“just to normalize this,” my doc said as i sat across from him, “i’ve had this same conversation eight time a day over the last week.” he smiled at me. “you’re not alone.”
it was november 17, 9 days after the election, 5 days after i left in the middle of my meditation course. i sat there in my therapist’s office, tears streaming down my face, heart ricocheting in my chest, panic coursing across my mind. there was no doubt about it — along with the rest of his patients, i was breaking down.
on nov 8, i watched the results of the election come in at a friend’s house. there were several of us there, all certain our candidate would win, buoyed by the polls we’d seen, and by our belief that people just couldn’t find the man running against our candidate (who had all her own faults) presidential. We waited as the results came in, east to west, as the prediction on NYT \ went from an 85% chance for Hillary to win to 97% that Trump would. Each state that was announced, i grew more surprised, more heartbroken, more…confused.
that night, i stayed up to listen to trump’s acceptance speech, and I was honestly surprised by the tone and the content. I thought he sounded humbled. his voice had a new gravity. his words were kind and calm and rational. i went to bed thinking that, maybe, it wouldn’t be as bad as we all feared.
nov 9 dawned dark and dreary, which was how i felt. i had to pack for my meditation retreat, but i also wanted to see what the world was doing, what my friends were feeling. i went on Facebook to find that most of my friends were mourning their losses — maybe not even the loss of hillary herself, but out what she and her supporters stood for and what they stood against: for universal healthcare, for immigration reform, for helping refugees, for vaulting women and minorities forward, for cleaner air, for safety and respect; against bigotry and fear and hatred.
i mourned with them. i voted for hillary, and almost everyone I knew had as well (even though most had wished they could cast their vote for bernie instead).
I struggled to understand what had happened, how the people and news sources i trusted and relied on had been so incorrect. i wonder who these people were, who voted for a man who talked about grabbing pussy and who’s temper seemed always ready to erupt.
i knew that the loudest of his supporters were the most unsavory — the white supremacists, the alt-right, the fake newsers; those who had hate and violence in the deepest recesses of their hearts that. but i also know that trumps supporters were nothing like that. the parents of the kids i grew up with, who’d voted for him, they weren’t like that. maybe they hated hillary, and maybe it was for good reason. maybe they just didn’t want the same old, same old politics. maybe they truly thought america was failing and that trump could bring them wealth and prestige. it made sense to me that someone could vote for him, even with everything he’d said and done, if they really viewed the candidate i’d preferred as bought and paid for, unable to help them, unwilling to listen.
i posted something along those lines on Facebook, trying to mourn while still being hopeful, trying to, i guess, find forgiveness in my heart for people who had voted for a man that seemed to not respect women much – not respect me.
my cousin, who supported trump, posted a picture on his own wall that shocked me: a cartoon of a hillary supporter with a dozen penises shoved into their mouth. in a back and forth with him, he denied the fact that the post was horrifying and terrible. it was funny, he said.
then another cousin posted another meme. this one, though, went onto my wal. a fishbowl of blue water, with words saying something along the lines of “democrat or hillary support tears for sale.” when i told him i didn’t find that funny, either, he told me that because he found it funny, he wanted all my other friends on Facebook to get to see it.
they were both excited their candidate won. i would have been too. i would have posted videos and words of support, of how love had trumped hate, of how i knew that inclusiveness would always beat down exclusiveness. they were just doing the same, yet their words were jeering, of violence; they were ruthless and unyielding.
it was, in retrospect, two small moments.
but it was of those moments that my breakdown started brewing. my cousins, who i thought cared enough to show kindness (despite our different political beliefs) instead were the type of people who would find a cartoon depicting basically rape or sexual violence funny, as long as it was against a political opponent. they were the type of people who would rub salt in my wounds while laughing the whole time.
from the start, my time at the meditation course felt different than the first time. the first time, the course had felt like an oasis, a small, sometimes stressful oasis, but one where i just existed in and with myself, safe and sound, while the world spun softly by outside.
this time, though, i didn’t feel peaceful.
i felt unsettled. that small plot of land no longer felt safe; i felt trapped. in meditations and soon, in every moment, i started imagining that outside the meditation center’s walls, riots were raging. i started imagining that the future consisted only of people who would perpetrate violence against women, minorities, my friends.
I’d always trusted in people’s innate goodness — not that they will always do good, but that they always try to do good, or try to try to be good. at the meditation course, i began to feel that maybe i was wrong about people. my belief system broken down. i found myself imagining a gunman sneaking onto the property and shooting everyone while they sat in the meditation hall. i imagined acts of violence against people like me: a woman in a country that was now seemingly unfriendly to women. i imagined camps for muslims, like in the holocaust. i imagined white supremacy becoming the norm. i imagined losing my rights. i imagined women being stoned for getting needed or wanted abortions. i imagined a military or militia force keeping me in my place.
by day 2, i had a hard time closing my eyes in meditations, afraid that i would be the first one the gunman came for, that i wouldn’t hear them sneaking up behind me and putting a gun to my head and pulling the trigger.
if my cousins would rub salt in my wounds, would try to hurt me when i was down, why should i trust that strangers would do better? why should i ever feel safe again? why should anyone? what was this country we lived in? how did i get it all so wrong?
on day three of the course, i left. leaving a vipassana meditation course isn’t really a thing people do, at least not often, and never lightly. but i had spent the last 24 hours in a constant state of panic, my mind and heart racing, my chest tight, my throat closed, and my brain increasingly feeling like it would crack under the pressure. I literally felt like my mind might just break if i stayed, if i couldn’t get away from the thoughts, if i couldn’t get back to safety.
in the office with my therapist, we talked about what happened at the course, and after. how scared i was. how helpless i felt. how i felt like i was living in a different country than i thought i had been. how angry everyone seemed. how i was afraid for myself, but more for my fellow minorities, for muslims and those who practiced islam, for refugees who risk everything only to be vilified by their new american neighbors. i was afraid of violence. of hate. of not being able to do anything to fight it or fix it. i was terrified; i felt like i couldn’t trust the people around me to keep me safe.
we spent that sessions talking about the fact that it was ok to be scared. that it was no out of the norm, in this scenario, to panic. yet that it was possible to work and live through the panic. we talked about the fact that i was not helpless. that i could write letters to mosque’s with my support. i could show by example. i could get involved with an organization that helps refugees and women and minorities. i could help one person. or two people. or more. i could wear a safety pin to show i was a safe person to talk to. i could write about it. i could act and help and cause change. we talked about how there might be tons of people who rub salt, but that there were also tons of people who felt like me. together, we could keep each other safe, we could stand up for each other.
i took some time off of media after that. i didn’t listen to NPR, or read the NYT, and i asked joe and his sister and my own family to not talk about anything political with me. as the world moved on and worked through the election and the aftermath, i retreated. i built a shell around myself to give me the space to build myself back up. my mom and sister instituted a no politics policy, and told everyone involved in the thanksgiving holiday that they were not to bring up either candidate, whether we were on the same side of not. they helped, and joe helped, to insulate me from the news, from disagreements and harsh words and scary premonitions.
they helped to remind me of the love and kindness and safety that still existed. they gave me the space i needed so i could remember that i still believed that people were good, that i still believe everyone is trying to do their best.
a month and change later, trump is still president elect. he will be the president. his speeches have grown less kind. his off-the-cuff remarks may one day endanger the country. hate crimes, or the reporting of them, have increased. people like me still feel worried, watching who trump has chosen to take important posts in his new administration. i’m still afraid of trump’s presidency, of what it will mean and who it will hurt, and of where we’ll be, as a nation and a world, on the other side of it. but i do think that we will get there, and that those of us who are disenfranchised will find a way to fight back.
the world on a whole, at least the western one, is swinging right. country after country is electing or vaulting up other politicians who promise national unity, and greatness, but seem to feel okay getting those things by hurting others in the process. i believe that they will not win. i believe that there are rough times ahead, but that love and kindness and care and all the things all the great religions of the world preach will win, overall.
which is, perhaps, naive. it may just be that in order to not spend my life in a panic, that i *must* believe that things will be okay. I’m open to the fact that i may be very, very wrong, but i am hopeful that i’m not. i will fight to make sure i’m not.
I’m also heartened by a few things. like some republicans and democrats in congress are willing to work together, and at odds to trump’s positions. I’m interested and heartened by some of the information i’m seeing about those who voted for trump, who sound like they want a lot of the same things i do. I’m interested to see how the hearings in congress go for the cabinet positions, and who comes out for and against the different appointments. I’m interested to see the role President Obama plays after he officially leaves the white house — i think his role will continue to be important. I’m interested to see whether trump’s supporters continue to support the things he chooses to do, or not; whether they will stand up and oppose him when he goes to far.
nowadays, i feel calmer. my panic is much less frequent. I’m reading the news and listening to NPR daily. More information, now, is better, even when it sparks some anxiety in me. I plan to branch out to read more news sources soon, more conservative ones, which i’m sure will add some anxiety, but which i think is important, if i really want to understand the country i live in.
Before the election, I didn’t really want to. or really, i guess i thought i already knew the country. I thought I knew what people believed, what they cared about, and it turned out that I didn’t. I hadn’t been paying attention to the fact that people felt forgotten and empty and nervous about the future, and angry about their circumstances. those people matter. those people matter alongside women and minorities and muslims and refugees. we all matter.
i don’t know how you make a world where everyone gets to win, where everyone feels heard and respected and like they have a fair chance and are living a good life, but i think the first step is trying to understand where people are coming from.
i want to understand my fellow americans better. i want to understand my cousins better. not because i think i will agree with them or their political views, or them with mine, but because I don’t ever want those who disagree with me to become outlines, to be so simplified in my mind that i can just turn away from them without really seeing. i don’t want to forget that, even though we may disagree on much or most, that they are still trying to do their best, just like me.