How’s your Dragon?


If you don’t relate to the title of this article, you are either blissfully absenting yourself from current events, or you slipped into a black hole while you weren’t paying attention.

Our obsession with “BREAKING NEWS” and other assaults causes our bodies and minds (without our permission) to go into crisis mode. Everything is “Breaking News.”  The cat that the fire department rescued from a tree?  Breaking News!

Think about this: the other night, a major network’s evening news featured a 10-second snippet (regular length of stories) about a house explosion, possibly in Idaho—I can't recall.  It was a devastating outcome for these homeowners. It was one house, a singular event.  I can do nothing about this except feed the "Crisis Dragon" that resides within me, craving this kind of input for its survival.

I have bad news: my nemesis, the “Crisis Dragon,” lives in you too.

The Dragon itself is dormant. It doesn’t thrive or even survive without regular nourishment and attention.  Yet, with the smallest amount of encouragement or food, the Dragon wakes and makes itself known.  It causes a stir within that demands more—more food, more attention, more negativity, more tragedy, more drama, more chaos, more and more and more.

The funny thing about the Dragon is that it is not self-contained—it has thin skin, so all the crisis and chaos spill out, infecting those around it with panic and rage.  You've sensed it before.  This surge of energy is like a beach wave—strong and not to be underestimated.

If you relate and can identify that you, too (welcome to the club), are deeply affected by the high stakes of the world situation, local dramas, or our own family and personal lives, read on.  If you are not experiencing this… you have reached total enlightenment, and we need to have lunch.  Help me get there.

Anxiety diagnoses are reaching epidemic proportions across all age groups and demographics.  Many experts studying this from all across the big-ticket research hospitals, including our own McLean Hospital in Belmont (a psychiatric facility associated with MGH), NY Presbyterian, Children’s Hospital Boston, Mayo Clinic, and others, are evaluating the impact of “the world at our fingertips,” otherwise known as the World Wide Web.

I continue to think about that house that I saw flattened by an explosion.  I feel so badly and wonder if anyone was injured, or worse, because I can’t remember the details.  I remember the horror of the sight, the tone of the news reporter, and how it left me feeling powerless.  As a nurse of 40 years, my life's work has been about helping others.  I see the need but can do nothing except experience more subtle, cumulative discomfort.

Why am I watching?  I could get all I want (more than I want to know) from one of the four major news outlets I have an app for on my phone.  I wouldn’t need to see the red flashing lights, hear the ambulance sirens, or feel my blood pressure rise 30 points.

I am a fan of the news.  I grew up insisting on reading the Christian Science Monitor because a high school teacher told me it was the most reliable news outlet available.  I was hooked.  And now, I need to get unhooked.  The hook is causing trouble.  I know it’s not “right out there/obvious,” but it’s true.  Drama and Trauma.  Not a good combo for trying to stay on this side of a nervous relapse.

See, it’s not just the news. It’s that we become conditioned to reporting just like they do; when something awful happens—a car mishap, a problem with a child at school, an interaction with an unfriendly stranger at the beach—the temptation to maximize the drama of it all.  Telling and retelling negative stories of little personal consequence only feeds the Dragon.

Our frame of mind is everything.

It is the most difficult lion-taming exercise of our lifetime. We have a choice every time. I visualize standing before a forked road in a forest, a la Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken.  The impulse to go down the dark path is powerful.  It satisfies the Dragon, and we deserve to be angry and resentful.  The Dragon's power is contagious, particularly to children.  Don’t forget that children learn 90 percent by observation.  We make a critical mistake in raising them if we allow the Dragon to grow and prosper.

Dare to take the pass less traveled.  Dare to starve the Dragon of the anger and toxicity that keeps it alive.  Dare to be better and kinder than you are, and resist the road rage, comments, insults, and judgment.  Resist “Breaking News.”

You are what you eat; that is true.  Be careful of your consumption.  Watch the “emergency conditioning” of your children and grandchildren.  They are watching and learning from us all.  Let’s give them more options for managing a world gone mad.

Joanne MacInnis, RN, is the founder and president of Aberdeen Home Care, Inc., of Danvers, a concierge private duty home care agency in business since 2001. With 35 years of nursing practice, management and administration experience focused on home care and hospice, Joanne and her team specialize in advising and supporting families addressing the elders in their lives retain dignity and quality of life.