We gasp as we repeatedly watch your video. We cry at your pictures.
We see the destruction, the suffering, the raising of the flag.
We respond with numbness to the images you bring us. We dont
want to absorb the horrific nature of what youre showing us.
So we turn it off, flip the page. But you cant.
The firefighters grieve for their fallen comrades. The financial traders
mourn the loss of their coworkers. The pilots shudder at the horror
their colleagues succumbed to in the cockpit.
Now it is time for the journalists the keepers of objectivity
and composure with nerves as strong as the beams that hold down the
rubble to recognize our grief, to understand that we are human
too. The problem is journalists seem to be the only professionals
who regularly witnesses tragedy yet are never afforded the same compassion
and counseling available to others dealing with disaster. Instead
of empathy, the media are often lumped in with the enemy.
I remember covering my first body many years ago when I was a one-man-band
at a small station in Northern California. Keep looking through
the viewfinder, a photographer from a competing station advised
me, it will seem less real.
For those of you who covered the aftermath of the attacks on the Pentagon
and World Trade Center, viewing the scene only through your lens is
impossible. You may be able to erase the images on video but you will
never delete them from your mind. For now, you probably just want
the movie to stop re-running in your head.
I cant make that happen, but as a former photojournalist, a
survivor of violent crime and now a personal life coach, I have these
suggestions on how to cope with what you have covered:
1. Admit your emotions to yourself and others. All the macho, awards
and adrenaline in the world wont get you through this one. When
your schedule slows down and the shock wears off, be prepared to feel
the sadness even more. Understand the importance of grieving. If you
dont, it will show up in other ways at other times.
2. Talk it out. Find an empathetic relative, friend or counselor who
will just listen as you describe what you felt and saw.
3. Write it out. Writing can release the emotions and anxiety that
you may be trying to hide. Dont try to edit yourself, just let
the pen go no matter how stupid you think it sounds youll
be surprised at what comes out. Write about feelings of anger, grief,
guilt and confusion. All those emotions are normal.
4. Replace the mental images with positive ones. Get out your best
beauty shots, your favorite feature packages. Take more video or pictures
of things that bring you joy. Let your creativity loose.
5. Dont make any major decisions for at least a month. What
youve seen is traumatic and may cloud your judgment.
6. Still, dont disregard the perspective this incident has brought
to you. Many people are viewing their lives, families and careers
differently. You may want to re-prioritize your life in a more fulfilling
way that may be one benefit of this tragedy.
7. Take breaks when you can and pace yourself. Dont try to be
a superhero at work. If you can get away, do it. Youll be a
much better journalist and person if you do.
8. Appreciate what you do have in your life; focus on what you have
accomplished and what you are grateful for even the little
9. Establish a daily routine that includes healthful habits you enjoy.
For example: working out, listening to music you love, going for an
early morning bike ride or walk, watching a sunset. Routines add structure
back to our lives and eliminate some of the confusion.
10. Recognize the signs of post-traumatic stress or depression: difficulty
sleeping, trouble with intimacy, withdrawal, anxiety, overwhelming
sadness, inability to perform normal activities. Get professional
help if these emotions continue for more than a week.
Here are some resources on line that may help:
Depression assessments and self tests:
Finally, understand that you are a more enlightened, compassionate
photographer and human being because of what you have seen. You will
no longer be able to live life just through your lens. And you and
your craft will be better for it.
Rebecca Coates Nee is a personal life/career coach and author of
Leaving TV: A Guide to Life After News. Contact her through
her Web site, http://www.transitions.tv.