contact, or road rage incidents escalate, I know that we all have some sort of PTSD. This is not a simple headache or toothache. We cannot just “take two pills” and feel cured. And this problem is going to take more than one phone call.
After the Dallas shooting, I read a Facebook post from someone who had written, “I wish I could tell my friends that Dallas was different, but the truth is, it’s not.” I was angry, because as a member of the Texan community, I say we are different, but then I realized something: I realized that many people were—and still are– feeling strong levels of fear, anger, and sorrow. I see it when I walk into stores, or when I meet people at gas stations or restaurants. We may not be soldiers, and I thank God that I will never see what they see, but I believe that as a nation (perhaps our whole world) we ALL have some sort of PTSD.
Bear with me. PTSD is triggered by “either experiencing or witnessing” a “terrifying event,” and it can also be caused by the “unexpected loss of a loved one,” according to the Mayo clinic. Let’s look at what we have witnessed through the wonderful world of the internet, Facebook, YouTube, and “breaking news” from the media:
We have witnessed ISIS beheading a human being. We have watched bomb attacks in peaceful places, such as the World Trade Center, Oklahoma City, and the theatres, airports, and subway stations. Genocide has been rampant in parts of Iraq, Africa, Syria, and other countries. We have seen children killed, we have seen people murdered as they celebrated holidays, and we have seen needless bloodshed from our blue protectors and the misplaced retaliation. Cities have been relegated to nothing but rubble and dust. We have met the viruses HIV, Ebola, and Zika. We have seen movies and television shows that depict the ferociousness of vampires, werewolves, other monsters and infectious diseases that mutate and have no cure.
It’s like a bloody video game, played on all channels, all the time. Even if one doesn’t watch the news, I doubt she could miss every act of violence. And is it a wonder that some people have trouble distinguishing between reality and fantasy, famous or stupid?
Research Doesn’t Lie
Right before the launch of Grand Theft Auto 2, psychologists warned that children who watched violent television shows and played violent video games would become desensitized and less empathetic. This, the experts warned, would make the teenagers more prone to violence as they would be less prone to understanding “reality” or “consequences of their decisions.” A huge debate ensued, as most adults during this claim had grown up on cartoons such as Tom and Jerry, the Road Runner and Coyote, and Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd. Their argument seemed solid: “We turned out OK. So will our children.”
I argue, though, that we did not have a shooting, or bombing, or riot every day. Most of us did not watch scary movies or gory shows continuously, because they gave us nightmares, and we had several “nicer” shows to watch, such as The Six Million Dollar Man or Gilligan’s Island. I could go on a rant right now, but I just want you to ponder: According to the report “Children, Violence, and the Media,” Marjory Staff of the Judiciary Committee claimed that by the time a child turns 18, she will have seen 16,000 simulated murders and over 200,000 acts of violence on TV. This study originated in 1993, with only the murders added in 1999. According to the AACAP, there is an average of 812 violent acts per hour, and today’s cartoons have approximately 20 violent acts per hour. In 2014, the FBI crime database claimed that a violent crime occurs in our nation every 52.6 seconds, but that was from 2014.
We already know that children are susceptible and impacted by what they see and hear. Study after study after study has proven this. We know that soldiers who go off to war or areas of violence or civil strife usually come back with some kind of PTSD. Victims of rape, domestic abuse, violent crimes, and assault of any kinds all suffer from some kind of PTSD.
What makes us think that we can remain completely unscathed after watching (or reading) about all the horrific past events, sometimes within days of each other?
A person may experience daytime flash-backs. Smells, sounds, and similar situations may cause this, as well.
The person attempts to avoid anything that may trigger a memory of the event. She will not speak about it, or she may avoid places or people that may remind her of the traumatic event. She may also stay extremely busy so she does not have to think about the event, or discuss it.
The person develops negative changes in beliefs or feelings. Certain people cannot be trusted. Relationships may dissolve, or she may avoid building new ones.
Feeling “keyed up,” or hyper, for no reason. A person may have a hard time falling asleep, or jumps at a sharp sound (like a car back-firing or a door slamming shut), or maybe she has problems concentrating.
Either severely depressed, or totally numb. The point is that the emotion is heightened, and it can last for several days, even longer if not treated.
Do any of these sound like they may remotely be symptoms of any people you have seen on television, or heard over the radio, or read about? Anyone seem disheartened, or angry, or even numb? Anyone you know now thinking about buying weapons or taking self-defense classes? (I am not saying this is a bad idea; however, could this be a sign that they are becoming more aware for their safety.) I have written about the brain’s constant churning of chemicals when it becomes fearful, but you can go here if you need a refresher course.
When a loved one dies, we grieve, and that is a healthy process for us as we adjust to the idea of our loss. How many of us have lost loved ones in the past years due to senseless violence? How many people are scared that they will lose someone to senseless violence?
We have to take control of our world as best as we can. We have to start remembering the world we want our children to have, and we have to find ways we can work together. But first, let’s take care of ourselves.
5 ways to alleviate some stress.
- BREATHE. Too much noise in your head? Try this. Take three deep belly breaths. A “belly breath” is where you breath and expand from your belly area instead of from the lungs. Breath in through your nose, and exhale through your mouth, allowing yourself to make noise as you release your air. Up
on the third breath, notice how quiet you are, and how things have temporarily slowed down or stopped. The goal is to stay in this mind for as long as you can. Maybe today you stay in it for five seconds, and tomorrow you do 8 seconds. Any amount of time is good. Do not force yourself to “get there.” Just realize how you feel after the third belly breath. And do this often.
- Talk to someone. A counselor, a therapist, a life coach, a support group, or a good friend; all of these are great people to talk to. Maybe you need professional help, and that is perfect if it makes you feel better. Just don’t let yourself sit at home alone and fester. Studies show the more we talk about a disturbing incident, the more chemicals our brains produce to relax us, even as we get agitated. Adrenaline is always first, but then either dopamine or serotonin will release, and then the brain remembers the pattern—our brain prefers the happy chemicals (so do our bodies), so it will actually become less agitated when we discuss the disturbing event.
- EXERCISE. How many times have I written about this? For a deeper explanation, go to this blog post. Do your body, your brain, your self-esteem, and your loved ones a favor. Move.
- LIMIT YOUR SUGAR AND ALCOHOL INTAKE. I’m not saying, “Save yourself! Abstain! Don’t touch it!” I’m advising, “Please do this in moderation.” Sugar plays havoc on the brain, the body, and everything under our skin. Alcohol is a depressant, an inhibitor, and it also converts to sugar.
- DO SOMETHING YOU ENJOY. So often when we are depressed, we tend to shut ourselves off from all kinds of joy. It’s as if we are punishing ourselves. Then we become more depressed. According to the Veterans website, doing positive activities that we enjoy can help “improve your mood, lessen the damage caused by PTSD, and help you rebuild your life.”
The problem we currently have is that we are witnessing so much repeated violence that we cannot create distance between episodes. Another piece of advice: unplug for a while. Maybe a long while. If you need more ideas on how to relieve some stress, go here.
3 Ways we can help each other
- BE KIND TO ONE ANOTHER. We learned this before kindergarten, but some people have forgotten. You may be the only positive interaction a person has all day; make it count for something. Click To Tweet How can you make your moment special? You do not have to start a conversation with anyone, and kindness can range from a smile to buying coffee for a stranger. If you act positively toward everybody you run into, science states that you will feel better about yourself, as well. And hey, if you feel better, it becomes easier to be nicer. You can start a trend. (Do I also need to write about the Law of Reciprocation?) 🙂
- STOP USING COLOR TO DEFINE US. Our skin color is part of us, but our “color” does not explain our essence or uniqueness. Click To Tweet Quit letting people divide us by this. We do not have to fight each other. We all hurt when we are injured, and we all grieve for loss. I have written about this before, but here is another story:
I did the DNA test for Ancestry.com. The thing that I found most interesting was not that I had >1% from Africa; the most interesting part was that I had several emails from “matched” people wanting me to explain “where this black part of my family came from.” If you haven’t seen my picture, hit my About page. The smart aleck in me says, “How would I know?” The Christian in me wants to say, “Since we are all descendants of Adam and Eve, we should all share a trace amount of the same DNA; the fact that it is from Africa would only show that the Bible may actually be true.” And of course, the cynic in me wants to suggest that Ancestry.com is using faulty equipment. The truth is, I don’t care; I know who I am, and unless there is some wealthy inheritance that I am missing out on, I am not concerned with my genetic make-up. It was just something to help me find my biological mother’s family for medical history info. Color is being used as a weapon against us. Keep your color; be proud of your skin tone. Please don’t be my enemy because my skin isn’t the same as yours; be my enemy because I’m loud and obnoxious, or I’m too selfish. Better yet, let’s just be friends. I like friends.
- EMBRACE THAT CRAZY “COEXIST” BUMPER STICKER…NOT BECAUSE YOU ARE ALL RELIGIONS, BUT BECAUSE WE SHARE THE FAITH THAT WE DESERVE PEACE. Last spring, I learned when I wrote a research project on Beyoncé’s “X” in her “Formation” video; there are subcultures within cultures of all communities, and unless you are actually a part of that community, you will not understand its nuances and idiosyncrasies. This includes historical allusions, mannerisms, vocabulary, and even small things like eye contact or handshakes. So, instead of jumping at someone who says, “All lives matter” in response to someone who says, “Black lives matter,” try to look at this whole battle differently. Both people are claiming that each is important. Both want to be seen, heard, and validated. We have become divided because we have been taught that if one person is important, then another person must be less (or un) important. The truth is, everyone is here for a reason, and it is our job to stop the division and allow each other to thrive. That is how we make our communities stronger. When the shooting started in Dallas a few weeks ago, color was foremost in the shooter’s mind, but not at all in anyone else’s. As bullets singed the air and ricocheted everywhere, nobody cared who was what color or religion; when people fell in the panicked stampede, others picked them up and helped them run to safety. It was all about getting everyone out of harm’s way. We should be in that state every moment of every day. We should be striving to live together in harmony. And we are going to have to remember that people who are not from our community do not know our community; therefore, they are probably going to say things that are a little “off.” We have to forgive and educate. We have to figure out how to make this work.
- REMEMBER WE ARE NOT STEREOTYPES; WE ARE ALL UNIQUE. Not all cops are evil. Not all women are whores. Not all ministers are con men. You really want to object? When you take a survey, or the Census people come by, when you are asked what race you are, click or say, “Other.” When asked to explain, type or say, “All of them.” We were once told that we needed to be proud of our heritage and proud of our color, but everyone in power is trying to use that pride to divide us so they can do whatever they want. Look at our presidential candidates. Look at some of our LEADERS. Does someone preach love for everyone? Does someone promise fairness for all of us? Does either one have a seriously comprehensive and approved plan to deal with health care, the job market, or our retirement funds? How do you think this happened? The media kept us all focused on horror and terror, and we blindly voted for people who used better buzz words. We are smarter than this. We are kinder than this. Let us show our smarter, kinder, better selves to each other. Let us remember our humanity.
What ideas can you come up with to help your community heal? I am trying to get some support to start a grassroots healing program through writing and art in Dallas. It’s slow, but I believe when I find the right people, it will move much smoother. What ideas are you sharing with others to make this world better? In what ways are you willing to move out of your comfort zone to help? What ways can others help you?
As always, spread some love around, share some knowledge, as you are creating a big karmic boomerang! Let me know how it’s going, and keep frosted!