As I am writing this article, we are on the eve of the inauguration of a man whose election has caused the greatest rift and highest levels of angst in the history of the nation. Daily, revelations about his actions, appointments, tweets, suppositions about what might ensue and who said what to whom, emerge. They create conversations; some reasonable, others contentious. In the case of those with mental health diagnoses, the reality is understandably frightening. They are justifiably concerned about losing benefits and seeing the axing of program services. A friend who manages a Partial Hospital Program is already receiving information from higher ups that cuts might be forthcoming.
In my own practice, I have clients whose symptoms have escalated. Some are losing sleep, others have all too possible nightmares that play out on their nocturnal movie screen. One person thinks about it from the moment she awakens. Although she is high functioning, with a job, activities, and a marriage, thoughts of ‘what if?’ follow her throughout her day. I am wondering if it will become another form of OCD for some. Is it paranoia, catastrophizing, or normal response to a possible threat? She has admitted that some are as a result of what she doesn’t know and some of what she does know.
There are those who are survivors of sexual abuse who are retraumatized by the statements the incoming president made about his attitudes about and interactions with women.
I have experienced trepidation about what will occur in the next four years. I have lived through the Civil Rights Movement, the Viet Nam War and 9/11. I have witnessed violence and hate crimes, and have friends who have been victimized by those who feel justified in taking their anger and inner poison out on them, and yet nothing tops the maelstrom that some fear will emerge at the hand of the incoming administration. Some directly from the actions of the president-elect and others who feel emboldened by his directives.
There are those in my life who encourage a ‘wait and see; attitude, while others (blessedly few) have a ‘get over it and move on’ mindset. The majority are where I am; in limbo while attempting to maintain equilibrium. Praying for the best and preparing for the worst. As a dedicated therapist, I need to hold space for clients whose emotions are all across the spectrum.
I was speaking with someone recently about the roller coaster ride of emotion many of us have been on and seeing it through the lens of grief. For those whose votes elected President Obama for either or both of his terms and who felt that his policies, actions, and demeanor reflected their values, knowing that he is leaving office, feels like a major loss of a beloved family member. That is one layer. The second is that in a day, a new president will take the oath of office, whose qualities, words and actions do not reflect their values. That is the second loss layer. Both the certainty and uncertainty of what could happen are factors. It seems that no matter what he does, the train keeps on heading for the station. It may be reminiscent for abuse and trauma survivors of the helplessness they might have felt when their fate was in the hands of someone who held the power and they saw no viable way out.
In the midst of any loss, it is important to maintain good self-care. For me, that is sleep, healthy eating, listening to music, singing, going to the gym, drumming, dancing, writing, time with kindred spirits. time in nature, with animals, reading, hugging, and letting myself feel whatever arises.
I have chosen not to take the route of ‘spiritual bypass,’ a concept that was framed by the well known transpersonal psychologist, John Welwood, Ph.D. He says, “When we are spiritually bypassing, we often use the goal of awakening or liberation to rationalize what I call premature transcendence: trying to rise above the raw and messy side of our humanness before we have fully faced and made peace with it.”
I have often used it as a means of avoiding feeling emotions that are challenging to handle, and instead, claim to ‘turn it over,’ to God, rather than taking a role in ‘changing what I can not accept,’ (a counter to an aspect of the Serenity Prayer). In this case, it feels dangerous to do so, since it could lead down the rabbit hole of normalizing what can not be ignored.
What I am coming to see is that is is not an ‘either/or,’ but a ‘both/and’. I need not immerse in fear and run screaming from what ‘might be’. I also won’t delude myself into complacency and do a spiritual or psychological bypass, blithely going on as if nothing has changed. I am doing my best to refrain from polarizing into ‘us and them’ camps even though it is hard to imagine the thought process of some who made choices that led to this outcome. I have read the words of those on both sides and to each, they make sense from their unique perspective. In all my 58 years on the planet, I have never seen such a divisive election. It has torn apart the fabric of the world, not just this country since what we do here impacts the planet. I am a change agent, who feels called to mend the rend. I will continue to hold the space for peace and healing, beaming love, seeing the highest good, AND speaking out in my writing and my voice. I will continue to show up, stand up and speak out.
I have a sign in my yard now that reads Hate Has No Home Here. It is a non-sectarian campaign that communicates a loud and clear message. It takes concerted effort to evict judgemental thoughts from my mind and heart. Thoughts that make someone wrong for having a different opinion. Thoughts that have me believing that if only everyone saw the world as I did, then all would be well. Thoughts that demonize the new administration and those who voted them in. Thoughts that have me spiraling down instead of raising myself and others up. Not the neighborhood in which I want to dwell.
I will be at the Women’s March in Philly on Saturday, carrying with me names of friends who can’t be there. It is one way to heal. I don’t see it as an anti-anything rally, but rather a pro-peace event; a gathering of the tribes. I sense it will be healing for many. We are all US. And from that article I had written a few months ago:
A group of Jewish Americans went to visit Israel in the sixties. There they met a well-known Rabbi who in spite of being debilitated by Parkinson’s, was a great beacon of light to those around him. He addressed the group and demanded, “what was the lesson of the Holocaust?” Mostly silence ensued, followed by some awkward murmuring of “never forget” and “always fight.” More silence.
“No!” the Rabbi said, slamming his fist down on the table. “When the Jews were in Auschwitz, the Nazis gave them one blanket per three people.”
“Why did they do this? So that they would fight among themselves. So that their humanity would be stripped away.”
“The lesson of the Holocaust was simple,”
“Share the blanket.”
Please don’t allow these next four years make you forget our common humanity. We need each other now more than ever. Take out the needle and thread and mend the rend.