How to take care of yourself while the US works through its gun culture problem
I write most of my weekly nutrition columns on Tuesdays. And like the 70 or so Tuesdays that have come before this one, I am sitting at my laptop with a pile of research on beet root extract and nitrates and I just cannot find my words. It’s not so much my words that are missing but my will to write about sports nutrition and supplementation. It is May 24th and just earlier today I, like everyone, received the horrific news that another mass shooting has occurred, this time at a primary school in Texas, leaving at least 19 [updated to 21] dead although the count is not yet final. This only ten days after a shooting in Buffalo NY and nine days after a church shooting in California. Since 2009 there have been over 300 school shootings in the US, which is 57x as many school shootings as other industrialized nations combined. In the past 20 years, we have heard and read for too many versions of the same letters, condolences, and words from public leaders. Too many times we have learned the names of small towns only after they appear in horrific headlines. And yet here we are again and almost certainly not for the last time, left only with the limitations of the English language to convey the unconveyable.
It's a lot to take in. I have no words that suffice to describe my sadness and sympathies for these families and their incomprehensible loss. I am so sorry just doesn’t cut it, but it is the best I have.
Crisis, whether personal or public, can make the things that normally fill your time and bring you joy fall flat or even seem trivial. Sometimes we can become so overwhelmed that we freeze and spiral into a deep guilt for feeling happy. It can turn into quite the emotional roller coaster, especially for empaths, those who care deeply for others, or those who have some personal attachment to what is happening.
If you are someone who feels paralyzed, overwhelmed, or burnt out in light of current events, you’re not alone. And the answer is not to just stick your head in the sand and pretend like nothing is happening. The answer is also probably not to watch the news 24/7. Neither of those strategies are going to be helpful.
There is no right or wrong way to process grief, which is what anyone with a conscience is probably feeling right now. Grief comes in waves; it is confusing and unpredictable. Right now, it feels like we are faced with an insurmountable problem. Kids keep getting murdered. Black, brown, Asian, and queer people keep getting murdered. We keep getting gaslit about what the root cause is. The kids who survive get to live with what they witnessed for the rest of their lives.
Murder is not political and yet it becomes political and so we go nowhere. In fact, we have arguably gone backwards. Subconsciously we have become numb to it unless we are unfortunate enough to have it knock on our door. Businesses barely blink, politicians adopt the same tired lines about mental health, and rather than saying “enough” many people rush to purchase more weapons before something happens that would take that right away. Our country seems to value a right to bear arms that is rooted and in and still reeks of racism. It values children’s lives up until the moment they are actually born and breathing air. Our leaders bicker and argue and get lost in semantics when there is only one truth and that truth is it is not ok to stand by as children get murdered in their schools.
The American liberal state (small L) makes three promises to its citizens. First, security: the state will protect its citizens from one another and not hurt them worse than the people it is protecting them from. Second, liberty: citizens have certain rights as human beings that even the state cannot interfere with. And finally, self-governance: for those aspects of life the state can control, citizens must decide for themselves on equal terms what they want the state to do.
Is the state protecting its citizens from one another? Definitively and irrefutably, no. Are citizens’ universal rights being protected by the state? Right to live – no, right to bear arms – yes. Rights over your own body - men, yes, women, no. Do citizens decide what the state can and cannot do? Maybe at one time it did, but now the desires of citizens are being pushed aside by the agendas of lobbyists who fill the pockets of public leaders. So, no. Land of the free? Hardly. What is a country that will not protect its children? Certainly not a free one, not for them. We are told to endure the consistency of violence as if death is the cost for freedom.
We know we must do something and yet we can do nothing. It is a paralyzing reality to feel so emboldened to action but no clear path to a resolution. No amount of rage or protest or devastation or loss will change anything about this country’s relationship with guns. Relationship with because this issue goes deeper than ownership.
So, what do we do? We, the ones who care deeply but also have jobs, play sports, and have our own families to attend to. How do we care for ourselves while also caring for and about others?
- Remember that you are not responsible for saving the world. It’s easy to start to feel helpless and neglect your own needs. Choose to spend your energy wisely. If you want to get involved with activism or with your community, be meaningful with your time so you can fully engage with what you chose to do. If sharing on social media makes you feel better, do it. But don’t forget to take action that matters, like calling your state representatives and voting for the right people. Taking action is a good way to feel less hopeless.
- Take time and space for yourself. Take a break from that friend who only wants to talk about current events. Taking a break from obsessively consuming information doesn’t mean you don’t care. Turn off the tv, put down the phone, literally disconnect and go take a break in nature or in the gym or doing whatever helps your brain slow down.
- Let yourself laugh and enjoy things. It’s easy to feel a bit of “survivor’s guilt” when things are ok for us but not for other people. It can feel like laughing or enjoying ourselves isn’t fair because people are out there struggling. It’s not fair to punish yourself and again, this doesn’t solve the problem. It’s good to be aware of what is going on and acknowledge the uncomfortable feelings that come up when you think about the privilege you have, but you also need to take the time to feed your mind, body, and soul. It is not selfish to take care of yourself.
Maybe you are not here to read about current events. If that’s the case, you probably haven’t made it this far. If you are still here, thank you. I am writing this as much for myself as I am for others. Sometimes I get frustrated when my concerns are not reflected by athletes and people in my community. It’s no one’s fault, it’s not an athletes’ responsibility to be megaphones for social and cultural issues. CrossFit athletes lack the backing and protection of sports leagues and contracts. Income is derived from the online audience. It is not wise to be overly vocal on political issues, not unless the herd moves uniformly in the direction on activism, as it did in 2020. I get it. Republicans buy Nikes too. But it can create a bit of cognitive dissonance when you scroll from a news article on whatever the latest atrocity is to a day of eating video from your favorite athlete. It can make you feel crazy. It makes me feel crazy.
So, this piece is really to say it’s ok and normal to care. It’s ok to be upset by what has happened and what keeps happening. It's ok to stop what you are doing, to not simply press on. It's ok to say 'this is not ok.' It’s ok to talk about it online. It’s ok to not talk about it online. It’s ok to be confused about what is talked about online. It’s ok to take some time to process what is going on. It is ok to sit with your feelings and have hard conversations with loved ones. It is also ok to keep exercising. It is ok to keep eating healthy. It is even ok to enjoy watching CrossFit semi-finals and Stanley Cup playoffs this weekend. All of that is ok.
What is most important, now more than ever, is that you take care of yourself, you take care of your loved ones, and you show up for you community in whatever way feels best to you.
Just before his death in 2003, Mr. Rodgers authored the Mister Rogers Parenting Book. It was written in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. It was his mother who helped him make sense of tragic events and for parents, his words may be of some comfort:
When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping,'" he wrote. "To this day, especially in times of 'disaster,' I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world."
Even if we wanted to, it would be impossible to give our children all the reasons for such things as war, terrorists, abuse, murders, major fires, hurricanes, and earthquakes. If they ask questions, our best answer may be to ask them, "What do you think happened?" If the answer is "I don't know," then the simplest reply might be something like, "I'm sad about the news, and I'm worried. But I love you, and I'm here to care for you."
We know that it is our job to work directly with clients and to provide information on social media channels. But we feel strongly that this moment in time needs to be acknowledged as it affects so many people in a variety of ways, including us.
Thank you for using your platform to speak up. It’s so sad that doing so could be controversial. I wish we could all be unified that America can and should do better than this when it comes to protecting its citizens from the horrors of gun violence.