Many more qualified politicos can comment on the Trump debacle. I was trying to disentangle the feelings and thoughts I had. A US friend – while tearful - said my thoughts made sense and helped a tiny bit.
So, this is a personal take on why it (and Brexit, etc) feel so bad in my heart and head. And why it may feel particularly bad for someone with mental health problems. And what I need to do about my own feelings and thoughts. Maybe this might help someone else. That’s the intention.
So, this is not clever, not academic, but it is deeply felt. And it’s short.
Three things that hurt
Firstly, the bewilderment, bafflement, incredulity and dismay about what has happened – a welter of questions that mask a deep disorientation… ‘how can they/he do this?’. WTF? The narrative does not make sense, the feeling that I (we) have been duped, and that the process by which this came about is not understandable (though rationally pundits can explain it away). I don’t get it. I need to rip up my story of how the world works or was supposed to have done. My middle-class comfort has been blown. Why have I been so stupid. Tears for the past…
Secondly, fear for the future. The crisis of uncertainty, the unpredictability – ‘what next'? I am thinking about how to explain Trumpian madcap dangers to my twelve year old and deal with my/our fear for our childrens’ futures. I am / we are unsafe, exposed to the winds of change and discomfort – what was real for others (less fortunate) is coming closer, the winds of change. Tears for the future...
Thirdly, as a result of bafflement about the past and fear of the future, comes a sense of powerlessness. There seems a futility of ‘agency’. How am I, or we able to harness my own, let alone the collective, good in the face of the abandonment of ‘reason’, the loss of fact, evidence and logic plus kindness, humility and tolerance as valid currencies. What can I/we actually do? Because, so the depressive logic goes, we can’t change anything. What's the point? Tears for me…
Echoes of mental health problems
And then I thought how much of a parallel this sequential sort of reasoning is to my own anxieties and depression – and perhaps other people’s mental health….
During my troubles, I couldn’t understand what had happened to me, I didn’t understand why this had happened to me; then the overwhelming sense of fear and uncertainty about what will happen to me and hence a sense of lack of control over myself and my mad head, or my ability to navigate the world.
And I am triggered because of the resonance between my own recent mental health problems and this ‘collective breakdown’. I am we. As a Jew, it is hard also not to see the current state of the world as deeply resonant of the 1930s rise of fascism.
What can I do?
I think that if we succumb to despair, in a strange way we are reverting to primal feelings and a reactive habit that is as deep and strangely cogent as the anger and rage that fuelled Trump. We sink to ‘their’ level. So, there is a political and moral duty to lift ourselves and be better and bigger than that.
And, if we can (and this is NOT easy), we need to avoid too much self-pity – we have a duty to still help others, partly because if we indulge in that self-pity and sense of powerlessness, ‘they’ win twice (I know I know I should not be too much 'us and them', but that is beyond my spiritual capabilities just at the moment…. Not all of us can be Ghandi).
Moreover, I still have to believe in the power of kindness. I am not sure ‘all you need is love’. And I am still unsure that love is the most powerful force in the universe (though I want to believe it). But, when I am lying in bed awake at 3am, there does not seem much else for me to anchor myself to.
And ‘nobody said it was easy’ (Coldplay). Recent events have ruptured some of our (my) smug assurances about what life should be like. Maybe disruption of our cosy narratives is not such a bad thing. Maybe it will motivate folk to get out there…
And this, by Elie Wiesel, the holocaust survivor, is the clincher for me. We may be living in an era of rising fascism, who knows…. Much is still speculation. Sometimes we tell ourselves stories, even bad ones, to try and make sense of stuff. But this, by someone like Wiesel has always had tremendous resonance:
One of the Just Men came to Sodom, determined to save its inhabitants from sin and punishment. Night and day he walked the streets and markets protesting against greed and theft, falsehood and indifference. In the beginning, people listened and smiled ironically. Then they stopped listening; he no longer even amused them. The killers went on killing, the wise kept silent, as if there was no just man in their midst.
One day a child, moved by compassion for the unfortunate teacher, approached him with these words: ‘poor stranger, you shout, you scream, don’t you see that it is hopeless?’
‘Yes, I see,’ answered the Just Man.
‘Then why do you go on?’
‘I’ll tell you why. In the beginning, I thought I could change man. Today, I know I cannot. If I still shout today, if I still scream, it is to prevent man from ultimately changing me’
(From ‘One Generation After’ Elie Wiesel)
Whatever you do, give yourself some time to weep, take care of yourself, and others. Then, get the fuck back up. Get out there and help change things by being more kind, more generous, more loving… whether it ultimately changes the world, who knows. But it’s the only way to preserve yourself. And who knows, maybe all of us in the future.
There may not be light at the end of the tunnel. Or maybe there is. But we can carry one.