I was supposed to write this post at the beginning of the year. It was meant to be a kind of New Year’s post about moving forward in the post-election world. But the truth is, it’s taken me this long to get my head around what’s happened and where we are, and the hits come on an almost daily basis.
This isn’t a political post. But for those who are saying, “Give Trump a chance,” I can only say; have you been watching the news? The night he was elected I knew I’d have to give him a chance. Then he started appointing anti-Semites and racists and mysogynists and homophobes and even people who just don’t know shit about the job for which they’re applying. He’s got so many conflicts of interest it makes the allegations against Hillary (all unproven) seem like a kid stealing a candy bar. He has ties to Russia that could amount to treason. He is looking to roll back discrimination protections for the LGBT community and to appoint a Supreme Court judge who will vote to reverse Roe V. Wade, putting millions of women at risk for dangerous pregnancies and illegal abortions. He has alienated our allies to such a degree that they are scrambling to form new alliances with other countries and he has instituted an unconstitutional ban on immigrants based on religion – but not from any of the Middle Eastern countries that actually have a history of importing terror to the U.S., or (not coincidentally) from any of the Middle Eastern countries where he has business interests. Through all of this he has not issued one unifying, reassuring statement to the people of this country.
This man has already been given far more chances than President Obama was given by the GOP.
The time for chances is over. Now it’s time to fight.
But fighting takes a lot of mental energy. It’s emotionally draining and even depressing. In the real world (as opposed to Trump’s world where, when it gets to cold, he can simply decamp to the “Winter White House”, which is apparently the new name for his estate, Mar-a-Lago) we have to work. We have to buy groceries and take care of children. We have to socialize without giving the impression that we are a hair’s breadth away from screaming out loud.
And that all means we have to cope. We have to balance. We have to practice radical self-care while continuing to fight in whatever capacitywe can manage, because not fighting just isn’t an option right now.
With that in mind, I’m going to share some of the things that have helped me over the past couple of months as I’ve sought some equilibrium. They’re strategies I’m going to focus on this year in my quest to remain sane – and dare I say it? – even happy while this shit show runs its course.
I’ve written here about it before so I’ll keep this short, but it is unrivaled in its ability to open up some blank, white space in an overcrowded mind. It can be difficult at first (which I always see as a testament to how badly it’s needed, because if we can’t sit quietly with ourselves for ten minutes a day, we’re in trouble), but it’s so worth the small amount of time it requires. It gets easier over time, so stick with it. No special equipment is needed, you can do it anywhere, and many Buddhist monasteries offer free meditation instruction. In lieu of that, you can search this blog for my previous posts about it or contact me with any questions.
I used to pride myself on my ability to compartmentalize – focus on the task at hand to the exclusion of all else – when I was juggling work in an office with four small children at home. Now I realize that it’s just another word for mindfulness, which has been a cornerstone of my spiritual practice for the past couple of years. One of my favorite sayings is “The lesson will be repeated until it is learned.” And boy is it true.
In his book The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle writes;
“The mind is a superb instrument if used rightly. Used wrongly, however, it becomes very destructive. To put it more accurately, it is not so much that you use your mind wrongly — you usually don’t use it at all. It uses you. This is the disease. You believe that you are your mind. This is the delusion. The instrument has taken you over.”
Compulsive thinking is a disease, and it’s frighteningly easy to fall into it at a time like this. Learning to breathe into the moment, to truly be wherever you are, is a tremendous gift. It means that when you are using your mind (which we all must do right now), you are fully engaged in that activity – not preoccupied with fear of the future and all its possibilities, but focused on the action you are taking that moment. When you aren’t using your mind to take political action, be in the moment then too. Fully engage with your family and friends without looking at your phone. Really watch a movie without letting your mind wander. Spend a whole afternoon drinking tea and reading a book. Whatever you’re doing, be there doing that. When you notice your mind wandering to anxiety-producing topics, gently let those thoughts go and bring yourself back to the moment at hand. Sometimes it helps to really notice the feel of a chair under your body, the color of your child’s eyes, the feel of a soft blanket against your cheek – whatever you are experiencing in that moment. I’m nowhere near where I need to be, but remembering to be fully present and limiting the times when I’m in anxiety-producing situation has helped a lot.
Listen, we need it. It’s part of life now, and if you’re a writer or another public figure, it can actually be a detriment not to have it.
But with all the political activism going on right now, social media can be a quick road to burnout. I’ve found that limiting my time there helps. I’ll sign on for about a half hour in the morning, a half hour in the afternoon, and a half hour at night to catch up. Then I really try to stay off and to be fully present in the rest of my life. Some days I’m more successful than others, but generally speaking it allows me to be politically active while maintaining a sense of sanity. Being fully present in the rest of my life is a reminder that I DO have a life beyond what’s happening in the larger world. And I think we need that now more than ever.
This has been a huge coping mechanism for me. I started going back to the gym again about a year and half ago, and although I feel much better physically, it’s also helped my mental state tremendously. I’m able to burn off some of the manic energy that I have in times of high-stress, and it leaves me relaxed and also helps me sleep well at night. Sometimes on a Sunday I just get outside and go for a walk. Being in nature helps. I’m lucky to live in the country, but going to a park is just as lovely and good for the soul.
This might sound like a silly thing to add, but in times of stress we actually forget how to breath properly. Instead of oxygenating our body with full deep breaths from the diaphragm, we tend to breathe shallowly. The feeling that comes with shallow breathing goes hand in hand with anxiety and panic attacks. I use Darth Vader breathing when I feel this way. A yoga teacher taught me this technique; breath in deeply through the nose until your belly inflates, then exhale forcefully (mouth still closed) up through the chest and throat and out through the nose. It will sound a little bit like Darth Vader and you should immediately feel more clear-headed. You can do this anywhere! Just take three deep breaths like that whenever you feel anxious. All that oxygen will help take your anxiety down a notch.
Lastly, I would say to remember that everything is temporary. Everything. We have been through dark times before, but I fully believe the light is always there too. It’s there in the love of family and friends, in the common purpose we find with others, in the rising and setting of the sun and the ever-changing and unchanging ways of nature. We will fight the injustices that have been perpetrated and those that will come. But we must continue to live – and love – as well.
Isn’t that what we’re fighting for?