I’ve been struggling.
I had some very clear ideas about what to focus on next in the blog: weight gain/body image/depression, depression + relationships, medication, meditation, suicidality. I had some very clear ideas about what I wanted to accomplish in the workspace by the end of the year. I had some very clear ideas about what I wanted for dinner, and snacks of course Then, Trump was elected POTUS and my inner world plummeted off it’s axis and I haven’t quite found equilibrium again.
I’m not sure where to begin with this post. Depression is something I know intimately, as well as (if not better than) a childhood friend. I can feel the nuances and layers of depression implicitly, in the place where we exist without words. But this terror is far less familiar – certainly not completely unknown, as I imagine anyone who has been suicidal in their life has moved through, or more accurately, resisted, waves of terror about the future. But where as depression and shame duke it out over who is more dominant when I am experiencing depression, rendering me exhausted and useless, the terror following the election has left me frozen. Immobile. With the options of flight or fight at my fingertips, my instincts have chosen Edvard Munch, stuck in time, silently screaming.
Jesus, this election. I haven’t written this dramatically since 8th grade, when every story I authored ended in the narrator dying and I had to have many, many talks with my concerned English teacher after school.
And yet, it’s true. That paragraph is an accurate portrayal of what is happening in my gut. And though I know better – I understand how trauma lives in the body, I understand that once triggered, we re-live all of our other traumas in an instant and without “pro-social” defenses (as in, coping skills that help us manage our reactions and be functioning members of a capitalist society), we can get stuck in our disjointed and scattered trauma loop, and we are actively flying (dissociating), fighting (resisting) or freezing (numbed out, depressed). I know this. And yet the ability to grasp this at an intellectual level is no match for the feelings that are coming, going, staying, neverending, nameless, swirling below the neck.
I began to watch a clip of a psychoanalyst explaining the collective trauma experience in response to Trump’s election. I haven’t finished it yet (shout out to ADHD), but one thing that I did catch that resounded was his statement that if you have ever experienced feeling like you don’t belong in the world around you, that you are not valued, that your being is wrong, then the confirmation of Trump will rush all of those feelings to the forefront again, for you to re-experience in a fresh and deeply old way. Because trauma is about loss: loss of the sense of belonging, of the sense of connection, of the idea that your life matters. It’s about loss of safety, of a place in the world. Within that description, trauma exists for some of us on the daily – pause and think about whose lives have literally been pushed to the margins, reduced, so that other lives can thrive and flourish under the sun, protected. For some of us, specifically those who have been systematically oppressed by racism and xenophobia, this election was a confirmation of the truth of our country: it came as no surprise. Within many of my identities (social worker, feminist, ally [sidenote: can people who want to be allies self-identify as allies?]), Trump’s election was not unfathomable. But as a depressed person, I was not prepared for the giant despair that was reawakened. When I am experiencing depression, I feel that nothing matters: my life doesn’t matter, my work doesn’t matter, I don’t matter. In fact, all I am is a nameless matter floating, without my identity, without my connection to the world, to my life. I was not prepared for the personal hurricane that would be unleashed when my most private fears and, in dark times, beliefs, were reflected back to me by this country.
And so – what now?
There is so much to do, so much to resist, so much to pour ourselves into. There is so much to challenge with action, and so many feelings that we must accept in order to move past paralysis. That part is confusing me the most – how can I accept this inner darkness while resisting the looming external danger? I don’t have the answers – I have a screaming 5 month old in the background, a batch of brownies to prepare for a friend who just had a baby, a mountain of notes to complete following a descent into despair last week. I have confounding and intersecting feelings and thoughts to sort through, or let sit there, while pursuing justice, while showing up to life to make sure our country doesn’t hurl itself face first into madness. I don’t know what to do next. But I know I have to show up.
So, how do I show up when my instincts want to shut down? I know laziness isn’t the answer – I can’t kill this narrator off to end this blog post abruptly. And I know I can’t live in despair (literally, figuratively) forever. I know that a change is going to come, and I can sense that, in the distance. I know it’s ok to be depressed sometimes, it’s appropriate to be depressed sometimes. I don’t feel ashamed for isolating this week; I had to in order to survive. I’ve been to the brink of insanity and I could not go back there again. In our culture, we talk about resilience and grit as though they are medals to be won – sensitivity is not something to yearn for in capitalism. Sensitivity doesn’t matter. And yet, sensitivity is something I was born with, something I have in abundance. And though at times it causes me to be an unproductive worker, a woman in hiding, it has also resulted in deep connection with others, in me sharing in the profound collective grief of being human. It’s the cause. It’s the cure.
And maybe this complicated and delicate state of being is how I have to proceed indefinitely. And though I believe this is ultimately an epic fight for our lives, I also notice that the antidote for despair for me this weekend has been starting small, with acts of care. For myself, sure, but for others, definitely, yes. Hope is a verb, hope is non-verbal, hope is movement, hope has been walking down the street and saying to each other, good morning, hello. It has been looking around and seeing other people who are desperate too, and saying, yes, hello, what can we do? It has been in reading, in remembering there is so much wisdom in our lives and we don’t have to carry every burden ourselves. It has been bringing food to my best friend and her newborn and saying, hello, welcome, little one, to the world. We’re so happy you’re here.