It’s Ok To Look Away

It's ok to take a break from the heavy news. It's essential, matter of fact. (Shutterstock)

By Billy Ball

May 27, 2022

For a minute at least. To be a change-maker, you have to take care of yourself too.

Midway through an appointment with my psychiatrist this week, she cracked a joke about how much Johnny Depp-Amber Heard content she’d consumed. 

I haven’t watched or read anything about the trial. Even if it seems like a symbolic representation of the last half-decade: messy, public, drunk, unreliable. 

“Oh yeah, I guess you wouldn’t be paying attention,” she said. “Have you covered the shootings?”

A big, heavy pause.

“That’s … pretty dark,” she said.

And it is. I don’t envy the Depp-watchers, even if they’re treating a trial about drug abuse, mental illness, misogyny and a whole lot of other stuff like an escapist, popcorn flick. At least there’s some kind of resolution promised at the end of a trial.

There are lots and lots of people this week — especially parents but really anyone with a soul — fathoming something we can’t begin to fathom. We don’t need a recap of Uvalde. We know the details.

And that’s not the point of this article. The point of this article is to implore you to take care of yourself. 

It’s OK to carry heavy stuff with us. How could we not? It is after all a sign of our humanity. But it’s also OK to say “no more, not this minute at least.” 

You can be a good, well-meaning individual without vicariously grieving tragedy every minute. 

You can be a changemaker who breathes and lives and rests too. 

You can seek accountability for the people and politicians and lawmakers who failed us without relentlessly punishing yourself. 

The best changemakers are the ones who know that. 

And if it is your intention to make a difference, to make sure horrid things like this never happen again, there are things you need to do to be there for the change.

Ever moved before? When you unpack, you do it one box at a time, find a new home for what you’re unboxing, and then go to the next box. Same principle with these big, heavy problems. 

As so many parents were told during the darkest days of the pandemic, when we were working from our homes with a kid in our laps and a heart full of ache, you can’t take care of the people you want to take care of unless you take care of yourself.

So here are a few suggestions for people, like me, who are struggling with these heavy days. 

  • It’s OK to look away for a minute. You’re not dropping the baton. You’re putting it down and you’re saying that you’ll come back for it. And you will. You’re a good person.
  • Take a mental health day if your employer allows it. If they don’t, use what time you have off to create something, call your best friend, or go outside. Don’t know if you’ve noticed but North Carolina is maybe the prettiest place on Earth in the spring.
  • Bring your vacation into your day-to-day. In lieu of a vacation, grab some tiny piece of it (a book, a favorite album, a movie, a nap outside) and find ways to fit it in your schedule. Did you know there’s a list of “1001 Albums to Hear?” Start at the beginning.
  • Stop arguing with a stranger on social media. It’s not working. You probably didn’t change their mind. They didn’t change yours. Talk to people not their online alter-egos, which are usually pretty vainglorious, snarky, and not particularly convincing. You’ll be less angry.
  • Schedule your stress. If you find you can’t stop worrying, book it on your calendar to just worry for an hour. Commit to it. Then move on. If you find yourself worrying outside of the allotted hour, (gently) chide yourself to STICK TO THE SCHEDULE.  
  • Talk to mental health professionals. If you can afford it or your insurance covers it, do this. Treat your mental health like your health. It is basic human brain maintenance. Stigma’s stupid and lame. I already said I see a psychiatrist. Most people aren’t going to give you side-eye for seeing a therapist or a psychiatrist. They might even give you a high-five. You might find out you have a lot more friends than you even knew you had.
  • Go sleep. You can miss that show on Netflix. It’ll be there tomorrow. Remember baths? Sleep is like a long, hot bath for your brain.
  • Go find out something really cool about a place near you. I promise you it’s there. Did you know five members of James Brown’s backing band are from Kinston? Five members? Holy hell. Time to hit up the African American Music Trail in North Carolina. 

These are just a few ideas. It’s nowhere near complete. And what relaxes me might not relax you. But it’s the thought that counts. Find the thing that makes you feel easier about the world and do it.

Check out more tips from the National Institute of Mental Health here. Psychology Today gives you 25 ways to cool off at home. 

I’m willing to bet that when you come back, you’ll be more ready than ever to make a difference.

Be well. We need you for the long haul. 


  • Billy Ball

    Billy Ball is Cardinal & Pine's senior community editor. He’s covered local, state and national politics, government, education, criminal justice, the environment and immigration in North Carolina for almost two decades, winning state, regional and national awards for his reporting and commentary.

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