by Faye McCray
With the filming of police violence, the divisive and dangerous rhetoric soundtracking the 2016 election, and the flooding of microaggressions sneaking their way into mainstream media, the current sociopolitical climate can be exhausting. Often our social media news feeds are a reflection of all that is wrong in the world. When is the last time you asked yourself, “Am I okay?”
I’ll never forget picking up my phone the morning after Philando Castille was murdered and watching what would be his final moments. I was still under the covers, barely awake, and crying helplessly into my pillow. Just a few hours later, I would be seeing my husband off to work and my two sons off to camp. I wondered if I had the strength to let them go knowing the dangers that could await them. Everything in me wanted to stay in bed, nestled beside my husband in the comfort of knowing that he and our children were safe. I was wary of the time we were living in, the strange world and the motivations of the people in it. I was also pregnant. I couldn’t help but wonder what burdens I was placing on my unborn son, just by being alive.
Needless to say, that wasn’t a positive way to start a morning.
Clinical psychologist and Director of the Center for Mental Health Disparities at the University of Louisville, Monnica Williams says, “Graphic videos,” which she calls vicarious trauma, “combined with lived experiences of racism, can create severe psychological problems reminiscent of post-traumatic stress syndrome.” Dr. Williams studies the link between racism and post-traumatic stress disorder, which is known as race-based traumatic stress injury, or the emotional distress a person may feel after encountering racial harassment or hostility.
Parenting in this climate undoubtedly adds another level of stress and anxiety. In addition to shouldering the average parental worries, as parents of kids of color, we also have to worry about how our children will be perceived when occupying certain spaces in their brown bodies. It took me awhile to confront the fact that I was suffering the emotional toll of race-based trauma and significantly, that it was affecting how I loved and parented. Here are a few steps we can take to ease our anxiety while parenting in the age of vicarious trauma:
1. Turn it off.
I used to get CNN alerts on my phone. They would come through by way of text message with uppercase headlines that were 99.9% negative. They would jolt me out of my day. There was another shooting. Another person not held accountable. Another dismal poll about the state of human existence. I thought being informed somehow raised my level of consciousness. Someone would ask,”Did you hear?” And I could respond, “Sure did.” And I had an opinion about it.
While there is nothing wrong with remaining informed, there is also nothing wrong with doing so in moderation. Based on the headline, I was running the gamut between anger, fear and tears in a single afternoon. I had to recognize the emotional toll those alerts were taking on me and disable them. I chose instead to check media outlets in my own time when I was in a safe space free to think in terms of solutions and not just outrage. For me, that also included social media. I gave myself permission to unfollow certain people on Facebook, and significantly, I gave myself permission to not watch every video. I had to be honest with myself about my own sensitivity. It was hard for me to rebound from watching someone killed. It stayed with me and in my consciousness for days. I had to put myself first and that’s okay.
2. Find support.
Self-care is crucial to dealing with any trauma. Are you getting enough sleep? Are you eating enough? Are you taking time out for yourself? Are you talking about it? Sometimes it helps to talk to other parents who are grappling with similar anxiety about navigating the current sociopolitical climate. You feel less alone in your worry and that can bring you peace. I remember how good the embrace of a friend felt after hearing about Tamir Rice. That support and solidarity is crucial to navigating these difficult times.
If you find your worry goes beyond a friendly ear, don’t be afraid to seek the help of a professional. Some of us have emotional needs that require more regular assistance in processing the world around us.
3. Be present in your reality.
I live less than an hour away from Baltimore. In the middle of the riots before charges were brought in the Freddie Gray case, I remember feeling a sense of heightened vigilance. I was on guard in every encounter, wary of every interaction and filled with worry and anxiety.
In those situations, I have learned to remind myself to be present. Take a deep breath and ask yourself: Right now, am I safe? Are my children safe? Are the people I love safe? Living in the age we live in, it easy to take on every experience as your own. While it is important to be empathetic, it is crucial that we don’t get lost in the emotional turmoil of shouldering another person’s burden. It is okay to take a step back and remind yourself of your reality. That will give you a clearer head to think in terms of solutions.
4. Brainstorm solutions.
And speaking of solutions, I find the best way to ease my anxiety is to figure out what I can do to make a change. Remember the serenity prayer? God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference. While we can’t solve every problem, we can certainly find small ways to contribute to a solution. From getting more involved in your child’s school or community to facilitating honest, productive dialogue in diverse settings to donating to advocacy groups fighting for the change you seek, we all have the power to become more active in the fight for justice. Outrage is rarely a solution. Updating your status or changing your profile picture on Facebook or Twitter is not a solution. I find nothing beats the fulfillment of taking affirmative steps towards a solution.
About The Author
Faye McCray is an attorney by day and writer all the time. Her work has been featured on My Brown Baby, AfroPunk, AfroNews, For Harriet, Madame Noire, Black Girl Nerds, Black and Married with Kids, and other popular publications. Faye also has a number of short stories and a full length novel available for purchase on Amazon. Most importantly, Faye is a proud wife and mother to three beautiful and talented young boys who she is fiercely passionate about raising.