Protecting My Mental Health (From One Thing That Makes Me Numb)

 silhouette of man's face in blue circle

I felt a pervasive numbness a few months ago.

Maybe it was because I had just come back from traveling around Europe, where the cognitive dissonance that America is not exceptional was staring me in the face.

I’ve known this for a long time intuitively, but it’s still a jarring feeling to viscerally know it whenever I leave the country.

Why do we perpetuate this myth?

Is it to bolster wounded egos, to swallow up and bludgeon our feelings of pride long lost?

Or maybe my numbness is coming from another source.

It happens whenever I take in news, that roiling sea of sameness.

I’ve intentionally tried to stay away from mass media for over a year, following the advice of thinkers I respect.

Following their lead, I collect my information from an eclectic mix of sources, if I collect any information at all.

Not reading the news? That sounds tantamount to intellectual treason. How can anyone stay informed?

But I believe those who have eschewed mass media are right; if news is important enough, it will find me.

I believe it is from this source — the news — that the numbness emanates.

American news outlets disseminate doom and gloom every single day — more doom and gloom, I might add, than European news outlets.

Then, as if by magic, social media erupts, and everyone simultaneously discovers their latent feelings, their deepest convictions, about — it just so happens — the exact issue that is being reported in the media.

Right now, it just so happens to be about children separated from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Yes, it’s sad. Everyone is sad. But the reactions just don’t feel authentic.

I’ve watched this news-to-outrage cycle happen so many times now that I can’t stand being on Facebook. I find it hard to believe that all of my Facebook friends are suddenly passionate about one issue — an issue which I never heard them talk about once before.

What is surprising me — and scaring me, if I’m honest — is that I’m having a hard time coming to terms with the numbness I feel when I hear about bad news.

Yes, there is suffering everywhere. I, especially, am drawn to it.

I’ve felt emotions strongly every since I was a little kid, and it’s probably one of the reasons I ended up as a social worker.

Still, the seemingly inauthentic nature of the news-to-outrage cycle deadens something inside of me.

I crave meaningful experiences.

My wife and my friends have made fun of me because of that fact.

I want things to matter.

I love working in the mental health field because every conversation I have is laden with meaning. I perceive mental health conversations to be valuable and potentially life-changing.

In fact, I can’t stop talking about mental health. I write about it almost every day, I tweet about it every day, and I created Nerve 10 to disseminate mental health information that, I feel, is sorely needed in this world.

Mental health is what I know.

Mental health is wrapped up in my personal experiences, in caring for my family, in caring for myself, and in advocating for better treatment for others.

I try to be as authentic as possible, as often as possible.

Sometimes my actions get pegged as “too much” or “intense.” But I can’t stop.

The sudden surprise of needing heart surgery at the age of 24 was a catalyst that taught me about the fragility of life.

Now I’m on an unending search to figure out who I am and what I’m meant to do. Through developing my intuition, I hope to become the richest possible version of myself.

Not everyone is on this same path. I know this. And as much I strive to be open-minded, I know that I can be too judgmental.

But, still, the occasional numbness persists.

Maybe this is what happens when a country slips into a totalitarian government? Some people say that, and it could be true. It has happened before hasn’t it?

Others will say that this thought is absolute nonsense.

Both sides have their views, and they are sticking to them — no matter what.

The numbness is somewhere in the middle, where I reside. I don’t mean that in a political sense; I mean it in an existential sense.

Are there others floating in this middle ground?

Do they feel as I do?

Are they stricken with guilt when they hear the incessant loop of horrible news and they don’t feel as bad as they thought they should feel?

My mind is having a hard time wrapping my body around it.

I felt more in the moment when I was in Europe, and I realize that’s likely because every day was new and exciting, a kaleidoscope of images and sounds, shapes and movements.

So what do I do with the numbness that I feel?

I think the younger me would have tried to escape it, to dismiss it.

The increasingly dialectical me is trying to embrace it, to find a way through it.

I’m trying to think for myself.

It sure is a lonely place to be.