Thoughts & Prayers; God, Guns, & Country

We hear a lot about self-care these days, especially in times like these.

The phrase self-care means about as much to me as thoughts and prayers. 
Some assume self-care means spa treatments and obscure oils from Indonesia, but my self-care rituals are a bit more utilitarian. I realize I’m not one of those people who can hold up a sign or re-tweet angry calls to action without a condescending anecdote. I am, however, well-equipped to write about media ethics: aside from national outrage, the narratives we unravel after these mass shootings are complex and often misguided. We rarely blame ourselves for blindly following institutions that fail us, and right now I urge you to consider the fact that media — both new and traditional — might be more dangerous than weaponry.

A 2013 study found that 40 percent of “lone actors” — those with no ties to extremist organizations — have a reported history of mental illness. Slate’s Joshua Keating notes how mass shootings are often labeled “acts of insanity” rather than acts of domestic terrorism, and countless others have pointed out how rhetoric changes when a murderer is also a person of color. “If someone is distraught it doesn’t mean they’re not also a terrorist,” Keating writes, and while these two concepts are not mutually exclusive, we rarely hear stories from the 40 million mentally ill Americans who manage to get through life without murdering anyone.

In 2014, I wrote about how social platforms manifest aggression. Later I mentioned NoNotoriety, a public advocacy effort that calls for a change in the way the media reports mass shootings. While it’s not always apparent, mental health and media advocacy do go hand in hand: statistics show that the prospect of posthumous fame can be a motivating factor for terrorists, both foreign and domestic. Individuals with violent tendencies may wistfully cherish portraits and profiles, which in turn inspire copycat crimes. This turns a troubled person into a troubled person with an idea. The idea turns into an obsession. This can be curbed.

Can media executives hold themselves accountable for fueling our national divide by profiteering off cost-per-click sensationalism? Can journalists err on the side of caution and elevate the victims without glorifying the gunman? Can tech companies come forward and admit that instead of diversifying their workforce, they’ve chosen to replace editorial staffs with fickle and flawed automation?

Can all agree that white men with guns are just as dangerous as black men with guns or brown men with vans or God forbid another Boeing 767? That arguing over which group is more dangerous in 2017 might add more fuel to the dumpster fire? And that the only way to stop this from happening is to push for meaningful gun laws and healthcare reform so that those of us with unresolved demons can get the long-term care we need.

That’s because those of us who live with these disorders still face discrimination and isolation from employers, friends, and family. We, too, are minorities in this country, and it’s our responsibility to speak up — to admit that we are more prone to violence than other individuals; to avoid both literal and figurative triggers. In February, Trump repealed a rule designed to block gun sales to mentally ill Americans, making access to mental health and social service professionals all the more imperative. But since affordable healthcare remains a pipe dream in America, it’s up to us to take care of ourselves by finding alternative outlets for our collective rage. Alternatives beyond guns, the Internet, or the bleeps and bloops and constant stream of notifications that tell us precisely what tools a gunman used to kill 59 civilians.

But even if publishers limit coverage of the villains, there’s always the dark web, and I can say The Internet is Bad until I’m Violet Beauregarde, but examining these ethical quandaries against the motives of yet another “disenfranchised” white male won’t solve our country’s masturbatory obsession with the Second Amendment. Aside from the fact that the most reasonable response to our mental health crisis comes from a satirical news publication, it’s time America views mental illness as a long-term disability, including those of us blessed with fruits from this bountiful cornucopia of cognitive disorders. It requires a lifetime of doctors and medication and expensive self-care rituals beyond crystals and lavender lemonade.

We should talk about this. We should talk about ways to express rage that are more productive than, say, purchasing a rifle and opening fire at a concert or in a school or at a Duane Reade that doesn’t stock the right ink cartridge. It involves letting those with disorders speak publicly about their symptoms without fear of discrimination from employers, friends, and family. These symptoms may involve violence, or fear, or the inability to go outside for days at a time. They involve sadness, so we must allow men to cry, and let their sons follow suit. We must give those who feel isolated a reason to reach out.

Those who still insist on screaming into the void about Donald Trump may want to remember that Obama barely moved the needle on gun legislation, and railing against our President’s rhetoric is only useful in the context of Alec Baldwin’s performance. If we want to talk about gun violence, we should talk about public media advocacy; about what we read and what we share and what we say to comfort our children. We should talk about race, geography, and economic disparity; about finding ways to argue with the collective opposition.

We must stop pointing fingers — at guns, at Facebook, at Jimmy Kimmel and the NRA (no, we should definitely blame the NRA). Like children playing cops and robbers, our fingers are nothing more than finger-shaped guns: now more than ever — when secession and Calexit seem like very real possibilities — the issues dividing us are God, guns, and country, so if you care about your country beyond your own little corner of it, ask yourself:

  • Why exactly am I debating these issues with someone who may not agree? Do I even know the person I’m arguing with? What is my goal? Am I adding more nutrients to this festering stew of information, or am I just stirring the pot?”
  • How can I express my anger without guns or drugs or any number of things that put myself and others in danger? What TV shows make me laugh when I don’t feel like laughing? What songs make me scream when I feel like screaming? What can I do when I’m bombarded with information and when it all seems too much to bear?

Everyone’s preferences are different in this arena, but for me, self care means flinging myself into a mosh pit like I did when I was 15, and frantically spitting my anger onto untitled word documents or, occasionally, this website. When my grandmother died last month, I wrote words in my notes app, words on paper, worlds on random book jackets, and then spent 3 days eating microwavable chicken nuggets and binging Bojack Horseman until I could articulate my feelings about grief.

I’m doing this now. I feel less angry. This might not work for you. It’s up to you to find your peace.

Then call your representatives and tell them you’re concerned about the SHARE act. This article has more info, you can use a script, and if you’re like me and have generalized anxiety disorder, you can and leave a message.

To quote the ever-prolific Jerry Springer: take care of yourself, and each other.


Debbie Saslaw is an award-winning Internet person who desperately wants fewer guns in this country. She writes about web culture, politics, technology, and our behavior.

You can follow her on Twitter @butlikesrsly and find more information on gun violence & media advocacy over at NoNotoriety.