I am a terrible human being. This is what I thought when I realized that my first reaction to the Manchester attack was, Oh, another bombing — awful. I responded to the latest in a list of horrors much as I might have expressed distress at the news that someone had the flu. That’s so terrible; have you emptied the dishwasher yet? Even worse, my second reaction was, ultimately, selfish: Those poor families... But what about us?
I’m not proud that I immediately made this tragedy about myself, but I suspect I’m far from alone. The circumstances of the event sent me into a twister of fear, sadness, guilt and doubt, all culminating in a series of me-focused questions. How can I possibly keep my kids safe? What can I do to ensure that the nightmare those parents are enduring doesn’t become my own? What should I not do? What refusal or cancellation would protect us?
My thoughts promptly turned to the most immediate, vulnerable occasion looming on our calendar. My husband and I splurged months ago on tickets for the current U2 tour. We’d promised ourselves for years that we’d go someday, and when I hovered by my computer, ignoring the number of hours of tutoring represented by the dollar sign, I was over the moon with excitement at the prospect of not only finally fulfilling this dream, but also being able to share it with our almost-13-year-old son. After the tragic events at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, though, this seemed far less like a gift and more like reckless endangerment. I stewed, acid percolating in my stomach and nightmare visions building in my head. When the what-ifs reached a fever pitch, I broke. "Should we try to cancel?" I emailed my husband, not at all sure of the answer I wanted. "No," he said immediately. "If we start running, where do we stop?"
He was right, of course. But reason takes a holiday when you’re worried about your child’s safety. For me and other worriers like me, it requires conscious effort to suppress the impulse to withdraw from the world and huddle somewhere safe, attempting to shield your family from the perceived onslaught of dangers advancing on all sides. I tried, really tried, to push back on the irrational, persistent thoughts. Spinning in anxiety wasn’t going to help anyone. But I had to find a way to not let the fear rule me — or the lives of my family. We can be afraid without letting fear control our lives. It’s completely understandable to feel scared, tense and helpless; the trick is finding ways to not allow those emotions to overtake us.
The advice from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on how to prepare for earthquakes and hurricanes is equally applicable to events of public calamity — tangible, clear measures can help us to feel more prepared and less vulnerable to disasters of all kinds. They suggest establishing a rendezvous point and a transportation plan. That way, if you are separated or encounter disabled transit, you’ll know where to meet and how to get there. Additionally, they say you should have a few different meetups to provide options in case one is not accessible. My husband and I were in Manhattan on 9/11, and we experienced firsthand just how vital it is to have at least one (preferably more) emergency contact person. The CDC recommends programming these numbers into your phone and giving a card with these numbers to family members without phones, such as young children. This person can also be a point of contact and reach out to others to let them know your status. Of course, none of this works if you don’t run through it. Practicing the course of action helps to ensure that in a high-stress situation, everyone knows what to do and can carry it out as calmly as possible.
That said, this is the tricky one. How can we practice, running through a potentially horrific scenario without making it a point of anxiety? For me, this is the biggest struggle: the methodical plan pitted against the emotional maelstrom. My own monkey mind is leaping around screaming, "Danger! Danger!" This makes the planning seem pointless, maybe even needlessly dramatic. But having the plan is a way of putting that energy in its place and setting boundaries on it. Wringing my hands does nothing except feed my son’s own fears — it won’t fix anything, and it definitely won’t help him. For his sake, I need to squelch my misgivings and ensure — with as little drama as possible — that he knows and can implement our emergency strategies. Ultimately, I have to remember that my fear and worry do nothing to protect my family. I can make sure we are as prepared as possible, take antianxiety medication if I need to and then let it go to the best of my ability. I will continue to love my kids, make sure they add love to the world and hope that they never have this fear for their own children.
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