So Donald Trump is the President of the United States and a lot of people are very frightened.
I am a student of history (literally, I studied it at university) and I see very alarming parallels between the actions of the Trump administration and the early days of Hitler and the Nazis. I’m not alone in this. The tweet below went viral this week, because many people can see the same similarities.
I am worried about where this is going and I am worried about what is happening right now.
There are people in America who have been racially and sexually threatened or attacked since Trump came on the Presidential scene, because if it’s okay for the President (or Presidential candidate, or President elect), it’s okay for everyone else.
There are Americans who have been stranded or deported because they were born in another country, and American Muslims who are now fearful for their liberty and safety in their own country. A lot of the latter are probably in America in the first place because they or their families fled totalitarian regimes. What must this be like for them?
And I’m not forgetting the Jewish families who have not just living memory, but intimate family stories, of the Holocaust. If I, a Catholic Australian, am wondering how long it will take for Trump to get around to them, how must they feel?
Nor am I forgetting that he is not alone in his xenophobia, racism and sexism. The Australian government’s recent record on refugee human rights sickens me and we have way too many of our own far-right politicians. And while the European leadership is mostly sane, they are struggling with their own, self-confessed, Neo-Nazis.
There’s a lot to worry about. Just writing this, I can feel my jaw clenching and my gut twisting. And on top of that, there is a bizarre sort of pre-survivor’s guilt that I have the luxury of not being (at least for now) in the firing line and as such, should be doing more to fight this stuff.
Are you feeling antsy now? Are you? If you haven’t rage-quit this post by now, I’m guessing you are. You probably were before you started reading this. So now I’m going to get to the bit about staying sane.
Seriously, right now, take five deep breaths. As deep and as long as you can (don’t pass out). I’ll wait.
Did you do it?
Do you feel (at least a little) better? I’m guessing, yes.
“But,” I hear you say, “nothing has changed! The world still going to hell in a handbasket!” *crazy eyes* (If you have crazy eyes right now, repeat the breathing exercise until they relax.)
It’s true that the situation hasn’t changed by you getting a little calmer. But now, you are better equipped to deal with it.
See, the thing is, if what we are afraid of is true, if this administration is going to a scary place, if it encourages other such behaviour around the world, then those of us who want to fight it are in for a long and hard fight. If we are serious about not letting a new fascism rise in our midst, then we need to keep ourselves fighting fit. And that starts with mental health. When the flames start licking at the side of the handbasket, we need people with their eyes open and their sanity intact to wield the fire-extinguishers.
There is a great post here about self-care and activism which I would encourage you to read, but here are some tips from me too.
Take your medication!
If you suffer from anxiety or depression, these times are going to be tough. Take your medication if you have it and consciously employ your other minimisation strategies. You are no good to anyone if you are wearing a nice white cuddle jacket (as my girl says).
Do what’s in front of you. Think globally and act locally.
There are two parts to this. The first is for those outside the USA. You can’t affect American politics directly, but you can fight the same fight in your own backyard. Do you know who your local representative is? Where their office is? Find out. Go and visit. Make clear to them what you care about and that you want them to represent your interests. Be seen. Be heard.
The other part of this is finding ways to express the beliefs you’re fighting for in your local community. Do you hate the prejudice against Muslims? Go to your local mosque and tell them so. If their walls have been graffiti-ed, offer to help them clean it up. Smile at the women wearing scarves in the supermarket. Visit your local cultural centres and engage with those under threat (such as the fabulous Islamic Museum of Australia in Melbourne) and tell other people you have done so, in person and online. Show them and your community that you have no truck with religious discrimination.
I’ve just thought of a third part. Don’t be a dick to people who see things differently. There are people who, for a whole lot of reasons, are not scared by what is going on. THIS DOES NOT MAKE THEM EVIL, or even wrong. I hope like hell they’re right and that it sorts itself out. I don’t believe it, but if they do, that is their right. Shouting at them or trying to shame them, will not help and will only deepen the divide. Don’t do that. (See my last post about this, or this video, if you need convincing.)
See the positives.
This crisis has energised and motivated people (possibly including you) who have never raised their voices before. I honestly believe that Trump got in not least because a lot of people are disillusioned with the political landscape and process. I am myself (although I do not think that Trump or anyone like him is the answer). If this struggle encourages more good people to get involved in government and the good ones already there to stand up and be counted, that is a very good thing. And if this nightmare is what it takes to make change to a system that we can all live with, then so be it. (Please note, I am NOT saying that we should just go along with what’s happening, or compromise our values. But if this was the shakeup we had to have, we’ll take it and make it a good shakeup.)
Information is not immersion. Back away from the Internet
Yes, I know things are changing fast and there is much to do. But here’s the thing. There is physically only so much you can do and the doing is the important part. Reading more and more things, getting outraged and fretting doesn’t actually change anything. Pick some reliable sources of information, pick some causes and follow those, act on those. Sharing everyone else’s angst is not necessary and will eventually (or quickly, depending on how bad your anxiety is) render you unfit for anything useful.
Keep doing the things you love and seeing the people you love.
The cause (whatever cause) will not be helped by you courting misery. Switch off the news and make art, work, play sport and cuddle your family. The ability for EVERYONE to do exactly these things, in safety, is what we are fighting for. Yes, there will be days when instead we march, or agitate or, God forbid, have to physically fight for what we believe in. But in the meantime, you need to remember that there is good in the world.
Frodo and Sam had the strength to keep fighting because they had stored up the good times. They knew what a good world looked like. Don’t be afraid to enjoy the good you have. It’s what we are fighting for.
(Little note just for my writing friends: It’s not an accident that I have chosen quotes from a great book – made into great movies – to illustrate my points here. Art matters. There’s a reason fascists go after the artists first. Art harder. Keep speaking your truth in your work. Don’t let anyone, including yourself, tell you it isn’t important. It’s more important now than ever.)
Your regular life needs you too.
We can’t always spare the time or the money to go to the rallies or harrass our representatives. Or maybe you are an introvert who would need to be high to venture into that kind of crowd or undertake that kind of confrontation. That’s okay. We are all in this together and there are many ways to be involved. Find the groups doing good work and support them. If you have money, give money. If you have the internet, boost their signal. If you pray, pray (hard). It’s like supporting the poor; no-one will thank you for working so hard for the destitute that you join them. Do what you can and don’t waste energy on guilt at not doing more.
I know this post is long. But working out what to say, out of the maelstrom in my mind and heart was hard. But sorting it out and putting it down has helped me with my anxiety and I hope it will help you to. We can’t afford to succumb to the Dementors (referencing another great book). There’s too much to do.