As we move from the early days of winter into what used to be prime Polar Vortex season, I find myself wondering what adjustments the new year will bring. I remember when the term “polar vortex” was first bandied about in weather reporting, as a massive surge of sub-zero temperatures reached down from the north to rake its rime-coated claws across the Midwest, and how it was portrayed as a one-time thing. Now, it feels like it happens at least once a year. Last year, it got so far south it fucked up Texas. Say what you will about the politicians and political landscape of the state fucking around and finding out, many people who suffered most as a result of all that didn’t choose to leave their state vulnerable. No one deserves that.
This might just be the end of the year talking, but I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what things I might need to get used to this year. I’ve gone to two concerts in the past decade and both were stressful enough that I will never go to large or crowded concerts ever again because I couldn’t stop thinking about what would happen if an active shooter situation played out. It seems far-fetched on the surface, but it’s a lot like staying aware of what other cars on the road are doing in order to anticipate and avoid an accident. It’s an unnecessary use of time and mental energy until it suddenly isn’t and then it will instantly be worth all that mental preparation.
I had a dream the other night about an active shooter situation. A nightmare, really. The part that has upset me the most, that I’m still thinking about, and that made it the second worst nightmare I’ve ever had is that the “nightmare” part of it wasn’t that there was an active shooter. My brain just accepted that as a real thing that might happen. The terrifying part was that I ran and saved myself despite being in the unique position of being able to stop the shooter at only a small risk to myself. A large part of me wants to deflect this whole thing by saying that this is great news because it means I finally value my own life just as much as everyone else’s, which is not a statement I could have truthfully made more than a couple years ago, but that is ignoring the fact that I wasn’t afraid of an active shooter.
Most of the time, you fear things you don’t understand. Personally, I tend to fear things tied to my anxieties, things inside or outside my control that I don’t feel prepared for, that I don’t know how to handle, that could leave me paralyzed and unable to act, or that are impossible to prepare for because there are too many unknowns. I don’t fear my apartment catching fire. I’ve been drilled how to handle that since I was young and the only negative emotion involved would be disappointment at losing all my stuff and my home. Same for tornadoes or losing power or being robbed. And now, apparently, active shooters. Thinking about and preparing myself mentally for the situation has become so common that I don’t even chide myself for being unreasonable when my anxiety spins up a scenario it feels I should be prepared for.
We’ve gotten used to so much over the years. And even the constant reminders that something isn’t normal so we don’t lose sight of how warped our world has become don’t stop us from adjusting to the stress and mental burden of it all. I mean, how fucked up is it that we US citizens just basically accept that if we have any major medical issues, we’ll all just basically be in unfathomable debt, insurance or not? We don’t like it, we don’t think it is good or even acceptable, but we’ve all prepared ourselves for it to the point that mental deflection doesn’t take the form of “it couldn’t happen to ME.”
I don’t know that I have much of a point other than my usual “preparing myself mentally for whatever might happen” sort of thing. Life is difficult and you adjust to it and the demands it places on you, or you don’t. I can’t even say which is better. I want to say adjusting is, but there’s a lot of mental burden around admitting you’ve adjust to something awful. It’s not always freeing. It’s just the only way to deal with most of this stuff other than outright denial.