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Are you suffering from post-traumatic news disorder?

facts & arguments

'What's happened now?'

Stunned. Stressed. Flabbergasted. Pamela Kenney thinks she's suffering from post-traumatic news disorder

Facts & Arguments is a daily personal piece submitted by readers. Have a story to tell? See our guidelines at tgam.ca/essayguide.

I think I've discovered a whole new illness.

Of course, self-diagnosis of any sort is never a good idea, but the evidence is really starting to pile up. And searching the internet about it definitely made this disease a whole lot worse. The only way to describe this illness is as post traumatic news disorder, or PTND.

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The first symptom I noticed was aching jaw muscles – from my mouth gaping open with shock for extended periods of time. I didn't realize how many hours a day I would stare at the the computer with my mouth hanging open, until the pain started. And I noticed I always had the same thought going through my mind over and over, "Did he/she really just say what I thought he/she just said? Really? Like really? Have I entered an alternate universe?"

Then, I noticed I kept squinting, or I'd find my eyes locked in a hard stare into the middle-distance, the brain temporarily stalled in disbelief at what I had just seen. I would have to will my brain to turn off for just a little while so that I could pretend life was normal again.

But I got too good at that technique and I found that vast segments of the day would go missing. The voluntary blank gaps in time, or wishing away huge parts of my day, were alarming. I wanted to remember when life was simple, even if it was, you know, just two hours ago. I was starting to get too nostalgic about the past – even if it was just the week before – when life seemed so much more idyllic.

Idyllic, as in back to a time when people didn't use offensive language everyday. Learning new swear words seems to be a daily occurrence for me now. Things I never needed to hear – ever – are now in common usage.

Perhaps if I stared in an out-of-focus way at the plants in the corner of the room, I could imagine that I didn't just hear someone say what I thought they just said. I constantly find myself tapping my spoon against the side of my coffee mug to check if my hearing is still working properly.

Then, my thumb muscles began hurting from changing the channel on the remote control so often in a vain attempt to find something else to watch. Anything to get away from the dark news. But the source of the problem is on every channel and, even when you do find something acceptable to watch, the commercials advertise the day's breaking news, that stressful, awful, almost unbelievable neverending news cycle of "now what?" Breaking the remote control became yet another symptom of my PTND.

The disease has made my shoulders hunched and muscles tensed into knots. Massage therapists will probably start charging extra for PTND, because it takes a lot more effort to work that kind of tension out. Massage therapists should also retrain with psychology courses so that when people vent on the massage table, they'll know what to say in order to calm the PTND patient.

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Sometimes I wonder, "Is this what a stroke feels like?" when unimaginable things happen, such as the threat of nuclear war being tossed off nonchalantly, as if it is nothing. Or when catastrophic natural disasters are simply ignored because, if you don't talk about it, it never happened, right? Or when vast numbers of people try to explain away the stupid things that a vast number of other people have done. If I listen to those denials, those obfuscations, I might end up quite ill.

And so, I began thinking that an information diet would be the only option available to cure PTND. Just turn off the TV and the radio. Don't read the newspaper. Stay away from the internet. Concentrate on the garden or the knitting or taking the garbage out. Suddenly, doing chores became a much more desirable option than listening to the news. Even cleaning the mould off the shower tiles was less disgusting than some of the things I've heard on the news lately.

For crying out loud, I even contemplated the possibility of joining a gym! Nothing else on Earth had driven me to the brink of exercise before, but if there was a possibility of a news-free zone, I was willing to investigate it. The loud music of Zumba blocking out the news. Or spending my life underwater, doing laps endlessly. How bad could it be?

It is so tempting to disengage. To just go about my life in a carefree, information-free way and just not have to deal with any of it. To pretend that there is a world where none of this exists and all you have to do is throw every single electronic gadget in the garbage and not talk to another living soul. There is joy in not knowing what you don't want to know. Ignorance really is bliss. At what point, though, does it become burying your head in the sand?

Who wouldn't want to spend all day every day just thinking about sunshine and rainbows and unicorns and let other people worry about laws and rules and health codes and environmental concerns.

But it's ignorance that got the world into this mess in the first place. So many people only believing in what they think is right, so many people with minds closed to the facts, so many people focused on their own personal agendas of greed and power.

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Voluntary ignorance is not the answer. PTND is a real state of mind, but I can't let it take hold. Tuning out has its appeal, but I must resist.


Pamela Kenney lives in Calgary.

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