As we all have, I’ve paused multiple times in the past week to take a breath, read a headline, and make a decision – to watch or not to watch.
Numerous articles and news stories have explored the strife of this decision. A New York Times columnist poses the question – is it our civic duty to watch, or a moral obligation not to? In the San Francisco Chronicle, a mental health professional gives her take on not only the societal context but the impacts on young people, especially teenagers who live in a visually viral reality. She notes the upticks in anxiety, depression and suicide rates among kids over the past five years and cites quotes the admonition the artist Questlove sent to his Instagram followers: “Do NOT Watch It. Do NOT WATCH IT!!!!!” he wrote. “For The Love Of God. Torture P*rn Is Not Going To Serve Your Soul.”
The takeaway from the preponderance of these discussions: do your civic duty, demonstrate, call out for reform – but take care of your own well-being while doing so. And especially do so if you are living while Black in America. You can be a better warrior if you tend to your wholeness while entering the fight.
Juxtaposed against these “do NOT watch it” pleas, I happened to see a story that reminded me that there are also things TO do, especially when living with or recovering from extreme trauma. It was in the unlikeliest of places – a magazine in the waiting room at the veterinarian’s office. (Who has magazines sitting out again in this COVID sensitive world?
Then I looked – this slightly worn National Geographic was from 2016.) The cover story: The Power of Parks.
The story summarized a slew of data on the healing powers of nature, but the page I happened to flip to had a callout box that underscored how little we tap into this. “Visits to parks are down. So are visits to the backyard. One survey found only 10 percent of American teens spend time outside every day.” Yes, this survey is pre-COVID and out of date – and hopefully that percentage has increased over the past few years – but it rang true.
I personally experienced the profound ways that healing can happen when dealing with my own case of PTSD just under a decade ago. It’s a long story for another time, but I ended up working with a PTSD specialist that mostly worked with first responders and returning vets.
I would ask for tips and techniques to deal with the traumatic situation I was managing, and she noted two things: 1) the trauma is ”present” not “past” – until you can get out of the situation the triggers will not likely stop; and 2) you need to “fill your tank.” She’d say, “You should go sit on a mountainside for a month, and then you will get better.”
It was two years before I could get to the mountainside, and I remember the day it happened. Halfway through a 10-day hike in the Alps, there was a top of mountain trail that stretched to the horizon. Wildflowers and butterflies and . . . beauty. Life could be good again. The trigger visuals and noises have not had an impact since that day.
I realize in sharing this story the extreme privilege of my reality. My trauma was not about being Black in America. It was situational and, while long enough, something I could eventually step away from. And with the support and encouragement of friends and my own health and resources, I was able to “go sit on a mountainside” — or at least hike one – for an extended period. But it did heal.
"...remind ourselves and the young people we work alongside – it’s not just about what “not” to do, but the range of things we can do..."
There are many things we know make a difference – the healing power of nature is just one. As we deal with the trauma of living and re-enter the battle daily, may we also find ways to drink in the beauty – the relationships, the creativity, the nature – that heals. I hope we can remind ourselves and the young people we work alongside – it’s not just about what “not” to do, but the range of things we can do to “fill our tanks.” Which ones work for you?