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Not-for-Profit, Award-Winning Community News and Views for Windham County, Vermont • Since 2006
Voices / Column

Our post-election stress disorder

We can fight collective anxiety by coming together to resist and persist

Saxtons River

When we first met, she was a college student in an Eastern European country that, ironically, brought down a dictator.

When she arrived in the United States on a student visa, she became my “adopted” daughter. Here, illegally for several years, she ultimately earned a college degree, launched a career, and married a man who also grew up under a dictatorship. He was illegally in the U.S., too, until she obtained citizenship.

America has been good to both of them. Now she is an avid Trump supporter who wants to keep other illegals out and who thinks everyone wants a handout.

I found her values, as expressed in her politics, so offensive that I could not continue our relationship.

* * *

That painful breach is just one kind of stressor some of us are facing in these dark Trumpian times. But there are many more, like the fear of having a catastrophic health crisis, worrying about climate change, deregulation, deportations, the return to banking practices that brought this country to its knees, global instability, the possibility of war, rising hate crimes, the silencing of media, and much more.

At the core of our collective anxiety, in one word, is autocracy, and it’s taking a huge toll on us psychologically. The stress has a clinical term now, therapists say. It’s called “post-election stress disorder.”

The fear of losing our democratic principles and practices makes people post things like this on social media: “I awake every morning and remember that it’s not a bad dream,” “I cried through the news last night,” or “I feel hopeless, frustrated, and furious.”

Such anxiety is making people ask how can we take care of ourselves as we try to resist the vortex of despair pulling us down because of greed, lies, corruption, and narcissism.

How can we survive an administration that is so inexperienced, so inept, so intellectually deficient in matters of governance, so absent of morality, and so driven by hate and fear?

* * *

Several ideas have been floated, including taking time away from social media and news, looking at art or listening to music, spending quality time with friends and family, getting enough sleep, exercising, and being playful when possible.

A Facebook friend shared this message: “I think of the quiet courage of the brave people who fought for civil rights. I remember the courage of the interned Japanese Americans, and the courage of Native American communities. I weaponize my computer and telephone and make my legs march when that is required. I resist. And I believe we are going to Make America Great Again.”

Many people do something to help others. They deliver meals, read to someone who’s ill, visit disabled people who can’t resist in public ways, or volunteer to tutor or to give new moms respite.

Ann Braden, a born community organizer in Brattleboro, began the Local Love Brigade, an initiative now being emulated in nine other states.

Started on Facebook in December, the group she formed creates and sends postcards to individuals and organizations that are victims of hate. The postcards are decorated with hearts on one side, while the other side bears message of love and support.

The Vermont effort alone has more than 1,300 members. New members are welcome to join.

Braden also helped start a group called WeCAN, Windham County Action Network, which provides a centralized location for information about events and opportunities connected to social justice and environmental integrity.

The group’s goal is to streamline communication so that it’s easy for people to step up and take action.

“It’s crucial to connect with others right now,” Braden says. “Not only does it magnify the impact of our actions, but it sustains us so that we’re able to keep stepping up again and again.”

* * *

Initiatives and groups like WeCAN are springing up all over the country, just as protests and marches have done. One of the most nationally recognized groups is Indivisible, which has more than 4,500 active affiliates all over the U.S. in communities large and small. The group’s mission is to keep people informed about legislative and policy issues and to issue action steps that can be taken locally or nationally.

Matthew Wright, who leads Brattleboro Indivisible, regularly sends pep talks and action steps to its growing membership.

“It’s working!” he wrote recently. “Indivisible is getting attention in media across the country, disrupting town meetings, defending immigrants and refugees, and changing the discussion.” Then he provided a script for calling the governor on an important health-policy issue.

Resistance and persistence in whatever forms they take are vital in the struggle we face together to protect our future in a free America.

That’s why protests, marches, strikes — and action groups like Indivisible — matter.

So does taking care of ourselves and one another.

That means resting and practicing “random acts of kindness.” Then, refreshed, we can resist and persist again.

It’s not going to happen immediately, but by restoring our energy and commitment, we will end the travesty of our time.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #400 (Wednesday, March 22, 2017).

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