We may not be able to sleep at night, sleep too much or develop headaches. We may have a low appetite or want to eat more and more to numb the pain of the events that just happened.
When bad things happen, we try to make sense of it. We tend to look for a reason it happened or try to find someone to blame. We want justice to be held - someone to be punished. We want others to feel the pain that we feel. We try to control our actions or the people we put ourselves around. And if we don’t do these things, if we, for some reason, internally combust, others are doing these things.
It somehow gives us a piece of mind if there is a reason. If there was a cause and thus effect. If there was a way we can somehow prevent this from happening again. If we just didn’t go to certain events, if we stayed away from certain people, if we are cautious and careful and prepared than maybe we won’t experience the bad things.
The hardest part when bad things happen is understanding that it can happen to anyone at any time. Just because we have given to charity, eaten our vegetables, or lived a life of morals, doesn’t mean we are exempt from experiencing trauma or pain. I think that’s what so frustrating and scary--that other people or mother nature have control sometimes. This, for me, was a hard lesson and quite the wake up call when bad things started to knock on my door.
Loved ones die. We are in the wrong places at the wrong time. Cancer happens. Car accidents happen. Other illnesses and freak accidents happen. Natural disasters happen. And as we recently have seen now, mass murders happen. With the most recent event that has struck American history, we are all enthralled in the event that took place in Las Vegas on October 1.
When I heard this news, knowing I was going to be there hours later on a layover back home to Kansas City, my body had a physical reaction. I began shaking like I needed to eat. My teeth were chattering; I became light-headed. Time slowed down. I became panicked. Weirdly enough, I also became obsessed. When finding out, I wanted to watch all the news clips of this. I wanted to watch the video footage and read all the news articles because, I think, if somehow I could find something that would have predicted this, I could be more in control and be more prepared to prevent it from happening to me.
When getting into Las Vegas later Monday night, it was evident that it was a different city. It was somber, as if there were a grey cloud lurking above the entire city even though it was sunny. The locals I met told their story of people they knew that were there or supposed to go there - their neighbors, sons, spouses, friends. Some were even supposed to be there themselves and couldn’t go for some reason. When this happened, we begin to feel something else once the shock wears away, and shock, I think, is what we were surrounded by that evening.
Thoughts like “it should have been me” or the moments where you remember all the times you were in that exact location of where it took place and when everything was fine. You start to think about the things that you have done wrong that would make you somehow deserve to go through it, instead of all the other people. You start to think they are completely innocent and lead perfect lives simply because they are gone.
We, again, try to make sense of it in whatever way we can. Our brains continuously are looking for clues, hints, or reasons why such horror can happen. We think there has to be a reason as to why bad things happen.
Unfortunately, I wouldn’t be doing anyone a favor by saying that nothing bad is ever going to happen if you just do X, Y, and Z. We may believe some of these things or have learned that if we just do the right thing, good things will come. And while that may be true in some sense, it would be an injustice to ourselves to think that bad things can’t happen to us...because they do.
You know this because you have experienced bad things or know someone who did. Bad things are bad things. Not one is greater than the other. We can’t control the weather and whether hurricane hit our quaint little town or whether it stays in the sea. We can’t control other people and whether they choose to make bad and hurtful decisions. We can try to protect ourselves all we want, but we will be missing out on the life that we have if we do.
We can’t make sense of the hurricanes that devastated Puerto Rico or Florida or Houston. We can’t make sense of the mass murder that happened in Las Vegas because these things don’t make sense. In the last week, I have tried to conceptualize, predict, control in my head, and view all of these events differently or more effectively...and it’s not working. We, like many of the world, are grieving for the people’s lives who will never be the same.
Yet in these moments, we have a few choices: we can continue to dwell and read every article or watch every video regarding the murders; we can continue to look at the pictures of the homes that were demolished and of the now hungry children; we can continue to wonder how these bad things happen to good people; or, we can choose to live our lives to the absolute best and most fulfilling that we know how--not because we aren’t grieving, but because we know how fragile life is and how quickly it can change. We can tell our loved ones how much they mean to us. We can live with more vulnerability in hopes of connecting with one another versus pushing them away. We can love. We can give. We can hope. We can live our lives not only for ourselves, but for those who have there’s taken from them.
When bad things happen, we want to blame, find a root cause, or find a reason so we can predict and prepare and prevent these things from happening to us. However, when bad things happen, we can also choose to live our lives wholeheartedly for ourselves, for our loved ones, and for those who have tragically had their lives taken too soon or for the lives that have turned completely upside down.
So go on. Stop obsessing over the media and the new video footages of the next bad thing. Go on, live your life for yourself and for those who no longer can.
Robin Helget, LMSW, CPT