My parents are 24 hour news junkies. Have been ever since we got our first cable tv subscription back in the late 1980s. Memories of my pre teen years involve seeing the Berlin Wall come down, the First Gulf War updates every evening, and the fall of the Soviet Union. It didn’t become apparent how ridiculous the idea of paying attention to every little thing that came across CNN (or Constantly Negative News as I think of it now) until the O.J. Simpson trial and the President Clinton impeachment hearings during my teen years. I saw grown adults give up their lunch hours and heard teachers spend entire class periods rehashing everything that was covered in these news programs. I paid more attention to the Columbine shootings in April 1999 because the killers were my age and I had friends who were as much outcasts as those guys. But even that was depressing as it wasn’t like my elders already thought kids and young adults were worthless and bad news.
I finally started to free myself of the drug of 24 hour news in the months after 9/11. I just got tired of seeing the death and devastation replayed all the time. I was only starting my mental illness treatment at the time, so I was still mentally fragile in the first place. To replace my usual news watching, I started reading. I read many of the classics of literature, some philosophy, much history, quite a bit of economics, and many of the greats of poetry. I didn’t believe in reading summaries or commentaries because I figured I could understand the masters just fine by myself. I came to believe that some of the ‘experts’ of academia and culture were often way off when I saw a speaker on C-Span and I could have refuted many of his arguments. I thought to myself ‘I know as much as this guy speaking and he has an audience.’ Shortly afterward I started putting my thoughts into writing. This was in 2003 to 2004, so right before blogging and youtube really took off.
After a couple years of writing poems and journals, I sat out to write a novel. It was loosely based on my experiences at a Christian college and some of the people I knew during those years. I wrote a novel (and thus crossed off one of the items on my ‘bucket list’). It was during this time I wrote a letter to the editor of the local newspaper about how many of the myths of mental illness are not true. I was published as a guest columnist and got some positive response to that essay. After that I wrote a series of essays concerning my life with a mental illness. I decided to self publish these and actually sold a few dozen copies. I self published my novel and some poetry too. My novel wasn’t very good and neither was the second novel I wrote. Now I know I can’t do good fiction. Which is reasonable as I really don’t like reading fiction. That’s why I concentrate on blogging now.
With the fact I spend much of my time online researching for this blog (and to satisfy my mental curiosity), I do pick up on a lot of what goes on in the world. Needless to say I pick up on lots of negative news as a byproduct of researching. But, unlike my parents and most of my friends, I do not agonize over the news. Case in point, the upcoming elections here in the United States. There isn’t anything I can’t learn about any of the candidates or major issues I couldn’t learn in a few hours of intense internet research. I do not need to hear everything said at every speech and rally for a year and a half. All of that is window dressing and background noise. I do not need to know every detail about every mass shooting and terrorist attack. If all I did was listen to bad news, I would have given up hope a long time ago. Your odds of dying from the flu, or a workplace accident, or heart disease are much higher than dying in a terrorist attack or a plane crash.
I know humans are naturally drawn to bad news because it was a good survival strategy when we were still living in caves during the Ice Ages. If you missed bad news then, you wound up eaten by a saber tooth cat and you were out of the gene pool. Those old habits are tough to break. Our species grew up when most of what effecting us was within a day’s walk. If there was an earthquake or volcanic eruption on the other side of the world, you never knew it. Now we know every calamity that happens anywhere within moments. And we respond to it like our caveman ancestors responding to an immediate threat. That is probably the major source of our present day anxiety.
I try to explain to people the good things going on and I don’t get much of a response. I also tell them that agonizing and worrying about murder and mayhem not in their hometowns are making them miserable and they can’t do anything about it. Most people look at me like I’m an idiot for telling them to stop agonizing over the news. I used to love 24 hour news and doom as much as anyone. But when I stopped to see why most of these dire predictions never came true or were more manageable than previously thought, that’s when I came to realize that most of what we hear in our media is heavily distorted. It may all be true, but it isn’t the entire truth. Yes there are mass shootings. But there are also space probes exploring strange worlds in our solar system. Yes there is political corruption. But there is also lots of good works being done by common people everyday. To quote the classic movie ‘Network’ , “Television is the illusion. You people are the real thing.” Once I began to see the illusion for only part of the story, I changed my focus on what was going on bad news wise and started focusing on what was going right. The best changes in history have always started with small groups of committed individuals who had visions and acted on those visions. I am trying to debunk many of the myths of mental illness and stir in people more empathy and compassion for the problems of the mentally ill with this blog. It probably won’t change the world or even make me a dollar of revenue. But I am just one of many. I will speak to whomever I can get to listen. And I will not wallow in sorrow because the news told me there was another mass shooting or my political leaders are corrupt lawbreakers.