How The 2016 Election Is Still Fucking With Our Mental Health

I endured the profoundly painful end of a long-term romantic partnership a week prior to the 2016 presidential election.

Of course, the election cycle was by no means responsible for my breakup. To try to hold it solely accountable would be laughable, and a way to shove my own culpability under the rug. But it promoted such intense fear, anxiety and destabilization for myself and my partner — both of us marginalized — that things got ugly in the end. Stripped of effective coping mechanisms for the impending political disaster (and its implications), we flailed out, desperately seeking control. Over each other. Looking back, I feel intense self-loathing and regret. I don’t recognize those two people at all, and I’m not alone.

Immediately prior to the election, I noticed a significant climate shift on social media. The faces I see when I login to Facebook and Twitter every morning are disproportionately black, brown, LGBTQ, poor, fat, disabled, non-monogamous and kinky. They’re also disproportionately strong, intelligent, engaging, empowering, and politically active. I’m used to seeing hope, solidarity and perseverance amid the pain, struggle and loss that comes with institutionalized disenfranchisement. Yet as November 8 loomed closer, everything changed. People were messy. Vulnerable. Scared. Reactive. My peers either went searching for fights to engage in, or became desperate for fights to flee from. At some point our projected national upset got the better of us, and it’s only gotten worse.

Some mental health professionals have noticed an uptick in election-related issues. “Two days after the election, my entire clinical day was one client after another talking about the election results,” says Dr. Sheila Addison, a licensed couple and family therapist who regularly works with queer, trans, disabled, POC and non-monogamous clients. “People were anxious, depressed, hopeless and frightened. People cried. More than one person talked about having fantasies of suicide, or fears of being harmed by strangers as they went about their daily lives.”

Addison has also heard reports of physical side-effects, including panic attacks; self-medicating with drugs or alcohol; insomnia; IBS flare-ups; migraines; and chronic pain flare-ups. Not to mention relationship problems. “People have been doing all kinds of stuff in their relationships that we do when we’re in pain — snapping at one another, shutting down, being demanding and easily wounded, taking out suffering on the person within easiest reach.”

Mental health professionals aren’t the only ones who’ve seen a shift. “I’ve definitely noticed a trend of increased trauma responses and destabilization among marginalized people in the wake of the election cycle,” says Maki Roll, a 26-year-old black bisexual woman in Washington, DC. “Men and women who have been on the forefront of protests and relief efforts for marginalized groups crying and afraid for their livelihoods.”

“I’ve seen a lot of unrest, unease and hopelessness in my community, as well as in myself,” says Nikki, a 28-year-old black queer woman from Oakland, CA. “It’s like I’m stuck in a crooked box, and I can’t stand up straight inside of the box. I keep asking people outside of the box to help me … and they’re just standing there yelling at me to stand up straight myself. After a while, all you feel like doing is laying down.”

While the reactions of other marginalized people are especially apparent, the responses — or lack thereof — from privileged populations in the wake of this unavoidable retraumatization compound the problem.

“In America, national tragedies like this don’t have enough of an effect on people,” says Jazz Goldman, a 26-year-old American-born Black Jewish woman who identifies as queer, kinky and non-monogamous. “In particular, I’ve seen a lot of avoidant behavior in ally populations. … It’s been really difficult to talk about the election, to have engaged conversations about race, class and gender, with people who are under the impression that their dissenting social media posts are akin to martyrdom.”

So why does an event like the election so profoundly affect marginalized people, while allies can almost avoid it? “For marginalized people, one of the skills we develop in order to survive is the ability to extend those ‘tendrils of empathy’ to other people like ourselves (and if we keep growing and stretching, to other marginalized groups) to create bonds of trust and concern outside the traditional structures like family, marriage and geographic community. So when there is a threat or a trauma that involves people we feel connected to via similar identities or vulnerabilities, we feel that more acutely than we would if something happened to a random stranger,” says Addison.

Addison dreaded going to work for the first time post-election, and found herself surprisingly emboldened by clients — many of them allies — who expressed a desire to act. She says that one couple discussed leveraging their positions at work to get their employers to do more. And one woman realized that though she’d pushed back against her family’s biphobia, she needed to challenge their racism and transphobia.

Does this mean that concrete action can help members of marginalized communities fight the effects of retraumatization?

“When the crisis or tragedy is something that touches many people, we’re forced to deal not just with our own response, but the responses of people around to us, whether that’s partners, children, family or just people we have to interact with at work and going about our day,” says Addison.

White, heterosexual, cisgender voters elected Trump. Therefore it’s crucial that white, heterosexual, cisgender allies fight the worst effects of his administration on behalf of the oppressed communities that stand to be majorly impacted. This goes way beyond tweeting out #NotMyPresident, purchasing a few Black Lives Matter stickers or wearing a safety pin. We need you to be intolerant of intolerance.

“I believe that white people need to learn how to truly listen to the communities that will be the most directly affected come January, as well as learn to decenter themselves from the narrative. Doing so is essential to an intersectional politic,” says Goldman. “It’s the job of our elected officials to protect everyone’s inalienable rights. If we have a leader who refuses to do that, then it doesn’t just impact marginalized people; it impacts us all.”

Andre Shakti is a queer journalist, educator, performer, activist, and professional slut living in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is devoted to normalizing alternative desires, de-stigmatizing sex workers and their clients, and not taking herself too seriously. Andre wrestles mediocre white men into submission and writes about sex work, queerness and non-monogamy for Cosmopolitan, Thrillist, Rewire, MEL, Vice, and more. She can frequently be found marathoning Law & Order: SVU under a chaotic pile of partners and pitbulls, and yes, she knows how problematic that show is.

Andre has written 3 articles for us.

8 Comments

  1. Since a Thanksgiving conversation that consisted of “I’m so concerned about XYZ” – “But we’ll be fine so it’s OK” – “But what about OTHER PEOPLE?” – “…It’ll be OK, just try not to worry!!!” I keep going back to the question of how to get people care about those who aren’t “like them” and/or who exist outside their bubble – and, more to the point, why they don’t care about those individuals by default – so this was a major truth bomb:

    “For marginalized people, one of the skills we develop in order to survive is the ability to extend those ‘tendrils of empathy’ to other people like ourselves (and if we keep growing and stretching, to other marginalized groups) to create bonds of trust and concern outside the traditional structures like family, marriage and geographic community. So when there is a threat or a trauma that involves people we feel connected to via similar identities or vulnerabilities, we feel that more acutely than we would if something happened to a random stranger.”

  2. I went over to dad’s yesterday to play with my sister and have dinner and at one point he ruined the evening by gleefully making fun of how in his church people are discussing a hotline for people to call who were hurt by the results, and how he doesn’t want there to be a recount. I didn’t tell him about the 2 weeks of total fucking despair I endured after i. I think I was born to a family of neo-nazi’s, and only now has it dawned on me. I think he reads radical anti-jew stuff online and then convinces himself they’re out to get the whites.

    i can’t trust you, dad. which makes me sad ’cause you’re the only part of my family that wasn’t blatantly abusive, and that I can still talk to. I just know you don’t actually love me (and that you’re beyond fucking stupid).

    i want a found family so bad. the day before i’d fretted over getting my dad’s family the right christmas presents to the tune of $150. should’ve just given it to a charity. or bought the same things but for friends who aren’t paragons of hatred.

  3. This is something I wondered about and I enjoyed reading this article. I’m not even American but I really felt it after the election, and watched my friends -most of whom face marginalisation in some way -feel it too. On the other hand, some people I know from work or other places, shrugged it off, and none of these people supported Trump, yet they didn’t seem to *feel* it or care much. It was very much let’s see what happens, or ‘it’s got nothing to do with me’. The line which talks about the ‘tendrils of empathy’ really resonated with me.

  4. Well I for one am happy about the Trump election. The prospect of a Hillary presidency was terrifying to me because I think she just uses minority as a political tool and she is drunk on power. Plus she was absolutely awful as secretary of state and lies about everything. Things have been very wrong in this country for a very long time and despite all of his promises, Obama didn’t do anything in terms of job creation, stacked his administration with lobbyists, hid the TPP from us and punished whistle blowers. He was good on social issues but that was it. I think Trump may have a modicum of sincerity, who knows? He appears to be working on job creation at least thus far. Maybe he’ll leave the LBGT community alone. I know the media keeps selling this idea of him being this huge sexist, homophobe, racist but I’m just not seeing it. Yes, Trump is crass and tacky and some of his rhetoric crowds stereotyping territory but expecting immigrants to follow immigration law is not racist. We have no industry, we have rampant uncontrolled immigration making us vulnerable to terrorism, we are in a state of perpetual war that only seems to keep expanding….let’s try someone different.

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