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The Vine: March 7, 2017

Submitted by on March 7, 2017 – 7:04 PM10 Comments

I have one relative and one friend who are hugely upset by the outcome of the election and the subsequent decisions. They aren't sleeping.

They are angry pretty much all the time. They only talk about what is happening in politics and every day there's a new thing to be upset about, it seems.

While I understand the feelings, I don't know how to help or how to help them get more back to normal life. We have to keep going, even with all the crap going on, and being angry all the time doesn't seem to help much. Yes, use the energy from the anger, try to make the world better, but keep living your own life and remember how to enjoy it! Everything that happens at the presidential level is not immediately life-threatening.

To be clear: I am not denigrating them. I do not want them to feel bad. I know we need people who feel strongly about issues to make sure that change happens. It's just that it seems to be all the issues, all the time, and I am really worried about them. I also miss having interesting conversations about things other than politics. They are both very intelligent, interesting, and kind people.

How do you support people who are massively upset about something that is, admittedly, pretty upsetting? How do you help them but also, gently, make it clear that you are worried about their health? Is there any way to help them ease off a little so they can do other things sometimes?

I am not sure if I am just being selfish in wanting them to get a little back towards what they used to be. Maybe I'm not feeling as much as I should. Maybe I should be angrier. Maybe I should be losing sleep, even though that's almost never the right answer in my world. Maybe they are right and I'm wrong. I am aware of those possibilities, and they worry me a little, too. Mostly, though, I would like to be able to have conversations that don't degrade into rants about politics as soon as I ask how they are doing.

Any help or comments would be appreciated.

Watching Things Fall Apart

Dear Watching,

I'm not sure there's any way to broach the topic of their health/sanity without getting a knee-jerk "HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO STAY SANE IF THIS IS THE ETC. ETC. EVERYTHING'S ENDING AIEEEE" response, and…you know, I've had that response, because it does seem, some days, like that dream where you're screaming at your ex but not making any sound and he's laughing at you is your whole existence. Too, the bad news never seems to stop, and has a new angle from which to upskirt your peace of mind every damn day.

The only thing that has helped me is to work — my regular work, which because it's mostly pop culture is a damn fine place to bury myself in distractions, but also working on chipping away at one or two things that have me freaked out. I raised a few hundred bucks for Planned Parenthood by making a t-shirt. I try to link to DonorsChoose.org most days on Twitter, and to projects related to the news of the day that people can throw $10 at and stave off whatever stupidity DeVos has "planned." I go and listen to my congresshero reassuring our neighbors from other countries about the Muslim ban. I call my senators. It's not a lot, but it's something, and what I've found in the last few months is that the people who are spinning the hardest, who are the quickest to default to a Trump-related meltdown or start sputtering about Paul Ryan if someone even, like, offers them rye toast? Are not doing anything.

Understand that that is not a judgment. I'm trying to get in motion on shit for selfish reasons as much as for altruistic ones, believe it; this nationally-ranked control freak needs to feel like she makes a difference. And, you know, the current state of the country is, for progressives, paralyzingly bad and scary. To freeze in the headlights of the oncoming circus train is a natural response. But: it's not going to stop the train.

So, when I find myself in a gust of anger like the ones you're describing, I let the first blast pass and say something conversational like, "Fucking totally — I felt way better when I [action item] for [organization]. Have you thought about doing that? It's not much, but it might make you feel more hopeful?" or "Are you going to [fun-run type of thing] next weekend? It's good exercise and last year they raised [number]. We should go together!" Just talking, not lecturing. This has worked for a couple people I know well who felt out of control and disoriented by everything, and needed a job and a place to go do it. Part of what's so effed about the current political situation is that it's so unpredictable; we may not have enjoyed the government's work in the past but at least we felt that most ranking officials knew where the lights were. So sometimes people just want to be told, "Do this, feel better."

If that doesn't work, give 'em another five minutes, then invoke the self-care exemption and change the subject to TV. "I know you feel strongly about this, and I agree, but for my own sanity, I really have to change the subject; I just get really angry and it's not good for me. Are you watching The Americans?" …Okay, bad exemplar, probably; pick whatever show or craft you want. But they keep banging on about politics because nobody's changed the subject, so, change it. Start correcting the behavior. Be the rubber band on their wrists that tells them that, after a few minutes, we don't do this anymore.

None of this really addresses directly that they're going to isolate themselves with this behavior, or burn out before they can contribute, and you can try to do that with the scripts above, incorporating what you phrase as concerns about your own energy level and staying power as "I statements" so that they hear it that way. But the root of the problem is that they feel powerless and afraid, and if you can't motivate them to tackle that problem with political/volunteer action, you can certainly request that the ranting have a meter running on it, because you have the right to drink a glass of wine and talk Housewives and forget your cares, and if they care about you, they'll respect that.

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10 Comments »

  • attica says:

    I took a tv news exile for two whole months. Somehow reading headlines was less traumatic for me than watching/listening to people freaking out/not freaking out enough.

    You know what's helping now? Watching videos of town hall meetings. Watching normals get all up in the grills of congresscritters all over the country. Does two things: reassures me that I'm not alone; reassures me that there are literally millions of awesome people in the country wanting to stop the circus train.

  • RJ says:

    "I'm not sure there's any way to broach the topic of their health/sanity without getting a knee-jerk "HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO STAY SANE IF THIS IS THE ETC. ETC. EVERYTHING'S ENDING AIEEEE" response, and…you know, I've had that response, because it does seem, some days, like that dream where you're screaming at your ex but not making any sound and he's laughing at you is your whole existence. Too, the bad news never seems to stop, and has a new angle from which to upskirt your peace of mind every damn day."

    Man, you are not kidding. I've spent my life avoiding political involvement, and the current state of affairs has me tied in knots too. I feel the writer's pain.

    I keep trying to remind myself how important it is to counteract the crazy with whatever good I can put out there, however small it may be, but it's tough to remember when you're inundated with garbage and insanity. Thanks for the reminder.

    Also, thank goodness for Previously.TV.

  • sam says:

    Concurring with Sars 1000%, and also to say that I have many days when I feel like your relatives, but I've been spending time really emphasizing two things that she brings up (and which are interrelated) –

    first is the self care – none of us are going to do any good if we all burn out. In the weeks after the election, I deleted all the political podcasts off my phone (I've slowly re-added the ones I liked the best), but I needed to not be drowning in it all the time. And I read a book. and got a massage (and a LOT of pedicures – hey, I was marching a lot too!). There's this feeling that if you're not "tuned in" all the time you're going to miss something important, some emergency action that you need to take, some awful executive order that trump signs in the middle of the night that needs to be responded to immediately. Here's the thing – it's OK if you miss something. Other people have got your back. And you'll have their back next time.

    the second, and this is really important – you CANNOT do everything. if you try to volunteer for everything, go to EVERY protest, every meeting, focus on every issue, you will not only burn out in a month, you will end up doing a shitty job at each of those things (and end up suffering from choice paralysis). Also, I'm assuming most of us have jobs (or families) that we still have to pay attention to some of the time. There are the big things obviously, but in terms of time/resources, pick one or two big issues to spend real time on and focus real energy on those. You'll do a better, deeper job that way. I'm particularly interested in voting issues, so I volunteer time to Election Protection and I'm looking for other groups that are doing things around Voter ID laws that are springing up around the country (I'm also a lawyer, so that's something that I might be able to help with in a specific way).

    Also…a lot more day drinking.

    Anyway, this is what I tell everyone.

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    Every little thing is a chip in the wall. I'm spending today wearing my Tomato Nation tee shirt and writing postcards. I'd like to join The Avengers and wipe Dump and his cronies from the universe, but for now, the postcards.

  • Anon says:

    I've really been struggling at anger towards Trump voters since the election. No amount of getting involved seems to alleviate it. I just have this burning hatred for people who thought voting for him was okay. I keep thinking that if I could press a button that would torture and kill ALL Trump voters, I'd do it- there's literally no one I would miss. Every attempt I've made to listen to them and try to understand where they're coming from just makes me even angrier. There's this one obnoxious friend-of-a-friend whom I had to block on Facebook, and I've had really vivid fantasies about killing him. I can't help but think of them as subhuman, because it's unfathomable to me how you could be a human being and think that what's going on right now is okay.

  • Jenny says:

    I feel like there are kind of two questions here. Do you think that your relative and friend are mentally in a really bad place and that they need to get some help? Or do you want ways to deal with people that are 'bringing you down'?

    For the first question, I'd say that things are still pretty new. I know that I was pretty depressed after the election, but then kind of ignored things for a couple of months and wanted to believe that it wasn't ever going to happen. Then I got depressed all over again on 1/20. If your friend or relative wants advice on how to deal, I'd offer what has helped me—avoiding cable news (and when I do watch it, I watch the stuff that I know will share my views), watching some political comedy–sometimes you either have to laugh or you'll cry. So I live for Seth Meyers and A Closer Look. I watch Stephen Colbert. Unfortunately I am just not the type to attend protests (although I think eventually I will), but I've subscribed and paid full price for subscriptions to the Washington Post and New York Times. I've decided that I can play a small part in ensuring that real news gets out there.

    As for you, I think there's nothing wrong with telling your friend and relative that you can't just talk about politics all of the time. You have to take care of yourself too.

    Overall, I think that a lot of people need some time to deal with all of this. And if things are really bad they need to know that seeking professional help is OK too.

  • sam says:

    Oh, and following on something Jenny just said…

    I NEVER watch cable news. Even the stuff that is ostensibly on "my side". If something ends up being worth watching (either for good or bad) it will get clipped and passed around on various social media, so I still catch the highlights (lowlights?), but even well before the election, I find all of it to be a giant trashpile of nattering nonsense with zero depth.

    I mean, my parents' are generally good, unreconstructed liberals – my 72-year old dad was at the women's march in NYC. And every time I go to their place, I have to wrestle the remote out of his hands so that I can shut off MSNBC (yes, even MSNBC), because I can feel my blood pressure rising. I view the TV as only to be a source for entertainment.

    It's all heat and no light (or is that the other way around?).

    I listen to NPR (although my desire to strangle Steve Inskeep for his continuing to bring on Tucker Carlson and Seb Gorka is forcing me to shut that off the live version these days), and a LOT of podcasts, I subscribe to the "failing" NY Times and the Washington Post (again, each has specific columnists that I could point to as actual failures, like Chris Cilizza at the Post, but overall they're pushing out a lot of necessary information), and I read a lot of blogs.

    I've also gone out of my way to try to follow A LOT of people of color, muslims, and LGBT people on twitter. My friends are always asking me how I find out about various pieces of news (and not just of the trumpmonster variety, we're talking pop culture) and it's because I go out of my way to seek out that information.

    A GREAT, relevant podcast that spends a lot of time talking about very serious issues but often in a really funny, fun way, but ALSO talking specifically about how to practice self care, up to and including seeking professional therapy is "Another Round" (one of the hosts talks regularly about her fairly serious anxiety issues) – I would really recommend that to folks who are trying to figure out the balance in all of these things.

  • pomme de terre says:

    I found this article very helpful:

    https://thecoffeelicious.com/how-to-stayoutraged-without-losing-your-mind-fc0c41aa68f3#.pw2zz8dkb

    I also use 5Calls.org to make contacting my reps easier.

    And the advice (from Sars and from the linked article) to pick 1-2 issues was a game changer for me. I decided to focus on a very small and boring (to most people) one where I can have an impact: defunding hates sites by reaching out to advertisers. I used to work in ad tech so I understand digital advertising better than the average bear and am pretty good at explaining it to people. Check out Sleeping Giants on FB or Twitter. This particular group was a good fit for me precisely because their ethos is to be firm but very very polite, and the collective effect of that is that it's rare for me to slip into rage mode even when companies richly deserve it.

  • Dove says:

    Seconding Sars on "mention Useful Things that will help and might make them feel like they're doing something" – calling your congressperson *really does* make a difference. (People who work in those offices have confirmed this – they have to take every phone call, and they keep a log of every phone call they get. So if at the end of the week, they've got a whole stack of notecards going "people are really, really angry about Issue XYZ" and that info's getting passed on to the congressperson.)

    Also, try tips on self-care? Remind them, if it'd help, that this is a weird cross between a marathon and a baton pass, not a sprint; we're in this for the next four years at a minimum, and it's pretty likely that one of the goals in His Fraudulency's team's actions in rushing so much awful out so fast is to wear people down and reduce the amount of effective opposition they're likely to face.
    Right now, self-care isn't just a good idea; it's as much a form of resistance as anything else.

  • Jobiska says:

    Disclaimer: I am not a therapist and I am not trying to diagnose anyone.

    I will put forward here that two things that are happening to a lot of people are grief and a PTSD-like response.

    Both of these are distressing in a friend. Both may come and go in a cyclical or periodic manner.

    Neither are things you can urge or hurry out of anyone else.

    I have gone through periods of deep grief since the election for things I know are now forever lost, from the lost safe-feelings of those hurt by hate crimes to…I truly believe this…life as we know it on this planet, and within my young adult son's lifetime.

    Now, I'm still laughing, I'm still loving my family and friends, and I'm still acting when I have the strength to act. But if I am deep in an upswell of grief, someone trying to reassure me that things are "not immediately life-threatening" all the time would just make me retrench more. Because they are to some people, or in some people's minds.

    So–find self-care and if it means you can't hear certain things from certain friends at certain times, tell them so. Tell them what you're doing, sure. Tell them that you are concerned about their pain, sure.

    But I advise not to trot out anything you wouldn't use on someone who you know is grieving or suffering something that looks like PTSD.