How Can I Stay Engaged with the World when Mine is Falling Apart?

Two weeks ago I laid in bed for 18 hours in a single day. This wasn’t the first occurrence and it definitely wasn't the last but it’s imperative that you understand the context: I laid in bed for 18 hours and I just couldn't move. I didn’t get up to eat, drink, do work or even use the toilet. I spent my day aimlessly browsing through different social media platforms trying to not to feel so numb. Or was I doing it to bask in that numbness and not confront reality, who knows? But what I do know is that it made me feel guilty. It felt wrong because at the exact moment I was lying in my bed, Uyghur Muslims were being tortured in Xinjiang’s ‘re-education’ camps. In the same second, Parliament voted not to feed the nation's poorest children, SARS were murdering innocent protestors in Nigeria, the University of Manchester were locking up their students in halls with prison-style fencing and the silence after the BLM summer movement was far more deafening than the protests themselves. I felt guilty because as someone who prides themselves on what they can offer the world, I no longer had anything to offer. The feeling of insignificance doesn’t quite sit right with me. It’s safe to say that spiralled into another 18-hour bed day, but then I had a frank and honest conversation with myself about what I can do to help change the world when mine felt so stagnant. And here are some steps that I came up with:

 

  • Start with the little things

Politics was definitely my first love, as pathetic as that sounds. Perhaps that’s why I find it particularly difficult to feel so disengaged. But even on those 18-hour bed days I realise that I am trying to do the little things. The Free Rice app has helped me a lot: for every question you get right, the money equivalent of 5 grains of rice is sent to the UN’s World Food Programme so it’s an easy task I can do in the morning. Something as simple as signing a petition can go a long way and I think we all saw over the last summer how these petitions can incite change or, at the very least, educate. But do you know what? Simply reading up on these issues puts you in the best possible place to fight them when you’re on your feet again. And you can do them all from bed.

 

  • Focus on what you can control instead of what you can’t

I remember when I first saw ISIS on the news. I was so terrified that they would come to Milton Keynes, of all places, that I would check the back doors over and over again, making sure they were locked. No one told 12-year old Sharnel that the likelihood of the mass terrorist organisation, ISIS, infiltrating her home was very slim. But it was something that I could control, and believe it or not, it helped me fall asleep all those summer nights.

 

There are so many things going on in the world that we simply can’t control. I wish I could hold Jeff Bezos accountable for the exploitation of his workers and the negative impact his company has on the environment, but I know I can’t. Also whilst that feeling of powerlessness can be overwhelming, I’m trying to focus on the things that I can control. Yes, the UK has recently increased the terrorism threat level to ‘severe' and yes, the Covid-19 death toll in Britain has surpassed 50,00. Yet, I am in no position to control any of those things but despite that I have had my own accomplishments - I ticked off everything on my to-do list, I completed all my lectures and I didn’t watch the news because it gave me anxiety and I even signed a cheeky petition in the process.

 

We simply do not have the physical, mental or even emotional resources to tackle even half of the world’s problems and this is a truth we have to accept. So instead, I’m currently learning how to tackle my own problems first and manage the things I can rather than reaching for the things that are simply beyond my grasp.

 

  • Focus on more positive social media

I used to watch the Channel 4 news every day at 7pm. I would check the BBC News app every morning and see what’s trending on Twitter every evening. But it got to a point where, mentally, I couldn't put myself through that anymore. Especially when everyday there were thousands of COVID-19 related cases and deaths, the news just made my anxiety peak. To be honest, I think that surrounding yourself with constant bad news doesn’t only make you anxious, but it reiterates the dreaded idea that “you could have it worse.” I’ve always hated that notion because it’s often used as a way to diminish the importance of our own emotions but that’s a conversation for another time.

 

I was stuck in this cycle of watching the news, aching for the world and feeling guilty within myself. But then my brilliant Psychology teacher (shout out Miss Bennison!) directed me towards more positive outlets that gave me what I needed to know, without giving me the accompanying dread, fear and horror. My favourite Instagram accounts that I recommend checking out include:

 

  • Take a mental health day

Whether this means watching sad movies all day, eating oreo ice cream in bed for breakfast or, like me, spending countless hours on TikTok watching Trisha Paytas start beef with literally everyone. It’s important that we acknowledge our emotions and give them space (I sound like a proper psychologist there don’t I?)

 

Sometimes you just need to switch off your phone, or at least the apps constantly regurgitating the same sad news stories on repeat, and pretend, for a little while, that the world isn’t such a bad place.

 

Now I don’t know if these tips will work in the long run; I’m realising that these pieces are becoming mental diaries, like snapshots of my life in that moment. So this is a journey for me too. A journey that I know will likely consist of more 18-hour bed days because sometimes it’s not as easy as switching your phone off. But, what I do know is that I should not feel guilty for sometimes falling off the ball or rolling my eyes whenever someone mentions the 2020 Elections, which I didn’t follow.  But do you remember what I said about that feeling of insignificance? I’m starting to understand that there’s power in that insignificance for it means that we can afford to truly take time for ourselves rather than worrying about what the rest of the world is doing. Whether that’s either extremely lonely or truly liberating, I think that’s entirely up to us to decide.

 

Words By: Sharnel Wiggins

Edited By: Harsheni Maniarasan