For many of us, the reality that Trump is our president is a tough one to face. If you’re like me, you wake up each morning and have a brief moment of reprieve during which you think life is still normal. Then your coffee kicks in and you realize the truth: a racist, lying misogynist is leading our country. The man who said “Grab ‘em by the pussy” is leader of the free world.
It’s hard to believe the events of the last several months.
In November, the election knocked us off our feet. Many of us felt betrayed. We stumbled through our daily obligations, shocked and numb. How could this have happened? Grief Stage #1: DENIAL.
In December, most of us distracted ourselves with the holidays as we digested the ugly truth. (I was also praying that the Grim Reaper of 2016 didn’t take any more of my childhood icons.) Grief Stage #2: ISOLATION.
In January, we said goodbye to our beloved President Obama, and Donald Trump was inaugurated. President Trump. (I still haven’t said that out loud yet.) We weren’t shocked anymore, but were bigly sad. We channeled some of that sorrow into purposeful action, fueled by our anger. Those of us who participated in the Women’s March felt the power of democracy in action. We have a voice! Grief Stage #3: ANGER.
In February, we returned to feeling sad. We were struck by the reality that, for now, Donald Trump is our president. Now we are bombarded by daily assaults on rights we took for granted. People are torn between their desire to be informed and their desire to sleep at night. From time to time, those of us with passports wonder if we should stay or we should go. Grief Stage #4: BARGAINING.
As we head into March, we cannot let Grief Stage #5 or #6 take hold: Depression and Acceptance. We have no idea how successful Trump will be in achieving his goals, but we know what they are. He made them clear during the election, and he has made it clear post-inauguration that he intends to keep those campaign promises. We cannot go into a dark hole and hide; we need to stay active and on alert.
The Resistance is a marathon, not a sprint.
This is a time for action, but it’s no small feat that lies before us. While marching in January was empowering, you will be needed for many more marches. Thank you for calling and writing your representatives. Go ahead and put your elected representatives on speed dial and buy lots of stamps.
But it’s important to do something more. It’s essential that we realize that this is not a one-time call to action. You aren’t done. This is a marathon, not a sprint, and as such we all need to proactively take care of ourselves so we have the energy required to actually make change happen.
You are not crazy to feel like these are hard times. We are pummeled 24/7 by social media, news, and emails from organizations and allies. The message they send is, “This is TERRIBLE! You must do something about it NOW!”
On the one hand, this is good.
A lot of us had been lulled to sleep; we saw progress steadily happening and assumed the rest of society was in step with us. Now we’ve awakened to realize that a large part of the country is still stuck in the 1950s, and those people are trying to reshape legislation in ways that are devastating to vulnerable segments of our population.
But you can’t live in fight-or-flight mode all the time.
As a therapist, I’m keenly aware that we are not built to thrive under high levels of continual stress. You have everyday life things you have to do. You need to eat, sleep, make memories with your kids, go to work, and pay your bills. You need to enjoy sunny afternoons and make love with your partner. You need to live life.
At the same time, you need to stay informed.
This is how I’m handling this dilemma: I‘ve been staying off media for the bulk of the day and I’m recommending to my clients they do the same. Devote a set amount of time to reading the news and interacting on social media each day. When you’re on social media, make an impact or get the information you need, and then sign off again. Studies show that the more time spent on social media, the more likely it is that you will experience distress and even depression. You need to preserve your emotional strength right now, so limit this stressor.
Channel your energy into making a difference.
You’ve probably seen the popular protest signs saying “Too Many Issues For One Sign.” It’s true; the number of issues (and ways to get involved) are innumerable. You can’t do it all, so choose an issue or two, think about what you have to offer, and then put forth effort at set times of the week to make a difference.
Not sure where to start? I’m a therapist, so I’m writing and publishing these articles in hopes that I can help you gain the strength needed to fight the good fight ‘til the end. The following are suggestions that may help you discover ways you can contribute:
· Are you a writer or editor? Volunteer your talent for an activist’s website or public relations material. Submit articles to popular publications. Start a blog. Write short stories or a book that showcase the human side of the issues at stake.
· Are you a web designer? Make sure websites that support the resistance all have donate buttons.
· Are you a visual artist? Create and publish memes, donate images and logos to an organization’s site, or create and sell (or give away) merchandise that will spread the message of your choice.
· Are you friends or neighbors with Trump supporters? Engage in respectful, heartfelt, one-on-one conversations about specific issues, changing hearts and opening minds. (Unless, of course, this is too stressful for you. This is a perfect example of a therapist advising something she wouldn’t do herself. In my personal life, I just muted/un-friended Trump voters. Do what you feel called to do.)
· Do you live near a location that is holding a town hall meeting or live close to your representative’s office? Show up and make your perspective known.
· Are you good with people and have extra time? Get out the vote by volunteering with a local organization that registers voters. Talk with people about how important it is to participate in the democratic process.
Adopt the “one thing a day” model. Sign up on one of the many political sites that will keep you informed of happenings and commit to one thing a day. One phone call, one letter, one email, one petition. Then, once you’ve done your “one thing,” let it go. Your cumulative efforts will create a significant impact without exhausting you.
The Women’s March showed us there is power in numbers.
Many of us feel alone right now. We feel betrayed by our lawmakers and even our fellow citizens. Create your own support group. Ask like-minded friends to join you for one Sunday afternoon a month to drink coffee (or wine) and write a slew of letters together. Maybe one month you march together, and the next month you attend a town hall meeting together, and the next month you all take turns calling a representative… whatever you do, you’ll gain strength from the companionship of those who feel the same as you while making an impact.
I’m trying to take my own advice: pour on the self-care.
I’m used to hearing my clients’ trauma while setting aside my own concerns. I’m not saying it is easy to daily witness so much pain, but as a therapist I’ve been trained how to remain objective and deal with the emotional aspects of my job. But these days my clients aren’t just talking about their less-than-ideal childhoods and troubled marriages; they are anxiety-ridden about the unknown future under the Trump Administration. I’m suffering from “Trump Trauma,” too. I understand how helpless and overwhelming it can be at times. I’ve had to prioritize self-care so I can support my clients, stay sane, and #resist.
I can’t emphasize enough how much we need to protect and care for ourselves at this time. Some thoughts on how to do that:
· Prioritize your love relationships in this order: your partner, your kids, your extended family, and your friendships. Give each other grace; be liberal with compliments; take the time to listen to and support each other. Hug. Snuggle. Leave each other sweet notes. These are the people who will get you through this time, and these are the people you are fighting for.
· Do something fun every week. Ask yourself: what makes me feel great? Then go do it. Watch a movie. Lose yourself in a good book. Take a bubble bath. Make love. Go for a hike. De-clutter a closet. Get your hair and nails done. You’ll feel better about life in general, which will help you forge ahead. And for the moms out there: get out your calendar right now and schedule it. If you don’t, it won’t happen.
· Get enough sleep. If you’re having trouble sleeping, avoid news and social media for at least an hour before bedtime. Invest in a meditation app (I personally love HeadSpace) or a sound therapy app that will play soothing sounds like rain, surf, or white noise to help you relax at bedtime.
· Eat healthfully and regularly. Don’t skip meals. Reexamine your alcohol consumption. (Aim for pre-election night level of drinking). Drink water.
· Exercise often. A daily walk with a dog or a friend can provide tremendous stress relief, even if you only walk for 20 minutes each day. If you manage to soak in some sunshine, you get bonus points; vitamin D is good for your mood. Don’t forget the sunblock. (Sorry, I’m a mom.)
It’s a difficult time, and sadly, unless a miracle happens, it looks like it’s going to be a very tough four years (if Trump doesn’t kill us all sooner.) Again, we are running in a marathon, not a series of sprints. Taking care of you will allow you to persist to resist.
Caroline Madden, PhD is an author and licensed pro-marriage therapist. She specializes in helping couples in the aftermath of infidelity. Dr. Madden is a Republican who believes Trump is mentally unfit to be President and is a danger to America. “Country Over Party.”