How My World Shrank

Having the time and emotional bandwidth to care about the news, it turns out, was a privilege. Staying up on current events just wasn’t a good use of whatever spare energy I had while my husband was dying, and my own personal apocalypse.

In the traumatized aftermath I felt like my skin had been burned off. I couldn’t bear the news. Gradually, too, it became clear to me that me knowing what was going on in the world didn’t help me or those who suffered. All it did was drain me, potentially trigger and upset me, and often give unrealistic pictures of reality.

News tends to focus on exceptionalism. For example, many more people die from asthma than lightning strikes and plane crashes annually, but it’s so normal that it’s not reported as news. The only cults I heard about growing up were the ones that ended in shootouts and mass suicides. It skews definitions to validate only the most lurid and extreme pictures of abuse and crime.

The news also promotes problematic narratives in over-reporting crime committed by African-American men on white people, leading to the subconscious sense that this is more common than what’s actually more common—the reverse. It fails in reporting a lot of violence perpetrated on transgender people and the sheer numbers of rape, especially rape of people of color.

Some sources of news are less sensationalist and politicized than others. In the information age it’s easier and easier for people in the midst of issues to tweet, text, and post about their experiences. Yet overall, the dominant news media consumed by the majority create assumptions that hurt people’s ability to engage with reality. It opens the door to all kinds of invalidation and sheer denial of the horrific problems of reality all around us where we actually can take action and make a difference.

While living moment to moment and struggling to survive, my monkeysphere shrank. Just caring for myself was more than I could manage.

Other Things I’m Not Hip To

Beyond the news I also fell out of step with popular culture. It’s an invisible privilege to have the leisure time to engage with entertainment as well as news.

I also became politically disenfranchised. Despite voting and educating myself on the issues, powers beyond my control were challenging my capacity to meet my basic needs. My votes could not get me healthcare, housing, safety, reliable disability income. Trying to stabilize my life and strive to meet those needs took over all my time and attention, as well as dealing with the terror and trauma of living that way.

It felt liberating in a way to not feel obligated to keep up with the news, and I wondered where in the middle-class we’d picked up the idea that we all had to know what was going on all around the world and in popular culture.

Social Shaming of Being Out of the Loop

It’s alienating and resentment-producing when people encounter gaps in my knowledge and sneer and condescend to me. It rankles in a way that for a long time I couldn’t understand or articulate. It scratched at my deep-seated insecurity about being seen as stupid, and yet it seemed like being up on the news and on culture was something that was a constant, Sisyphean task with few to no rewards.

I still feel a lot of shame and insecurity about not being current on news and politics, but I also feel a lot of side-eye suspicion about whether this is some unconscious, socialized expectation that hurts people who, like me, don’t have the privilege of extra time and energy to spend on what’s up on the rest of planet Earth, or even beyond my stress-filled living situation.

Think about how you consider someone whose knowledge of what’s going on doesn’t go beyond their backyard. Do you think about them with contempt? Disgust? Pity? Suspicion? Do clichés or stereotypes arise of uneducated, unintelligent, easily deluded people?

This is how I’m afraid of being seen and treated. I’m fighting against these internalized ideas in myself. I may come to grips with the idea that I can be valid, intelligent, educated, caring, and simultaneously not aware of what’s happening in the communities of oppressed people and identities I want to support, not aware of what’s happening around the world, because I’m overwhelmed by my struggle to take care of myself and speak out about the issues that are threatening my personal survival.

But even if I do all this work, even if I do develop compassion for myself in place of shame, this will not stop people from treating me with arrogant condescension should I lack knowledge that they possess—whether it’s news, or cultural, or to do with some fandom or even a passion or pastime I have.

Trauma is Draining

One of the symptoms of PTSD that has affected me my whole life has been a foreshortened sense of future. This means when asked to picture myself five years from now, I can’t. I can’t even do one year from now, or reliably tell how I’m going to be tomorrow. So much of my survival hangs in the balance that the least hiccup in my life can be an emergency, and emergencies can be life-shattering. I don’t have any of the invisible privileges of supportive family or friends, a safety net, a backup plan, a financial buffer.

Living with continuing trauma and fear has also given me a shrunken sense of the present. Fear and pain take up a lot of my bandwidth, but this isn’t something that’s so simple to tell someone who wants to look down on me for not knowing something they know and consider crucial knowledge to be an adult human being of value in this world.

What’s Your Takeaway from This?

Regardless of what I say that person may still think that there is no excusing not knowing what they know, and may treat me with disrespect I can do nothing about. And bystanders most likely will do nothing to stand up for me, so bewildering and culturally shameful it is that I don’t know these things. It feels like right is on the side of the person shaming me, even if it feels uncomfortable to witness.

A series of unfortunate events shrank my world. These days as I begin to speak out as an activist, and listen to the voices of other activists, I’m getting more news—but not necessarily the news everyone else is. I’m getting exposure to more culture—but not necessarily popular culture. And a lot of the time I can’t be there for the people I want to support as an ally, because I’m in the position of needing to put on my own oxygen mask first.

It’s easy to shame and judge me. Especially when I’m so vocal about urging people to educate themselves and become more socially conscious. It would be easy to call me a hypocrite.

What’s harder is understanding that I am doing the best I can with what I’ve got. It may not be much, but it matters to me. And there is so much going on with me, every day, so much news that fills my universe edge to edge, that no one but me knows.

I can tell you that I don’t expect anyone to keep up with all my words. Only to respect my limits, and allow me to prioritize taking care of myself.

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