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Apocalypse Right Now

What do I do when all the news that's fit to print isn't leaving me feeling very fit (or happy) these days?

I think we’ve finally reached the apocalypse.

Judging from wherever in the news you look, whether hyper-locally (on sites like Patch), nationally or internationally, we’re nearing the end of days.

Just consider the snapshot I took two days ago of the sidebar widget showing the most popular stories on Wilton Patch. (It's the picture I use to accompany this column.) Patch technology automatically ranks the most-read stories and lists them in a box on the right side of each news page. It’s an easy way to see what your fellow web-readers are checking out the most.

Listed there, the day I shot the picture, were four stories about Fairfield County residents who had died tragic, untimely deaths, and (mine) about one of those stories. 

What’s so depressing is two-fold: first, that it’s been such a sad week locally; and second—and perhaps even more dour—that this is the news that people want to read most.

After a twenty year-plus career in media, of course I know the adage, If it bleeds it leads. It’s the news we in the media choose to put out there, and maybe people are reading it more because that’s the only stuff out there to read.

It’s definitely not just a local phenomenon. Look outside our unhappy little hamlet and the news is overwhelmingly sour as well. Drought and starvation in Somalia. Looting and riots in London. Historic credit-rating downgrades, and plunging Dows and stock values. Job reports that signal no end in sight.

I have to wonder if I’m just seeing things through my own personal world-view. I’ve has touched my family this past year, and I always have to ask myself if the darkness I feel is colored by our individual situation.

Living in this neck of Fairfield County, sometimes it’s hard not to feel alone in struggling with what we struggle. Unemployment rates are high but it’s not something you see front and center every day. Put it this way—there aren’t many people I know directly facing what we are, so it’s easy to feel alone with these kinds of feelings.

Unemployment can be an uncomfortable topic for people to talk about in a straightforward way. I can go weeks without hearing someone ask my husband or me, “How is it really going these days?”

And yet…

I’ve been known to say that “Everyone has their … stuff.” I may walk around and resent the good fortune of the cute mom I just saw driving her spanking new SUV wearing the latest summer styles and laughing with her adorably dressed kids, thinking, “She has it all perfect, why can’t I?”

But who really knows? That “perfect cute mom” may be putting up a brave face to the world like me as well. She might have just caught her husband cheating. Her mom may be in hospice at the end of her life. Her child may be the target of vicious cyberbullying.

I write what I write so that hopefully it strikes a chord with people who read my column. I hope readers say, “I feel the same way!”  I often hear from people privately, by email or even when I bump into them on the street, that they see themselves in the things I describe, that I’ve put words to the way they feel too.

So I guess this week I’m hoping that by writing about sometimes feeling overwhelmed with loneliness, and sometimes even despair, at what’s happening around me in the world, I can actually inspire the opposite:

Hope.

If we can find a commonality, a universal connection to one another in the recognition that sometimes everyone has those deeper, down moments; if we can take away some of the stigma of sadness that makes us put on a façade of being up; if we can recognize that everyone has their … stuff at one point or another… If we can do those things, then perhaps we can actually find strength and hope.

Perhaps, then, we can learn more about empathy and compassion, and hopefully become more aware about showing it more often. Perhaps we can learn that our weaknesses and low points let us find our depth of tolerance, and they reflect our capability for strength.  

And perhaps we can learn to recognize that there is good in our lives when we see other’s misfortune—not at the expense of their tragedy and pain, but just in acknowledging it as an experience that everyone has at one point in life, and to help us be grateful for the good that is in our lives when it is.

Yesterday, someone emailed me about a book called The Happiness Project. It’s been on the New York Times Bestseller List for umpteen weeks. Maybe that it’s such a bestseller proves my theory about more people out there feeling the same things I’m feeling, and they’re searching to find more happiness in life too. Maybe that email was a karmic signal from the universe to pay attention to the things that aren’t as dark.

I picked up the book from the Wilton Library today. And because I am going to hold onto hope that the world really isn’t coming to an end, I bet I’ll have enough time to finish it and let you know if I do find some happiness.

Cardiac Companion August 11, 2011 at 08:00 PM
Thank you for writing this article...you say what we all feel but are too afraid to admit. We are all in this together! What I have found helpful are 2 things....looking at the big picture (i.e. do we have our health, are our kids ok, etc.) and like you, getting involved in causes greater than my individual circle - this has given me the most hope because I can't help but fantasize about making something that could save someone's life a reality. Yes, tragedy is all around us, but so are amazing stories of survival, good fortune, and hope....and this is what we need to focus on to get us through :-)
Andy Pforzheimer August 11, 2011 at 08:35 PM
One of my favorites quotes: "Always be kind, for everyone is fighting a hard battle." -Plato (even back then.)
Steve Symonds August 11, 2011 at 09:16 PM
I was fortunate to have several important mentors during my "salad years". One taught me a lesson that has guided me well: "Always be a good person to the people you meet as you climb up the ladder of life. You may well meet them on the climb down."
CTPati August 12, 2011 at 02:10 AM
What an insightful and empathetic person you are, Heather! I can tell because of this lovely, hope-filled piece you have written, and hope and pray that you soon have much more to be happy about. To read this cheered me, to know that there are many other very good-hearted people in CT--beside those I personally know.
Suzanne August 14, 2011 at 10:57 PM
I find it a very sad commentary on our times that in an opinion column focused on the ‘downside’ of life that no one, neither the columnist nor any of those who offered their comments mentioned faith as the Source of strength through these difficult times, faith in God, faith in Jesus Christ. I saw a reference to “hope” but it was not a hope that would have any lasting value to anyone. Hope is a wonderful thing when it is properly understood and when it is properly placed. We cannot find true solace in hope for employment, hope for the financial market to turn around, hope for change in Washington, hope that our girlfriends will sympathize with our situation or hope in anything else of this world. Our only true hope is in the glory of God and that is a hope that is certain but not yet seen. That is the hope that will see us through every day and every circumstance. That is the hope that comes from faith in the Lord.
Christopher Herbert January 27, 2012 at 03:31 AM
Here's I experience depression: http://www.herbietown.com/blog/2012/01/26/sometimes-my-brain-attacks-me/ @Suzanne, i'm sorry but you're an idiot.

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