Focusing on mental health has rarely been more difficult or more important for me than this week.
There have been more difficult times, more triggering times, more serious and heavier times. But something about this election really left me feeling so drained, so anxious, so out of control, so depleted of hope for the future of human rights and humanity in this country.
(Now is a good time for me to acknowledge my privilege. I have been lucky enough to avoid this election in order to preserve my mental health. That is not the case for many people in this country, which is why this election is so important.)
Yet, somehow, I was still able to connect with myself even deeper this week.
I feel like this week is really about, like, the week of just realizing stuff.Kylie Jenner, kind of, 2016.
Wednesday, the day after Election Day, I had a video session with my therapist and boy was I looking forward to it. But when 2:00 rolled around, my therapist never showed up. Then I checked our messages and found out that she was notified that the session was cancelled. When my therapist was finally able to join the session, we didn’t have enough time to talk before her next call so we agreed to try again later in the day.
Let me tell you that shit sent me over the edge.
I was calm and collected on the phone with my therapist, but when I hung up I was fuming. I called my sister, and our conversation went something like this.
J- “You know, they’re lucky I’m stable or else this could have been really bad for me. I get one video session per month and the platform just decides to notify my therapist that it’s cancelled out of nowhere? How can a service that I pay money to cope with my anxiety end up causing me more anxiety?”
A- “Well that’s because lack of control is your trigger.”
Now listen, I’ve always known I have control problems and I’ve known about my anxiety issues for quite some time now, too. But never once did I consider that they could be connected, nonetheless consequential.
Then (instead of completely lashing out) I decided to go for a run. I immediately started thinking about how much running sucks. My legs were still sore from yesterday’s run and the sun was beating on my already-sweat-drenched back and I was convinced that my mask was going to suffocate me.
And then I remembered my yoga practice –– when things get hard you lean in and breathe deeper.
That reminded me of something my fifth grade teacher Mrs. Backus said about running: it’s less about the physical work and more about how you breathe. I never understood that. As a fat kid, running was always very much about the physical work and focusing on breathing meant acknowledging that I had probably contracted asthma.
Regardless of the fact that it never made sense to me, that concept always stuck with me. It wasn’t until Wednesday –– 12 years later –– that it finally clicked.
Throughout my run, things kept connecting. It’s like my brain is finally developed enough to understand the lessons I learned throughout my childhood.
Or like I’m finally starting to understand the connections between my internalizations and my actions.
When I started therapy I was looking for someone else to figure out what’s wrong with me, when what I actually needed was a deeper understanding of myself.
For so long I felt like I was missing something, like there was something else I needed to uncover within myself before I could truly start growing. Wednesday I realized that what I needed to do all along was connect the dots.
This election has been driving me absolutely crazy. Everyone sucks and I truly cannot believe how many people are actively ignorant and outwardly racist. I wish I could just vote for everyone in this country and make them understand all of the things that I do.
And I can share information and try to educate as many people who are interested. But I ultimately cannot control the results of this election. As much as that frustrates me (and as much as I truly believe that this country would be a better place if more people were like me), realizing that I’m feeling anxious because this is so far out of my control was a small victory of my own.
That doesn’t mean that I don’t care how this election turns out, I very much do. But stepping back and actually thinking about how my brain works and why it works the way that it does gave me a new opportunity to find control instead of feeling out of control (and that’s on metacognition).
When my therapist called later that afternoon, I wasn’t dreading our conversation or wondering what I would talk about. I was excited to share my new understanding of myself. I was excited about how much stuff I had realized and I was excited about my newfound control of my control problems.
And you know what? That night, I slept like a baby. The next day I woke up before my alarm with more energy and less stress than ever. And I haven’t been worried to check the polls because I truly understand that watching the numbers won’t change the results.
I say all of this to say that this election sucks. People suck. People are ignorant and nasty and cruel, and they always will be. I also don’t think we can just sit back and let another (or the same) grossly unqualified and horrid human being sit in office for four more years.
But every day is a new opportunity to understand yourself more completely.
Because as hard as we try, we can’t control other people. But the more you know about yourself, the better equipped you’ll be to choose your battles and preserve your strength for the fights that matter.
This election is far from over, and even when it is, we still have so much work to do. Wouldn’t it be nice to know that you’ll be ready to pull up your sleeves and get to work than to wonder if you’ll be strong enough to wake up tomorrow morning?
(It does, it feels great, I promise.)
So take some time for yourself today. Take time to check how you feel and to understand why. And for god’s sake please spend time away from your phone and with people who value you.
With love and less anxiety than ever,