The Vine: March 7, 2017
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
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.
Tags: etiquette Paul Ryan politix shut up GOP The Americans the fam Yvette Clark