We have all been rocked by the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas earlier this week. I know I was fairly dysfunctional Tuesday night when I first heard of the tragedy. Wednesday was a bit of a blur, as well. I struggled with shock, intense anger, and fear. It was impossible to not think of my own children. All the thoughts. All the fears.
How do we not drown in our fears and emotions?
A school shooting is, perhaps, the most heinous crime. We send our kids to school assuming they are safe. Many parents struggle at baseline with releasing their children to a stranger for eight hours a day. When we see students being harmed, it only further triggers our anxieties. There are numerous options but I think the following four are most effective for coping after a tragedy like a school shooting.
- Understanding our emotions
- Connecting with others
- Taking action
- Find something beautiful
Understanding Our Emotions
First, let’s talk about feelings. I experienced a lot of anger. However, anger is a surface emotion. It shows up when we are feeling something deeper underneath it. How do we figure out what emotion it is covering? There are several ways. Some people do well with sitting quietly and observing their mind. This is mindfulness. The key is to not get carried away in any of the thoughts or story-lines. Literally, just noticing what is coming up the way you may watch birds or clouds. If you find yourself creating a narrative, you are no longer doing mindfulness, you are daydreaming or ruminating. It is normal for that to happen, so non judgmentally redirect your mind back to observing.
Journaling is another great way to get your thoughts out. Do not worry about having a beautiful journal or legible handwriting. Just write! Whatever comes out will help you gain some clarity. Of course, therapy is all about self discovery. If you have an appointment this week, consider discussing the shooting. The role of your therapist is to help you understand how you are experiencing this. Sometimes, we can do this with friends, however, typically non professional conversations are more about commiserating and discussing current events than self discovery so proceed with caution.
For me, the anger was covering up helplessness and fear. Using mindfulness, I was able to gain a better sense of this. I developed some objectivity and saw that I was not completely helpless. Of course, we can not control what happens around us but we can control our response. What emotions came up for you?
Connecting With Others
Human beings can not survive without other humans. We simply can not. Therefore, having some support and connection is imperative. Social media is great for this. We can jump on Facebook and see like minded friends posting their thoughts and feelings. When we are really upset, it is best to ignore or “un-follow” people who disagree with us. You can start following them again when you feel more like yourself. I’m not saying never discuss difficult topics, it’s about timing, though. Personally, I don’t have the energy right now to address a relative’s statement about their 2nd Amendment Rights.
If you have neighbors, go outside and have a conversation with them. It doesn’t have to be about this school shooting. Just knowing we are not alone in the world is helpful.
Finding organizations that address school shootings is also a way of connecting. Moms Demand Action and Sandy Hook Promise are two great gun safety advocacy groups. Gabby Giffords does a lot of advocacy work, as well.
My way of coping with adversity is to jump into action. I find when I can focus my energy on something productive, I automatically feel less of the anger. Transforming anger is not the same thing as suppressing it. So be mindful about what you are actually feeling. If you are covering your anger with action, you may end up feeling worse.
For me, action looked like researching ways to talk to my own school aged children about it. Later, I looked for actionable steps to take. First, I researched gun laws in my state of Maryland. Then, I reached out to a lawyer friend to gain a better understanding of gun legislation at a national level. I decided to write to my representatives about a current law stuck in committee in Maryland’s General Assembly. The copy of the letter is below in case you would like to copy/edit as needed/ and send it to your representative.
Your action steps may look like legislative work, donating to one of the organizations above, praying, or creating art in memory of those lost in school shootings. It really doesn’t matter what you do, as long as it is meaningful to you.
Find Something Beautiful
We become myopic in times like this. However, if we back up, we can see there is a lot of beauty in this world. Again, we are not looking to suppress our pain. It’s about creating a more balanced view of the world. It is not all horrible. Most people do not commit hurtful crimes. In fact, there is a lot of good all around us. Take a good look around you. Observe some flowers, the sky, think about something someone did for you recently. Our world is full of joy and sorrow, pain and pleasure, beauty and ugliness. We can not have one without the other.
Copy of Letter to Maryland General Assembly regarding Jaelynn’s Law.
I am writing in response to the continued gun violence and school shootings our country is experiencing. Thankfully, Maryland has not had a mass school shooting. Yet. However, it is only a matter of time. Let us be proactive.
The causes of school shootings are multifaceted. No single solution will work. However, it is well understood that access to firearms is a risk for these events. I am urging you to push through “Jaelynn’s Law” HB0659/SB0676. We need legislation that holds gun owners criminally responsible if someone age 18 or younger commits a shooting with the adult’s gun.
To be specific, I am not asking that we outlaw guns. I am asking that we motivate gun owners to properly store their guns in a manner children can not access. This will create one barrier.
Of course, we need more than one approach. This is a good start.
It is no secret that rates of anxiety, depression, substance use, and suicide have skyrocketed over the last two years. Teenagers are particularly at risk. It is imperative we address these issues. However, that is not a quick nor easy process. I applaud the Baltimore County Public School System’s work in teaching students emotional regulation, anger management, and healthy coping strategies. I also believe we need some swift strikes here.
Creating criminal responsibility/legal liability for allowing a child unsupervised access to a firearm that is used to kill or injure others is a commonsense and doable action that will aid in reducing school shootings.
I sincerely appreciate your time and attention to this issue.