"It's OK to not be OK right now." A month of grief, worry and frustration

CNN's Brian Stelter describes dealing with the emotions caused by covering the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.

Posted: Apr 20, 2020 3:51 PM
Updated: Apr 20, 2020 3:51 PM

Most nights I send out the "Reliable Sources" newsletter at 10 or 11 p.m. Eastern time. I missed Friday night's deadline for the first time in years. On Saturday morning, I belatedly sent out the newsletter and wrote about the reason why:

"Truth is, I hit a wall. Gutted by the death toll. Disturbed by the government's shortcomings. Dismayed by political rhetoric that bears no resemblance to reality. Worried about friends who are losing their jobs and kids who are missing school and senior citizens who are living in fear. I crawled in bed and cried for our pre-pandemic lives. I think those tears had been waiting a month to escape.

I wanted to share this with you because it feels freeing to do so. Now is not a time for faux-invincibility. Journalists are living this and hating this just like everyone else."

I tried to quickly move on to all the media, tech and culture stories that I normally report in the newsletter. But those first two paragraphs caused a deluge of reactions in my inbox and on social media.

The messages helped me see that there are so many people, all around the world, feeling the same grief and frustration. Vulnerability is a good thing -- and relatable. Many were quick to say that their lives are relatively easy compared with the health care workers on the front lines and the laid-off workers in unemployment lines. I feel the same way. Still, the pandemic is taking a toll. Here are what some people said via Twitter and email:

Elizabeth: "I had a good cry yesterday too. It's all so much and overwhelming, we're doing all the things to stay sane and productive but it catches up with you. It's all really hard and scary on all levels."

Melissa: "It's ok to not be ok right now."

Pamela: "This happened to me exactly a week ago. I just had all I could process, and then it was too much. Thank you for sharing. You aren't alone. I still just don't have a clue what to do about this feeling."

John: "Grief begins the healing process."

Arthea: "As a mental health professional, I know no one is immune to the trauma we're experiencing in our ever-changed lives. I'm a proponent of 'scheduled meltdowns' where I put on music or a movie that I know will release a floodgate of tears. Those tears are just under the surface these days but when your profession requires you to keep it together, you sometimes have to find a time to let it all release. Your hitting the wall is understandable, deserved and frankly quite healthy."

Anita: "It's important to recognize the need to grieve what we've lost and to acknowledge anxiety and uncertainty over the way forward."

Mia: "Amid so much suffering, it is appropriate for all of us to weep."

Barry: "Add in fear and grief over the state of our democracy..."

Laura: "We aren't OK. Acting as if we are is only a disservice to one another."

Marci: "I have felt like this as well.. and then I tune into those fighting, finding light, and working to help others, and create new models for a better world."

Shira: "I have felt the wall, too. Hang in there."

Goldie: "It's difficult to see the road to the other side of this."

Michele: "Yesterday was tough. I don't verbalize much at home because my kids are already disturbed enough by these changes. I'm now having dreams and nightmares that I haven't experienced since I went through cancer treatments. I feel the same kind of fear now..."

David: "We can count our blessings and shed tears for what we, and our children, are missing right now."

Chris: "Mourning for what was creates space for what can be."

Sulome: "I have hope that this will pass, and a better world is possible. Don't give up on that. I know you won't."

Andrew: "It's a good time for everyone, perhaps, to take a deep long breath. And then another."

Palmer: "I finally hit a wall last night, too, as I was reading some news accounts in the evening to my wife... How are we going to get out of this and back to some kind of 'normal' life if the testing isn't done? And that's just one of so many things that are being mishandled. It's just so incredibly frustrating."

Sossy: "Self care is absolutely necessary at this time."

Jeff: "Just remember this, buried under all the nasty rhetoric and the politics, are the folks out there who are just struggling to get through their days, decent people trying to do the right thing. There are more of us than there are the other guys."

Let's show solidarity

All of the tweets and emails made me more confident about what I wrote in Saturday morning's newsletter, about the importance of showing solidarity with people who are suffering for all sorts of reasons.

The sheer scope of the unfolding tragedy is mind-boggling. "Over the past 24 hours, we've lost 4,591 Americans," Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti said Friday night. "That's more in a single day than we lost in the entire Iraq War."

As CNN commentator Amanda Carpenter wrote the other day, "It seems like every time I check the news there's another something thousand dead. We are passing major markers without even blinking or pausing to mourn. We all need to stop and assess. Please."

So what is there to do "when numbers in the news become benumbing?" That's what Anita Varma, assistant director of Journalism & Media Ethics at Santa Clara University's Markkula Center for Applied Ethics wrote about earlier this month.

"When people grow fatigued in the face of observing widespread suffering, they tend to 1) become distressed, 2) blame the victim, and 3) go numb and turn away," Varma wrote. She recommended "an ethic of solidarity" be infused in news coverage -- to humanize nameless, faceless data and individual anecdotes.

"Shifting away from purely individualized struggles, an ethic of solidarity would mean standing with communities affected by not only representing their pain, but also their views on what happened, what their needs are, and amplifying their ideas on how these needs can be served," Varma wrote.

Her blog post made me think about how national news stories are framed, often centered around President Trump's ever-changing position or the comments of another politician. Yes, they are elected officials, but wouldn't it be more valuable to change the approach from "here's what politicians said today" coverage to "what do community members need right now?"

What do they want to know? And what do they expect from our elected officials?

For more...

A version of this article first appeared in the "Reliable Sources" newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 48626

Reported Deaths: 2717
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Marion11723689
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Newton9910
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Brown391
Crawford320
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Tipton311
Switzerland270
Martin230
Parke230
Ohio170
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Warren141
Union130
Pike110
Unassigned0193

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 58904

Reported Deaths: 2970
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Franklin10587431
Cuyahoga8048379
Hamilton6158204
Lucas2788303
Marion273439
Pickaway220141
Summit2175207
Montgomery213431
Mahoning1849238
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Medina53632
Lake50819
Licking49612
Miami47231
Portage44959
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Wood43651
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Geauga40843
Wayne36352
Richland3475
Allen32341
Mercer2879
Greene2769
Darke25326
Erie24622
Holmes2393
Huron2232
Madison1999
Ottawa15024
Sandusky13714
Crawford1365
Washington13520
Ross1303
Putnam12915
Coshocton1272
Hardin12312
Morrow1171
Auglaize1074
Jefferson912
Monroe8917
Union891
Muskingum861
Hancock791
Hocking788
Preble781
Guernsey743
Lawrence720
Williams722
Shelby694
Clinton680
Logan641
Athens631
Fulton620
Ashland601
Carroll593
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