So there I was last evening up to my ankles in water, doing what passes for meditation and foot spa, when I realised I hadn’t heard any news all day. Part of me was pleased. Concerned at its psychological impact on us, a friend and I had made a pact to reduce our consumption of current affairs. While it was important to be informed, we agreed, constant exposure to rolling news created anxiety. We would, we decided, try to manage the way we engaged with it, at least for a while.
For each of us this has meant different things; I stopped buying the newspaper which I spent so much of my life reading and my friend no longer toggles constantly to BBC news online. One of the observations we have both made is that the news is so ubiquitous we don’t feel any less informed as a result – but, I reflected, perhaps we had just found ways of cheating?
My cheat, I realised, was social media. I’m not a significant user but checking facebook twice a day alerted me to the major stories. And because facebook friends tend to mirror our preoccupations and concerns, they helpfully provided me with links to articles (that I convinced myself it was OK to read) which I would have been reading without my self-imposed news embargo. So at the start of this month I decided to take a time out from facebook too; it was not, I told myself, a good news desk.
But last night, when I realised I hadn’t heard the news all day, I checked facebook. My phone was all I could reach from my foot bath and it wouldn’t hurt, I reasoned, to skim the headlines. As I scrolled though at high speed I was reminded how social media alerts us to the marginal as well as mainstream stories. I hovered over one such link. I suspected it would be a hard read. I wasn’t supposed to be reading news, I told myself. I scrolled on. A minute later, though, I went back. I would read it, I decided: if there was any news I should not turn away from it was this.
The story concerned the death of an autistic man in residential care. I already knew of the case (the article was reporting the findings of the investigation) but this was the first time I had thought about it while Dylan was in a care home. The effect on me was instantaneous and different to anything I had experienced before; I felt the news in heart and nerve. I was, I realised, emotionally involved in the difficult stories from care homes now; it wasn’t reasonable, or desirable, to try and lessen the psychological impact of this news.
The autistic man who died (younger than Dylan) had been left unsupervised in a bath where he suffered an epileptic fit. I tried to remember what guidance I had written in Dylan’s care plan for bathing him. Was it enough? Had I missed anything? Had it been read? In a state of high anxiety I picked up the phone to call the care home; I couldn’t possibly sleep in the state I was in. But then I stopped myself – took a moment to consider how impossible life would be if I let myself succumb to every such fear.
It will take years, I suspect, for me to find a way to manage this.