I am haunted by the idea of death.

As Dany Laferriere wrote in L’Enigme du retour:

‘‘Elle arrivait si rapidement qu’on/n’avait jamais le temps de la voir venir./Cette vitesse a fait douter de son existance.’’

(It happened so rapidly that one/never had the time to see it coming./This speed allows us to doubt its existance.)

In my case it’s more ignoring its existance – I couldn’t watch the news coverage coming in about the Humboldt bus crash, for instance. I just couldn’t. It was too much for my heart to handle.

When I came across Childish Gambino’s ‘‘This is America’’ music video on my Twitter feed and haply watched it with no disclaimer, I was overcome with emotion, dread and anxiety.

A few weeks later I called a psychologist to help me cope. Not only was I afraid of confronting death, but I thought about it too often.


My thoughts were morbid. When I took my dog for a walk, I had images of him getting free from his leash and getting hit by a car. When he coughed on his food, I wondered if he would quietly choke to death in his sleep.

That’s how I got started on meditation apps. The psychologist recommended that some quiet moments of mindfulness might diminish the fearful thoughts. I tried a few and they did seem to help; I prefer Headspace.

She also gave me some reading material on vicarious trauma, or secondhand trauma, particular to journalists or anyone else who might be feeling particularly sensitive or by bombarded by different media lately.

Vicarious trauma and meditation

 “Mindfulness, or paying full attention to the present moment, can be very helpful in improving the cognitive symptoms of depression. These debilitating symptoms include distorted thinking, difficulty concentrating and forgetfulness. Cognitive symptoms can impair all areas of a person’s life. For instance, poor concentration can interfere with your job or schoolwork. Negative thoughts can lead to negative emotions, deepening depression,’’ I read here.

Whether you’re eating, showering or getting dressed, you can practice mindfulness while doing any activity, Dr. William Marchand, also a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Utah School of Medicine suggests in the article.

The key is to focus on your physical sensations, such as “sight, taste, touch and smell.”

“It’s not homework,” my psychologist told me, rightfully assuming I’d take it as such. ‘‘These are just suggestions.’’

Some of the resources she sent me had very good suggestions, not just for myself, but also for helping other people who might be going through a traumatic experience. Here are the things I found that are the most helpful.

Provide practical support

After going through a traumatic experience, it’s important to re-establish a normal routine. This helps restore a sense of predictability and control. Here are some ideas for how you can help a person return to their normal routine:

  • Help them get back into a normal routine, while recognising they might need time and space to deal with the event. Be patient.
  • Offer to take care of kids, or do household chores.
  • Offer to keep track of the news for them so they don’t have to be exposed to things they may not want to see.
  • Encourage them to rest, eat well, exercise, and relax. Make sure you do the same to look after yourself.
  • Keep calling. Don’t say: “Call me if you need something.”
  • Do things with them that they enjoy.
  • Encourage them to talk about their feelings by choosing a time when you won’t be interrupted and realize that it might be difficult for them, or they might get upset.
  • Encourage them to seek professional help.

No ‘‘right thing’’ to say

  • Listen. Silence is okay.
  • Don’t interrupt or offer examples from your own life.
  • Avoid offering simple reassurances such as, “I know how you feel”, or “You’ll be OK.’’
  • Ask leading questions like, “Would it be helpful to talk about (the event)?”
  • You might ask how the event has impacted on other people … “How’s Sarah doing?’’
  • Show that you understand by re-phrasing the information they give you. Try starting with something like, “You seem really…”, “It sounds like…”, “Did I understand right that you…”, “No wonder you feel…”

Vicarious trauma among journalists