Author’s note: This post has political content, though my intent in publishing the article is to share what was for me a very big stressor (and how I dealt with it). I couldn’t figure out a way to tell the story effectively without including some of my political views. My views are mine alone and do not represent those of International Bipolar Foundation.
[Editor’s note: We also published a blog from someone who voted for Donald Trump in order to have both viewpoints represented. Read that post here.]
When Donald Trump was nominated as the Republican presidential candidate in July, I was sitting with my mom, dad, and husband in my parents’ home. We didn’t know what to do—laugh, cry, or just leave our mouths gaping open in disbelief.
“But Hillary will probably win,” said my dad.
“I don’t think so,” I replied. “I really don’t think we’re ready as a country to elect a woman. We don’t even have an Equal Rights Amendment.”
“But before Obama we didn’t have a black president either.”
“True,” I said, with a teensy-weensy bit of hope—but my keen studies of both psychology and history led me to believe otherwise.
So I wasn’t shocked when Donald Trump was elected, not in the slightest. Still, in the weeks leading up to the election I thought there was some hope for Hillary—especially when information came out that, in my view, should unquestionably disqualify a presidential candidate. On election night I hadn’t given up hope.
The news had been a source of immense stress for me in the final weeks. I’ve never been a news junkie, but I couldn’t stop watching—like a kid who can’t stop watching a horror movie even though it scares the daylights out of her.
In the final days, I’d done my best to limit news consumption (with varying degrees of success). I found this to lower my stress level, so on election night, I decided that it was best for my mental health to turn in before the final results came in. Besides, Trump was way ahead, and the writing was pretty much on the wall. At 10:30pm I told my husband he would have to watch for the both of us, said a prayer, and hit the sack.
At about 1:30am, I woke up with my stomach in knots—dread knots, I guess you could say—and images of concentration camps, nuclear mushroom clouds, and hooded KKK members flashing through my mind (I seem to easily pick up on collective thoughts and feelings in the air and experience them as my own). I did some deep breathing to relax, but it didn’t help.
I’ve learned over the years that it does no good lying in bed trying to go to sleep so, after a little, I gave up. Besides, nature was calling (I get frequent, urgent needs to pee when I have intense anxiety). I made a stop at the bathroom and went downstairs to read for a bit. I also wanted to know the final election result, of course.
When I got down to the family room, there was a spider on the couch—in the exact spot I was about to plop down. I’m not scared of spiders, but the drama of it all amplified my dread. I also didn’t know what to do about the spider (I don’t like to kill them so I usually capture them and set them free in the great outdoors—but that didn’t seem like a good choice in the middle of the night).
I escalated to a near state of panic and started having thoughts of suicide. I considered calling the suicide hotline, but I figured they were pretty backed up. I’m kidding—I have used the suicide hotline and would use them again, but I recognized that my thoughts were just my thoughts and I didn’t want to give them any more energy (I’ve been actively coping with bipolar disorder for well over a decade, so I know myself pretty well—but I strongly encourage people to use the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, an international hotline, or another crisis line in times of stress). I also could have woken up my husband to talk to him, but I try not to wake my husband up in the middle of the night unless it’s an emergency—I figure at least one of us needs a full night’s sleep.
I told myself that my need for sanity outweighed my need to save a spider. I got a container, coaxed the spider in, screwed the lid on tightly, and hoped he would make it through the night). Then I microwaved a mug of water and added a chamomile tea bag. I sat on the couch in the spider’s former seat, and picked up where I left off in a light, funny novel I’d been reading.
But the dread and panic wouldn’t go away. I knew Trump had most likely won, but I wanted to see the proof (or better yet, see that a miracle had occurred in the last 3 hours). Thinking that the results would only increase my anxiety, I tried my best to resist the urge to open my tablet and look them up. But the tension was eating me up. I concluded that it might ease the tension if I went ahead and pulled off the Band-Aid.
Of course, I wasn’t surprised by the result. Nor was my immediate reaction fear—that is fear of there being a narcissistic, unread, loose cannon within arms’ reach of “The Button.” Mostly I felt a blow to my already troubled gut—as a woman, an individual with multiple disabilities, and a person who believes strongly in civil rights. Donald Trump spouted racist, xenophobic, ablest, misogynistic language throughout his campaign. I don’t believe that all or even most Trump supporters are bigots, but in my mind, you just don’t elect somebody like that to the presidency—no matter what.
I felt a lonely lack of unity with such a huge proportion of the United States—and frankly I didn’t want to feel unity with people who voted for someone so (in my view) obviously and utterly unfit to be president. I also deeply grieved the loss of the potential of the first woman president—especially since I’m doubtful another woman will be given a chance any time soon (though I really hope I’m wrong).
I read a bit more of my book, but I couldn’t turn my mind off. I needed to do something more engaging, so I got out my notebook and wrote the first draft of a totally unrelated blog post. That helped me stop ruminating and start drifting off, so I knew it was time to return to bed. Under normal insomniac conditions, I would have fallen asleep easily, but I could tell that tonight I needed a little extra help. So I got some water and took an anxiety pill (like an aged bottle of wine, I save them for special occasions).
I got in bed, my body still activated. The pills don’t kick in right away, so I turned to a few other tried-and-true techniques while I waited. First I made a mental list of some of the things I’m grateful for. Then I turned my attention away from myself and toward other people out there feeling the same things as me. I sent them vibes of empathy and compassion. Next, I turned my mind to the Trump supporters and recognized that, just like me, they are looking to find happiness and put an end to their suffering. I felt unity in that regard, and it eased my mind (I’m sure the pill didn’t hurt either).
To my surprise, when I woke up my anxiety, loneliness, and desperation were mostly gone. In fact, as I went on with my morning, I felt a newfound freedom. I have a fear of flying, and once when I told a friend about it she replied, “When I’m flying, it’s the freest I ever feel. I know fate is fully in the hands of the pilot and there isn’t a thing I can do to control the outcome.” That’s how I felt that morning: there’s nothing I can do here, so I might as well let go and let God (as they say in 12-Step programs). I recognized that, for millennia, there have been endless chains of cause and effect culminating in this historic moment—and I felt what dialectical behavioral therapy calls radical acceptance.
I also found an ironic freedom in the fact that as a woman and as a person with disabilities, I will always be a second class citizen. That doesn’t mean I won’t do what I can to change things, or to advocate for myself and others. But it does mean I recognize even more that this world is an unfair place and that my answer is in God, as I conceive God.
At the same time, some healthy anger arose. I felt a little more resentment toward those in positions of privilege—those who had escaped Trump’s demoralizing rhetoric. I often defer, however unconsciously, to men (though my husband would probably say otherwise). When I see a man on the street, I try to smile and present a “nice woman” image (I can’t tell you how many times a male stranger has told me, “smile.”). But on November 9th, I didn’t give a hooey—as I walked down a busy downtown street, I mentally told all those men, “I’m not here for you. I don’t have to look at you. I don’t have to smile at you. And I couldn’t care less what you think about how I look.”
I also felt more empowered than I have in a long time, maybe ever, as a person with a mental illness. I saw so clearly that nobody is superior to me because they don’t have a mental illness. I’m not less than, I’m not defective, and I’m not in a different category. I thought about prior prejudice and discrimination I’ve experienced from people, and rather than feeling small, I visualized myself sticking out my middle finger, rolling my eyeballs, and telling them to take a long walk off a short pier.
I can’t be out there on the streets with the protesters (nor do I condone any violence), but in an odd way Trump’s election to the presidency is opening me to what Gloria Steinem called a “revolution from within.” I largely credit her and all her supporters (the majority, I keep reminding myself) and their fight for equality and dignity. I know there are a lot of Hillary haters out there, but I’m not one of them. I have profound gratitude for Ms. Clinton and am inspired by her courage, toughness, and unfathomable persistence.
You can find the rest of Carrie’s IBPF posts here or read additional articles on her Addiction.com blog. You can also visit the website for Counseling and More, her private practice, or Bipolar Beast, a company designed to empower people with bipolar disorder.