During Jonathan’s first deployment, I spent long morning train rides into work behind the greasy pages of a newspaper. I flipped every day through the filmy sections, scanning the headlines and searching for content to keep me awake after 40 miles of 5:30am rush hour traffic with my face smashed into the steering wheel.
I don’t miss that commute.
Reading the newspaper was engrained in my everyday routine. I even grew up with an appreciation for that routine; early home videos shot by my parents feature 10-minute intros about the current political climate and international goings-ons. (Followed by a much more excruciating 10 minutes of my nearly-tone-deaf renditions of whatever Disney songs I’d just learned. If you ever want to hear about the 1990 opinion of George Bush Sr. to Californians with an encore of “A Whole New World” sung by a child in pink stirrup leggings, grab a VCR and I’ll send you the tape.)
And although I was aware by the time Jonathan’s first deployment rolled around that bad news is a big part of the news, I was unprepared for the change in attitude I’d need for my daily newspaper reads. My sleepy rush hour brain suddenly found itself jolted by headlines like “3 dead in bombing,” and phrases like “Afghan border,” which had hardly phased me in the past. Long story short, it got to the point where, flipping through pages, there could be a wedding announcement for a woman named Amy, and I would instantly think that “Amy” said “Army,” and then I would realize it had been four days since I’d heard from Jonathan, and maybe this is an article about army casualties and maybe he is dead.
It didn’t take long for me to stop reading the newspaper altogether.
This solved an immediate part of the problem (the part where I was bat-shit crazy on public transportation), but it took a while to develop a system that kept me up to date on headlines, but still (arguably) sane. The solution I’ve landed on is a a magical tab in my internet browser that allows me to selectively follow news sources and headlines, and that I keep sandwiched between my other social media site tabs, so that my friends and my cookie recipes are always at a close escape if needed.
There is, of course, no fool-proof way to prevent specific unhappy headlines when you still want to be up to date with major headlines (which are also often unhappy). Reality (even on the internet) is not always the shining cherubic baby sun and rolling green hills on the set of a Teletubbies episode. An ignorance-is-bliss approach may work well for some people (I tried this for a while after giving up my morning newspaper read, and it wasn’t a perfect fit), but I’ve tried to create my own brand of that approach, which I can loosely call selective-ignorance-with-dashes-of-reality-plus-funny-animal-pictures-and-one-liners-about-alcohol. I’m working on shortening it.
On the bad days, it’s still those terrifying 140-character headlines that catch my eye first, and allow my brain to linger in its panic before my Twitter feed is consumed with distracting Instagram pictures of my friends’ sandwiches.
On the bad days, a quick scroll through Tweets can look like this:
There has been a lot of tragedy in the news lately. It has not just been military families simultaneously glued to and dreading the headlines, trying to cope with devastation, and uncertainty, and fear. There can be as many unique coping strategies as there are unique people; with every national tragedy, I am in renewed awe at the way people can come together for support, and rebuild through resilience. It is a good reminder that, whatever difficult times we go through (whether they are personal, or on a much larger scale), the pain and the stress is real, and we can overcome it with help, and with time, and with persistence.
There is a wide network out there to help us cope; the social media community for military is particularly strong. At least once a day, Real Warriors Tweets out its crisis helpline, and my feed is constantly filled with the organization’s other tips for military families in transition. For every terrifying headline, there is an equal and opposite resource out there (if you’ve clicked the follow button for it) that will remind you of the positives; I’m still finding my groove and learning to follow those sources that fit my specific brand of coping, but I trust the fabulous growth of social media to continue to open new doors for these resources, both military and otherwise.
But, a lot of the time, those “resources” exist freely on Twitter by Tweeters who aren’t necessarily trying to be resources. Which is why, on good days, my Twitter feed will instead look like this.