A Highly Sensitive Education


It was a Friday, middle of the day, when I first heard about the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut.  This was not the first time I had learned of a terrible tragedy while standing in front of children, but there was something about this particular event that became a turning point for me personally.  Maybe this story hit me so hard because in 2012 my own daughter was in Kindergarten and the same age as most of the shooting victims.  Maybe I took it so personally because a friend sent me a picture of Emilie Parker, one of the 6 year old shooting victims, to show me just how much the two girls looked alike.  I don’t know why, but I stood there in a complete daze upon hearing the news.  I finished out the school day, and made sure not to turn on the radio while driving home.  I walked into my house, went upstairs, got into bed fully clothed, pulled the covers over my head, and sobbed until morning.

Upon waking the following day, I still felt numb.   I could hear the television going in the distance, and the muffled voices were bickering about gun control, or terrorism, or perhaps it was the lack of school security in this nation.  I am not certain.  All I know is that was when I made a conscious decision to just stop watching the television.  I still had that sick feeling in my stomach, and with the holidays approaching, I couldn’t afford to remain in such a depressive state.  I felt guilty for being so shaken by the event.  I wasn’t personally involved, and I didn’t even know anyone from Connecticut, yet I still reacted as if it had happened in my own town.

I didn’t bake.  I didn’t do any of the Christmas shopping or wrapping.  As a matter of fact, I didn’t do any of the usual warm, sentimental holiday traditions at all that year.  I just kept thinking about the victims, their families, and I felt myself sinking deeper and deeper.  It was that tragic event which led me to get help for my own depression.   Over time, I began to pull myself out from wherever I had gone.

Fast forward to 2015, and I still haven’t returned to a regular routine of television watching.  If I do turn on the television, I try desperately to avoid any programs with sensational news reporting.  I’m well aware that not facing one’s fears is a form of escapism, but for my own state of mind, it was a necessary escape.  

This week, however, I was jolted back to that same dark place when I saw a trending report on the Internet about another school shooting in Oregon at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg.  My heart sank, and I read over the information through half closed eyes, as if squinting would protect me from feeling too much.  It wasn’t long before my newsfeed was a parade of outlandish comparison charts and gun control debates- a sea of clamorous chatter and infantile bickering.  Once again, the world was becoming an enormous shouting match of misguided agendas fueled by rage.  I felt dizzy, so I tried to steady myself.  As a precautionary measure, I went to turn off my phone, but not before I caught glimpses of some “here we go again’s” and “what is this nation coming to’s.”  Images of the Sandy Hook shooting also were sprinkled about the web, so I knew I would be best served unplugging for a bit.

I went home and tried to push the images out of my mind.  Later that evening, as my phone was plugged in to charge, I heard the ping of a new message.  It was from a friend.  She was messaging a couple of us to let us know that she might be a little late to a meeting we had scheduled for the following week.  Her reason was that she had to take care of some family business, that family business being her severely depressed child.  My heart sank for the second time that day.   I knew the backstory, and it all stemmed from some harsh bullying at her child’s school.  This really hit home, because my own daughter had been in tears that night as well, over some third-grade exclusionary playground practices.  

I went to bed that night, pulled the covers over my head, and wept.

Several days have passed since the Oregon shooting, and I’ve been trying to write this blog post for about three days.  I didn’t sink into a deep depression like I did right after the Sandy Hook shooting, but I still sit here with that same feeling of helplessness.  Maybe it’s just the reality that sometimes, no matter how hard we try, bad things happen. People walk into classrooms and shoot people.  Other kids pick on other kids and make them feel isolated and alone.  I realize now that the reason both of these events impacted me so much is because they forced me to admit that I don’t have control over what other people may or may not do to my child or other children I care about.  Sure I can guide her, try and protect her, but it’s becoming more and more obvious that there are just some things in life that are beyond my control.

This isn’t me being negative.  This is me being real.  School shootings and terrorism get people fired up.  There is a bit of sensationalism that goes along with that style of reporting, and I’ve read about articles this week on how it’s not that big of a deal.  I’ve also seen the charts comparing the number of shootings in US schools to shootings in other countries.  I’ve seen the counterargument that the people making these charts are idiots, the numbers are skewed.  I just took a look at the comic strip going viral where the kid asks “Why didn’t God stop the shooting,” and the other kid replies, “Because he’s not allowed in schools anymore.”

I almost deleted this post entirely last night after reading yet another article on the topic of school shootings.  It was talking about how this isn’t about gun control, because bad people can get guns even if they are controlled.  It isn’t about mental health issues, because many shooters were already getting help from professionals at the time of their crimes.  It isn’t about being bullied, because some perpetrators were well liked, even popular.  

I don’t know what it is about to be honest with you.  All I know is right now I feel like escaping again, not as a result of the tragic event in itself, but because of all the bickering it has sparked.   I feel afraid to say anything publicly about the event, because everything I thought about posting has already been attacked.  I wanted to post some mental health statistics, but according to some things I’ve read you are naive if you think therapy will fix the problem.  I wanted to promote more opportunities for social and emotional learning in the classroom to help combat children being unkind to one another, but I’ve also heard you are ignorant if you try and explain this away through bullying awareness.  Then there are the pro gun and anti gun debates, as well as the people that think this is all just being blown out of proportion.  A few days ago, I had a lot to say, but tonight I feel beaten down, isolated, and alone.  I’ve gone from a place of intense passion to a sort of silent forced apathy.

I think the great thing about the United States is that you can speak your opinion.  You can broadcast your beliefs all day and all night now thanks to social media.  We are allowed to debate what we want, wherever we want, but somewhere along the way I feel like we are missing the point.  Varied political, social, and religious beliefs, shouldn’t cause us to forget that we are still a community.  There are people in our community, and in our homes, that are seriously hurting.  No matter what you believe, you should be able to recognize that a bad thing happened.  We all want peace, but we should be able to acknowledge our differences without letting our differences destroy us and our sense of community.  

When I started writing this a few days ago, I imagined it being more profound.  I wanted to communicate that I think we alienate each other in this country more than we help each other, even when we are on the same side.  I wanted to attach a link to my podcast about sensitivity and school, because I wanted to make a case for teaching children how to appreciate different types of personalities and look for ways to stop shaming people for their differences.  My thought was that if children didn’t feel so isolated or alone, or if they understood that you could get along with someone that wasn’t exactly like you, that would help build tolerance.  I wanted to believe that social and emotional education might help build a stronger sense of community in the classroom, but now I’m not so confident in my original message.

I thought I had a good idea, but after being immersed in a week long debate via social media, I’m exhausted.  If my ideas are good, I almost don’t want to share them with these people attacking one another.  I want to just hug my little girl, let my friend know that she’s a good mom, send loving thoughts to the families of the victims, and just unplug my computer and go to sleep.  I wonder how many other people in our community feel like that tonight?  I wonder how many of my highly sensitive friends have also just tuned out or are not sharing their voice? That, to me, IS a tragedy.

For anyone that wants to listen, here’s the link to the episode I mention in the article.

HSP S.O.S. #17 Highly Sensitive Persons & School

Weekly podcasts for Highly Sensitive Persons at HSP S.O.S. on The Captain’s Pod!