I’m writing this on June 24, right after having eaten lunch.
I woke up this morning feeling anxious to see the news of the Brexit referendum, mostly because the polls indicated it was pretty much a toss up as to which side would win, and because spending time following the lives of people who reside in the United Kingdom naturally makes me concerned about their well-being when something this big comes along.
This event’s been an unusual exercise for me as an American, because it’s something that I don’t have any say in, but I can see some of the repercussions of the Leave vote having an effect on us over here. It’s been observed by others before me, but I think it bears pointing out that Americans rarely get to experience what it’s like for people in other countries to helplessly watch when our national politics steer towards results that are going to have negative international consequences. It’s not pleasant.
I tried to set the news aside by going for a run early today. The run was good, though the weather in Georgia in late June is oppressive from sunup to sundown regardless of any cloud cover. I wouldn’t recommend it except that around here you don’t really have much of a choice if you like to exercise and you prefer not to do it indoors. Still, I got back from my run, and the news was still there.
I got so caught up in the bad news of the day that I’ve spent the morning monitoring the news and my Twitter feed and a couple discussion threads on the topic. I watched posts and tweets from various people I know and people I follow sharing their thoughts and worries over the results of the referendum, all generally noting with various levels of sadness and anxiety that the people of the UK just made a monumentally bad decision. I lost my temper in one conversation on Facebook and used some choice words about David Cameron that I had to walk back after I realized I wasn’t speaking from a place of knowledge.
You would think at some point I would just have to shut it all off if it was bothering me so much (and why should it bother me that much besides general empathy for people who are more directly affected?), but it’s hard to look away from something so dramatic. There’s a pull to spectate, and it’s hard to separate out the parts of your motivation that are about lurid fascination, general horror, and genuine sympathy. Two of these aren’t so bad as motivators for reading the news, but they feed into a general depression about the state of the world that doesn’t feel so different from the impulse to look at a train wreck.
At the end of the morning, what you’re left with is a general feeling of unseemliness, because you passed a few hours taking in so much about something that happened, looking at reactions, formulating opinions that don’t mean much, and wondering how the time could have been spent better (and doubting that it even could while another voice insists, yes). You start worrying about things in the future, like your own country’s upcoming election, and how this instability might exacerbate instability closer to home. Will people see the immediate, terrible effects and attribute them to something counterfactual, constructing a narrative of fear and anxiety that will only lead to more fear and anxiety?
Then you step back from all of this binge reading and navel gazing. You close down all the tabs in your browser, you put your thoughts in order (because ordering your thoughts at least feels like something you can control), and you decide to do something else with your time. Do some chores. Make plans with friends. Avoid spending anymore time glued to a news screen for the day.