8 ways to avoid despair
A recipe for climbing out of news-induced depression.
I once had a quaint little beat: I tried to sell editors on why online misinformation was a major problem, and on examining potential solutions. There weren’t too many bites.
For the past year, I’ve inhabited a different world. My little obsession is now on everyone’s lips, is all over Facebook, is twisted and distorted to serve ideological ends. Newspapers and funders are paying attention. Contests were launched, multi-million dollar initiatives set up.
I haven’t surfed this wave particularly well. The daily tide of news, analysis, worries and shouts about misinformation seems to come crashing down on my head. Sometimes I can barely summon the will to open my eyes, and see what everyone else sees.
First it was, “What do I have to offer, when everyone is writing about this?” I realized I’d been at it long enough, and knew the ins and outs of the problem well enough, that I didn’t have to be yet another reporter covering the latest News Feed changes at Facebook. I could work on (potential) solutions.
Then it was, “This problem suddenly seems deeper and more intractable than I’d realized. Is it too late? Is the war already lost?”
Layer that on top of the despair I already feel about the rest of the day’s news, and it was more than I could take. It was lead weights around my ankles, and I resigned myself to a blanket of ocean floor sand.
But I knew I couldn’t continue like this. I had to pick myself up and keep going. So I needed a plan: A plan for avoiding despair.
Here are the action points I’ve come up with.
If you actually want to disappear from this earth, you need to speak with a medical professional. I did and I’m very glad.
Schedule your day, damnit. I’ve been leaving gaps, because I always seem to be waiting on a request or pitch that I plan to immediately start working on. This is an invitation to what I call “the news despair spiral”: Open the NYT or Washington Post homepage. Look at the headlines. Read one or two articles. Sigh, feel worse than before. Stare into space. Look up some animal videos to feel better. Feel guilty for wasting time. Repeat. Obviously, this is not helpful. Block out 100% of your time, because what’s the worst thing that happens — you have cross-outs in your precious Self Journal? Embrace the scribbles! It’s not like my handwriting was so neat to begin with.
Designate news reading times. Morning and evening? Morning, noon and evening? Fine, but not more than that. And when you read, really read and process. Add ideas to your features/blog list. Add all the norm-destroying, environment-destroying things Trump and his cabinet are doing to a Today in the Upside-Down list. Respect the schedule that tells you when to stop.
Write every day. Ideas do you no good rattling around in your head. They don’t change anyone’s thinking and they don’t bring in freelance income. Sometimes when the ideas are particularly rattly, I’m in the midst of another project and can’t stop to explore them. Sometimes when I sit down at my computer, my head is empty, like I’ve never had an idea in my life. But the law of averages will win. Sit for an hour a day, and write. Half-formed ideas, the world’s shittiest grammar, doesn’t matter. Ideas only become fully formed in the medium of words.
Meditate. Those moments of blankness, while frustrating when I’m actually trying to produce, are actually maddeningly few in the rest of my waking hours. It’s mostly rattle, rattle, rattle. Worry about the world, beat myself up. (Should I really feel guilty for my disorganized bathroom cabinets? Is this a misplaced effort to leverage control over this out-of-all-control world?) Cultivate your ability to go still. Ten minutes a day, that’s all.
Be with people — especially if you work for yourself. On Tuesdays, when my husband works from home, I’m not only happier but I’m more productive. I can’t be with him 24 hours a day but I can surround myself with friendly faces and voices. Coworking is a godsend.
Create moments of joy to anticipate. Honestly, that role has mostly been played this year by baked goods, which might be why my running pace is mysteriously slowing. Better ideas: Put on a favorite album. Walk around the neighborhood and watch the squirrels flirt. Take up a creative hobby and practice it daily (I’ve picked up guitar again, after a 15-year absence.) Socialize — meet a friend for lunch or happy hour. But just as importantly, self-socialize: Take yourself on a date to a museum, to an open mic night at a local cafe, on a bike ride to an unfamiliar part of the city. READ NOVELS. Put something new in your head.
Finally — forgive, forgive, forgive. Everyone’s trying to get along, everyone’s trying to do better. People mostly mean well. Assume the best. There are bright sparks of humanity all around you. If you only see darkness, you must be going blind.
I think this list is helping me. I hope it helps you, too.