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Trump, Anxiety and the Crushing Weight of Opinions

By Courtney Enlow | Politics | April 27, 2016 |

By Courtney Enlow | Politics | April 27, 2016 |

Last year, I had something of a nervous breakdown. And one of the ways it first started rearing its ugly head was in the form of a negative reaction to the wrongness of others.

I truly believe myself to be an open-minded person. But that open-mindedness tends to work only one way. The progressive way. I am not able to be quite open to the ideas and notions of regressivism or oppressive beliefs. Nor do I think I should. If your opinion is that marriage should only be between a cisgender man and a cisgender woman, I am not open to your opinion. If your opinion is that public restrooms should require a full TSA screening, I am not open to your opinion. If your opinion is that the wage gap isn’t a big deal, that there’s a good reason women shouldn’t be in positions of power or that there exist totally justifiable situational reasons for rape or domestic violence, I am not open to your opinion. Your opinion is wrong.

And this election cycle has brought with it a crushing volume of wrong opinions. It’s provided the receipts, the tangible numbers of exactly how many people out there possess “opinions” that could change, even destroy people’s lives.

The stack of wrong is growing and growing and it’s impossible to see past it anymore and it is terrifying. And it weighs on the anxious like dirt burying us alive.

Because there are some things that aren’t as simple as just being a different opinion. When opinions can hurt and damage, even kill, that’s terrifying.

And to the anxiety, I add guilt. Guilt for feeling as though this is not mine to fear. As a woman, yes. A woman with mental illness who lives paycheck to paycheck and has two small children. But I am a woman of privilege, thanks to my skin color, the fact that I am cis, and my marriage that at least presents me as straight.

When I wrote the Hillary all-caps thing, and I said I was going to “nope” out of the comments, I did just that. My understanding is the comments were every bit the shitshow I anticipated. I was able to remove myself from the melee and mute early and often on Twitter, sparing myself from the worst of it, only facing quick stings of scary before hiding it. I know I’m lucky to be able to do that. But there were moments, many moments, I wished I’d never written it. Because I showed my own ignorance of the lasting effects of mass incarceration, and hurt people. Then I watched as that pain was co-opted by those who did not care about it at all, only wishing to have added ammunition against me and my chosen candidate.

And as I’ve watched the rise of Trump, something that started as something of a sick joke and has exploded beyond what anyone could have ever plausibly imagined, the anxiety has risen and a faith in my country, in humanity, has diminished. Because how could they do this? How could anyone do this? How could anyone support this?

There are people doing this. There are people supporting this. And there are people who hate and destroy. And the naïveté that I’ve been cushioned in for 30 years is slipping away and leaving only fear. I can’t watch the GOP debates. I can’t watch as basic human liberties are posed as questions, matters of these “opinions.” I can’t talk about it. I can’t let myself think about it for too long. But as the numbers rise and rise and rise and the Trump alternatives fight harder and harder to be even more terrible, the air in my body is pressed down by fear and I can’t breathe and my heart is racing and I am paralyzed and my insides are screaming but I can’t make any sound.

And I’ve tried to find something, somewhere, that explains this, that gives me some idea of how to deal. Because I can’t unplug, walk away and live my yurt dreams. My job is the internet. It’s not an option. But cursory internet searches come up empty, or make things invariably worse, bringing only information about fear mongering and the use of anxiety as manipulation a la Fox News.

So I asked my Pajiban colleagues. And learned I’m not alone. We’re not universal in this anxiety. But there are several of us. Jodi put it in a way that cleared it up for me—“the increasing political climate of anger and bullying.” And she’s right. This is an entire election based on bullying. And when confronted with bullies, I’m suddenly 12 again, being harassed on the playground or pushed into a coat hook.

And then there’s the utter futility of it all, as Dustin said so perfectly:

“It’s a helplessness borne not out of an actual fear that Donald Trump will become President, but out of knowing that we live in a country with so many people who are terrible. In past elections, it felt like it was mostly a difference of political opinion and maybe a few fringe bigots, but now? It’s like 45 percent of the people with whom we share a President are not only terrible, but that they are going to either prevent the change necessary to sustain our way of life or they are going to actively throw us into chaos and evil. It feels like the Earth is literally going to end through either war or climate change and that ignorant horrible people are going to hasten it, and that there is nothing we can do to stop them. I also unimaginably worry every single day about a the school shooting that is going to take the life of one of my children, and it scares the ever living shit out of me, and I just want to convince these people to look at the facts, at the evidence, and understand that their positions are hostile and dangerous. Why can’t we take them by the shoulders and shake them until they can see past their bigotry and their religious zealotry and their greed and their fucking laziness and understand that they are RUINING EVERYTHING.”

And, of course, for Riley and way too many of us, the unbearable knowledge that people hate you.

“In the space I occupy, situations like my assault seemed like the unilateral actions of disturbed individuals and not as an indictment of society as a whole. But more and more as trumps rhetoric holds sway, I just feel more and more convinced that the majority of Americans hate me. My overall takeaway from this election cycle is that I am not welcome here.”

This isn’t one of those things where I can sum it up with even a half-hearted lesson or takeaway. I got nothing. I guess I just wanted to give anyone else who’s dealing with this a space to know you aren’t alone.

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