How to live with the worst thing ever

There is a distinct possibility that the election of Donald trump to the presidency is one of the most painful experiences you have ever had. That's certainly true for me. I've given doses of morphine to my dying mother; I've left a partner whom I loved, but couldn't stay with; at times I've felt close to losing my mind. But this? This is up there. Seeing this scary guy come to power, and seeing him appoint other scary guys to positions of power, induces profound feelings of panic, overwhelm, and helplessness.

To make matters worse, because it's 2016, you have access to a constant stream of other people's panic and helplessness. That is, you have access to social media. With just a few clicks, you could spend your entire day reading terrifying articles and flooding your body with adrenaline and cortisol. (Those are the stress hormones our bodies produces when they think we are in mortal danger.) 

So maybe, given all this, you're feeling like hell.

I spent a lot of my late twenties feeling like hell, because of my mom's death, and going through a divorce, and the depression and spiritual confusion that came along with those things. This may sound weird, but over the past several days, watching so many people going through their profound (and well-placed) grief, it's like everyone finally joined the sad, shitty party I've been at for years. The theme of the party is "Worst Thing Ever". Only I don't hang out there quite as much as I used to.

Whiteboard journaling from my own recovery from a life shit-storm. 2015. 

Whiteboard journaling from my own recovery from a life shit-storm. 2015. 

Don't get me wrong. I'm at the same Donald Trump grief-party you are. But because I've spent a lot of time at the Grief Party, I'd like to tell you a few things that I learned while I was there. Because I think grief is a halfway decent metaphor for what we're facing now. 

The thing about going through a major loss is that, at every moment, there is an enormous well of sadness and loss which lies beneath the surface of your life. Grief is an underground geyser: at some point, you know it will erupt. But it's not Old Faithful; it's touchy and unpredictable. You don't know at what time of day, month, or year it's gonna blow. (This might be why, this week, you're crying in your car—or punching the wall—for reasons that are unclear to you.)

Grief is also like having a sleeping tiger for a roommate. As a griever, I've often felt that I have a choice about whether or not to wake this tiger. When stumbling upon a years-old email from my mom, I can opt to look at it or not. When lying on my yoga mat at the end of a practice, I can linger on the image of my mom's face as it rises before me ... or I can return to a more neutral object, like my breathing. On the phone with my dad, I can steer our conversation towards—or away from—how our lives have changed since her death. 

There's an accelerator, and there's a brake. If you always turn away from your grief, you'll stay in the parking lot forever. But if you're constantly leaning on the accelerator, things can get out of control. 

So here's what I've learned from living with the worst thing ever.

1. Take small bites. This election, like any cataclysmic loss, is a shit sandwich. You've got to decide how big of a bite you can handle at any one time. Titrate the amount that you take in. Protect your inner resources. Personally, I'm actually considering a subscription to a paper newspaper so that I can stay informed without getting overwhelmed (i.e., get my news from someplace other than Facebook).

2. Don't fry your nervous system. Get educated about the physiological effects of stress on your body. If you subject your mind and body to a constant stream of terror, you will short-circuit your body's ability to respond to stress, and eventually experience collapse.

3. Strategically create conditions that make you feel good. Yes, this is allowed. Even while awful stuff is happening all around you. We must balance all this negative stimuli with as much positive feeling as possible. Seek out practices, environments, and people that give you a felt sense of safety and well-being. This is not escapism; this is for your physiological benefit. Your mind and body won't be able to bounce back from all this stress unless you give them the opportunity to rest, and have the physical, bodily, felt experience of safety. Perhaps you can make a list of all the people, places, and things that make you feel like you are in a wonderful happy cocoon. And then go to that cocoon, each and every day. (Last night I left my lights off, and lit 6 candles instead. It changed the way our whole evening felt, even though we absolutely talked about politics.)

Just one of many ways to help your body recover from the 1,000 blows of Facebook.

Just one of many ways to help your body recover from the 1,000 blows of Facebook.

Basically, by writing this I'm trying to affirm what a big deal Trump's victory (and the ensuing chaos) really is. I want to affirm that this very well may be one of the hardest things we've all experienced ... and just share a few lessons from my years of living with a tiger. 

 

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