Hi all. This is probably the most personal disclosure I’ve ever shared on this blog, which isn’t exactly read by millions, so perhaps this is really just a chance for me to share some of my daily struggle with a small semi-random cohort of people.
So, my day to day life is governed by several relentless fears. They mostly have to do with politics. I mean, it’s quite possible that my brain has learned to displace fears I may have about things that are much more immediately part of my life, like fear of losing loved ones, or fear of becoming horribly ill, and that these fears I have centering around politics are all some kind of cover for something deeper. I can’t say. What I can say is I don’t experience myself going into debilitating funks of fear worrying that something bad might happen to someone that I love or to myself. I worry about those things – sure – but to a pretty normal degree. What I do experience for many of my waking hours is a terrible fear – a dread really – about certain possible things happening in politics. For me, currently, that fear is that Trump will return to the White House, or that someone with a similar neo-fascist agenda will do it instead of him.
I realize that millions of Americans were traumatized by Trump’s election in 2016, were further traumatized by many of the terrible things he did while in office, and continue to be traumatized by his anti-democratic, demagogic, toxic, and narcissistic behaviors. I’m not trying to compare my suffering to anyone else’s.
But what I experience – on an almost daily basis – is a form of suffering. I can’t seem to stop my thoughts from telling me that the possibility of Trump returning to power may be increasing, that I should check various websites online to find out if in fact that seems to be the case, and that if it is true I literally will not be able to live. That’s the constantly repeating thought cascade pulsing through parts of my consciousness. A few things interrupt it (deep focus in my work; animated conversations with others; studying; sometimes writing). A few things help tamp down the intensity of the fear for a few hours (yoga when I manage to do it, a vigorous walk or mowing the lawn). But my brain’s steady state is one of anticipatory fear of possible futures.
I can’t explain it rationally. I just feel inside like if Trump gets elected again I will die. That’s the fear, and it feels immediate, like as if I was staring down the barrel of a gun about to blow me away. There’s a variation of this thought process, which is that if he becomes president again, I won’t die, but I will live in a state of intense fright and agony every day that will be so horrible that I’ll wish I was dead.
On the bright side, this terror of mine motivates me to do lots of different kinds of grunt-work activism for the Democrats. I’ve now written and sent over 1500 postcards to voters (www.postcardstovoters.org). I make monthly recurring donations to multiple Dem candidates and causes. I put out yard signs and I offer them to others. I do other stuff too.
On the down side, this terror of mine paralyzes me, sometimes for hours at a time. Sometimes I can’t work for hours, and then have to find some late night or weekend hours to catch up. Sometimes I can’t physically move. Sometimes my abdomen aches, or my hands tremble. Sometimes I become too afraid to leave the house, because seeing a Let’s Go Brandon bumper sticker or even a Mastriano for Gov yard sign is enough to trigger another avalanche of mortal terror. (Thankfully I live in an area where there are very few MAGA signs and stickers, though they do exist.)
So, I’m sharing this because I’m sick of living like this. I want to fight Trumpism and neo-fascist GOP power, and I want to fight skillfully, honorably, creatively, energetically, and effectively. But I want to feel some joy in taking part in the fight, and I want to feel confident that even if — God-forbid — Trump or a Trump-alike candidate comes to power that I can feel safe and grounded enough to get into the trenches to fight but also be able to have serenity within myself. I can’t fight for democracy in a second Trump term if I am paralyzed and trapped by debilitating fear 24/7. I need to find a way to come to believe in my bones (or perhaps, really, in my brain) that it won’t kill me if he returns to power, that it’s not the end of my life. I need to believe that I can survive that horrible scenario, because it could happen even if it’s not likely to happen, and that’s enough for my brain to go down the rabbit hole of fear. Even if Dems do great in these midterms, the electoral college is so skewed in favor of Rs that even a hobbled Trump could still eek out an electoral win in ’24 while losing by over 10 million votes. And so, I can’t write off the possibility of him returning to power.
Trump is living in my head, rent free, scaring the crap out of me every damn day. It was worse while he was in office. It got better when Biden was honeymooning with high approval ratings. But at this point my brain has regressed to the mean – to its usual hypervigilant m.o. (I say that because before there was Trump, my brain did this with other political issues and produced the same paralyzing kinds of suffering for me. I’ve been living with this for my whole adult life.)
There was one other thing I did that helped me with this. I used to do CBT with a psychologist named Jerry Curtis, of blessed memory. Jerry died shortly after Biden’s victory was confirmed by all the networks. For more than 10 years of CBT work with him, I used specific tools and exercises to try to re-train my brain to respond in different, less fear-based ways to some of these political stimuli. It’s not that I’ve forgotten all those tools — it’s just that I’ve lost the person I came to trust as much as I’ve ever trusted anyone in the world, and I’m still grieving him.
If people comment on this, please be gentle. I think I’m sharing this because it is such an isolating experience, and I just wanted to try another way to reach out and connect with others who sympathize or empathize. Thanks for listening. I don’t wish this kind of debilitating daily dread and accompanying mental/physical shutdown on anyone. When it is at its worst, it is painful in a particular way that makes life feel just impossible. I know it can get better – I’ve experienced different degrees of better in the past — but lately it has gotten the better of me a lot of the time, including right now.
Thanks for listening.