We woke up in a different world on Wednesday.
It may have looked the same, but in the familiar hustle and bustle of a city stirring from sleep, there was an undercurrent of fear, as clear and unambiguous as the theme song from Jaws. America has elected to the highest office a man who regularly spews a wide breadth of bigotry, someone who intentionally creates fear of the “other” to bind his own followers together. And unless you’re in his followers’ group – which apparently includes half of America, but it’s important to remember it doesn’t include the other half – you’re likely stressed out and scared.
That’s what this election season was designed to do to us – to empty our gas tanks, to wear us down until compliance, to prey on our basest fears of losing our lives and our liberties.
I woke up at about 7 a.m. that morning after, when the dogs needed to go out. I thought I’d go back to sleep, but instead I lay there, staring at the ceiling, wide-eyed and motionless. It scared my wife. I kept saying, “People of color don’t matter. Women don’t matter. That’s what this taught us, people of color and women don’t matter.” (That was before I knew how the female vote, especially the white female vote, broke down. But I still posit it’s possible to be a woman and not care about women, not really.)
It seemed there was no way out, no way to avoid what’s hurtling toward us. It feels as though we’re self-aware dinosaurs, watching the asteroid flicker and spark its way toward annihilation.
That’s OK. You are allowed to feel however you feel, for as long as it takes for that feeling to work itself out. But even so, it’ll likely mean having to pull ourselves out of our emotions to continue existing in our everyday lives; I can’t go to work and stare dead-eyed at the wall and expect to keep getting paid.
So we have to cope. Coping is a huge part of our lives anyway, and we all have our schemes, whether they’re conscious or not. I’ve become more conscious of mine in recent years, and I’d like to share what I call My Arsenal. I’d also invite you to share your coping skills in the comments.
If your situation is looking too grim and you’re considering hurting yourself or others, please reach out, there are people who can help you.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255, also has online chat options
Crisis Text Line: Text “Go” to 741741 for trained crisis counselors, 24/7. Free and confidential
The Trevor Project, for LGBTQIA people, 24/7: 1-866-488-7386, text and online chat options also available
But I’m Panicking Right Now?!
OK! That’s OK. Breathe in through your nose for three seconds. Count them. Put a hand on your abdomen to feel your breath. Your chest should remain mostly still with these big, belly breaths.
Exhale through your mouth for three seconds. Make it loud, a big sigh breathed out and extended.
Follow the instructions in this gif:
There’s also the practice of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) that is designed to alleviate distress, especially in cases of PTSD or traumatic memories.
Here’s a gif harnessing this theory, all you have to do is follow the paintbrush with your eyes. Don’t move your head, just move your eyes, over and over.
And if that panic attack hits you anyway, the Anxiety Coach has a nice system of steps to help yourself out of it.
Remember: a panic attack is a fight-or-flight response and can’t always be trusted as an accurate representation of your situation. It might make it seem direr, more life threatening than it reall is. There’s no shame in it, and it won’t last forever. Breathe. Just breathe.
Do you know what I miss the most about drinking alcohol?
The ease of it all.
Do you know what scares me the most about drinking alcohol to mask my pain?
The ease of it all.
More than three years ago, I gave up booze cold turkey because it wasn’t working for me anymore. I was using it to cope with a life that seemed to be falling apart, when my dad was ill and dying and my partner and I weren’t clicking. It was easier to twist the caps off a few beers and forget for a few hours than to face my emotions head on in the light of day. So instead of feeling, I drank. And drank. Then, to switch things up, I drank some more. It started affecting my personal life; it made it hard for me to keep a train of thought for more than a day.
Me giving up booze doesn’t make me believe alcohol is bad for everyone. Just because I abused it doesn’t mean everyone else has such a tenuous, painful relationship with it.
So I’m not going to tell you not to drink away the sorrow or don’t take that shot to numb yourself to the pain. I’ve been there. I get it.
All I’d say about alcohol – and weed and whatever other substances you may imbibe – is that your problems will still be there when the haze recedes. I would regularly ignore that fact, and then, because my anxiety and depression were unchecked, I’d freak out in the mornings because I either felt terrible physically, or I wasn’t sure if there was someone I needed to apologize to.
When I thought I was helping myself by giving myself a mental break during those drunken hours, I was actually hurting myself because I didn’t have the emotional buttresses in place to prevent a collapse the next day.
I also think it’s important to remember that while fun and an easy way to let loose, alcohol is a depressant. That’s just chemistry. So if you’re headed into it with a sad, upset mindset, it might just magnify that.
The only time I get I get angry about other people using alcohol and/or substances is when they get behind the wheel of a vehicle. Don’t drink and drive, please. We need you around.
Now that you know how much I loved to drink, I bet you can guess how thrilled I was to try mindfulness and meditation (reader, I was NOT thrilled).
Mindfulness is the practice of being present in the moment, not thinking about the future or the past, just existing as you are now. Sounds simple, but it’s really hard when you don’t like the now you’re existing in.
But I have to admit it works. When I feel overwhelmed with anxiety, I make myself go outside and pay attention to my senses. What does the air feel like on my skin, what color is the pavement, can I smell the snow on the horizon, what are the sounds of my neighborhood?
There are no less than a billion mindfulness meditations you can find, but I really love this morning wake-up routine from Mindful.org.
In times of trouble, I find myself either running to or yearning for the outdoors. I feel more whole in nature, and my problems feel like they’re in the proper perspective.
Nature is my happy place, because I feel like I can say anything to the trees and they’ll absorb it and continue on like I should, my roots strengthening all the while. This is my Happy Place, and I can visualize my favorite sitting rock next to a great lake up here.
Where can you physically put yourself to affect your mood? Is it in a cozy living room, feet up while you recline on a couch? Do you find solace in the activity and buzz of a shopping center?
Wherever it is, if you can get yourself there, do it. My Happy Place recharges my batteries, even when I thought I was doing fine.
I love and hate therapy; love it because it’s truly changed my life, hate it because it’s a lot of work and I sometimes I just DON’T WANNA, you know?
Talking it out to a professional, though, helps me so much. It connects dots, it allows me to verbalize the hubbub floating around in my head. When I’m particularly anxious, my brain feels like it’s going a million miles an hour in a circle, and can spiral into a full-fledged panic attack.
This isn’t a good feeling!
Therapists and mental health professionals of all stripes can help you understand what’s happening in your body and brain, though it’s important to note not all therapists will be a good fit. Shop around a bit, find someone with whom you connect.
I also know I’m privileged enough to have health insurance that covers my visits to my therapist, and that not everyone is in the same boat. Here’s a resource from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America for finding low-cost treatment, and a guide from CareForYourMind.org about what to do when you can’t afford therapy (a big key is knowing it’s OK to talk about cost with a potential therapist! They understand!)
There’s no shame in my game about getting help. And if you’re on the fence about therapy, I wish you bravery and honesty in your journey (oh man, that’s the most therapy sentence I’ve ever written).
Find Your People
Surrounding yourself with Your People is important in times of big emotions, whether the feeling is negative or positive. I capitalize Your People because I think of my chosen friends and family as My People, a group of human beings who mesh and know me and still love me.
I don’t know many of the people on Autostraddle personally, nor do I know you, reader, but I know just from the fact that you’re here and reading that you could be some of My People.
Find the humans who will support you, who build you up, who meet your despair with an open heart and strong shoulders, who don’t make you feel small for expressing yourself, who actually listen to what you’re saying.
Don’t let anyone tell you your people have to be your friends in meetspace. Online friendships are just as legitimate and real; some people might not agree, but I feel confident in saying that’s wrong. If someone is giving you guff about this, send them to me. We find love and friendship where we can, so to ignore any of it is to salt the soil of that garden.
Find the love out there and revel in it (animals count!). The world may feel like a nightmare, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have pockets and bubbles of dreams here and there.
Reach Out and Help
Sometimes the only way I’m pulled out of a depression or anxiety funk is to see the same fear and stress in my friends and/or wife and try to help them feel better. It might seem like I forget my own to focus on theirs, and that’s probably how it worked for me in the past. But now that I’m more honest about my emotions, I see that my pain and fear makes it easier to relate to others in my situation, and we can actually help each other.
It’s so comforting to say, “I’m scared,” to someone and have them say, “I understand, and I know how you feel. It sucks.”
Talking to each other destroys the barriers of isolation we may build in times of terror. Reach out to the people around you, Your People, and open the communication lines. It can have the same effect as therapy, because you can bounce your ideas off another brain.
Say it, write it, paint it, scrawl it in sidewalk chalk in front of their home, I don’t care. Just offering that branch can help remind you of your strong trunk, your roots, your strengths and your purpose.
And if you’d like to reach further and help more, if having that sort of purpose gives you peace. Here’s a list to consider.
Probably the best advice I’ve received from my therapist is this: When you want to be destructive or mean to yourself, be gentle instead.
Sounds simple, but it hits at the core of my previous coping skill methods, which were to internalize the pain and inflict on myself, whether through drinking or bad decisions that messed with my life.
Instead of wishing someone would punch me in my face to knock me unconscious so I don’t have to be awake right now (a common thought running through my brain when I’m really far gone), I do a breathing exercise or look at photos of my dogs. Or pet my dogs. Or take myself on a walk to photosynthesize about the problem. Or watch any of the Real Housewives series.
Whatever your most indulgent self-care is, do it, and do it shamelessly and religiously.
I usually appreciate the posts on TinyBuddha.com for their simplicity. That link will take you to a list of 45 simple self-care practices; if it seems silly or stupid to do, swallow that pride and do it anyway. You may feel like you’re doing something silly and therefore vulnerable, but you’re helping yourself. Go all in. Nobody has to see.
It can be tough not to stare at the horror show unfolding right now, but it’s also not necessary. You don’t have to witness everything, you don’t have to keep reading and watching.
It’s OK to take a break, to turn off your phone for a bit and put your brain somewhere else completely. The world won’t stop being bizarre while you’re focusing on yourself, there’s plenty to gawk at when you get back. Give yourself permission to distance yourself from the news and social media, for at least a little while.
You have a safe place at Autostraddle. The good humans here know and see what’s happening, and they are ready to help you get through this, help all of us get through this.
Isolation is the enemy here, even if it feels comforting at first. It’s natural to want to hide away while you lick your wounds, and I support that. Take your time, but remember to come back.
I’m here, Team Autostraddle is here, and half of America is here. You are not alone, and I won’t stop fighting for you.
Absorb the connections you have, tend to them as you would a plant. Some don’t need water every day, but some might. It may just surprise you, and shoot straight to your heart, when that care is reciprocated.
It will be, here.