On Self-Care & Compartmentalizing

by Valerie on December 18, 2012 · 5 comments

I debated a while and for several reasons about writing about the senseless tragedy in Newtown, CT.  The outpouring of emotions on Facebook and my blog reader and twitter has reflected so many of my own thoughts and emotions. That said, though, I have been compartmentalizing since Friday. Compartmentalizing a lot. I had a work trip from yesterday morning until tonight (in fact, I am writing this on the plane on my way back to Washington – in flight internet is a wonderful thing), and on the days leading up to work trips I naturally tend to a certain amount of compartmentalizing and prioritizing – travelling for work means planning files and work to bring, presentations to prepare, notes to review, but also food planning, restaurants to call, clothes to pick, and figuring out how to fit all my liquid makeup and toilertries and nut butter packets in a a quart sized ziploc (my ziploc is always overflowing).  And, of course, it all seems such a privilege to write this last sentence. 

After I first saw the news regarding the shooting on Friday on the web, though, I consciously avoided seeing a TV screen for three full days.  In fact, today at the airport was the first time I actually looked at CNN and did not just actively tune it out.  I have read very limited amounts on the tragedy. Enough to understand the few terrible facts we know for sure.  Enough to think about articles such as this, or this wrenching piece, and to think about how hard getting mental health care is.  And, I have thought about how terrible terrible things such as what the shooting in Newtowne can happen to children  in schools, all over the  world.  I thought about the Belsan school attack in 2004, and how I cried for days to bewildered law school friends who did not know what to do with me and my shock at how a school could be under siege like that.

Mainly, though, despite all the thinking, or maybe because of all the thinking, I have compartmentalized. Avoiding constant loop of news programs is something that I started doing after 9/11 (see, on gratitude) but in a lot of ways it is second nature now, especially when I know how shocking the current news is. I need the extra time and space to process.  I used to be uneasy with compartmentalizing and processing in small doses, as I felt it was too disconnected, too cold, but often it is just way to take care of myself.

The other thing I do in times like this is to try to be extra mindful in all interactions.  I have wished happy holidays to every flight attendant on my flights or ground personnel at both airports I flew through today and yesterday. It seemed to surprise people, but in a good way.  I hugged my husband more then usual. I made time to admire beautiful holiday lights from my hotel window, reminding myself what a privilege it is to be able to enjoy the beauty. Mainly, though, I feel a bit numb.

And with that I am off to nap (you know, one of my goals this month). Take good care of yourselves and your loved ones.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Cheryl December 18, 2012 at 2:06 pm

Sometimes compartmentalizing can be a good thing. It’s incredibly wise and healing to know when to engage and when to walk away. I’m glad you’ve chosen to do what you need, and kudos for sharing it, too. We’re not meant to martyr ourselves, and I don’t think we’re wired for 24 hour news of tragedy.


2 Lillian December 18, 2012 at 2:16 pm

I totally understand the need to compartmentalize – I don’t think it makes you seem cold or uncaring at all. To the contrary, it’s a necessary coping mechanism for empathetic people who feel – and feel deeply – the effects of horrific things like this. There are times when it’s the only way I keep from unraveling into a sobbing, twitching mess, so I can absolutely relate.

I hope your trip went well – you’re returning to some lovely weather, so hopefully you can take a stroll outside today! :)


3 Shirley @ gfe December 20, 2012 at 1:45 am

I think that we normally do this to some degree, but more so when we have a trip, big project, etc. to prepare for or really tough times to deal with. It’s been interesting and often encouraging/validating to read how all of us are coping with the recent tragedies and the holidays, in general. The last two years there has been some type of tragedy that I have viewed with a broken heart, last year a local one, and this year, national ones, that have made me let go of many things I planned to do for the holidays. When I stopped to take another look at what I had planned, it just didn’t seem important any longer. Thanks so much for sharing, Valerie.



4 Gena December 21, 2012 at 12:30 pm

I got a little pushback for not mentioning the tragedy in a post wherein I’d journeyed to CT (to see Hannah Kaminsky). I think it’s fine that I did–it’s kind of unlike me NOT to mention such things, esp. given that I just wrote about Sandy quite a lot–but also agree with those who jumped to my defense that we all grieve differently, and one should not feel compelled to grieve publicly simply because one is a blogger. Feeling numb is normal. Wanting to talk is normal. Both natural emotions in the wake of something that defies any right or wrong sort of response, because it is so extraordinarily terrible. I hope you are finding ways to sift through your emotions and find some peace. xo


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