A few days ago, my friend Bill posted on Facebook asking for advice. He posts a lot of liberal, left-wing memes on FB, along with other funny and interesting stuff. He was considering whether to leave off with the political stuff for a while. Wondering if it does any good, and worried that it might be depressing for his FB friends. And also for himself. Like rubbing salt in the wound.
I started writing a response to him and then decided to turn it into a blog post. So here it is.
I too was hit hard by the election. It has taken me some time, but I am back on my feet, and have resolved I won’t be a bystander in the New America. I’m not sure yet what that means exactly, but I’m working on it. I still have bad days, so right now my first task before anything else is to keep from falling into the Pit of Despair. That means I have to pay attention to how I’m feeling each day.
On the days when I feel like absolute shit, I tell myself: “Get through the day as best you can and hope that tomorrow you’ll feel better. Today, you gotta be extra careful with yourself.” Like an addict in recovery. Or like you do when someone dies.
Here’s how that’s shaping up for me right now.
Go with what helps
- On the bad days, I avoid the news, whether that’s NPR or TV news or whatever. I can be The Well-Informed Person some other day.
- On the bad days, I don’t look at FB — or if I do, I just brush past political things and focus on other stuff that makes me happy such as music or movies or animals.
- Music is a huge mood enhancer for me. On the bad days, I make a point to avoid music that makes me sad or nostalgic or downhearted. There is a ton of music that energizes me or lifts my spirits, so I try hard to grab an earworm that helps me on those bad days. I keep my “happy music” CDs near at hand. I can nearly always pull it together when I’m humming Gilbert & Sullivan.
- I avoid negative people; depressing movies, tv shows, or books; interpersonal conflict. Anything that doubles down on the shitty feelings. (I refuse to argue with morons. There is no point; nobody is willing to consider they might be wrong about ANYTHING, EVER, on principle. It’s all a waste of time.)
- I try to keep busy with people and things that engage me in a positive way and keep my mind occupied. While I’m cleaning up the kitchen, I can think about the latest episode of “Vikings” rather than Trump’s undead sons.
- It’s better if I don’t isolate. I have found that it helps to be with like-minded loved ones. We commiserate for a while, indulge in some gallows humor, then put it aside and have some fun talking about something else. It helps me to know I am not alone. It can feel very lonely in the New America.
- When I find myself dwelling on the horror of it all, I remind myself that this mood is temporary and tomorrow I will probably feel better. Sometimes that is true.
The underlying dynamics that made this catastrophe possible include the fact that many, many Americans no longer live in fact-based reality.
How did this happen? John Oliver did a really good segment about this a few weeks ago,
Some important points:
- An awful lot of people get their news via Facebook, which is full of bullshit stories. And the online world is swamped with fake news outlets pushing some agenda.
- The number of legitimate, independent news sources is dwindling.
- Whether you see it on TV or read it online, the vast majority of good news coverage today is done by the few remaining independent newspapers. These seem to be the last vestige of responsible journalism.
And so, when we can’t agree on whether something is true or not, how can we build consensus?
Staying informed is a challenge, but we will all need to contend with this in the coming months and years. If we don’t, we will be led down garden paths, which is something I don’t want.
In considering this, one of the first things I realized I needed to change is the fact that I rely too much on “word of mouth” to know what’s going on. I felt I could glean as much as I wanted to know from browsing around online.
Well, that may have been an OK strategy 15 years ago, but today, now, the online world is littered with people whose goal in life is to misinform as many people as possible, and it’s a lot of work filtering these assholes out of your screen time.
The easiest solution for me was to cough up the money to actually subscribe to a newspaper I trust. I feel like I can trust what I see from the New York Times and the Washington Post. Sadly, sources of actual, real, serious journalism are dwindling. These newspapers need paid subscribers to survive, and we don’t want to think about what life would be like without actual real responsible journalism.
On the other hand, no news source will have all the info you want on every topic, so one must get news from other sources, in addition to your primary source. (This is in response to people who claim the “mainstream media” is not covering stories that we need to know about. I do think that is true, but I expect to get specific news on specific areas elsewhere. That is my job, as a consumer of news.)
One should assume that if you see it on “social media” consider it suspect until validated by a reliable news organization or a fact-checker like Snopes.
There is no point making yourself miserable over stuff you can’t control, but I can’t live with myself throwing in the towel altogether. So on those bad days, I need to be able to tell myself I’m doing what I can.
I have not yet figured out what exactly that is but this is my current line of thinking:
- Pick one “big picture” item that matters to me, something I feel very strongly about. For me this is climate change. Find a way to get involved, contribute, take action: join with others who want to address this problem.
- Pick another item, a local issue that matters to you. For me this is our homeless crisis in Seattle. Again: find a way to contribute, get involved, be part of a solution.
Then on the bad days, you can at least tell yourself you’re doing something.
Take it easy
Bad days require emergency measures, so I keep a mental health First Aid kit handy. Here’s how it works. When you realize this is one of those bad days, clear your schedule, put anything non-essential on hold, and make “self care” your priority. What reliably cheers you up, no matter what?
For me, there are certain beloved books that always draw me in from the first line, no matter how many times I reread them; I still enjoy every page. Since the election, I’ve been rereading all the Henning Mankell books; somehow Swedish murder is calming and soothing.
Same with movies. The Philadelphia Story, Some Like It Hot or The Breakfast Club will always cheer me up.
Do whatever helps. Call your sister, go for a walk, bake banana bread, alphabetize your books, shoot some hoops, do a jigsaw puzzle, play with the dog, meditate, pray, take a bike ride, whatever. The thing that makes you feel better. Just do it.
I will add: Part of my recipe for daily joy includes posting all the most hilarious, demeaning memes and pictures of Trump that I can on Facebook. I intend to make it my job for the next four years to subject him to as much scorn and humiliation possible. Relentless. It makes me happy to see him ridiculed. It will be my hobby. I will enjoy it.
Refuse to normalize
I keep seeing Trump fans urging us to put our differences aside (‘get over it’) and work together for the good of us all. What a crock of shit. I intend to give not one inch on anything, ever, for these reasons:
- After the obstruction and stonewalling Obama endured for 8 years, they have only themselves to blame for lowering the bar so low, cooperation-wise. What’s good for the goose, et fucking cetera.
- Some things are just binary, sorry: they are either right or they’re wrong, correct or not correct. I will never pretend climate change is a hoax. A self-confessed white supremacist should be shamed and shunned, merely tolerated, and certainly not awarded a role in government. Giving these people “equal time” is wrong.
- I can imagine nothing Trump would favor that I’d support. There literally has been nothing come out of his diarrhea mouth that has not been completely contrary to my beliefs and values. Nothing. I don’t expect that to change.
But I also don’t want to be consumed with negativity, so I’m going to try hard to fight back, call out the bullshit, and protest — with joy and compassion. I believe this is possible. My model will be the Buddhist monks who took to the streets in Burma in 2007 to protest their repressive government.
Anyhow. This is my plan so far. I hope something here might be helpful to you.
Keep your chin up. We all must.