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September 5, 2005

In This Hour
Posted by John M. Ford at 11:35 AM * 56 comments

The emotional symptoms of stress include, but are by no means limited to, moodiness, irritability, and anger. Physical symptoms can include headaches, nausea, insomnia, and all manner of physical pain. (Here’s a link to a detailed list of symptoms, just in case.)

If any of this sounds familiar, congratulations, you have been keeping well informed on current events. There is enough grief in the atmosphere to suffocate anybody. There are a lot of other, equally intolerable emotions, but if you’re still reading this I don’t need to catalogue them for you.

May I suggest that everybody here who is not physically in the front lines stop for a moment and take inventory: are stress effects starting to have a constant, or even just a distracting, effect on you, or somebody near you?

I don’t mean “are you depressed,” or frustrated, or angry. It would be a much bigger warning sign if we weren’t. I mean, is the depression coloring everything you see, whether it’s related to these events or not? Is the frustration keeping you from things that would normally define you — work, pleasure, ordinary conversation? Are you constantly angry, and is the anger spilling out onto people who did nothing but be in range?

If this is happening, then I would quietly ask you to take a step back. Turn off the television, shut down the computer. They, and the crises, will still be there. Go do something else, now.

—Find a distraction and allow it to distract you. Pick up some unfinished work. Go for a walk and pay attention to every detail, even the ones that remind you of Topic A; this is about coping, not pretending it’s not there.

—Read, watch a movie, put on some music. It doesn’t have to be “happy.” This is what catharsis is all about, and why there’s been a word for it for so long.

—Talk to someone about something else that matters to both of you. Or, perhaps better, talk to someone you care about who’s also stressed — I doubt you’ll have much trouble finding someone — about how you both feel. Talk each other down. If you need to hug or cry, let it roll. In this hour, the trolls of damned-lie stoicism have no claim on your soul.

I am not asking anyone to stop assisting with relief efforts of any kind. Was that understood? Good.

All this assumes that you or yours are dealing with the effects of “ordinary” stress. If something more serious is going on — deep, unrelievable grief or depression — find counseling, sooner, not later.

Unfortunately, stress doesn’t end with the event. The present crises have already created a great number of people with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and there will be more, not all of them direct victims. (One powerful reason for taking time out now is to avoid being in this group.) Most of you will be aware of PTSD; dealing with it is beyond my scope here. Here is one source, with specific observations on the Here and the Now. (Yes, it’s from a Federal agency. If that bothers you, there are many other sources.)

A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.
To live in one of those times need not mean turning one’s back on the other.

Comments on In This Hour:
#1 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 12:44 PM:

Thank you for posting this, my heart.

#2 ::: Laurie Mann ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 12:48 PM:

I'm unemployed and getting over being sick (I got sick five weeks ago, and it's taken me that long to feel better). So I'm probably obsessing over this a little too much.

I'd like to be able to do more. I've written to some local folks who are, apparently, helping to bring in some Katrina refugees this week, offering to help. I've offered to help on the September 24 "Impeach Bush" rally in DC.

But I have been trying to pull myself away from my computer and from CNN. The weather here in Pittsburgh has been great for the last four days and is due to be great for another week. So I've been outside, doing some gardening and some other cheap projects.

Movies can be a mixed blessing. I found Constant Gardener more upsetting than I'd expected because of seeing a lot of desperate people being jerked around.

#3 ::: Zeynep ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 01:09 PM:

Thanks for posting this. I noticed I could be hitting that point by Thursday, and I was going the distractions route. Even then, it was impossible not to feel guilty.

#4 ::: Anna Feruglio Dal Dan ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 01:11 PM:

I've read the book and The Constant Gardener would not be the movie of my choice for happy fluffy comic relief, yes. BTW, it's a wonderful book, one of Le Carre's best right up there with The Spy Who Came In From the Cold.

I have found great relief in working for PeopleFinderVolunteer.

It actually made my migraine better for a while.

#5 ::: Chris Clarke ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 01:25 PM:

Lovely and apropos.

#6 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 01:33 PM:

The lilypond folks (the GNU music engraver) have just recently included bagpipe music support with the main distro, rather than there being a couple-three different hand-rolled ways to do it.

Which means I've been going through the College of Piping Tutor, volume 1, and getting all the tunes on one sheet of paper each. (One disposable sheet of paper, suitable for practicing in the park.)

Nothing quite like fiddling with a markup language for being a distraction, I find.

In general, with stress -- remember to eat; remember to exercise. Burning off all the 'run away!' chemicals is much better than letting them decay unused.

#7 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 01:44 PM:

Saturday night I went to a show at Bumbershoot to benefit 826 Seattle, an offshoot of Dave Eggers literacy project.

It was a great show, with Eggers being his usual somewhat annoying persona, and Sarah Vowell doing her Battle Hymn of the Republic piece, Mike Doughty (formerly the frontman for Soul Coughing) doing some solo stuff and an unbilled appearance by Deathcab for Cutie, which included providing musical backing for Vowell.

There was a collection for 826 Seattle that raised over $18k.

It was so refreshing to participate in something, even just as an audience member, that had nothing to do with the hurricane. Can't say there were no politics, but it's Seattle, so it's 80% Dems, 10% Greens, and 10% really hostile Republicans.

Today, after I finish a couple hours of work (sigh), I'm going back to see Nancy Pearl, and to hear rather a lot of random music. This festival came along at a good time.

Thanks for this. I gave what I could, will give more next payday (I'm foregoing a month of savings and making ReallyBigCorp match it), and doing things to distract and take care of myself.

#8 ::: Anna ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 01:52 PM:

Thank you. I was reading this, took stock, and realized that I was heading in that general direction. I can't seem to look away, and walking to and from work has become a huge deal because I keep thinking about it, and wondering what would happen here, and...

Yeah. Going to play something now.

#9 ::: Laurie Mann ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 01:55 PM:

Anna, I was looking for distraction. There hasn't been a new comedy out in many months that I'd like to see. I think I might watch Galaxy Quest tonight because I do feel the need for a good laugh!

I did finish my gardening projet though. Next, the lawn!

#10 ::: Georgiana ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 01:59 PM:

Thank you. Sometimes we need to get permission from someone to stop and take a break. I feel silly even writing that but it's also how I feel.

I'm going to go play some video games.

#11 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 02:09 PM:

May I recommend as a distraction Sire Relief, an entirely frivolous story.

#12 ::: Debbie Notkin ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 02:11 PM:

You are my hero. I have linked to this and I hope everyone reads it.

#13 ::: Angela ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 02:21 PM:

Thank you.

#14 ::: Anna Feruglio Dal Dan ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 02:24 PM:

I cliked through JMF link and found this . It has a very sweet list of things to do to regain balance.

#15 ::: Laurel Krahn ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 02:30 PM:

Thanks, Mike.

I have been trying to take timeouts to watch some fiction on TV, to go outside and look at the yard, to work on wedding stuff and my website. Hard to do, but (as you said) well worth doing.

Doing a little bit helps me feel better about stepping away from it too; I've donated a little money, I've volunteered to take in a homeless dog or two, I've tried to post useful links where all can see them.

#16 ::: marrije ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 02:40 PM:

I'm going to watch some West Wing! Sweet, intelligent presidents helped by capable people. Plus Rob Lowe, who makes me happy. And then some Sue Townsend in a hot bath. Thank you for the most timely and compassionate post, Mr Ford.

#17 ::: sdn ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 02:53 PM:

gosh. thanks. this is just perfect.

#18 ::: Susan the Neon Nurse ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 02:58 PM:

So you'd probably disrecommend the swearing and throwing things, then?

Yeah, I figured. Not that I would dare to throw things in MY house, for fear of triggering the dread Stuffalanche....

Anyway, thanks.

#19 ::: Mark D. ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 03:02 PM:

Thank you, Mr. Ford. A most humane and loving post; a gift to all.

I fielded a call from my sister at 9:45 last night. She was manifesting many of the symptoms you list above in direct response to the distress she has been witnessing. Bless her, she was mostly unaware of her condition. Would that I had had this to give her. The best I could do was listen (for 30+) minutes, lighten the atmosphere a little bit, and advise her to get some sleep.

I think I'll call and see how she's doing... Thanks again.

#20 ::: Idealistic Pragmatist ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 03:11 PM:

This is such an asset. Thank you.

#21 ::: Nomie ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 03:42 PM:

Thanks for this.

I've been busy moving back to college, so drowning in packing, driving, and unpacking is keeping me busy. And I have no TV or radio in my dorm room. Franz Ferdinand it is.

#22 ::: Lizzy Lynn ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 04:08 PM:

Thanks. I went through serious stress after 9/11 and remembering that, I have managed -- with a little help from my friends (thanks, Deb) -- to avoid most of it. I am wondering: general question here: is the rest of the country, reds and blues, as mightily pissed off and ashamed as we are? I don't have a TV so I haven't heard the blah-blah-blah. Is there outrage? Can't we at least get Michael Brown fired? (W, alas, is out of reach...) Or is the Republican machine even as we speak cranking up to blame this debacle on the state and local officials and on the victims themselves, (including the disabled and elderly drowned in their nursing homes) for presumably not having arranged beforehand to have relatives with a car, a full gas tank, room in the car, the required medicines and oxygen tanks --- okay, okay, sorry. I'll stop. But I would like to know the answer to my question. Comments?

#23 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 04:34 PM:

Thanks Mike, I posted this for my staff.

"not dead yet"

#24 ::: Ashley ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 05:33 PM:

Thanks for saying this. I've been fine with Katrina, but I went through severe PTSD after the World Trade Center attacks and ended up needing to see a doctor about it. Being from Connecticut and feeling that "close," not to mention driving across the Throgg's Neck several times during the recovery effort and seeing the search lights and smoke, it just tore me up. People think you can't get PTSD from events you weren't there for, and it's simply not true. I hope people take your advice.

#25 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 06:26 PM:

Thanks, Mike. Even when I know this, I can get wound up and forget it. Gonna go chase the kids around the house for a while...

#26 ::: Dan Lewis ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 07:01 PM:

I got into a fight with my wife yesterday. I just couldn't make her understand that it's ok to be angry at Bush, so I went to the bookstore alone and browsed for a couple of hours. We both needed it.

#27 ::: Rivka ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 07:32 PM:

It's times like these that I'm glad I have a five-month-old baby who likes to hear poetry, needs to be rocked to sleep at night, keeps rolling over and getting trapped on her belly, and is just beginning to eat cereal.

It helps more than I can say to have such a human, life-affirming, and incredibly attention-demanding process going on right in front of me.

#28 ::: CaseyL ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 07:32 PM:

Thank you! I was at a fantastic dinner-party-Firefly-marathon the other night, and abruptly felt utterly enraged by everyone around me. No reason for it, that I could think of (hormonal? reaction to the food? the weather?).

But, yes, I *have* been obsessively following the news since Katrina traversed Florida. And, yes, feeling any number of 'intolerable emotions,' most of which would get me arrested if I vented them in public.

#29 ::: ae ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 09:34 PM:

Thank you. I've felt like this for 5 years, and it's good to hear that it's not desertion to seek distraction.

Three to go.

#30 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 10:02 PM:

It explains why I started knitting a jacket during the first week after the Whittier narrows earthquake. I knew it was a tension-relieving exercise, just didn't have all the background to understand it. (I'm working on a replacement - that one's wearing out - but it's been in the works for some time. This week's relief is cross-stitch.)

#31 ::: Brian Boyko ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 10:11 PM:

Distractions are why this country has gotten so bad. People don't pay attention to the news because they "feel stressed about it."

Well, that's what happens when you're well informed! And what happens when you're not well informed? You elect a singing cowboy when you need someone to deal with a hurricane.

I think this is very, very bad advice. People should be paying attention MORE, not LESS to this crisis!

#32 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 11:24 PM:

Brian, I think you misread. There's a difference between

ignoring the situation


knowing when to recharge oneself in order to be effective.

#33 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 11:34 PM:

One of the great reliefs for me in this situation, is that I have a job to do. Stressful, difficult -- but ultimately rewarding. I don't need to sit at home worrying about what I can do, I need to contact my Red Cross recruiter and post my availability and pack my bags and pay my bills.
We still get recently rescued people arriving daily, todays batch was mostly in wheel chairs. We had to come up with a unified definition of "special needs" between sheltering and medical elderely people in wheelchairs are special needs to us but not to medical. While we have people moving in on a regular basis, we have people moving out as well. Our population floats around 400. We have "celebrities" coming through, some well behaved, some not. I missed Jesse Jackson yesterday while I was running an errand, probably just as well. At the big shelter, the residents didn't recognize him until his name was announced.
We get reports that we're considered the best run shelter in Baton Rouge, and our residents appreciate us. Things do go wrong, and the poulation gets restless, and have stress issues, and act out in ways we have to deal with. Not the most fun, but mostly handled by our mental health staff. We've started involving the residents in their own care, not just cleanup and such. We've identified leaders and get to talk out issues with them, work on solutions. They've been her for days, and sexuality starts to cause us issues.
The ERVs have been going out with feeding teams so I'm officially a REMF now. ERV duty is real tough right now because we've been getting a lot of "we were expecting you days ago." But the ERVs don't go into an area until it is safe to travel - no washouts, land we can sort of stand on, etc. The Red Cross can't put its volunteers at too high of a risk, we're volunteers.
I have it on hearsay that the sun came out today, and it will probably rise tomorrow as well. Ahh well, at least my pants fit better.
I'm learning a lot about supervision and personell management. Gotta rein my cowboys in a bit. We need to pace em.

8 3 1. Eight hours sleep, Three meals, One shower. Per week.....

Best little shelter in Louisiana...

Crash time. I'll hit post with my forehead as it drops...

#34 ::: K. Chew ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 11:48 PM:

Mr. Ford, my husband thanks you, after living with an obsessive, cranky me for over a week.

Brian Boyko: Taking a time out doesn't mean checking out entirely: if you don't take a step back and take an evening, a day, or even a week to recharge and decompress, then you aren't in any shape to deal with what comes next. Certainly I won't be, and so I go to watch some West Wing and look at my sleeping baby.

#35 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 12:51 AM:

I turn the news off periodically for a reason. This would be it.

And I've been looking into renaming the bots in Unreal Tournament with names from the gubmint and FEMA, myself...

Plus I got a job, which is itself a good break no matter how sore my feet are. (Hell, my sore feet are a good distraction.) Can't keep up with the news at the job, no net access there either.

I highly recommend following the advice in this post. Highly.

#36 ::: Janice in GA ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 12:51 AM:

Today (9/5) was my birthday, and I spent most of the day working on the PeopleFinderVolunteer stuff.

It made me feel MUCH better to actually DO something.

#37 ::: NYer ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 02:08 AM:

Just remember to get back to being outraged.
We need to dispose of this shithead.

#38 ::: glinda ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 03:24 AM:

thank you. (I needed to be reminded to allow the usual crafty distractions to actually distract me.)

#39 ::: Avedon ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 05:21 AM:

I could not have survived these last five years without my friends, my garden, and walks around the neighborhood that show me the increasingly visible evolution of my neighborhood - a new shop here, an eatery there, the paisleys in the pavements. I do find that I am much more immersed in whatever work of fiction I am reading than I used to get.

Life is still a smorgasboard and a lot of it is tasty, beautiful, funny, neat. Thank goodness. Because the trauma didn't start last week, and didn't really start with 9/11, and it's just been one escalating series.

#40 ::: Brian Boyko ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 06:02 AM:

Maybe you're right. It's been 7 days now, I have a 600 word story that I haven't written because I can't concentrate on ANYTHING and it's 5:AM and due tomorrow.

It just... sucks. I feel really powerless, you know? I don't even have $5 to give to the Red Cross right now.

#41 ::: Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 09:28 AM:

Have I ever mentioned that my enjoyment of the word "catharsis" increased a hundredfold when I realized that it flowed from the same sources as "catheter"? I'm just sayin'.

#42 ::: Victor Raymond ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 12:50 PM:

Jeez, Mike. Thank you. Good advice.

#43 ::: Shizgirl ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 02:53 PM:

I'm in the process of moving to a new apartment right now. Each day after work, I come home and pack more stuff and shlep it over to the new place. I'm utterly exhausted and sore everywhere, but it has helped me from flying into an uncontrollable rage over current events. I hate not being able to help, beyond giving a few dollars. I hate that the response was so slow. I hate that families were separated and there are starving animals trapped on porches and rooftops. I really hate Bush.

Thank you for a great post.

#44 ::: Nevenah ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 08:41 PM:

For some of us, this is hard advice to take. Distraction just doesn't come easily. My partner and I are temporarily homeless. We have no income, no place that is ours and nothing to do. We try to fill our days volunteering for things and trying to be helpful to others in our situation, but the strain of living in one room in my parents' basement, of not knowing when we'll be able to go back or what kind of life we can go back to, of being on hold until the gummint gets things sorted out is getting to us. I can't read for pleasure--my eyes simply skim over the words. I can't watch anything but news--it all seems so irrelevant. My attention skitters away from conversations as soon as they switch to anything about normal life, and yet I get so tired of talking about IT, the elephant in the room that is our disrupted lives. I feel as if people will look at me as a Condi Rice if I should waver one moment from my focus on the disaster that is my home. How dare I go to the movies? How dare I go out for a drink? I know I am my own worst critic, and that I am lucky beyond belief to have gotten out with my life and my pets, but I still can't bring myself to cut myself a little slack. Others have urged the same as you have advised here. I hope some day I'll be able to take it.

#45 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 11:11 PM:

My favorite website for slowing down:

The Owlcam

Just two webcams in a barn-owl nestbox - with owls, usually.

#46 ::: Glenn Hauman ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 06:26 AM:

One thing I found today that helped me a great deal: find somebody to help, even if it's not someone directly affected by Katrina.

I spent the day doing computer repairs for someone who needed the help, but has no money due to a nasty tax problem, and is in danger of losing everything himself. I couldn't cover his tax bill, I couldn't help him go through paperwork-- but I could make sure the instrument he uses to earn his living was functional.

#47 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 11:34 AM:

Spent most of Sunday working on the fall vegetable garden: tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, carrots, lettuce, long beans, and two types of squash (Butternut and bush Acorn). Then more garden work Monday, divvying up and replanting the corms from the 2003 irises, plus a couple dozen new bulbs. And a bunch of general cleanup work on the back yard.

After a week of watching and reading about destruction, death, and despair, it was, literally, refreshing.

#48 ::: Harry Connolly ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 02:33 AM:

I'm finding it difficult to let this stuff go. I keep wandering around the internet, finding obnoxious remarks that beg for a response. It's like playing Whack-a-Mole and not being able to go to bed.

#49 ::: Catherine ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2005, 01:20 AM:

Yes, it's such a time of stressful events in the world, from the leadership of this and other countries to the natural disasters that seem to be so overwhelming. I've been feeling stressed lots lately and it makes so much sense to take time to do yoga and meditation and to remember to celebrate what's good in this add to making this a healthier place to live in...and to take time to rest as not to get stressed.

#50 ::: Madeleine Reardon Dimond ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2005, 06:27 PM:

Thank you, Mr. Ford. (And for your fiction writing as well.) I will go take a walk. Then I will report to the shelter for duty.

#52 ::: P J Evans sees the same ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2008, 10:56 AM:

spam returning

#53 ::: Ginger pointing out something to Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2008, 02:21 PM:

@53: Mildred Jeter Loving just died; she and her husband Richard were a bi-racial couple in Virginia. When they got married in DC, it was illegal in VA; their case went to the US Supreme Court (Loving v The Commonwealth of Virginia), which resulted in an overturn of the law.

I suppose this is a rare example of politically motivated spam? ;-)

#54 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2008, 02:34 PM:

Ginger... Oh, that's what it was? Unfortunately it did too good a job disguising itself as spam, thus defeating its intent. That doesn't keep me from feeling embarassed.

#55 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2008, 02:41 PM:

It's still spam, just cleverly disguised as sex spam..or is it sex spam cleverly disguised as political spam?

Don't be too hard on yourself; Loving v Virginia is not as well known as it should be. Ms. Mildred wasn't an activist like Ms. Rosa Parks, and lived a very quiet life.

#56 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2008, 03:07 PM:

This reminds me of an interview with Leo & Anne Dillon. If iI remember correctly, it wasn't unusual even after they were married to have the New York City cops stop them and ask what a black man was doing, walking around with a white woman.

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