- “I keep trying to call my Senator but the lines are full in the daytime and the voicemails are full at night. This is bull****!”
- “I’m obsessively checking the news. I go to the New York Times Web site hourly. I wake up in the middle of the night and check what new horror has befallen our country. I can’t stop!”
- “I’m getting more terrified every day. It’s the end of the world!”
Moreover, there is a rapidly growing collection of positive news developing — the resistance is widespread, deep, powerful, growing rapidly, and winning some early skirmishes. In my own Facebook feed, I’m starting to post mainly positive developments. The next post on this blog will list several of them. Read these, and take heart. It’s not Pollyannaish to celebrate the achievements we are beginning to rack up, nor to be hopeful that these will eventually become an avalanche that buries the extremists’ plans to reverse the last several hundred years of human development.
Armageddon. I am certainly quite aware that the new administration poses a grave risk to essentially everything we hold dear — I do not mean to minimize that. But consider the objective reality of the present moment. The White House has definitely disrupted the lives of thousands who were trying to get to the U.S. (for the first time, or returning home), and the rhetoric and actions emanating from D.C. have created a meaner, more violent atmosphere, to be sure.
Meanwhile, most of us still have roofs over our heads, food on the table, air to breathe and water to drink. We can sleep in warm beds and go for nice walks, just as we could before. Babies still smile at us. Music still sounds great. The actual, physical manifestation of our lives hasn’t changed much, for most of us.
For some in this country and many around the world, life is a scramble to find just the bare necessities of life, to avoid becoming victims of rampant violence, and to express opinions without being sent to jail — and yet, many folks facing such struggles manage to maintain a positive outlook and keep on keeping on. Yes, that may change, for us and for them, but so far it has not, so let’s appreciate the blessings we still have as we continue to work like hell to preserve them.
Quit Yer Bitchin’ (for now)
Okay, so here’s what the provocative title of this post means.
Lately, a number of astute folks have been reminding us all, “this is a marathon, not a sprint.” The idea is to pace yourself for the long haul, not engage in a flurry of short-term activity that leaves you burned out.
I would use a slightly different running analogy. Let’s think of this as a relay race. Many people are carrying the batons and running all out right now. But other members of our team are standing aside and waiting for their turns. No doubt, some of us will need to reduce our activism in the time ahead. Demands of daily life, of jobs, and of mental health will catch up with folks, and they will need to turn attention elsewhere for awhile.
This is when the next runners need to step up. The phones are jammed now — that’s great! It means the rest of the team is running hard. If you can’t get through, or it’s too frustrating, just fire off a quick e-mail (easy to do here) or send a free fax from your computer (to your Senate or House member) and get on with your day. Not as effective as a phone call or office visit, but better than giving up in frustration. Try the phones again in a few weeks (or meanwhile, try these tips). When the phone lines start to slow down, that’s when we need the next set of runners to grab the baton and get going. If it works better for you, assign yourself to the second leg of this relay race, or the third, when other runners start to drop out.
But I can’t turn it off! When you go to bed at night, does your mind race about the latest insanity from Washington? When you wake up in the morning (or in the middle of the night), do you start to “spin out” thinking about recent travesties? You may need a distraction. We’ve bought something called SleepPhones, a headband with built-in flat headphones that is comfortable to wear at night. I plug it into my phone, which has an app called OverDrive that lets me borrow audiobooks online from my local library. I listened to Tina Fey’s Bossypants, which is funny and endearing but basically not political. OverDrive lets you set a time limit for the audio to play, but I don’t do that. If I wake up in the middle of the night, the book is still playing, so I listen to it instead of lying awake thinking terrible thoughts. I had to start the book over again many times to hear the parts that were playing while I was asleep, but it did its job — keeping me from worrying and staying awake. Now I’m listening to a couple of books from other comedians, after which I have a Heinlein sci-fi book queued up. For you, music may work better (for awhile I found myself trying to listen to each instrument in a band) or white noise or ocean sounds, but I find something with words does the best job of distracting me from all the words in my own head. Plus, I get funny dreams starring the authors of the books. (Choose carefully: Avoid books with distressing themes or events.) During waking hours, a physical book, lighthearted television, or entertaining non-news radio can also help.
Some of the people I know who are having the hardest time with this are relatively isolated — living far from friends, in conservative areas of the country, or too occupied with their own lives to spend much time with others. In contrast, my friends who seem to be doing relatively well are in community — and that means physically in the same room with other people, not just on the Interwebs.
Even folks who are taking daily political action are doing much better when they frequently get together with others, whether to socialize or to be political. Last night we had a bunch of folks over for some letter-writing. We started and ended the evening with some relaxation exercises, figuring we could do our best work if we wrote our letters from a place of better balance, and that we might need some calming down again after we did so. Folks who were present said they felt better coming together with friends, even for an expressly political gathering.
As your activist coach, I again encourage you (or order you, if that helps) to spend time with friends who feel the way you do, even if you don’t talk about any of this stuff when you are together. (Spending time with people who are your political opposites probably won’t help right now.) If you don’t have anyone nearby who fits the bill, how about a phone call or a Skype video chat? Or for some in-person time, find a local organization and do some volunteer work. (Let them know you are looking for something to do with a group, not just an individual task.) And if you’re taking a break from political activism right now, tell people you are under orders from your activist coach to do so, that you’re to rest up now so you’re ready to step into the race later. I’ll even write you a prescription.
Avoiding self-isolation is critical, whether you are taking a break from activism right now or diving right in. The key is, you can’t do a good job of taking care of the world without taking care of yourself first. Just watching my Facebook feed, it’s quite clear that the effectiveness of the activism people are promoting is inversely proportional to how distressed they are. Again, that’s not to minimize the threats we currently face. Quite the contrary: The threats are such that we cannot afford to waste energy and lose folks because of emotional overload. As the song says,
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